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Madoff Ordered to Forfeit More Than $170 Billion

Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff must forfeit $170 billion, a federal judge ordered Friday.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin entered a preliminary order of forfeiture, and Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin released a copy of the order Friday night. Madoff was ordered to give up his interests in all property, including real estate, investments, cars and boats.

According to earlier court documents, prosecutors reserved the right to pursue more than $170 billion in criminal forfeiture. That represents the total amount of money that could be connected to the fraud, not the amount stolen or lost.

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The government also settled claims against Madoff's wife, according to Friday's order. Under the arrangement, the government obtained Ruth Madoff's interest in all property, including more than $80 million of property to which she had claimed was hers, prosecutors said.

The order makes it clear, though, that nothing precludes other departments or entities from seeking to recover additional funds.

A call to Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, after hours Friday was not immediately returned.

In his own court filing in March, Sorkin said the government's forfeiture demand of $177 billion was "grossly overstated — and misleading — even for a case of this magnitude."

The agreements strip the Madoffs of all their interest in properties belonging to them, including homes in Manhattan, Montauk, and Palm Beach, Fla., worth a total of nearly $22 million. The Madoff's must also forfeit all insured or salable personal property contained in the homes.

Other seized assets include accounts at Cohmad Securities Corp., valued at almost $50 million, and at Wachovia Bank, valued at just over $13 million, and tens of millions of dollars in loans extended by Madoff to family, employees and friends.

The judge's order also authorized the U.S. Marshals Service to sell the Manhattan co-op, properties in Montauk and Palm Beach and certain cars and boats.

Madoff, 71, is due to be sentenced Monday after pleading guilty in March to charges that his exclusive investment advisory business was actually a massive Ponzi scheme.

Federal prosecutors want Madoff to be sentenced to 150 years in prison for orchestrating perhaps the largest financial swindle in history.

Madoff's lawyer has said his client should serve only 12 years.

"The sheer scale of the fraud calls for severe punishment," the prosecutors wrote in response to a defense motion seeking lighter punishment.

Federal sentencing guidelines allow for the 150-year term, prosecutors said. Any lesser sentence, they added, should still be long enough to send a forceful message and "assure that Madoff will remain in prison for life."

The government's papers quoted from letters to U.S. District Judge Denny Chin written by victims of the scheme who are suffering severe hardships.

Madoff "ruined lives," one letter said. "He deserves no mercy."

At the time of Madoff's arrest, fictitious account statements showed thousands of clients had $65 billion. But investigators say he never traded securities, and instead used money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients.

Prosecutors said Friday that the total losses, which span decades, haven't been calculated. But 1,341 accounts opened since December 1995 alone suffered loses of $13.2 billion, they said.

Sorkin argued in court papers last week for a 12-year term. He said his client deserved credit for his voluntary surrender, full acceptance of responsibility and meaningful cooperation efforts.

"We seek neither mercy nor sympathy," Sorkin wrote. But he urged the judge to "set aside the emotion and hysteria attendant to this case" as he determines the sentence.