Friday, March 14, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors in the first criminal trial stemming from Bernard Madoff's epic fraud were soon to start weighing the charges against five of the fallen financier's ex-employees after summations wrapped up Friday.
With a judge embarking on lengthy legal instructions, deliberations looked likely to begin Monday in a case that asks jurors to determine whether the former workers were Madoff's conspirators or his dupes.
For jurors and observers alike, the five-month-long trial has provided a window on what the government has learned about Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme since it collapsed in 2008.
Madoff has said he acted alone in cheating thousands of investors out of nearly $20 billion in a decades-long Ponzi scheme. But federal prosecutors say five back-office subordinates gave him vital help in weaving his financial fiction.
"Each of these defendants played a crucial role in the fraud," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Zach told jurors during closing arguments, which spanned more than a week. He said the five told thousands of lies to customers, financial institutions, regulators and the Internal Revenue Service.
But the defendants say they, like Madoff's investors, were fooled by masters at deceit.
Madoff and his former finance chief, star prosecution witness Frank DiPascali, made it their business "to keep the fraud as contained and cabined as humanly possible because it if gets out, we are done — we are spending 150 years in jail, as Mr. Madoff is now," defense lawyer Larry Krantz said. He represents former Madoff computer programmer George Perez.
While DiPascali pleaded guilty and acknowledged he had lied to his colleagues, prosecutors strove Friday to tell jurors it made sense to trust his testimony.
"Who in the world can tell you the inside story of a fraud, other than a participant in the fraud?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson said.
Besides Perez, the defendants include another computer programmer, Jerome O'Hara; Annette Bongiorno, Madoff's longtime secretary; Daniel Bonventre, his director of operations for investments and JoAnn Crupi.
Prosecutors say Bonventre oversaw the account had held investors' money, cloaked it from auditors and regulators and tapped it to help plump up the brokerage side of Madoff's business. Bonventre testified that he directed the legitimate brokerage arm of Madoff's business, didn't know what was going on in the investment business and trusted Madoff, his boss of 40 years.
Bongiorno — Madoff's secretary for 40 years — was responsible for billions of dollars in fake trades and oversaw a massive rewriting of customer accounts while making more than $18 million herself, according to prosecutors.
Bongiorno's lawyer, Roland Riopelle, said she believed all the money she made was legitimate.
"She herself is a victim of the fraud," he said in his summation, adding that she saw millions "of what she thought was her own money but was really Bernie Madoff's monopoly money go up in smoke."
Perez and O'Hara are accused of developing computer programs to manufacture false books and records that made the fraud work. But O'Hara's lawyer, Gordon Mehler, told jurors his client was just a tech worker who was "used, abused, manipulated, lied to, snookered and bamboozled" by Madoff and DiPascali.
Prosecutors say Crupi was a key player in the accounting fraud. Her lawyer, Eric Breslin, told jurors she was just an everyday worker who had no reason to distrust what Madoff and DiPascali told her.
"At the end of the day, the government's case consists of no more than the fact that Madoff Securities was a fraud. Well, if that's the case, ladies and gentlemen, we just wasted five months because everybody knew that" before the trial began, he said in his summation.
The fraud collapsed in December 2008 when Madoff ran out of money and confessed to FBI agents that his business was a sham. Now 75, he pleaded guilty and is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.