NEW YORK (AP) -- A once-prominent Manhattan attorney was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for a hatching a massive fraud in a desperate attempt to keep his law firm afloat and bankroll a lavish lifestyle.
Marc Dreier, 59, had pleaded guilty to a $400 million scheme that, though dwarfed by Bernard Madoff's multibillion dollar swindle, was so outlandish prosecutors labeled him "the Houdini of impersonation and false documents."
"I'm sorry -- deeply sorry -- for the harm and sadness I've caused to so many people," Dreier said before hearing the sentence. He was later led out of court in handcuffs.
Defense attorney Gerald Shargel had argued in court papers that between 10 and 12½ years in prison would be fair punishment for his client.
"As colossal frauds capture national headlines, sentences for white collar offenders must not become disproportionately long," Shargel said.
Prosecutors had told U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff that Dreier should spend 145 years behind bars -- Madoff recently got 150 years -- for sacrificing a "rewarding and productive life as a lawyer" for "a life of fraud" that doomed his Park Avenue law firm.
Before Dreier's arrest late last year, the firm had nearly 250 attorneys and a roster of clients that included retired football star Michael Strahan and former News Corp. publishing executive Judith Regan. He had spent tens of millions to decorate the firm's offices with works by Picasso and Andy Warhol, and to purchase beachfront homes on both coasts, a Mercedes and an Aston Martin, and an $18.5 million yacht.
In a letter sent to the judge last week that was rife with regret, Dreier said he was engulfed in a "quicksand of spending" that led to desperate measures -- "a massive Ponzi scheme with no apparent way out."
The scheme involved cheated hedge funds, investment funds and several individual investors between 2004 and 2008 by selling them fictitious securities. The government has said Dreier received as much as $740 million from the sales and that victims lost $400 million.
To carry out the plot, prosecutors say, Dreier once impersonated a lawyer with a pension fund for Canadian teachers while trying to close a deal on $33 million in fraudulent promissory notes. He also supplied fake financial statements for his victims, and threw parties to try to lure in more clients.
Dreier wrote that he suffers "every day from the shame and self-loathing and regret with which I will always have to live," and has resigned himself to a long sentence.
"I will always be remembered as a thief," he said. "I have lost my past and my future. I have lost everything a man can lose. And now I will lose my freedom as well, and rightly so."