Bernard Madoff wants to make 'dying, personal plea' for freedom

NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - A dying Bernard Madoff wants to tell the U.S. judge who will decide whether to free him from prison that he has accepted responsibility for his massive Ponzi scheme, and is sincerely remorseful for his crimes and their impact on victims.

In court papers filed late Wednesday and early Thursday, Madoff's lawyer Brandon Sample asked Circuit Judge Denny Chin to schedule a hearing in Manhattan where the 81-year-old Madoff could speak by phone from his prison in Butner, North Carolina, where he has served nearly 11 years of his 150-year term. A hearing would "likely to be the last proceeding in this case before Mr Madoff's death," expected within 18 months, Sample said. "Allowing Mr. Madoff to give what is, in effect, a final dying, personal plea is eminently reasonable."

Sample also submitted a letter from a person who agreed to house Madoff, but asked it not be made public because it "could lead to harassment or other invasions of the letter writer's privacy given the extremely public nature of this case."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which opposes Madoff's release, declined to comment.

Prosecutors have said Madoff used his firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC to swindle thousands of individuals, charities, pension funds and hedge funds, including many with ties to the Jewish community, over multiple decades.

A court-appointed trustee estimated Madoff's customers lost $17.5 billion, of which nearly $14 billion has been recovered.

Prosecutors estimated the fraud at $64.8 billion, based on amounts Madoff told customers they had in their accounts just before his Dec. 2008 arrest.

Chin called Madoff's crimes "extraordinarily evil" in imposing the 150-year sentence in June 2009.

Madoff is seeking "compassionate release" under the First Step Act, a bipartisan 2018 law affording early freedom to some older prisoners, often for health reasons.

Sample has said Madoff is dying of kidney failure, and is also confined to a wheelchair and battling several other illnesses.

Prosecutors have said the scope of Madoff's crimes, his refusal to accept responsibility, and his practice of "deflecting blame" toward victims in interviews from prison justify keeping him behind bars. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Nick Macfie)