Defense for Madoff aides claims ignorance of fraud in closing arguments

Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:51pm EDT
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Attorneys for five former aides of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff wrapped up nearly 20 hours of closing arguments on Wednesday, capping their courtroom campaign to convince a federal jury that their clients never knowingly joined in their boss's Ponzi scheme.

Taking turns describing Madoff as one of history's greatest con men, the lawyers have argued that the five employees were deceived by a masterful liar and co-opted as his unwitting collaborators for years.

All five are charged with securities fraud, falsifying records and conspiracy. Some of them also face charges related to tax and bank fraud. If convicted, they face maximum sentences ranging from 58 to 211 years.

"She may be naive," Roland Riopelle said of his client, portfolio manager Annette Bongiorno, on Wednesday. "She may be foolish. ... But her naiveté is not nefariousness. Her foolishness is not a fraud."

In addition to Bongiorno, the defendants include fellow portfolio manager Joann Crupi, back-office director Daniel Bonventre and computer programmers George Perez and Jerome O'Hara.

Madoff, who claimed he acted alone, is serving a 150—year prison sentence after pleading guilty to the fraud, which cost investors an estimated $17 billion in principal losses.

The government will present a rebuttal on Thursday, after commencing the lengthy summations last week with its own six-hour argument. The jury could begin deliberating by Friday, after U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain delivers what are expected to be several hours of instructions on the law.

For five months, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan have introduced thousands of pages of evidence and called dozens of witnesses in an effort to demonstrate that the defendants were well aware of the fraud at the center of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.   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