Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors, including former New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, died while serving a 150-year prison sentence Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. He was 82. The cause of death is listed as natural causes.
Madoff's investors included Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, a childhood friend of Fred Wilpon. The collapse of the Ponzi scheme drastically impacted the Mets' financials in the 2010s, as the club's payroll dropped from $140 million in 2011 to $95 million in 2012 while payrolls rose around the game. The Wilpons were ordered to pay $162 million in restitution in 2012.
The Wilpons had to take out loans totaling $65 million in the early 2010s, including a $25 million loan from MLB itself, just to cover expenses. Steve Cohen purchased a $20 million minority stake in the Mets in 2012, then bought the rest of the club for roughly $2.5 billion last year. The Mets ran middle-of-the-pack payrolls in the 2010s despite playing in a large market.
At the time of his arrest in 2008, Madoff's fraudulent financial statements told clients he had over $60 billion in holdings. In reality, no securities were bought or sold, and he used cash from new investors to pay existing investors. Court-appointed accountants have since recovered roughly $14 billion of the $17.5 billion investors sunk into Madoff's scheme.
"Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but it is instead ... one that takes a staggering human toll," U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said during Madoff's sentencing.
Madoff plead guilty to security fraud and other charges in 2009, saying he was "deeply sorry and ashamed." He had to wear a bulletproof vest to court for his safety. The Ponzi scheme unraveled when Madoff admitted the scheme to his sons in 2008.
Prior to the Ponzi scheme, Madoff was a chairman of the Nasdaq stock market. The Ponzi's schemes investors included celebrities, everyday investors, and charities. It is believed to be the largest fraud case in Wall Street history.