Court motions hint Madoff might seek plea agreement

March 07, 2009|By Walter Hamilton | Walter Hamilton,Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -New York financier Bernard L. Madoff might be nearing a deal to plead guilty to one of the most egregious financial crimes in history.

Prosecutors who have charged him with operating an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme notified a federal judge yesterday that Madoff had agreed to forgo a grand jury hearing, a step that is typically a precursor to a plea agreement.

"He's going to say under oath, 'I did it,' and that's a huge step in the process," predicted Steven D. Feldman, a criminal defense attorney at Herrick Feinstein in New York.

An arraignment is scheduled for Thursday before U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in Lower Manhattan.

In court papers submitted yesterday, prosecutors said they would file a charging document known as an "information" against Madoff, who already faces the prospect of a lengthy prison term. The document is expected to include additional fraud charges, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term.

Madoff, 70, has not entered a plea.

It is not known whether Madoff has agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Several experts said they doubted that the government would seek a lighter sentence, saying it's more likely that Madoff, 70, had decided to plead guilty in hopes of currying favor with the judge to avoid a lifelong prison sentence.

"Any time somebody's best defense is to quickly go into court and plead guilty means there is no defense," said Chris Steskal, a partner specializing in white-collar crime at Fenwick & West in San Francisco. "It looks like, at the end of the day, his best play was to plead guilty and beg for mercy."

Daniel Horwitz, Madoff's attorney, said, "The filing speaks for itself."

He refused to comment further.

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