NEW YORK - Saying he was 'deeply sorry and ashamed,' Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling off perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street history and was immediately led off to jail in handcuffs to the delight of his seething victims.
Madoff, 70, could get up to 150 years in prison when he is sentenced in June.
In refusing to let him remain free on bail until then, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin noted that Madoff had the means to flee and an incentive to do so.
The plea did not satisfy many investors who had hoped Madoff would be forced to name any family members or others who helped him swindle them out of billions of dollars. He pleaded guilty to all 11 charges against him - with no deal with prosecutors - meaning he is under no obligation to disclose names and tell authorities where the money went.
'I am actually grateful for this opportunity to publicly comment about my crimes, for which I am deeply sorry and ashamed,' Madoff, speaking softly but firmly, said in his first public comments about his crimes since the scandal broke in early December.
DeWitt Baker, an investor who attended the hearing and said he lost more than $1 million with Madoff, called it 'fantastic' that Madoff's bail was revoked but belittled the apology.
'I don't think he has a sincere bone in his body,' said Baker, who added that prison time would be too good for Madoff. 'I'd stone him to death.'
Madoff did not look at any of the three investors who spoke at the hearing, even when one turned in his direction and tried to address him.
The fraud, which prosecutors say may have totaled nearly $65 billion, turned a well-respected investment professional - he was once chairman of the Nasdaq exchange - into a symbol of Wall Street greed amid the economic meltdown. The public fury toward him was so great that he was known to wear a bulletproof vest to court.
Madoff pleaded guilty to charges including fraud, perjury and money-laundering. He told the judge that the scheme began in the early 1990s, when the country was in a recession and the market was not doing well.
'While I never promised a specific rate of return to any client, I felt compelled to satisfy my clients' expectations, at any cost,' he said.
He said he accepted investors' money, but didn't put it into the market. Instead, he sent them phony account statements showing that they were making money.
'When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme,' he said. 'However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible, and as the years went by I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come.'
Madoff implicated no one else, though investigators suspect relatives and top lieutenants may have been in on the scheme.
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: 'The president is glad that swift justice will happen.'