Madoff’s Advocate Ira Lee Sorkin

By Guest Contributor

Education: J.D., George Washington University Law School, 1968, B.A., Tulane University, 1965.
Birthplace: New York City {raised in Manhasset, Long Island}
Personal: Age 65, married, two sons, two granddaughters, resides in Roslyn, N.Y.

To “preserve a system that can protect the people who didn’t do bad things, you have to represent people who did do bad things. That’s the role we play.”

Ira Lee Sorkin, lawyer for Bernie Madoff


Breton Myles

The story is as much about the U.S. criminal justice system — and the people who work within it — as it is about a man and his client.

Ira Lee {Ike} Sorkin seems to believe in the system. It’s what helps him weather comments about the decision he makes, provoking strong feelings — among those who like him and those who do not. He received his first death threat in 1975 when prosecuting an “alcoholic stock swindler”. More recently, Sorkin has defended an assortment of unpopular clients, like Monzer al-Khazar, a Syrian convicted last November of supplying arms to undercover agents posing as anti-American terrorists.

He’s also, like a lot of criminal lawyers who believe deeply in the system, flipping back and forth between the prosecutor’s office and the defense bar.

Sorkin’s ability to switch sides of the table was demonstrated when he returned to the SEC for two years in the 1980s, as its New York regional administrator, where he fought just as fiercely to shut down penny stock frauds as he had to defend their perpetrators prior to arriving at the SEC.

Ira Lee Sorkin has the challenging task of representing one of the most hated men in America: Bernard L. Madoff accused of ripping off billions in a Ponzi scheme.

As sprawling as the Madoff case has become, Mr. Sorkin has other significant matters on his plate. He said he is representing 15 clients who are the subject of either SEC or criminal investigations. He spent close to 11 years at the SEC and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District. During his two years at the helm in New York, the SEC developed the Yuppie Five case, which involved the prosecution of an associate.

“This points out that young professionals want to make it quickly, they’re not willing to wait. They want the rewards sooner and they don’t want to make the effort. Greed knows no bounds. There’s always someone who makes more than you do. Investment banking is the new gold mine.”

The Office’s investigations also led to criminal prosecutions against E.F. Hutton & Co. and Kidder Peabody & Co., as well as a civil enforcement action against Robert Brennan, the head of First Jersey Securities.

Discussing the decision on whether to go to trial, Mr. Sorkin quoted famed Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, who explained his heavy reliance on a running game as stemming from the fact that two of three possible outcomes for passes – an incompletion or an interception – are detrimental.

Some of his most important victories were cases in which he persuaded prosecutors or regulators not to press public charges. He declined to elaborate other than to say the cases involved “a number of high-ranking individuals in corporate America”.

Mr. Sorkin is “very gregarious and good natured. He doesn’t just greet you with a handshake, but a hug”. It serves him well in dealings with prosecutors and regulators as well as juries but he also has “the residual toughness necessary” in a criminal defense lawyer. After two tours of duty at the SEC, one at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, his time as in-house counsel and years in private practice, Mr. Sorkin brings all different perspectives to the table.

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