Madoff was charged with 11 felony counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury. Under federal sentencing guidelines, those crimes would yield a life sentence for the 70-year-old trader.
The charges, made public late Tuesday, offered a few fresh details about how Madoff conducted his long-running fraud. They raised its price tag from his own estimate of 50 billion dollars to nearly 65 billion dollars, the total amount that thousands of customers were told they had in their accounts at his firm.
To sustain his fraud, the New York Times quoted prosecutors as saying that Madoff assembled an ill-trained and inexperienced clerical staff, directed them to "generate false and fraudulent documents," told lies and supplied false records to regulators, and shuffled hundreds of millions of dollars from bank to bank to create the illusion of active trading.
The government said Madoff ordered these multimillion-dollar bank transfers in part "to give the appearance that he was conducting securities transactions in Europe on behalf of the investors, when, in fact, he was not."
And, in an accusation that extends his crime's shadow to the edges of the business where his brother and sons worked, prosecutors accused Madoff of using some of the money he gathered through his Ponzi scheme to support the supposedly legitimate wholesale stock trading operation that made his name on Wall Street.
Specifically, prosecutors said Madoff 'caused more than 250 million dollars' he collected through his Ponzi scheme from at least 2002 through 2008 'to be directed, through a series of wire transfers, to the operating accounts that funded the operations of these businesses.'
The government also charged that he had money transferred from his firm's London office 'to purchase property and services for the personal use and benefit' of himself, his family members and his associates.
Finally, prosecutors said that Madoff - whose investors prized his steady single-digit annual returns - actually had promised select clients extraordinarily high returns, as much as 46 percent, to lure them in as investors.
Although the forfeiture laws allow the government to seize any property it can trace as the proceeds of illegal activity, investigators have so far found no sign that Madoff or anyone connected with his business has anything like that amount of money.
Madoff's lawyers have filed a letter with the court disputing that outsize figure, saying it represents all the money ever deposited in Madoff bank accounts over the years without distinguishing either legitimate business operations or the billions that were paid out to investors as part of the Ponzi scheme.
Madoff has been free on 10 million dollar bail, but confined to his apartment, since his arrest in Dec. It is not clear whether the government will seek to have his bail revoked if he pleads guilty on Thursday, Mar 12.