Five months later, jurors face tough task in Madoff aides' trial

Mon Mar 17, 2014 7:08am EDT
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Like Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme itself, the trial of five of his former aides has been virtually unprecedented in its scope.

A federal jury of 12 men and women on Monday will begin deciding whether the defendants are guilty of aiding in Madoff's massive fraud.

And the jurors face a Herculean task.

Over five months, they have heard more than 40 witnesses; the transcript of the trial weighed in at 12,000 pages. The government has introduced 1,600 exhibits, some of them hundreds of pages long.

Closing arguments alone lasted nearly 25 hours, spread across two weeks. And U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain's two sets of jury instructions to help jurors understand how to apply the law to the evidence ran an astonishing 250 pages. They will have taken her more than eight hours by the time she finishes delivering them on Monday and sends the jury out to start deliberating.

The jury must eventually render a verdict on 31 separate charges, some of which apply to more than one defendant.

Despite the voluminous record, experts said, the case turns on a relatively simple question: did the defendants knowingly engage in fraud, as prosecutors contend, or were they fooled by one of history's greatest con men, as their lawyers argue?

"How likely is it that they knew nothing?" said Valerie Hans, a law professor at Cornell University who studies jury behavior. "How likely is it that they were blameless or duped like the other victims of Madoff? The core issues are the kind of things that we think juries are good at."   Continued...

Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff is escorted by police and photographed by the media as he departs U.S. Federal Court after a hearing in New York, January 5, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson