Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Madoff 'expected to plead guilty'

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Bernard Madoff arrives at court

Disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff is expected to plead guilty to orchestrating a $50bn (35bn) fraud, his lawyer has said.

Ira Lee Sorkin told a court in New York there was a "fair expectation" Mr Madoff would plead guilty to 11 counts of fraud on Thursday.

Prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of 150 years for Mr Madoff, 70.

He is accused of running a Ponzi scheme in which early investors are paid off with the money of new clients.

Mr Madoff, who was arrested in December, was in court so a judge could assess possible conflicts of interest between the defendant and his lawyer.

Mr Madoff has remained under house arrest in a luxury Manhattan penthouse since his arrest.

In court he chose to waive the issues, saying he was satisfied with his representation.

There has been no formal agreement to co-operate with the authorities, but Madoff is "trying to get some leniency from the judge without being forced to turn on family members and associates," said John Hueston, partner at law firm Irell & Manella.

Mr Hueston believes that Mr Madoff will most likely be imprisoned for about 20 years - effectively a life sentence for a 70-year old man.

No plea agreement

He is charged with securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, false statements and perjury among other charges.

The Associated Press reported that Mr Madoff sat calmly during Tuesday's court hearing, which was also attended by several lawyers representing investors.

WHAT IS A PONZI SCHEME?
A fraudulent investment scheme paying investors from money paid in by other investors rather than real profits
Named after Charles Ponzi who notoriously used the technique in the United States in the 1920s
Differs from pyramid selling in that individuals all tend to invest with the same person

US prosecutor Marc Litt said there has been no plea agreement with Mr Madoff, and Judge Denny Chin said he would sentence Mr Madoff in several months in the event of a guilty plea.

At least 25 investors have asked to speak in court on Thursday, under provisions allowing victims of crime to appear at a plea hearing.

Jerry Reisman, who represents more than a dozen Madoff investors, predicted that the plea hearing would be "a zoo".

"I will tell you my clients are outraged by his being able to escape with a guilty plea," AP reported him as saying.

Many investors have been arguing for Mr Madoff to be sent to jail while awaiting trial.

But there is little chance that investors will get much of their money back, according to Mr Hueston.

"There will be few dollars to divide among the many victims," he said.

Mr Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, was arrested and charged on 11 December for what would be Wall Street's biggest-ever Ponzi scheme.

The investment adviser, who has been a Wall Street figure for more than 40 years, is the only person accused in the scandal surrounding his firm, Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities.

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