But many of his investors were also ordinary, elderly retired people who thought their life savings were in safe hands.
But many now face financial ruin.
Madoff told the court in March that the billions of dollars which passed through his hands during his 30-year scam was never invested in markets.
Instead, he stashed the funds in a Manhattan bank account.
The funds were then used to pay out "dividends" to investors in what is known as a "Ponzi scheme".
Prosecutors say about $13bn was handed to Madoff.
The financier has referred to losing about $50bn, believed to be the amount that would have been paid out had the funds been properly invested.
The sums were bigger than the gross domestic product of countries such as Luxembourg and more than the external debt of several African nations.Forfeit order
Madoff's sentencing comes after a judge last week issued a preliminary $170bn forfeiture order stripping him of all his personal property.
|The Madoff scandal also affected financial institutions around the world [EPA]
The order forces Madoff to forfeit assets including a $7m apartment in Manhattan, an $11m house in Palm Beach, Florida and a $3m home located in New York's borough of Long Island.
The government also settled claims against Ruth Madoff, the financier's wife, who must also forfeit her interests totalling $80m in property which she had claimed were hers, prosecutors said.
Aside from an accountant accused of involvement in Madoff's scam, no one else
has been criminally charged.
But Madoff's family, including his wife, and brokerage firms who recruited investors, have come under intense scrutiny by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), regulators and a court-appointed trustee overseeing the liquidation of his assets.