Opinion

Memo to Prosecutors: Make an Example of Madoff

By Lis WiehlFOX News Legal Analyst/Former Federal Prosecutor

Meet America's latest poster child for white-collar crime. Once considered the granddaddy of Wall Street, I trust Bernard Madoff will soon be exchanging his custom-fit suit for a new type of suit. One that only comes in orange, and hopefully, with a life sentence attached.

[caption id="attachment_5249" align="aligncenter" width="257" caption="Bernard Madoff on January 5 (AP file photo)"][/caption]

For the time being, however, Madoff remains exiled in his posh Upper East Side Manhattan penthouse awaiting trial for employing a $50 billion Ponzi scheme --a scheme that left thousands of investors and charitable foundations penniless.

Short-term prison sentences at minimum-security prisons are not severe enough to deter financial executives from engaging in white-collar crimes. It's time to make an example of Madoff and send a message to the world: betraying investors' trust and exacerbating the financial ruin of this country will land you a lengthy stay in federal prison.

Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Madoff is looking at a sentence well above 20 years for the significant monetary loss caused by his ploy and the substantial number of victims. Should Madoff plead guilty, any type of lengthy sentence would probably confine him to prison for life.

A life sentence for a non-violent crime? I can see it now.

International tabloids would have a field day. A white-collar criminal receiving a 20- year-plus sentence when the average sentence for murder is 22 years, kidnapping is 14, and sexual abuse is 8?! Has America become that barbaric? Along those lines, many will argue that this is a rather harsh sentence for Madoff since, for the most part of his life, he was viewed as a virtuous, "good" man. This was the same man that was widely respected for his generosity and contributions to the community. Others will contend that Madoff has already suffered enough. That is, as a result of his fraud, Madoff has lost his prestige, integrity and credibility-the loss of which is more meaningful to Madoff than any type of physical confinement.

I'm not buying any of it.

Let's not forget that Madoff's scheme is the worst in history-losing $50 billion of his clients' money. That's equivalent to three full years of all crimes against property in America--every larceny, burglary, and auto theft. That's about 30 million common crimes.

Madoff's reprehensible conduct has damaged the nation's financial system and cost investors and taxpayers billions. As for all of those mitigating factors highlighting his reputation, good deeds and willingness to help his community, they're all completely negated by the fact that Madoff used these qualities to construct his Ponzi scheme and prey on people's trust.

Short-term prison sentences at minimum-security prisons are not severe enough to deter financial executives from engaging in white-collar crimes. It's time to make an example of Madoff and send a message to the world: betraying investors' trust and exacerbating the financial ruin of this country will land you a lengthy stay in federal prison.

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