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Monday, January 12, 2009

No Jail for Madoff says Judge

NEW YORK ( -- A judge ruled Monday that Bernard Madoff would not be sent to jail pending trial, declining a request by prosecutors to revoke the bail of the financier accused in a $50 billion fraud case.

Madoff has been under house arrest since posting $10 million bail against his $7 million Manhattan apartment, where he lives with his wife, and his residence in France.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York added conditions to the bail, including "restrictions of transfer of all property whatsoever, wherever located" belonging to Madoff.

The judge also ruled that Madoff compile an inventory of all "valuable portable items" in his Manhattan home. The judge required that prosecutors employ a security company to check the inventory every two weeks and to inspect outgoing mail.

Prosecutors have been trying to put Madoff behind bars since last week. That's when the U.S. Department of Justice filed documents to Ellis accusing Madoff of shipping five packages containing more than $1 million worth of diamond-studded jewelry to family and friends, in violation of bail.

Prosecutors said last Wednesday that Madoff was trying to protect these assets - which included 15 watches, four brooches, necklaces and rings - from seizure, preventing alleged victims from recovering their losses.

But Madoff's defense attorney, Ira Lee Sorkin, said Madoff didn't know he violated bail when he mailed these "sentimental" items, and that some of the packages were actually sent by his wife.

Prosecutors on Thursday urged the judge once again to revoke bail, accusing Madoff of planning to transfer up to $300 million worth of assets - including 100 signed and ready-to-send checks found in his office, totaling $173 million.

He was arrested in December and charged with one count of securities fraud for allegedly stealing up to $50 billion from investors. If convicted, the 70-year-old could face up to 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Madoff's alleged scheme disrupted an already fragile financial system, affecting hedge funds and well-heeled investors from Wall Street, Palm Beach, Fla., and Europe. Alleged victims included Banco Santander (STD) in Spain and HSBC (HBC) in Britain, as well as director Steven Spielberg and actor Kevin Bacon.

In a Ponzi scheme, money from new investors is used to pay off early investors to create the appearance of legitimate returns.