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Bernie Madoff, US financier who swindled clients out of billions, dies in prison

Bernard Madoff, who was convicted for running the largest known Ponzi scheme in history, died this morning in federal prison where he was serving a 150-year sentence.

adoff, 82, had been suffering from chronic kidney failure and several other medical ailments.

He had been held at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, after being sentenced in June 2009 to a 150-year term for engineering a fraud estimated as high as $64.8 billion.

Madoff’s thousands of victims, large and small, included individuals, charities, pension funds and hedge funds.

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Among those he betrayed were the actors Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and John Malkovich; baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax; and a charity associated with director Steven Spielberg.

Owners of the New York Mets, longtime Madoff clients, struggled for years to field a good baseball team because of losses they suffered.

“We thought he was God. We trusted everything in his hands,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, whose foundation lost $15.2 million, said in 2009.

Some victims lost everything. Many came from the Jewish community, where Madoff had been a major philanthropist.

Madoff’s crimes were revealed to authorities in 2008 by his two sons, who were not part of the scheme.

The fraud exposed holes at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which through incompetence or neglect botched a half-dozen examinations.

“There were several times that I met with the SEC and thought, ‘They got me,'” Madoff told lawyers in a prison interview.

Madoff had been the largest market-maker on the Nasdaq, once serving as its non-executive chairman.

His brokerage firm was located in a Midtown Manhattan tower known as the Lipstick Building.

Employees there said they felt like part of Madoff’s family. They did not know he was running his fraud on a different floor. Only a trusted few did.

In a typical Ponzi scheme, money from newer investors is used to pay sums owed to earlier investors.

Madoff said his fraud began in the early 1990s, but prosecutors and many victims believe it started earlier.

Investors were entranced by the steady, double-digit annual gains that Madoff seemed to generate, and which others found impossible to explain or duplicate.

The money helped Madoff and his wife, Ruth, enjoy luxuries such as a Manhattan penthouse, a French villa and expensive cars and yachts, with a combined net worth of about $825 million.

But no one from Madoff’s immediate family was in the Manhattan courtroom when U.S. District Judge Denny Chin sentenced him.

And no family, friends or supporters submitted letters attesting to his good character or deeds in support of leniency.

“I believed when I started this problem, this crime, that it would be something I would be able to work my way out of, but that became impossible,” Madoff told the court. “As hard as I tried, the deeper I dug myself into a hole.”

Madoff also addressed victims in attendance, saying, “I am sorry. I know that doesn’t help you.”

Bernard Lawrence Madoff was born on April 29, 1938, in the New York City borough of Queens and grew up there as the son of European immigrants who ran a brokerage out of their house.

Madoff graduated from Hofstra University in 1960 and briefly attended Brooklyn Law School before quitting.

That same year, he started Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, using his $500 in savings and office space borrowed from his father-in-law, Madoff told New York magazine in 2011.

Madoff started small, selling penny stocks in the over-the-counter market. By the early 1970s, he had become one of the five original broker-dealers in the Nasdaq trading system.

Madoff advocated for greater market competition, at a time the New York Stock Exchange still dominated trading, and became an early force in electronic trading.

At times friendly and charming, and at others aloof, Madoff had a penchant for neatness that some viewed as an obsession.

Madoff’s offices were decorated in black and shades of gray, with little paperwork or objects visible on employee desks, and he coordinated several wedding rings with his wristwatches.

Market-making served Madoff well in the 1980s and 1990s, when he and his rivals could profit from buying a stock at $5 and selling it for $5.125, for example.

Profitability declined once decimalization became standard, but Madoff’s brokerage operation provided financial support for his fraud.

Clients were told they would make money through a “split-strike conversion strategy,” in which Madoff would buy a basket of large stocks to mirror the Standard & Poor’s 100 index, and reduce risk by purchasing and selling options on that index.

Madoff looked successful, and customers were happy.

But it wasn’t real.

Prosecutors said Madoff and his staff sent clients fake confirmations for trades he never executed, and fake account statements to document gains he never made.

Madoff admitted to sometimes dipping into his account at JPMorgan Chase to pay customers who wanted their money back.

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