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Area investors glad Madoff gets 150 years

MANATEE — University Park resident Paul Smilow breathed a sigh of relief Monday upon hearing the sentencing outcome of rogue hedge fund manager Bernard Madoff.

Though the 150-year sentence won’t return the money Smilow lost, he’s happy Madoff will be spending the rest of his life in jail.

“I think the verdict was appropriate, and my heart goes out to all the people who are suffering greater than we are,” Smilow said.

Smilow and his wife, Turbi, were referred to Madoff’s investments through family members. The couple said Madoff came highly recommended and was supposedly an upstanding citizen.

They weren’t alone.

Madoff, 71, bilked thousands of investors out of $65 billion and ran what prosecutors described as a Ponzi scheme — where money from new investors is used to pay original investors.

Smilow declined to say how much he and his wife lost, but said it was substantial.

“It was a big hit,” Smilow said. “It wasn’t all of the hit, and we’re having to rethink a lot of how we live our lives. But we’ll survive it and fortunately he will be put away for his entire life. And I hope what is reclaimed will help people who are in worse shape than we are, because I’m sure there are an awful lot of them.”

Verna T. Smith, who lives in Longboat Key, said she lost a “very, very” substantial amount to Madoff’s scheme. She was nonplussed by his 150-year sentence.

“I would rather have him released and have to walk down the street,” Smith said. “There would be a million people after him and I wouldn’t have to pay to keep him in prison. I’m paying double, right? Now I’m paying for him to be in jail.”

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, citing the unprecedented nature of the fraud, rejected Madoff’s plea for leniency, an act several local financial advisers agreed with. They believe the long prison term will act as a deterrent to future potential swindlers.

“I think it was good and served the purpose, and I think it was necessary,” said Mike Ohlman, who specializes in estate investment and retirement management with Raymond James and Associates.

“I would hope it would act as a deterrent,” said Tom Breiter with Breiter Capital on Anna Maria Island. “If you are never coming out (of prison), that’s an effective sentence to send that message.”

Both men have seen the impact of the Ponzi scheme scandal on their industry.

“It is sad on every level — not only were a lot of innocent people greatly harmed, but it reflects badly on all of us in the industry,” Ohlman said. “The collateral damage is far-reaching.”

Local trader James “RevShark” DePorre said those in stock market and investing circles were pleased by the sentence.

“Given the extent and the duration of the Madoff fraud, most in the investment community were pleased to see the equivalent of a life sentence in this case,” DePorre said by e-mail. “Frauds like this don’t only hurt investors directly but undermine confidence in the vast majority of investment managers who are hard working and honest. Investors need to take responsibility too and in the Internet age there is no reason that investors can’t insist on full transparency of their investments.”