updated 5/8/2009 6:15:34 PM ET 2009-05-08T22:15:34

A trustee wants to give a break to investors hardest hit by the Bernard Madoff fraud.

Irving Picard unveiled a hardship program Friday that will put the victims first in line for up to $500,000 of relief.

The victims must show that they've lost the ability to pay for basic needs such as food, housing and medical care. Anyone forced out of retirement could qualify as well.

In March, Madoff pleaded guilty in New York to charges his secretive investment advisory operation was a giant Ponzi scheme. He faces up to 150 years in prison.

Picard was appointed by a bankruptcy court to use Madoff's assets to pay thousands of claims from his burned clients.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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