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The Ripple Effects of the Madoff Scandal -- and What We Can do to Help

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While many people are shocked by the news of Bernard Madoff's apparent Ponzi scheme affecting as much as $50 billion from a range of investors, Steven Barnes is focused on rebuilding his life and navigating a changed world.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Barnes was released from prison in Upstate New York after serving nearly 20 years for a rape and murder he didn't commit. He was freed when DNA testing, secured by the Innocence Project, proved his innocence. Since then, he has spent time with friends and family - particularly his mother, Sylvia, who woke up every day for two decades focused on securing her son's freedom.

The Innocence Project spent nearly $20,000 for the DNA testing that led to Barnes' release. We represented him for several years, spending tens of thousands of dollars in attorney salaries and fees associated with his case. As in all of our work, we were able to fight for Steven Barnes with the support of dedicated individuals and foundations. This week, we learned that one of our important supporters, the venerable JEHT Foundation, is suspending grant-making and closing it doors. Madoff managed the finances of the family who funded JEHT, so the family no longer has money for the foundation to distribute.

The roster of organizations supported by the JEHT Foundation is long and impressive. The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and dozens of other vital organizations are losing a critical source of support.

In a time when many wonder what the public can do to help address the national economic uncertainty, the Madoff scandal brings at least part of the answer: Donate today to organizations that are losing critical support as a result of this scandal. You can click here to donate to the Innocence Project; all donations this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, by other supporters. Click here to find other nonprofit organizations impacted by Madoff, and go to one or more of those organizations' websites to donate today.

For our part, the Innocence Project will continue building on our successes. Obviously, the loss of a foundation that supported us so generously will hurt us, but it's not catastrophic. The JEHT Foundation's great legacy is that it helped the Innocence Project and other organizations become more self-sufficient; over the last four years, the foundation focused on helping us diversify our base of donors so that we draw support from more individuals and other foundations. Now, in the midst of the critical holiday fundraising season, we are optimistic that even more individual donors will step up and help us move forward.

That's what each of us can do -- not just to offset the losses of the Madoff scandal, but to make sure that other innocent people like Steven Barnes do not spend another holiday in prison for crimes they didn't commit.