- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

Court records filed Friday strongly indicate that Bernard Madoff intends to plead guilty to swindling charges related to what prosecutors call a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

A plea hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, at which victims may be allowed to speak, according to a court order signed Friday evening by Judge Denny Chin. Victims do not testify at hearings where the defendant files a “not guilty” plea.

The order filed late Friday afternoon followed an earlier filing from prosecutors indicating Mr. Madoff will waive indictment in the case and instead be charged through a “criminal information,” a procedure that usually indicates a plea agreement has been reached.

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“That would certainly indicate to me that he is going to enter a guilty plea on that date,” said Barry Pollack, a white-collar defense attorney who is not involved in the case.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and Mr. Madoff’s lawyer did not return a message left by The Washington Times.

Court records do not indicate to what specific charges Mr. Madoff would plead guilty or what his sentence would be.

Mr. Madoff, who is under house arrest at his Manhattan penthouse, was previously scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday for arraignment, but that appearance will now be a plea hearing.

Judge Chin’s order indicates that any victim who wishes to speak at the hearing must make arrangements with prosecutors by Wednesday morning.

“The court will then rule on the whether, and the manner in which, victims may be heard at that proceeding,” he wrote.

Mr. Pollack said victim’s rights law requires that victims be notified of plea hearings.

The FBI arrested Mr. Madoff in December after authorities say he confessed to the scam that victimized thousands of investors and charities and spelled financial ruin for many. Criminal investigators have spent months trying to unravel the complex scheme.

The Associated Press reported that the waiver of indictment came the same day the first reimbursement checks were sent to Mr. Madoff’s purported victims. Investors are eligible to receive up to $500,000 and have until July to file their claims with the Securities Investor Protection Corp.

Mr. Pollack cautioned that plea talks can always fall apart at the last minute, but he said the waiver of indictment was a strong hint that plea negotiations were progressing well. It also meant Mr. Madoff’s lawyers could negotiate with prosecutors over which charges he would face and plead guilty to, he said.

“There are a lot of practical reasons why it’s a good time to have the plea discussions” before an indictment is handed up, Mr. Pollack said.

An indictment, which the “criminal information” precludes in this case, requires that prosecutors present their case to a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence to indict a person. An indictment is therefore not needed when guilty pleas are expected and prosecutors will not have to prove their case at a trial.

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