71-year-old Bernie Madoff was just sentenced to 150 years in prison.
For all of us, a sentence like that is a death sentence. He will not, of course, be put to death by the state, but if all goes to plan, if he is not paroled in an inexcusably short period - say like in 18 months - or five years or - in a decade - he will die in prison.
Madoff had been stealing money from people for more than two decades. Only instead of robbing banks, in the public and flamboyant way of a Dillinger, Madoff worked his criminality in secret.
He stole billions by offering the lure of easy money to his investors. The great dream of America. Money for next to nothing.
He was an equal-opportunity rip-off artist, stealing from millionaires and the middle class and also from Holocaust victims.
His investment advice ruined many couples who dreamed of an easy retirement. For some of the investors who believed Madoff's promises, their retirement now consists of working multiple jobs, living hand-to-mouth, far removed from the life on Easy Street that Madoff had dangled in front of them.
Madoff's lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, called this sentence absurd. "Vengeance is not the goal of punishment," he's quoted as saying in today's NY Times article.
Some of Madoff's victims hope this sentence will be a deterrent for future white collar criminals. But if Madoff is the only person called to task for the destruction of middle class retirement funds seen as a result of the crash of 2008, I think we'll see a swift return to "business as usual" in the financial community.
And "business as usual" on Wall Street enabled a master swindler like Madoff to steal for decades... and somehow created an environment where no one is accountable for the mountain of toxic assets that towers over Wall Street today.