Ex-Madoff aide pleads ignorance, naivete at U.S. fraud trial

Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:56pm EST
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ponzi scheme. Treasury bond. The Standard & Poor's 500 index. The collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Those were among the subjects that Annette Bongiorno said on Thursday she did not understand, despite spending more than 40 years as one of the key employees at Bernard Madoff's investment firm.

Bongiorno is one of five former Madoff workers on trial in federal court in Manhattan for abetting his fraud, which fell apart in December 2008, costing investors an estimated $17 billion in principal losses.

Facing questions from a government prosecutor about her alleged role in concealing Madoff's multibillion-dollar fraud, Bongiorno did not deny that she entered thousands of backdated trades in customers' accounts, sometimes years after they had purportedly occurred.

But she said, again and again, that she was simply following Madoff's orders, knew next to nothing about Wall Street and had "no clue" that anything she had done was illegal.

"All the trades were backdated," she said. "I did what I was told."

Also on trial are former director of operations Daniel Bonventre, portfolio manager Joann Crupi and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez.

Bonventre and Bongiorno have taken the witness stand in their own defense, betting that the jury will accept their claims that they were duped by Madoff into believing the business was legitimate. All five defendants have said they were unaware that Madoff, who pleaded guilty and is serving a 150-year prison sentence, was running a Ponzi scheme.   Continued...

Bernie Madoff's former secretary, Annette Bongiorno departs Manhattan Federal Court in the Manhattan Borough of New York February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri