For many of the victims of Bernard L. Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme, his death did not assuage their bitterness.
There were no obvious public signs that Bernard L. Madoff, who died Wednesday at age 82, would eventually become infamous for running the largest Ponzi scheme in financial history.
From his congressional testimony after the 1987 stock market crash to the regular round tables he participated in at the Securities and Exchange Commission, his image in the public eye was that of a masterful, innovative and eminently dependable financier.
He seemed like the kind of person investors could trust their money with.
Burt Ross, 78, a former mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who lost millions of dollars investing with Madoff, said that betrayal of trust was part of what had damned Madoff in his eyes. Though he said he did not feel anger toward Madoff, he also said Wednesday that he felt "not an ounce of empathy" after the financier's death.
"An evil man died," said Ross, adding that it was hard to calculate precisely how much Madoff's Ponzi scheme cost him. "An old man who was evil died in jail. It's certainly where he deserved to die."
Madoff's thousands of victims collectively lost US$64.8 billion ($90.7 billion) on paper and saw their lives upended and left in financial ruin following his arrest in 2008. At least two of his victims died by suicide, while others lost their homes. And though they were far from alone in being taken in by the financier, many blamed themselves for their losses.
Phyllis Molchatsky, 74, felt personally responsible after having invested US$2 million with a fund recommended by her stockbroker. She had kept close watch on her finances her entire adult life after her parents died when she was young, and the fund appealed to her because of its lack of volatility.
The day she found out that the fund was run by Madoff, and the US$4 million she thought she had invested was a fiction, was the worst day of her life, she said. Her ample savings — which she'd planned to live on after learning she had Parkinson's in her early 50s — were decimated to US$52,000.
Molchatsky, who lives in Rockland County, New York, has not forgiven Madoff and said that she was glad he was gone.
"This world finally got rid of another bad man," she said Wednesday, adding that she did not have the emotional energy to discuss the matter any further.
Several of Madoff's victims, reached by phone, said that they had no comment on his death. Those who did speak described a sense of numbness.
"I have absolutely no relationship with Madoff anymore and literally have no feelings about him," said Ronnie Sue Ambrosino, 68, who, along with her husband, Dominic, lost $1.66 million to the financier, with whom she had invested for decades.
The news alert about his death had popped up on her phone like any other, she said. She walked into another room in the house where she is staying in New Mexico, got herself a cup of coffee and said to Ambrosino, "Oh, by the way, Madoff died."
Evidence of the near-universal animosity felt toward Madoff by his victims surfaced last year when he filed a motion in US District Court in Manhattan for compassionate release from prison, saying he had end-stage kidney disease and less than 18 months to live.
Judge Denny Chin, who in 2009 sentenced Madoff to 150 years in prison, denied the motion. In an opinion last June, the judge said that some 520 victims had written to the court, with the overwhelming majority — some 96 per cent — opposing Madoff's request.
"It is clear that Mr. Madoff's crimes continue to have a tragic impact on the lives of many," Chin wrote.
Brandon Sample, a lawyer who represented Madoff in his request for release, said in a statement Wednesday, "Bernie, up until his death, lived with guilt and remorse for his crimes."
"Bernie was by no means perfect," he added. "But no man is."
Many of Madoff's victims were able to recover at least a portion of what they had lost. A court-appointed trustee, Irving H. Picard, has spent the past decade successfully recouping money for Madoff's investors and has clawed back US$14.4 billion that investors gave to the financier. The sums Picard has recovered, though, do not lessen the trauma of the loss of billions that investors had been told they were earning with Madoff.
"The pain experienced by the victims of Mr. Madoff's fraud is not diminished by his death, nor is our work on behalf of his victims finished," Picard said in a statement. "My legal team and I are committed to continuing to identify and recover Madoff's stolen funds and return them to their rightful owners."
Ira Lee Sorkin, who represented Madoff in his criminal case and talked to him recently, said he believes that at the time of his former client's sentencing, "he truly felt remorse, that he realized what he had done and that it was wrong."
"But as time went on," Sorkin said, "I think the remorse issue became something in the distant past."
Sorkin noted Madoff had assisted Picard's investigators, and Madoff believed that they would recover for the victims much of the money lost in the Ponzi scheme.
"I don't know how else to put it," Sorkin said. "You know, 12 years behind concrete walls and barbed wire changed his mind, perhaps."
Written by: Jonah E. Bromwich and Benjamin Weiser
Photographs by: James Estrin and Michael Appleton
© 2021 THE NEW YORK TIMES