Madoff seen likely headed for low-security prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bernard Madoff is likely to spend years, possibly the rest of his life, in a low-security federal prison doing daily prison chores after he is sentenced in June, experts said on Friday.

The judge presiding over Madoff’s case has not said what kind of sentence he would impose, but the confessed swindler is considered certain to be ordered to prison -- possibly for decades given the size and scope of his crimes.

Madoff is now locked in a Manhattan jail after pleading guilty on Thursday to masterminding an unprecedented $65 billion swindle, and he faces up to 150 years in prison.

It will be up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, not the judge, to determine where Madoff would be incarcerated after sentencing. The judge and Madoff can weigh in, making requests such as the type of facility and a location preferably near his New York home.

Legal experts say it is most likely the 70-year-old disgraced money manager would be sent to a low-security federal correctional institution (FCI) where inmates work at prison jobs and are housed in dormitories or cubicles. Such facilities are generally surrounded by double fences.

For Madoff, “my guess would be a low-security FCI in the northeast region,” said Avrom Robin, a criminal defense lawyer in New York.

The two likeliest spots would be a facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey, about 40 miles from Philadelphia, or the Allenwood prison in central Pennsylvania, he said.

White-collar offenders are often given clerical jobs in prison or a job at the facility’s library, Robin said. They can also be assigned jobs such as cleaning prison dormitories or landscaping work on the premises.

He is appealing U.S. District Judge Denny Chin’s decision to send him to jail pending sentencing on June 16. Madoff’s lawyers say he is not a flight risk and should be allowed to stay confined to his $7 million apartment, where he had been secluded except for court appearances the last three months.

Many white-collar offenders are sent to minimum-security federal prison camps. Camp inmates typically are housed in dormitories, and there is little or no fencing and more freedom of movement than at more secure facilities.

But Madoff will be ineligible under Bureau of Prison rules to go to a camp, experts say. Inmates who are serving sentences longer than 10 years or have more than 10 years left on their sentences are not allowed at camps.

While it is expected that Madoff would be sent to a low-security prison, it is possible he could be assigned to a more heavily guarded one if he is sentenced to a term exceeding 20 years.

Life there could be much rougher.

At prison camps and low-security facilities, “you are really talking about a lot of white-collar offenders,” said Charles Ross, a New York defense attorney. “Once you jump to medium, you are talking about a different level of offenses.”

The prisons bureau can give variances allowing nonviolent offenders such as white-collar inmates and elderly criminals to go to low-security prisons even if their prison sentences exceed 20 years, Robin said.

“They might put him in a low even with more than 20 years,” he said.

At any of these facilities, Madoff would be required to serve at least 80 percent of any sentence, because there is no parole system for federal offenders, said Christopher Clark, a white-collar defense attorney at law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP.

His days in prison likely will be “tedious and regimented,” Clark said. “There is not a lot to do.”

Reporting by Martha Graybow; Editing by Gary Hill