Victims of Bernard Madoff's record-breaking fraud have flooded a judge with demands for the US financier to be handed the longest possible jail term for his crimes when he is sentenced later this month.
In 113 emails and letters to the court, investors who lost everything point out that most of Madoff's victims were neither rich nor sophisticated but were duped by a man whose Wall Street credentials led them to trust his once-fêted investment prowess.
His arrest on 11 December last year, a day after he told investigators that he had confessed to his sons, changed the lives of thousands of people who believed they had built decent nest eggs for retirement. Few will see even the amount of money they put in over many years, let alone the sums they believed they had accumulated.
Ginny Buczek, a car mechanic's wife, wrote that Madoff had dashed their efforts to save for a retirement where her husband would not have to worry about affording medical bills. She said: "To know that this good, caring, hardworking man has had his retirement stolen by people who lived a lifestyle of such utter luxury is appalling."
Numerous other correspondents have set out tales of financial hardship, desperation and destitution – either their own or those of their elderly parents who trusted their life savings to Madoff Investment Securities, or one of the "feeder funds" that funnelled money to him.
Many have been forced to sell their homes and several have moved in with their children. Even more well-to-do clients, who had hoped to contribute some of their savings to philanthropic ventures, are now having to rely on the charity of others. The letters and emails range from heartfelt cries of sorrow and loss to barely strangulated cries of fury. Victims repeatedly label Madoff as a "devil", a "monster", a "thug", or even a "financial terrorist". In earlier letters also being considered by Judge Denny Chin, one New Jersey man described the effects of the Madoff fraud as "a domestic holocaust".
Madoff, 71, was once one of the most respected men on Wall Street. Thousands of victims around the world invested with him on the recommendation of friends and professional advisers, tempted by his long record of consistent returns. But he was not really investing their money, only using it to pay other clients when they withdrew their funds. The total of $65bn (£40bn) that clients were told they had in their accounts did not exist; they will have to share the barely $1bn that is left.
In March, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, money laundering and perjury. He faces a maximum jail term of 150 years when he is sentenced on 29 June, but many correspondents to Judge Chin urged more "creative" punishments. David Spanier, of New York, said: "One could start with the idea that Mr Madoff's jail cell consist entirely of mirrors, so that he would have to face himself each day". Another suggested: "Bernie deserves a longevity pill – not death – so he can watch each generation suffer and watch what he did."
Not all victims struck an angry tone, however. Shirley Stone, 87, wrote a one-paragraph email telling the judge that Madoff had done harm that would resonate for years. "If I could, I would charge him with heartbreak, sadness and tears," she said.