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Published: Monday, 3/16/2009

Madoff gets off easy

LIFE in prison is almost too good for Bernie Madoff. That's what the fallen Wall Street baron could get as a prison sentence after pleading guilty Thursday to all the criminal charges that federal prosecutors have filed against him.

But the thousands of unwitting investors who lost billions of dollars to the former Nasdaq chairman in what is perhaps the largest fraud in Wall Street history want their pound of flesh. And who can blame them?

This is a guy who engineered an investment scam for more than 20 years in a vast Ponzi scheme that drew in retirees, charities, school trusts, and even Holocaust survivors who entrusted their life savings to his investment firm. Prosecutors say their money wasn't invested, but used by Madoff, his business, and others.

Many unanswered questions remain about the involvement of "others," from employees and family members to the treatment of favored investors. By his own estimate, Madoff apparently confessed to carrying out a $50 billion fraud that lasted right up until his arrest in December - although in court documents prosecutors raised the size of the swindle to nearly $65 billion.

And Madoff investors still have no idea where all that money went. Life in prison may be the beginning of the end for the 70-year-old trader, but it's nowhere near that for thousands of his victims who have nothing, and know next to nothing about when, if ever, they'll recover from their nightmare.

An attorney representing more than a dozen Madoff investors says his clients are outraged that the con man is being able to "escape with a guilty plea." One of them urged the judge to jail Madoff "for the rest of his life, in conditions that are worthy of someone who has destroyed and raped so many people."

For their sake, let's hope Madoff isn't gaming the system again and that eventually, the continuing investigation into his gigantic fraud will unravel more truths about what wiped out the wealth and created such hardship for those who trusted him.

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