Ex-Madoff aide testifies at own trial, denies he knew of fraud

Wed Feb 19, 2014 7:22pm EST
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Only minutes into the prosecution's questioning of former Bernard Madoff aide Daniel Bonventre at trial on Wednesday, it was clear he was in for a long day.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson asked Bonventre repeatedly whether he was "close friends" with one of four co-defendants accused of helping to conceal Madoff's decades-long, multibillion-dollar fraud, former portfolio manager Annette Bongiorno. Bonventre repeatedly said he did not know what Jackson meant.

"You went to college, correct?" Jackson asked with a note of frustration in his voice. "Do you have any difficulty with the definition of the word ‘close'?"

A flustered Bonventre eventually said, "Yes, I struggle with the meaning of ‘close.'" Bonventre did, however, acknowledge that he and Bongiorno were friendly colleagues.

Bonventre, 67, who worked at Madoff's firm for 40 years, is the first of five former employees on trial in federal court in Manhattan to take the unusual step of testifying. The trial began in October, nearly five years after the December 2008 arrest of Madoff, now 75 and in prison.

The other defendants charged with helping Madoff conceal his fraud by using false documents and fake trades, Bongiorno, portfolio manager Joann Crupi and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez, have not made a final decision on whether they will take the stand.

All five have argued they were unaware of Madoff's fraud, which cost investors an estimated $17 billion in principal losses. Under questioning from his lawyer, Bonventre said he only learned of the scheme when Madoff was arrested.

Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 and he is serving a 150-year prison sentence.   Continued...

Daniel Bonventre, the director of operations for the back office of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, arrives at the Manhattan Federal Court house in New York October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid