Madoff may cop a plea; where's the justice in that?

As the deadline runs down to Bernie Madoff's arraignment next Thursday, it appears that the alleged Ponzi schemer may be ready to make a deal. Although everyone involved with the case remains tight-lipped, Madoff's actions, as well as those of his prosecutors, suggest that a guilty plea may be imminent.

One has to wonder, however, what rationale law enforcement would have for giving Madoff a more lenient sentence in exchange for admitting guilt.

What does Madoff have to offer prosecutors? As the kingpin of a decades-long fraud, he personally oversaw every aspect of his business. While family members apparently assisted him and lax regulation made his crime much easier to commit, it seems unlikely that he will be able to offer evidence against bigger crooks. Isn't that often the bargaining chip by which criminals get reduced sentences?

Even the claim that Madoff is helping prosecutors seems problematic. Over the past few months, the newspapers have been full of stories about Madoff's attempts to hide valuables, distribute funds to family members, and otherwise retain some of his ill-gotten lucre. Recently, his wife has gotten into the act, hiding assets, laying claim to some of the couple's holdings, and trying to retain ownership of their apartment.

Overall, it appears that Madoff, despite his early cooperation with the court, is doing everything he can to hamper the return of the money he stole. As prosecutors have spent the last few months attempting to untangle his company's finances, it has grown clear that few people, other than Madoff himself, had a full understanding of the scope and complexity of his operations.

According to his lawyers and the U.S. attorney's office, Madoff has already waived an indictment, a necessary step before entering a guilty plea. Further, his earlier actions, including surrendering millions of dollars in assets and admitting to a $50 million fraud, seem to suggest that he is eager to make a deal.

The question remains, however, if Madoff's help in figuring out his balance sheets offsets the damage that a plea bargain would do to the cause of justice.

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