By MJ LEE | 3/20/14 5:01 AM EDT
BUTNER, N.C. – From his office on the 17th floor of midtown Manhattan’s red enameled Lipstick Building, Bernard Madoff often handled billions of dollars in a single day.
These days, at the medium-security prison here, the man convicted of orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in American history is forbidden from possessing even a handful of quarters.
“Inmates are not allowed to handle money,” reads a sign on a vending machine at the medium-security prison, where visitors — but not inmates — can pay $1.25 for a bottle of water just outside a visitation room.
This is one of many rules that Madoff, who is 75, lives by in the eight-by-10-foot cell he shares with another inmate at the federal correctional facility where he is serving a 150-year sentence.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to massive investment and securities fraud, admitting to a years-long deception that shattered the lives of thousands of clients — a list that included millionaire investors, middle-class retirees, college endowments and philanthropic organizations.
In an interview at Butner last week, Madoff weighed in with his latest views on everything from his favorite politicians to the ties between Washington and Wall Street to details about his life in prison and his severed relationships with family members.
Among the highlights of the interview, which lasted more than three hours:
Madoff described in detail the “never ending” fund raising solicitations from politicians, and was harshly critical of President Barack Obama, even though he said he voted for him in 2008. The politician he said he admires the most is Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat.
He had sharp words for Irving Picard, the trustee charged with overseeing the recovery of lost money, saying, “He’ll take credit for everything.”
He warned that he is sure there are other “bad players like myself” getting away with another massive Ponzi scheme. And he offered one piece of advice to investors: Stay away from the stock market.
Madoff expressed no particular remorse for the disproportionate devastation he has caused Jewish clients, both individuals and charities. “I don’t feel that I betrayed the Jews,” he said.
He said he does not have kidney cancer, contrary to news reports early this year, and that his health problems seem to be under control. He insisted that the adjustment from the high life to prison life was not that bad, though he is constantly bored. “It’s actually very pretty,” he said of Butner. “More like a college campus.”
Madoff said that while “I miss everything,” the estrangement from his family was hardest to bear, adding that “I don’t have anything to live for.”
The legal system isn’t done with the Madoff case yet. After a five-month trial, a jury in New York is now deliberating on whether five of his former employees were in on the fraud. Madoff was adamant that those employees knew nothing about his scheme and that they were simply “following instructions from clients.”
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