Going from a Park Avenue luxury apartment to a federal prison is going to be quite a change for Bernard Madoff. He was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison. What's life going to be like for him behind bars?
Larry Levine served ten years in prison and is now a consultant for white collar criminals preparing to go to jail. He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
Kiran Chetry: What do you fill people in on as they get ready to go to prison?
Larry Levine: Well, I do damage control. Once the judge slams down the gavel and sentences you, the lawyer has no idea what's going to happen. So I prepare people for going into custody. I teach them everything they need to know from the time they go in, until they get out. If they get in a jam while they're on the inside, their families can get a hold of me and we can straighten things out.
Now in Madoff's case, he doesn't have an out date. What, 150 years from now? So he really has nothing to look forward to. I see them possibly putting him on suicide watch and/or protective custody because people are going to want to get to him. On a lighter side, he will get about 19-and-a-half years off on good time. They will give him that even though it'll never apply.
Chetry: In a way you're saying he doesn’t have hope for an appeal or hope to get out if he does well?
Levine: You have to prove that the judge abused his discretion by sentencing him to 150 years. Well, Madoff's off the charts as far as the dollar loss and the U.S. sentencing guidelines. They could have given him 200 years, although it wouldn't really make a difference. The judge had the latitude to do that, so an appeal really is going to go nowhere.
Chetry: What's daily life going to be like for Bernard Madoff in a federal penitentiary?
Levine: Well, he was in a detention center. … He's had a little taste of custody, but now he's going to be living in a cell, which is going to be his permanent home and this man who lived in a penthouse for years is going to be living basically out of a two-foot by four-foot wall locker. That's where all of his personal items are going to be stored and he's going to be subject to being counted several times a day, possibly strip-searched. He's not going to have any privacy, and he's probably going to be terrified for his life because people are going to want to get to him.
Chetry: Is he going to be among “hardened criminals”? Is he going to be serving with other people who committed non-violent crimes, meaning white collar?
Levine: I did a custody classification score on him… He really should be in a camp. He really should be in minimum custody, but the problem is, again, the dollar loss. Because of his dollar loss, they're putting a management variable on him. He's going to go to a medium. And he's going to come in contact with people that are bank robbers, killers, rapists and gang members. He's going to be in an extremely dangerous environment and he's going to be serving time with other people that have life sentences. Those people don't have an out date either. So if things jump off, they're not going to hesitate to do something to Bernie. They don't care. What can you possibly do to somebody who is serving a life that's not getting out anyway? Nothing.
Chetry: They would put him in the same prison as rapists, killers, and others?
Levine: It's the custody level. Medium custody.
Chetry: Rapists and killers are in the medium security?
Levine: Well, they work their way down, absolutely. They go from, let’s say a United States penitentiary, which is a high, to medium custody. Yeah. I saw them when I was in the medium in Phoenix; you have people serving life sentences there. I had two cell mates, one of them – he robbed an armored car up in Washington, I think it was in the late '80s and killed one of the armored car guards. These are dangerous people and you've got a lot of racists there – white power Aryan brotherhood – in these institutions and Bernie’s Jewish. Well I’m Jewish myself, but Bernie's not going to be real popular. He’s not going to have any friends.
Chetry: What were you in there for?
Levine: Narcotics trafficking, securities fraud, racketeering, obstruction of justice, and machine guns. My whole case was organized crime.
Chetry: How busy are you as a consultant prepping people to go?
Levine: My phone rings off the hook. Everybody has a problem, everyone has a question. Some people I can help, some people I can't. Now, I had Madoff's reps get a hold of me before he went into custody and I turned them down. I wouldn't help the guy out because I view him as an economic terrorist. If you rip off a bank and insurance company, an institution, that's an acceptable crime. Bernie hurt people. He hurt people individually and I refuse to help people like that. Let him rot in hell.