Bernard Madoff is begging for a jail sentence that is just a fraction of the legal maximum he can expect for running history's largest fraud, saying that the US court system should not give in to "hysteria" and "mob justice".
His attorney, Ira Sorkin, made the request for a prison term of 12 years in a letter to New York judge Denny Chin ahead of Madoff's 29 June sentencing hearing. "We write not to dispute the severity of the crimes," according to Mr Sorkin's submission. "We seek neither mercy nor sympathy."
But he said that, at 71, Madoff can expect to live only another 13 years, and should be given a jail term that stops short of being a de facto life sentence. The former Nasdaq chairman turned himself in last December instead of trying to flee, and has been co-operating with trustees trying to recover money for his victims, Mr Sorkin said. The submission reveals that Madoff has been helping the Securities and Exchange Commission's internal investigation into how it missed his scam, despite repeated inquiries.
Madoff is promising to speak at his sentencing, to recognise publicly the pain that his crimes have wrought and to say that he feels ashamed. Scores of victims are hoping to attend, and several have requested that they be allowed to speak, too. More than 100 of them wrote letters to the judge explaining how their lives have been turned upside down by losing everything to Madoff.
In his own submission to the judge, Mr Sorkin says that Madoff and his lawyers have received death threats and anti-Semitic abuse from members of the public, and that the fury expressed in the victims' letters "suggests a desire for a type of mob vengeance that would render meaningless the role of the court. It is the duty of the court to set aside the emotion and hysteria attendant to this case and render a sentence that is just and proportionate."
Madoff pleaded guilty in March to 11 criminal charges, for which the maximum jail terms add up to 150 years. Investigators are still trying to piece together when the fraud began and exactly how much money was lost. He ran a classic pyramid scheme, paying his thousands of investors with money coming in from new clients. Their balances, which totalled $65bn (£40bn) at the end, were fiction.
Attorney Jerry Reisman, who represents a number of Madoff's victims, said only the maximum sentence would be appropriate. "He is directly responsible for the death of victims who committed suicide because of his crimes. He rendered many of his victims penniless and took away whatever money they had. He destroyed the lives of his victims and their families. He should be sent to a maximum security prison far from his family."