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Bernie Madoff's sentencing this week was bittersweet justice for victims of the largest Ponzi scheme in world history. I mean, he was definitely doing his numbers, no doubt. The staggering $50 billion scam was a fraud of goliath proportions not seen since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But long before Madoff was holding 'weekends at Bernie's' with his elite investors, others had been running cruel Ponzi schemes into the ground. Here are some of the most lucrative cases:
5. Charles Ponzi, $15 million
• Although Ponzi didn't actually invent this style of fraud, his name became synonymous with essentially juggling investor money around to make the appearance of genuine profits. He defrauded nearly 40,000 people for about $15 million in nine months. You can't say he wasn't grinding. In 1920, he was sentenced and served 5 years prison before fleeing to Brazil.
4. Lou Pearlman, $300 million
• Lou was one helluva multi-tasker. When he wasn't swindling money as a manager for 'N SYNC and the Backstreet Boys, he was patiently building a fake company called Trans Continental Airlines. It only existed on paper but still accepted over $300 million in investments. After finally being captured in Indonesia in 2007, Pearlman was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
3. Sergei Mavrodi, $1. 5 billion
• Mavrodi was somewhat of an evil genius. When authorities finally raided him for scamming 2 million Russians out of more than $1.5 billion, he simply blamed the government for investor losses, ran for parliament, and was elected to the lower house. His parliamentary immunity held him down for a minute, but in 2003, he was sentenced to 4 years in the Bing.
2. Wang Fengyou, $2 billion
• Fengyou's scheme was borderline bat-shit crazy, but he still managed to win a governmental award in 2006 for "China's Top 10 Entrepreneurial Leaders". He was slanging "special ants" to poor farmers for $1,500, claiming they would enhance crop growth. After achieving national fame and fortune, Fengyou got knocked and is currently awaiting sentencing.
1. Bernie Madoff, $50 billion
• Madoff really raised the bar for deplorable acts of thievery. Stretching back to 1970, the filthy rich former NASDAQ chief won trust from his clients who were required to invest no less than $20 million. Now that's some big-boss-betting-on-camel-racing-in-Abu Dhabi shit. But when the scheme imploded, Madoff caught an L, and has now become the poster child for posers.