Will Madoff ever leave prison alive?

Bernard Madoff faces a maximum sentence of 150 years. At age 71, he's unlikely to ever again see the light of day.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Bernard Madoff, shown here in his mug shot, has been locked up in a Manhattan jail since his March 12 conviction.
Madoff's current home is a stark contrast to his $7 million Manhattan apartment.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Convicted Ponzi scammer Bernard Madoff will probably spend the rest of his life in jail.

On June 29, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court in New York sentences the 71-year-old. The maximum sentence is 150 years in a federal prison, based on Madoff's guilty plea to 11 criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering, perjury, false filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other crimes.

Madoff's lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, has requested a 12-year sentence, based on his calculations that Madoff has "an approximate life expectancy of 13 years."

Sorkin, in a letter to Chin released Tuesday, asked the judge to consider a sentence "short of effective life imprisonment" based on the "non-violent nature" of Madoff's crimes, his "voluntary surrender" and "full acceptance of responsibility."

But legal experts expressed doubts that Madoff would receive a sentence short enough for him to outlive his time in the slammer.

"[The Ponzi scheme's] effect on society was widespread," said Ken Rubinstein, asset protection lawyer with the New York firm Rubinstein & Rubinstein. "Its effect on individual victims was economically and psychologically catastrophic. I can't see how any judge would sentence him for any period that would be less than his remaining lifespan."

Victims of Madoff's scheme have appealed to Judge Chin for a sentence that would insure Madoff stands no chance of getting out. Leonard Forrest of Port St. Lucie, Fla., wrote to the judge that Madoff "deserves at best to spend the rest of his life in prison just as we will spend the rest of our lives in financial ruin and emotional and physical devastation."

Given the severity of Madoff's crimes, legal experts believe his victims will probably get their wish. Thus far, federal investigators have identified 1,341 investors in Madoff's firm, with losses exceeding $13 billion, and they're not done tallying up the damage.

Generally, pending sentences carry a minimum-to-maximum range. But in Madoff's case, the list of legal offenses is so severe that there is no mandatory minimum sentence listed in legal documents filed by the Justice Department.

In its sentencing guidelines, Justice explained how Madoff accumulated "offense levels" based on the severity of his crimes, taking into account the number of his victims, the amount of money that was stolen, the extensive and international nature of his crimes, and other factors.

"The [prosecutors'] goal here is to make sure that Bernard Madoff never sees the light of day," said William Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at Winston & Strawn in Washington, specializing in white collar crime. "This man will do life in prison."

Through his crimes, Madoff tallied up an "offense level" of 54, far exceeding the requirements for a life sentence.

"The life sentence begins at [the offense level of] 43," said Sullivan. "But Bernie found a way to go literally off the charts."

This doesn't leave any room to argue for a shorter sentence that could conceivably set him free later in life, Sullivan said.

Madoff has been locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan since March 12, when he pleaded guilty to masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme of all time. He orchestrated the scheme through his firm, Bernard L. Madoff, which he founded in 1960.

A Ponzi scheme uses fresh investments from unsuspecting investors to make payments to more mature investors, to create the false appearance of legitimate returns. In reality, Madoff admitted in court that he did not invest the money and did not buy securities for 13 years. Prosecutors believe that Madoff's scheme started earlier than that, originating "at least as early as the 1980s," according to federal documents.

On June 17, according to CNN sources, Madoff met for three hours with the top watchdog of the SEC, an agency that has come under intense criticism for not detecting his scheme earlier. This led to some speculation that Madoff was trying to make a deal in exchange for information -- perhaps for a shorter sentence.

Madoff's lawyer Sorkin declined to comment on the meeting, and would not confirm that it had occurred.

Ken Springer, former special agent of the FBI, certified fraud examiner and president and founder of Corporate Resolutions Inc., an investigations and consultant firm, said that Madoff won't be able to shorten his sentence, based on the severity of his crime.

"I don't think he's going to get out of jail," said Springer. "But is he trying to deflect something from his family? It may be just simply to protect the apartment [owned by his wife Ruth.] But it's a little late to go to confession." To top of page

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