A once-prominent Manhattan attorney was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for hatching a massive fraud in a brazen attempt to keep his law firm afloat and bankroll a lavish lifestyle.
Prosecutors had wanted 145 years behind bars for Marc Dreier. But the judge concluded he was "no Mr. Madoff" - a reference to disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, who last month received a 150-year sentence.
Dreier, 59, had pleaded guilty to a seven-year, $400 million scheme that, though eclipsed by Madoff's multibillion-dollar swindle, was so outlandish prosecutors labeled him "the Houdini of impersonation and false documents."
The defendant apologized before deputy US marshals led him in handcuffs out a side door in a Manhattan courtroom.
"I'm sorry - deeply sorry - for the harm and sadness I've caused to so many people," he said. "I know an apology doesn't fix anything. But at this point, all I can do is express my shame and remorse."
Defense attorney Gerald Shargel had argued that between 10 and 12 1â„2 years in prison would be fair punishment for a white-collar criminal who clearly "went way off the tracks." His client, he said, had proved his instability by once trying to impersonate a lawyer with a pension fund for Canadian teachers while trying to close a deal on $33m. in fraudulent promissory notes.
Prosecutors told US District Judge Jed Rakoff that Dreier should get 145 years - consecutive maximum sentences on multiple counts - for sacrificing a "rewarding and productive life as a lawyer" for "a life of fraud" that bilked hedge funds and doomed his Park Avenue law firm.
Rakoff immediately made clear that he thought the government's request was unrealistic, saying, "Are you really asking for 145 years?"
Giving Dreier that amount of time would "demean" the sentence for Madoff, whose fraud spanned decades and victimized thousands of clients, he said. "Mr. Dreier is not going to get much sympathy from this court, but he is no Mr. Madoff under any analysis."
Before Dreier's arrest late last year, his firm had nearly 250 attorneys and had spent tens of millions to decorate the firm's offices with works by Picasso and Andy Warhol, and to purchase beachfront homes on both coasts, a Mercedes and an Aston Martin, and an $18.5m. yacht.
In a letter sent to the judge last week that was filled with regret, Dreier said he was engulfed in a "quicksand of spending" that led to desperate measures - "a massive Ponzi scheme with no apparent way out."
The scheme involved cheated hedge funds, investment funds and several individual investors between 2004 and 2008 by selling them fictitious securities. The government has said Dreier received as much as $740m. from the sales and that victims lost $400m.
To carry out the plot, prosecutors say, Dreier supplied fake financial statements for his victims.