Many Madoff victims say 150 years in jail isn't enough

Jewish organizations hit by scam try to safeguard against recurrence; private investors try to pick up the pieces.

Bernard Madoff 248 88  (photo credit: AP)
Bernard Madoff 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
NEW YORK - Inside the courtroom when Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for bilking investors in a massive Ponzi scheme, victims alternately wept and cheered. But as news of the sentence trickled out, to the scrum of reporters gathered in Manhattan and across the city in the offices of foundations that lost millions with the disgraced financier, grumbles of "it's not enough," resonated as victims pondered what comes next. Madoff's sentence was symbolic of the "cruelty" of his actions, according to US District Judge Denny Chin, but individuals and organizations are still scrambling to pick up the pieces of their shattered finances. Many victims hoping to reclaim some of their money are waiting for the outcome of pending bankruptcy proceedings. The trustee for the liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investments Securities LLC, Irving H. Picard, has said victims may be entitled to money based on a simple "money in, money out" formula. "We take issue with that," said attorney Stephen A. Weiss, who is co-counsel for more than 100 victims who made investments with Madoff ranging from several hundred thousand dollars to $104 million. "The victims should be entitled full recovery to the extent that their account balance as of December 11," Weiss said. The sentencing on Monday did not change those proceedings, but Weiss said his clients reacted to his sentencing with emotion. "A lot of people are curious about whether he's implicated anybody else," he said, and some expressed gratitude that Madoff will "never see the light of day." "Many are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and create as normal a life for themselves and their families as they can. A number of them are struggling to do that," he said. In advance of Madoff's sentencing, scores of victims sent letters to Judge Chin, begging him to give Madoff the maximum prison time allowed, 150 years. "I am now destitute," wrote 76-year-old Allan Goldstein of Woodland Hills, California, who described being forced to sell his home in New York and move in with a daughter. "We are applying for food stamps. Our lives are a nightmare." "If I could, I would charge him with heartbreak, sadness and tears," wrote Shirley Stone, 87. At the sentencing Monday, one victim, Michael Schwartz, cried as he told the courtroom how Madoff stole money that had been set aside to care for his disabled brother. "I only hope that his sentence is long enough so that his jail cell will become his coffin," he said. Among Jewish organizations that lost sizeable sums in the Madoff scandal, the initial reaction - cutting programs and staff - has been replaced with efforts to create new procedures to safeguard themselves in the future. "People are making sure that their procedures are adequate so that whether or not they were impacted this time, the organization is as protected as possible. Not only in the context of another criminal, but also in the context of an economy that's going through the roller coaster ride that the economy is now going through," said Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. Solomon, whose organization was forced to curtail its discretionary funding "quite dramatically," is scheduled to speak on a panel next week entitled, "The Jewish World in a New Economic Climate, Post Madoff and Beyond." Solomon will tackle the topic at the Dan Panorama Hotel on July 7 along with guest panelist Avraham Infeld at an event sponsored by the Daniel J. Elazar Institute for Jewish Communal Studies of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "The question becomes, 'Where do we go from here?'" Solomon said. "One of the questions is, 'Will our behavior as a community and as donors and funders in the community change so that we don't simply have to reduce all of the services we deliver and can become more efficient than we've been in the past?'" he said.