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The Longest Sentences Handed Out to Fraudsters

Bernie Madoff police mugshot

Messing with the law in America can lead to terrible results, particularly for those who commit massive fraud.

Some states still have the death penalty for the most severe crimes, and some incredibly long sentences have been handed out.

The Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols holds the record for the longest sentence after being convicted of 161 counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, and conspiracy by the state court of Oklahoma.

READ MORE: The $3 million fraud involving Barack Obama and George W. Bush's spiritual adviser

His 161 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole are seen as one of the longest sentences ever handed out in the world.

The official Guinness World Record is that of Dudley Wayne Kyzer, jailed for 10,000 years for killing his wife in 1981.

He also received further sentences for killing his mother-in-law and a college student.

Very serious crimes also occur in business, with massive frauds causing the collapse of giant corporations and enriching the people involved at their expense.

Such frauds often lead to long sentences, with many of the protagonists dying in prison.

Here are five of the longest sentences for large-scale fraud in the U.S. 

Sholam Weiss - 845 years

Fraudster Sholam Weiss
Fraudster Sholam Weiss

Sholam Weiss was a businessman who hatched a complex fraud in the 1990s. 

He worked for the National Heritage Life Insurance company and devised a scheme with several employees.

They conspired to fake the accounts, so it looked like the company was making money when in fact, it was not.

Fake reinsurance contracts were also created and then used to hide the company's losses.

They also made loans to fake companies and used them to make it look like the company was doing well.

The scheme eventually fell apart, forcing National Heritage Life Insurance into bankruptcy.

After going on the run to Austria, he was caught and extradited to the United States to face charges.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 845 years in prison, which is one of the longest sentences ever handed down in a white-collar crime case in the United States.

The sentence was reduced to 835 years after an appeal.

The exact amount he stole is unknown, but he was ordered to pay restitution of $125 million.

He launched several appeals against the case, arguing the sentence was excessive and violated his constitutional rights.

However, his appeals all failed.

He was released from prison in 2021 after President Trump commuted his sentence on his last day as President.

Bernie Madoff - 150 years

Bernie Madoff police mugshot
Bernie Madoff carried out a massive fraud

Madoff's name has become synonymous with large-scale financial fraud.

In 2008, his vast Ponzi scheme was uncovered after he spent two decades defrauding thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.

READ MORE: Jerome Kerviel: The French fraudster who lost his bank $5 billion

Madoff's scam unraveled during the 2008 financial crisis when investors began to demand their money back, and he could not keep up with the payouts.

It is thought Madoff defrauded his clients of over $64 billion, making it the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

READ MORE: Meet the fraudster who received an 845-year sentence

Madoff was eventually arrested and charged with securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, perjury, and making false statements.

In 2009, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts and was sentenced to 150 years.

He died in prison aged 82 in 2021.

Allen Stanford - 110 years

Fraudster Allen Stanford
Fraudster Allen Stanford

The billionaire Allen Stanford was jailed in 2012 after stealing $7 billion from investors in a 20-year Ponzi scheme.

His scam was finally uncovered in 2009 after he sold fake high-yielding certificates of deposit through his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.

He used investor deposits to fund his lavish lifestyle, including private jets and pumping money into his cricket team.


Federal agents raided his offices in February 2009, leading him to be charged with a "massive ongoing fraud."

Federal agents raided the offices of Stanford Financial in February 2009.

He was charged with "massive ongoing fraud" around his investment scheme.

The scam was described as a "massive Ponzi scheme," which included misappropriating billions of dollars from investors and faking the bank's records in an attempt to hide the scam.

Stanford denied any responsibility and said his companies were well-run.

He denied charges of fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction.


The trial lasted between January and March 2012, with the jury convicting Stanford as the mastermind behind a vast Ponzi scheme after three hours of deliberation.

Prosecutors pushed for the maximum sentence allowed under U.S. law – a staggering 230 years.

They called him a "ruthless predator" who "lived a life steeped in deceit."

Stanford was also ordered to forfeit $5.9 billion. U.S. District Judge David Hittner said the crime was "one of the most egregious frauds ever presented to a trial jury in federal court."

During sentencing, Stanford protested his innocence, blaming "Gestapo tactics" from the government.

The proceedings continued after he was jailed as another judge, David Godbey, sided with the SEC in a civil suit against Stanford.

He was ordered to give back $6.7 billion and pay a $5.9 billion fine.

Stanford appealed his conviction, which was rejected in 2015.

A second appeal was rejected in 2021.

He still denies the charges to this day.

Scott Rothstein - 50 years

The Ponzi Scheme is a popular method for financial fraudsters to enrich themselves.

Scott Rothstein is another criminal jailed for a very long time after he defrauded investors of the law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

The firm's offices in Fort Lauderdale were raided by the FBI in 2009.

It transpired Rothstein had asked colleagues which countries refused to extradite criminals to the U.S., with Morocco one of the countries that met the criteria.

He later wired $16 million to a person in the city of Casablanca.

He even went as far as sending a fake suicide note to his colleagues.

Rothstein returned to Fort Lauderdale a few days later.

He was arrested in December 2009 and charged with five counts of racketeering, fraud, and money laundering. 

The former lawyer pleaded guilty in January 2010 and was sentenced to a 50-year prison term later that year.

Tom Petters - 50 years

Fraudster Tom Petters
Fraudster Tom Petters

Another Ponzi scheme, another 50 years in jail.

Tom Petters was the chairman of Petters Group Worldwide, a company in Minnesota that found itself at the center of an FBI investigation of a fraud involving more than $100 million in investments.

In September 2008, FBI and IRS agents raided the company's headquarters.

They were looking for evidence of a scheme luring investors into funding a company based on tens of millions of dollars in purchases and sales that never happened.

A witness provided documents and information before wearing a hidden microphone.

They recorded several conversations involving Petters and other staff who carried out the fraud.

Petters admitted to carrying out the fraud and falsifying his tax returns.

He was arrested in October 2008 and was denied bail as it was revealed he'd urged someone else involved with the case to leave the country and previously spoken about doing the same himself if he ever got caught.

He was charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice.

The scam saw several of the companies which invested go bust.

Petters was found guilty of 20 counts of conspiracy, wire, and mail fraud and jailed for 50 years.

He is another who maintains his innocence, according to an interview with Twin Cities Business magazine in 2012.

His earliest potential release is in April 2052, when he will be 94 years old.

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