Butner, N.C. Bernard Madoff’s life of luxury is a thing of the past.
The disgraced financier blamed for what is believed to be the largest Ponzi scheme in history arrived Tuesday at a federal prison in North Carolina to begin a 150-year sentence in a cell with two bunk beds, a toilet and a sink.
Madoff — also known now as prisoner number 61727-054 — arrived somewhat under cover at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex about 45 miles northwest of Raleigh. Onlookers said a bus backed into the entrance, then a sport utility vehicle pulled in front of it, blocking photographers and TV cameras trying to get a glimpse.
A prison official said he would be treated like any other inmate. If so, Madoff can plan to work seven-hour days on jobs like painting, plumbing and groundskeeping. There’s also no Internet access, televisions in common rooms only, and limited recreation time.
Madoff will be held in one of two medium-security facilities, and will likely have a cell mate who could be a convict sentenced for a similar white-collar crime or something violent.
“I wouldn’t describe any of the facilities here as a nice place,” Butner spokesman Greg Norton said.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March to charges that his investment advisory business was a multibillion-dollar scheme that wiped out thousands of investors and ruined charities. His Ponzi scheme was stunning for its size and duration.
In a Ponzi scheme, early investors are paid by diverting money from new investors. When the flow of new money dries up, the scheme collapses and the fraud is exposed.
Authorities said Madoff had carried out the fraud for at least two decades before confessing to his sons in December that his investment business was a fraud and that he had lost as much as $50 billion.
A consultant who advises convicts on what to expect behind bars said it will be hard for officials to treat Madoff like other inmates.
“He’s a special case,” said Larry Levine of Wall Street Prison Consultants. “We’ve never had anyone steal this much money before. He’s one of the most hated people in the United States.”
Levine was held at numerous federal prisons after being sentenced for drug dealing and securities fraud, according to his company’s Web site.
Madoff left a New York lockup on Monday, then arrived at federal prison in Atlanta before heading to Butner.
He will first go through an intake screening process, where he receives a medical checkup, then be assigned housing, Norton said.
Madoff’s former secretary of 20 years, Eleanor Squillari, has said his health deteriorated in the weeks before his arrest.
Within the federal prison system, Butner is perhaps best known for its hospital facility to treat elderly or ill prisoners. The prison’s Web site said its medical center housed nearly 970 of the facility’s total inmate population of 4,800 last week.