03.12.09

What I'd Like to Tell Bernie in Court

The former mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., wanted to look Madoff in the eye today and make a victim’s statement, but the judge ruled that such statements must wait until sentencing.

If it pleases the court, my name is Burt Ross and my wife, Joan, and I lost approximately $5 million as a result of Bernard Madoff’s criminal dealings. I appreciate this opportunity to be heard.

I cannot for a moment imagine what it must be like to be the second most reviled person in this country—behind only Osama bin Laden—but Mr. Madoff, you have truly earned the scorn and enmity of millions. Your greed, your willingness to forsake every value people cherish in your pursuit of the almighty dollar is without parallel. You eagerly violated friendship, loyalty, trust, and love so you could buy your yachts and mansions, and thought nothing of the vast devastation you would ultimately wreak across the land. It did not matter to you that many elderly and infirm people would be left homeless, that worthy philanthropic enterprises would be wiped out, so long as you and your wife could stay at the finest resorts and dine at the most expensive restaurants.

Even now it is only about money for you. You have the chutzpah to come into this court and ask that almost $70 million remain in your wife’s name.

Even now it is only about money for you. You have the chutzpah to come into this court and ask that almost $70 million remain in your wife’s name. She neither earned nor inherited that money. It is our money and our penthouse you live in, and both should be returned to their rightful owners—the thousands of people you betrayed. After all you have done, have you no shame?

No mercy or leniency should be granted you or those who were your accomplices in your nefarious enterprise. You should immediately enter the least comfortable federal penitentiary, where you should spend the rest of your days on this earth. You deserve not a single day less than the maximum sentence the law allows. All your ill-gotten gains should be returned to those you stole from, regardless of whose names they are in. Anything less would be a travesty given the massive scale of your fraud and its catastrophic impact. Regardless of your so-called cooperation, you, Mr. Madoff, deserve nothing more. Deals are not appropriate for the likes of you.

Despite everything you have wrought, most of us are survivors, not victims, and we will carry on. My father worked hard most of his life so that his children and his children’s children would be financially secure, and I have done the same. You may have destroyed that security, but you can’t take away the love and values we have passed on. You paid top dollar for your possessions, but what we have is priceless—love, trust, loyalty, and philanthropy, and they will survive long after you are gone and the Madoff name lives on in infamy.

Burt Ross, former mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and former administrator of the New Jersey Energy Office, is a lawyer and real-estate investor. A book "The Bribe" was written about his exploits with the Mafia.