March 10, 2009 / 11:25 PM / 9 years ago

Motive in Madoff case murky as expected plea nears

NEW YORK, March 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. government has brought a massive case against Bernard Madoff, chronicling 11 crimes he is accused of committing over more than 20 years, but prosecutors still have not clearly stated any motive in their case.

His lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, said on Tuesday at a court hearing there was a “fair expectation” that Madoff would plead guilty on Thursday.

People who gathered in a Manhattan federal courtroom for a glimpse of Madoff heard him give short answers, mostly “yes” or “no”, to the judge’s questions. In one revealing moment at the hearing, Madoff told the judge he had never been treated for mental illness or addiction, that his mind was clear and he was feeling alright.

The 70-year-old, silver-haired, veteran investor has been under house arrest at his Manhattan penthouse since he was arrested last December. Dressed in a neat gray suit, he arrived early for his appearance, followed by the usual throng of reporters and cameras, but as with his prior visits to the courthouse, he made no comments to the press.

The hearing mostly dealt with issues of whether Madoff’s defense lawyer had a conflict of interest in handling his case, raised by issues such as investments with Madoff’s firm by Sorkin’s late parents.

Irate clients have hoped to learn more about what may have driven Madoff if he indeed committed the crimes of which is he accused.

In court papers filed on Tuesday, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said the former Nasdaq chairman and once-respected investing professional started his life of crime in the 1980s.

They said he hired people with little or no relevant experience in the investment business, directing them to create bogus documents such as client account statements and fake trade slips. No one else has been charged in the case.

Prosecutors said that to further the fraud, Madoff concocted phony balance sheets, income statements, cash flow documents and internal control reports. They said he then sent those documents to would-be clients and regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Madoff is accused of having bilked investors out of $50 billion.

Observers of the case have speculated that if he did it, he might have been motivated by greed, or malice, or an effort to hide trading losses.

On Thursday, if Madoff pleads guilty, he could help answer some of the questions about motivation. Investors, wishing to weigh in on any plea, will be allowed to speak to the court. The anger they have expressed since Madoff’s arrest could turn into fireworks in the courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who is presiding over the case, has urged the public to stay calm.

While “emotions are high,” he said on Tuesday, all sides must “conduct ourselves appropriate to a courtroom proceeding.” (Reporting by Martha Graybow; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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