As Bernard L. Madoff was led away in handcuffs from the 23rd-floor courtroom this morning, cameras rolled around the corner for the latest episode of “Law and Order.”
The irony was just one memorable touch as the moment arrived when we no longer would have to write “alleged” before any mention of the Ponzi schemer’s redolent name.
Outside the compound of imposing courthouses in lower Manhattan, Karen Dweck, an angry 58-year-old artist, had greeted us with her sign, a billboard emblazoned with Madoff-related headlines and personally annotated with Post-Its.
“I just wanted to be a witness,” she told reporters, adding that she wasn’t a Madoff investor. Cameras clicked and whirred as she held her sign aloft with red-stained hands suggesting the blood of victims.
Inside, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin enforced businesslike decorum. The 75-minute drama unfolded in a courtroom packed with Madoff’s victims and their supporters, along with an overflow crowd of journalists. Many in the crowd were white-haired, stooped and, judging from their L.L. Bean down coats, somewhat removed from the Palm Beach and Beacon Hill crowd Madoff so successfully had conned for decades.
After hearing the government’s 11 counts against Madoff, Judge Chin looked at him and said, “Mr. Madoff, tell me what you did.”
Madoff, in a dark blue suit and minus the baseball cap he’d favored when roaming the streets of his Upper East Side neighborhood, began speaking about his guilt. He started bilking his clients during the recession of the early 1990s, he said. Once he had a taste of it — by neglecting to buy securities his clients paid him for, for example — he just couldn’t stop himself.
“I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” he said. “I am deeply sorry and ashamed.”
His voice uninflected, his tone flat, he sounded about as ashamed and sorry as Hannibal Lecter.
“I never invested those funds,” he said, as if admitting that he’d caught a lake trout without a fishing license.