Prosecutors have accused financier Bernard Madoff - the alleged mastermind of a $50 billion Ponzi scheme - of intending to transfer up to $300 million worth of assets to protect them from seizure, and they want him locked up immediately.
In a court filing Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department accused Madoff of having signed about 100 checks - worth a total of $173 million - "ready to be sent out" prior to his arrest by the FBI on Dec. 11 on a charge of securities fraud.
Prosecutors said the checks violate his $10 million bail agreement and was an attempt to prevent his alleged victims from recovering their losses.
Until now, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis has allowed Madoff to remain under house arrest in his Manhattan apartment, where he lives with his wife, while the case proceeds. If guilty, the 70-year-old Madoff could spend up to 20 years in prison and face a $5 million fine.
Authorities discovered the checks when they searched his office, according to a the filing by prosecutors at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Prior to his arrest, Madoff had "announced his intention to transfer $200-$300 million of the remaining investors' assets to selected family, friends and employees," wrote prosecutors in the filing.
Madoff defense lawyer Ira Lee Sorkin declined to comment.
This isn't the first time prosecutors have urged the court to put Madoff behind bars right away.
On Wednesday, prosecutors made public a written statement to the court, accusing Madoff of sending more than $1 million worth of diamond-studded jewelry to friends and relatives, in violation of his bail.
"The defendant's recent distribution of jewelry and watches demonstrates a continuing intention to benefit those close to him, to the detriment of his victims," said prosecutors in the filing.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys filed court papers arguing that Madoff's current bail conditions are sufficient and detention is not necessary.
The defense document said Madoff "simply did not realize" that the order prohibiting him from transferring assets pertained to the "sentimental personal items" he had mailed.
Also, the defense said some of the items were sent by his wife and that she is not subject to the same restrictions.
Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme disrupted an already fragile financial system, affecting hedge funds and well-heeled investors on Wall Street, in Florida and in Europe. Alleged victims include Banco Santander (STD) in Spain and HSBC (HBC) in Britain, as well as director Steven Spielberg and actor Kevin Bacon.
In a Ponzi scheme, money from new investors is used to pay off early investors to create the appearance of legitimate returns.