Former Madoff aides get their day in court

Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:30am EST
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four months into a criminal trial for five former employees of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, witnesses have made it clear that no one but Madoff himself knew the whole truth about his massive Ponzi scheme, from his top lieutenant on down.

With prosecutors expected to wrap up their case on Monday, the defendants' lawyers will try to convince a federal jury that their clients were completely in the dark, unaware that they were propping up an unprecedented fraud.

The defense's task is twofold: to persuade jurors that cooperating witnesses are lying to secure lighter sentences, and that whatever improper acts the defendants may have committed were done unwittingly.

"In white-collar cases, the issue often is not who did what," said Robert Anello, a partner at Morvillo Abramovitz Grand Iason & Anello, who is not tied to the case. "It is often whether what you did, based on your knowledge, is a crime."

The five defendants are the firm's director of back office operations, Daniel Bonventre; portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi; and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez.

The case in Manhattan federal court is the first criminal trial to stem from Madoff's fraud, which cost investors an estimated $17 billion in principal losses. Madoff pleaded guilty and is serving a 150-year prison sentence; he has not implicated the defendants.

In their opening statements in October, the lawyers painted Madoff as a cult-like figure whose orders the defendants followed blindly.

"They thought he was almost a god," Eric Breslin, Crupi's lawyer, told jurors at the start of the trial in October. "They did not want to question anything he did."   Continued...

Former Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. operations officer Daniel Bonventre (C) departs Manhattan Federal Court in New York, August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid