Madoff vs. Murderers

Dr. Helen Smith (aka Mrs. Glenn Reynolds and The InstaWife) asks, in re Bernie Madoff’s 150 year sentence, “Why is it that someone who set up a Ponzi scheme gets more jail time than the majority of murderers?”

Glenn Reynolds, Esq. (aka, the InstaPundit) answers, “I think it’s because he made powerful people look stupid.”

There’s something to that.  But “the majority of murderers” kill only one person.  Madoff bilked thousands of people out of billions of dollars.  At some point, volume makes up for severity.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul Barnes says:

    I suspect that because of his illegal activities there have been at least one suicide, if not more. I would think that his actions might be construed as criminal indifference.

  2. The implication is that Madoff should get a lighter sentence. I’d prefer that the implication was that murderers should get a heavier sentence.

    In theory there may be an intent for there to be a deterrent factor at work here. Sure Madoff won’t make it past 30 years, but if someone much younger tried to do this and got caught the message is that they will be throwing away the keys after you are locked up.

  3. odograph says:

    Ask a bunch of 20 year olds if they’d take this deal: steal 10(+) billion dollars, live the high life, go to jail when you are 71 and live out the rest of your life in quiet contemplation.

    Not much of a disincentive either way. Now, put his sons in jail and you might see some Wall Street shake-out.

  4. just me says:

    When you are as old as Madoff in the end 20, 50 or 150 years is pretty much a “you are going to die in prison” kind of sentence.

    And while this kind of offense isn’t a violent offence, it is an offense that comes with a huge breach of trust and caused a lot of people a lot of personal harm, so I don’t have much empathy.

    I think the case could be made that murderers may deserve longer sentences, but I seriously doubt too many murderers-even if the numbers aren’t the same have sentences that also don’t equate to spending your life in prison as well-especially if it is a sentence that involves no possibility of parole or a minimum of 25 years.

  5. So Bernie Madoff started his Ponzi scheme when he was 20? Or is this just another bogus hypothetical? How many criminals of any age ever steal $10B? having a choice like this isn’t how it works and certainly cannot be used to make public policy.

  6. Brian Knapp says:

    Murder and fraud have vastly different motivating factors and the effective deterrents won’t be the same.

    The threat of death doesn’t necessarily work with murder, but might with fraud (as a 150 year sentence means for all practical purposes).

  7. odograph says:

    Lots of 20-somethings go into the securities industry, Charles. Do you think they are feeling that they’ll be under much threat? Or does it look like a bit of a game where the damage is limited to designated fall guys?

  8. Maggie Mama says:

    What about the 105 foundations and charities he bilked? How many lives are impacted by those losses?

    From Stephanie Strom of the NY Times:

    “. . . Many foundations and charities learned they had lost money when the Ponzi scheme of Bernard L. Madoff became known last December. The Picower Foundation, for example, said it would close after losing roughly $1 billion, while Hadassah, a Jewish charity, said it lost $90 million.

    The Picower Foundation, which closed its doors, was among 16 of the 105 foundations that lost 30 percent or more of their assets to the scheme and had five or more people on their boards, according to the analysis. …..”

    I’d like to see Maddoff sitting on a rock piling making gravel.