Life Behind Bars for Madoff?

Paul Radvany in Slate, June 29, 2009

Media Source

It's sentencing day for Bernard Madoff, the world's business press trumpet this morning. According to Reuters, the 71-year-old "admitted thief" (he's also a "swindler") can expect to be sentenced to life for masterminding the largest-ever Ponzi scheme, bilking his clients of billions. CNNMoney concurs, saying the judge will probably throw the book at Madoff and sentence him to remain behind bars for the rest of his life; officially, Madoff faces a 150-year term. What is certain is the high drama in court today. Victims will get their chance to detail how the Madoff swindle has ruined their lives. "Given the enormous amount of funds he has stolen and the number of victims, the sentence is going to be very, very high," Paul Radvany, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Fordham University, tells Reuters.

Meanwhile, the search continues for the missing Madoff money—just $1.2 billion of the $13.2 billion sought by court-appointed trustee Irving Picard has been located, the Wall Street Journal writes. The victims will be compensated up to $500,000 from the Securities Investor Protection Corp. What they get on top of that comes down to whatever Picard can uncover. Most of the recovered money comes from liquidating Madoff's assets and forcing family members like wife Ruth to relinquish their millions to the courts. The hard nugget will be the remaining $10 billion or so. To recover this cash, Picard is suing investors, including trust funds and partnerships run by investors Jeffry Picower and Stanley Chais, who withdrew billions from their Madoff accounts in recent years, the newspaper writes.

There's growing tension in the world of consumer gadgetry, too. According to Fortune.com's Apple 2.0 blog, Apple (AAPL) is running low on iPhones—the 3GS model. The reportage, naturally, is conducted by analyzing the iPhone "availability app," a kind of running tally for stock on iPhones. "The availability tool, which appears on Apple’s website in times of scarcity, was last seen in the summer of 2008, when demand for the iPhone 3G was heavy and supplies short," Fortune.com reports. By yesterday morning, "there were red “sold out” lights for selected 3GS models in all but six states," Fortune.com adds. The most difficult model to keep on the shelves, apparently, is the white iPhone 3GS. "It’s not clear whether demand for that model is unusually high or if Apple just isn’t making enough of them," Fortune.com writes. Computerworld.com, though, reports there is no cause for alarm. The iPhone 3GS shortages are "a milder repeat of last summer, when Apple's stores quickly exhausted supplies of the then-new iPhone 3G," it writes.

"Life's for sharing" is the slogan of the latest T-Mobile U.K. ad campaign, and the company seems to be taking that vision to the extreme. The Financial Times reports that T-Mobile U.K. is being prepared for a sale by parent company Deutsche Telekom and that Vodafone is considering acquiring its mobile rival at a potential price of around $5 billion. The audacious merger would "have huge repercussions for the British mobile phone market" and would undoubtedly attract the attention of Europe's competition regulators. (The combined company would have a 40 percent share of revenue paid by British mobile phone users.) Still on the German merger beat (a slightly tenuous link, admittedly): Volkswagen and Porsche are still lanes apart in their attempt at a family tie-up, the New York Times reports. This weekend, Volkswagen has presented Porsche with an "ultimatum to decide by [today] whether to accept the merger on VW’s terms or risk having the deal fall apart," the paper writes, citing a report in Der Spiegel.

To the world of clean energy now and news that the top U.S. oil refiner, Valero Energy, has recently installed 33 windmills to supply a Texas refinery with green electricity to produce gasoline and diesel, the WSJ writes. For Valero, the investment is a way to guarantee a fixed price for electricity and to free itself from the fluctuations of the national grid. But by tapping into wind power, the company, "which has the capacity to process more crude than any other U.S. refiner," will also be able to argue that it is producing oil and gas products in a more environmentally responsible way—even if those products keep producing huge amounts of greenhouse gases once they're used in cars and trucks. The NYT reports that Dow Chemical (DOW) is embracing the green revolution with a plan to employ huge amounts of algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol. The algae would harvest the carbon dioxide, creating a ready supply of ethanol that Dow would then use as an ingredient for making plastics, its core business.

And, finally, towns across America are faced with a tough decision for this upcoming Independence Day celebration—fireworks or jobs? According to the Los Angeles Times, 50 "cash-strapped" cities and municipalities "are forgoing fireworks festivities, choosing instead to retain jobs." The LAT travels to the Cleveland suburb of Euclid, whose mayor decided that the annual $150,000 bill to put on a fireworks spectacular could be money better spent elsewhere. "It came down to this: Did we want to spend $150,000 on something that would be over in a few hours?" Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik told the newspaper. "Or did we want to use that money to keep city workers employed?"