Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Madoff victims lost life savings

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Madoff victims on their ordeal

When Cynthia Friedman first heard that Bernard Madoff had been arrested late last year, she feared the worst.

"I was devastated, I was hysterical, I knew that moment I heard he was arrested, that our whole life was changed," she told the BBC.

She and her husband lost $3m (2.1m) to Bernard Madoff's scheme, money which would have funded their retirement.

Mr Madoff has pleaded guilty to all 11 charges against him and it seems unlikely victims will get their money back.

For Cynthia Friedman and her husband, it means they have to go back to the drawing board.

"It was going to be our retirement, it did not sustain our lifestyle at that point because we lived very modestly. We saved and saved and saved," she said.

"My husband was in the process of retiring, we were going to use that money to live. Now he has to build a back-up because [we lost] everything," she added.

Unsurprisingly Mrs Friedman has little sympathy for the disgraced financier, who could face up to 150 years in jail.

"He is evil, he is evil incarnate, he really is, he has no remorse, he is just a horrible man, " she said.

Normal people

Many of Madoff's victims were not multimillionaires but normal working people, said Mark Raymond, of law firm Broad and Cassel.

One alleged victim was a New York plumber who earned up to $60,000 a year, he said.

Mr Madoff had invited the plumber to join his investment scheme because he saved his son's life.

"His son and Mr Madoff's son were swimming off Long Island and he [the plumber] saved him from drowning," Mr Raymond said.

"The reward was being invited to participate [ in the Madoff scheme]."

The plumber had now lost his life savings of $100,000.

An elderly couple in Atlanta have been forced to call short their retirement because they lost everything.

"He's 82, she's 78, and they are both looking for work because they lost everything," Mr Raymond said.

Some victims were Holocaust survivors "who had built themselves up, made something of their lives, and now they have nothing," he added, likening Mr Madoff's fraud to a tsunami "because the waves just keep coming".

Charities lose out

Mr Madoff's fraud touched hedge funds, big banks, people who invested for their retirement and charities.

"All those charities? Someone is gonna die because they are not getting help from that charity," Bennett Goldworth, a Manhattan real estate broker who said he lost several million dollars in the scam, told the Reuters news agency.

"Mr Madoff has stolen 20 years of my life," said Yale Fishman, an investor.

"I worked very hard. I paid a great deal of taxes. I trusted in the system."

"It is mindboggling to me that he kept opening charitable accounts knowing that he was robbing the weakest in society."

Injustice

For other investors, the fact that Mr Madoff does not face a jury trial means many details of his fraud will not come to light.

"They want this to be over so badly, it's stunning," Miriam Siegman, a New Yorker who lost her retirement money, told Reuters.

"In a jury trial, the truth has a chance of coming out."

The Madoff fraud also highlights the inequities of the American financial system, she said.

"He understood to the infinitesimal detail how corrupted the system was and how easy it was really, to work it, and it remains so," she said.



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