While it is unclear exactly how much money Bernard Madoff stole from duped investors, it has been stated that accounts opened since 1995 lost at least $13.2 billion. Diddled account statements for Madoff clients show approximately $65 billion in non-existent assets.
Leaving emotion aside (lots of those accounts were for non-profit and educational organizations who invested their endowment funds with Madoff), is it unreasonable for the government to seize all of Madoff's assets while putting him away for at least 12 years (of a potentially 150 year sentence)? The man is 71 years old. It is highly likely he will die in prison.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin entered a preliminary order on Friday seeking a $171 billion forfeiture from Madoff. While it is doubtful that Madoff has that much in assets, his properties, holdings, and salable personal property may be in the low billions at the very least.
Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, argued that Madoff deserved credit for his voluntary surrender and full acceptance of his responsibility. He believes that the amount sought is "grossly overstated -- and misleading -- even for a case of this magnitude." He claimed that "We seek neither mercy nor sympathy." But he did ask the judge to "set aside the emotion and hysteria attendant to this case" as he determines the punishment.
While most analysts of this case call Madoff's actions a Ponzi scheme, I think history will recast the terms used. Ten years from now, when someone tries similar tactics, it will not be called a Ponzi scheme. The success of Madoff's scheme, both in amounts and time it took to uncover the house of cards, will have people calling such behavior a Madoff Scheme.
He won't need his assets where he's going. Let's try to repay all his victims. Anything left should go to the government for the administrative costs in cleaning this mess up.