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Ponzi scheme king Bernie Madoff says he's dying, seeks early prison release

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Bernard Madoff, who defrauded investors of more than US$19 billion in history's biggest Ponzi scheme, has asked for early release from his 150-year prison sentence, claiming he has 18 months left to live.

[MANHATTAN] Bernard Madoff, who defrauded investors of more than US$19 billion in history's biggest Ponzi scheme, has asked for early release from his 150-year prison sentence, claiming he has 18 months left to live.

Madoff, 81, asked US Circuit Judge Denny Chin to release him after serving just 10 years, saying he suffers from terminal kidney failure and other ailments.

His lawyer, Brandon Sample, said in a court filing Madoff has "chronic kidney failure that has progressed to end-stage renal disease". Madoff also suffers from other conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, esophageal reflux, insomnia, shortness of breath, back pain, itching, leg cramps and anxiety, according to the filing.

"Madoff humbly asks this Court for a modicum of compassion," Mr Sample said in papers filed in Manhattan federal court Wednesday.

Early release for Madoff could outrage many of his victims. Investors lost US$19 billion in principal when Madoff's securities firm collapsed in December 2008. His victims included thousands of wealthy investors, Jewish charities, celebrities and retirees.

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Ebbers released

If granted, an order freeing him would come on the heels of one granted to former WorldCom Inc chief executive officer Bernard Ebbers in December for medical reasons. Ebbers, who was convicted in 2005 of securities fraud following WorldCom's collapse, served more than 13 years of a 25-year sentence. He died on Feb 2 at age 78.

Madoff built a reputation over three decades as a brilliant stock-picker who delivered uncannily steady returns in good markets and bad. But his results were largely fictitious, and he told his family in December 2009 that the business was "all just one big lie". Madoff's two sons turned him in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One of his sons later committed suicide while the other died of cancer.

The scheme unravelled in 2008 when the economic crisis led to more withdrawals than Madoff could afford to pay out. Some clients learned they lost their life savings after Madoff's confession and arrest on Dec 11 of that year.

Judge Chin sentenced him to 150 years behind bars after the con man pleaded guilty in 2009.

"This was not merely a bloodless financial crime that occurred on paper, but one that takes a staggering toll," Judge Chin said at the time. "The breach of trust here was massive."

Commute sentence

In July, Madoff asked President Donald Trump to commute his sentence. Legal experts at the time largely dismissed the possibility that his request would be granted, given the magnitude of his crime.

A trustee appointed to recover money for Madoff's victims says they've been repaid some US$12.9 billion, as of Jan 24, 2020.

Madoff is seeking early release under the 2018 First Step Act, which allows some federal inmates who are over 60 years old, or who face terminal illnesses, to serve the end of their sentences at home. Ebbers was released under the same law.

In July, Raj Rajaratnam, co-founder of Galleon Group LLC and the mastermind of what prosecutors said was one of the largest hedge-fund insider-trading rings in US history, was released two years early under the First Step law. Rajaratnam, 62, served nine years in prison.

Madoff is serving his time at a federal medical centre in Butner, North Carolina.

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