* New York Post reports Madoff told inmates he was dying
* Madoff taking pills, not doing well - Post quotes inmate
* Prisons Bureau says Madoff not ill, does not have cancer
(Adds comment from victims' lawyers)
By Joseph A. Giannone
NEW YORK, Aug 24 Wall Street super-swindler
Bernard Madoff has not been diagnosed with cancer, the Federal
Bureau of Prisons said Monday, knocking down a tabloid report
that Madoff told fellow prison inmates that he was dying.
The New York Post reported that Madoff, 71, who since June
has been serving a 20-year sentence at a North Carolina federal
prison, told inmates he does not have long to live. The paper
cited unnamed prison sources.
Federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley
initially told Reuters the story was "full of inaccuracies."
Billingsley later, in a written statement, said "Bernie
Madoff is not terminally ill, and has not been diagnosed with
cancer," although the bureau did not address every detail in
The Post story quoted one inmate at the Butner Medium
Federal Correctional Institution as saying Madoff was taking
"about 20 pills a day" and "not doing very well."
The newspaper said that earlier this year there had been
speculation that Madoff was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Madoff lawyer Ira Sorkin declined to comment on his
client's "physical or emotional condition."
Madoff pleaded guilty in March to orchestrating a worldwide
$65 billion Ponzi scheme that claimed thousands of victims over
the course of 20 years. He was sentenced to 150 years, which
has fueled speculation that any talk of terminal illness would
be a ploy for leniency.
Legal experts said a grave illness could have guided
Madoff's decision to plead guilty to the massive criminal fraud
and not implicate other people.
"Some of the victims all along believed that he had a
terminal illness and that was the only reason" he offered his
guilty plea, said lawyer Barry Lax of Lax & Neville, which
represents Madoff victims.
Joseph Cotchett, another victims' lawyer who last month
visited Madoff in prison, said he never saw any indication that
Madoff was sick.
"I asked him about his health, and he said he was fine,
with the exception of his ankles, which were swelling because
of new pair of shoes," Cotchett said. "Anybody faced with life
imprisonment will have a little sorrow, but he was spry,
bouncing into the room. He made no mention of any physical
Cotchett, whose victims are trying to recover money lost in
Madoff's fraud, said it is a strange coincidence this Madoff
cancer claim came just days after the Lockerbie aircraft bomber
was released by Scottish authorities on humanitarian grounds
after he was diagnosed with cancer.
"If this were an excuse to get out of prison, his victims
would have to be upset with it," Cotchett said.
"I read the story and found it hard to believe," said Helen
Davis Chaitman, another Madoff victims' attorney. "I just hope
it's not a set-up. Undoubtedly, Mr. Madoff has information that
some people would hope would never be revealed."
SWEAT LODGES AND SANDWICHES
The Post story also reported that Madoff has begun engaging
in a number of surprising new activities with some unexpected
social circles in prison.
A shirtless Madoff has joined weekly "Native American
religious purification ceremonies" that involve prayers in
"sweat lodges," rooms with heated rocks that induce sweat, and
smoking from a ceremonial pipe, the paper said.
Billingsley confirmed that Butner provides a sweat lodge as
a religious structure for Native American prisoners.
The Post also reported that various "gangs" at the prison
were trying to recruit Madoff. Some inmates have taken Madoff
under their wing, preparing "sandwich wraps" for him at their
Larry Levine, a former prison inmate and founder of Wall
Street Prison Consultants, which prepares people for
incarceration, said he would not be surprised if Madoff were
finding friends among the Native American inmates.
Levine also said Butner is known as a "cheese factory," a
nickname alluding to the many federal informants, or "rats,"
"I have talked to some people that said that (Butner) is
supposed to be a nice place," he said.
As to toasting sandwiches, the Bureau of Prisons
spokeswoman said inmates are not permitted to prepare food in
their cells, though soup, beans and other items may be procured
in the prison commissary and brought back to cells.
"They are not going to have a microwave oven in their
cells," former inmate Levine said.
(Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone and Steve Eder, additional
reporting by Elinor Comlay, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and