Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier serving 150 years in prison for fleecing victims out of an estimated $50 billion, says banks and financial institutions were willfully blind to his dishonesty.

"They had to know," Madoff said in his first interviews for publication since his 2008 arrest.

"But the attitude was sort of, 'If you're doing something wrong, we don't want to know'."

He did not name any institutions in his series of interviews with The New York Times but said banks and hedge funds "were complicit in one form or another." They failed to scrutinize the discrepancies between his regulatory filings and other information, he said.

Madoff, now 72, spoke to the newspaper via email and during a private two-hour interview at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, where he's serving a 150-year sentence. The reporter who conducted the interviews, Diana B. Henriques, is writing a book about the Madoff scandal.

His wife Ruth, who kept the books, has denied any knowledge of the scheme. And Madoff, in the interview, continued to protect his family, saying they were unaware of his crimes until the very end.

Reporter Henriques described Madoff as looking "noticeably slimmer" and "frail and a bit agitated."

The disgraced financier spends his days in a 12-foot-square cell ... with a roommate.

No reporter had seen him since he entered the prison in July, 2009 in shackles and a blue jump suit.

In his exchanges with Henriques, Madoff touched on subjects including the effect of his crimes on his family, his son Mark Madoff's suicide on Dec. 11 and the effort to recover money for his victims.

A court-appointed trustee seeking to recover money on behalf of Madoff's victims filed a lawsuit this month against his primary banker, JPMorgan Chase, alleging the bank had suspected something wrong in his operation for years. The bank has denied any wrongdoing.

Madoff also said he had given the legal team of trustee Irving Picard "information I knew would be instrumental in recovering assets from those people complicit in the mess I put myself into."

Picard said Wednesday through a spokeswoman that he will have no comment on the Times story. The Times said also that Picard declined to comment for its story.

About $10 billion has been recovered through asset sales and settlements.

Madoff also spoke to the Times about another defendant of a civil lawsuit brought by Picard's team: the Wilpon family, owner of the New York Mets. He said Fred Wilpon and his brother-in-law Saul Katz "knew nothing."

While the Wilpons' claim they were victims who lost money in the Madoff swindle, Picard says they withdrew more than they put in and should have heeded warnings that Madoff's claimed profits were too good to be true.

Picard is seeking at least US$300 million from the Wilpons, team president and brother-in-law Saul Katz and related Sterling Equities entities.

The Wilpons have said they might sell up to 25 per cent of the franchise due to the Picard lawsuit.

On Wednesday, Jeff Wilpons, in an interview at the team's spring training complex in Florida said: "We're not selling controlling interest in the team. It's not on the table."

In his interview with the NY Times, Madoff, touching on the subject of his devastated family, said that he was unhappy with the media coverage of his son's death, calling it "disgraceful." He says he asked for permission to attend the funeral, but was refused.

Mark Madoff, 46, hanged himself with a dog leash in his Manhattan apartment on the second anniversary of his father's arrest. He left behind a wife and four children, ages 2 to 18.

At the time of his suicide, federal investigators had been trying to determine if he, his brother and an uncle participated in or knew about the fraud. The relatives, who held management positions at the family investment firm, denied any wrongdoing.