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Lawyer: Madoff To Plead Guilty

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In New York today, prosecutors in the Bernard Madoff case indicated that they will charge Madoff with 11 separate felonies. Madoff is the disgraced money manager at the heart of an alleged Ponzi scheme. The charges he faces include securities and investment fraud, perjury, money laundering and theft. Madoff's lawyer said he expects his client to plead guilty on Thursday. Madoff could be sentenced up to 150 years.

NPR's Robert Smith was at the hearing today, and he joins us now from New York. Robert, this was supposed to be a procedural hearing, but they started talking about the expected guilty plea. Surprising?

ROBERT SMITH: Oh, it was a total surprise. We expected this hearing to be about a conflict of interest between Bernard Madoff and his lawyer, Ira Sorkin. And they did talk about that for 20, 30 minutes. And then the judge sort of transitioned over to another filing that happened this week, which was that Bernard Madoff indicated that he waived his right to a grand jury hearing.

Now, normally if you're going to fight a case, you want to go to a grand jury because it gives you another chance to present your case. And he said he waived his right to that, which meant he would be subjected to whatever the prosecutors decided to come up with in terms of charging him.

And the judge sort of turned to Bernard Madoff's lawyer and said, well, the expectation is that he will plead guilty on Thursday, is that right? And the lawyer seemed a little surprised and said, yes, that's the expectation.

SIEGEL: Now, there are 11 charges here. We can't go through all of them, but what's the most interesting to you?

SMITH: Well, you know, people have been waiting a long time. Maybe I should go through most of them here. There are four counts of fraud - securities, investment, mail and wire fraud. There's a false statements and perjury, we would expect those sort of things. Theft from an employee benefit fund and the original item he was charged with and held on house arrest on, which was false filing with the SEC.

The thing that interested me most was three counts of money laundering, which there had been questions about whether perhaps Bernard Madoff's fund was used for purposes other than just false investments, which is to launder criminal money. We don't have details of that allegation, but that certainly stood out.

SIEGEL: Now, the judge in this case, Judge Denny Chin, said that he's been getting a lot of letters from Madoff's victims. I gather he solicited those letters. And many of the people who were his - who were victims of Madoff were concerned that a plea agreement would let Bernie Madoff off with a life sentence, the light sentence, rather. Doesn't seem likely from what we're hearing today.

SMITH: No. But the judge had specifically, when he decided that there would be a hearing on a plea, whatever that plea may end up being on Thursday, he said that investors who want to be there and wanted to have their say in court could get their say on Thursday. And, in fact, federal prosecutors say they've received at least 25 email requests from investors who want to speak and dozens of other, sort of, opinions from investors.

But yes, the judge said that there was specific concern that Bernie Madoff would be let off easy because he made some sort of deal to give information or rat on his associates or something like that. But it was made very clear in court by prosecutors that, as of right now, there is no plea deal. If Bernard Madoff pleads guilty on Thursday, he will have to plead guilty to all 11 counts against him by federal prosecutors.

SIEGEL: And back to that, to the original business of this hearing, which you mentioned, which was the question, is there a conflict of interest for Madoff to be represented by his lawyer, IRA Sorkin, who also invested his family's money with Madoff. How was that resolved today?

SMITH: Well, it was resolved by Madoff standing up and saying, I understand that there is a conflict and it's not a problem with me. Now, remember the federal prosecutors weren't trying to throw out Madoff's lawyer. What they wanted Bernard Madoff to say, and he said it, is that if it should come to the fact that he goes to trial and is found guilty, he cannot appeal on the fact that his lawyer's father invested in Madoff, that he once represented some business partners of Madoff and that he had some retirement money with Madoff.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Robert.

SMITH: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Robert Smith who covered the Madoff hearing in New York today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Robert Smith
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.