What Do You Make of the Madoff Sentence?

Bernard Madoff leaves court in March; by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Question: What do you make of the Madoff sentence?

Paul Solman: I’m tempted to say that, at 150 years, he may have gotten off lightly. In today’s email came the regular newsletter of one of the world’s most provocative and thoughtful stock analysts, Albert Edwards. In it, he links to a story from England’s sensationalist Daily Telegraph, in which a money manager in Germany who lost his clients’ money in Florida real estate investments was kidnapped and tortured. (I tweeted this earlier today.)

Also note the comments to this recent Madoff story in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which not just one, but three different emailers suggest the death penalty for crimes like Madoff’s. Now emailers can be an aggrieved lot, as we learned here during the Edmund Andrews flap, but there could be a defense for these blood-thirsty denizens of the City of Brotherly Love: If capital punishment is significantly about deterrence, well, would YOU fleece your investors if you thought you might be executed for doing so?

Then there’s the Forbes photoessay, which features a list of recent white collar sentences that anticipated Madoff’s de facto lifetime sentence — a sample of sentences next to which Madoff’s pales. (There’s also a good intro to the photoessay here.)

No. 1: Sholam Weiss
Weiss, 55, from New York, got an 845-year sentence from a Florida federal judge in 2000, plus nearly $300 million of fines and restitution, after being convicted on 78 counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in the $450 million collapse of National Heritage Life Insurance. Weiss had gone on the lam before sentencing and was apprehended in Austria a year later.

No. 2: Norman Schmidt
Schmidt, 74, is serving a 330-year sentence handed down in 2008 and is currently at a high-security federal prison in Beaumont, Texas. He ran a “high yield” investment scheme under various names…

Finally, the proposal of Madoff victim and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose charity Madoff robbed blind: “He should be put in a solitary cell with a screen, and on a screen, for at least five years of his life, [would be] pictures of his victims.” In today’s sentencing hearing, according to one account, one of the nine victims who spoke “blasted the fraudster for betraying his fellow Jews, with special approbation for his looting of famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s charity, ‘as if Elie Wiesel hasn’t suffered enough.’”