[NEW YORK] Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind the worst financial scam in history, has died in prison at age 82, US media reported on Tuesday.
Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison in 2009 for running a pyramid-style scheme that defrauded tens of thousands of people around the world.
The scheme was estimated to be worth anywhere between US$25 billion and US$63 billion.
Like Charles Ponzi, whose 1920 con earned him a place in the annals of crime, Madoff seemed to deliver stunning returns to his clients, when in fact he was paying existing investors with money from new ones.
Unlike Ponzi, who soared and fell in the course of one year, Madoff achieved a level of respect and acclaim among finance professionals - he was chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market in 1990, 1991 and 1993 - and kept his ruse going for at least 15 years, even under the gaze of regulators who visited his office to inspect his records.
The fraud collapsed in December 2008, when plunging equity markets prompted clients to seek more withdrawals than he could accommodate. His sons Andrew and Mark notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their father had confessed to them.
"The money is gone," Andrew Madoff quoted his father as telling the family. "It's all been one big lie." Andrew Madoff recalled the quote for Laurie Sandell's "Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family" (2011), an authorised biography.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to fraud, money laundering, perjury and theft. In court, and in later interviews from prison, he insisted that he had run a genuine investment business for many years before finding himself unable to maintain the generous returns his clients had come to expect.
He said that - "to the best of my recollection" - the fraud began in the early 1990s, during a recessionary period for the US economy, and that he "believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients." "As the years went by, I realised that my arrest and this day would inevitably come," he said.