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5 Madoff ex-workers convicted in case's 1st trial

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 3:20am  ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Five former employees of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff were convicted Monday at the end of a six-month trial that cast them as the long arms of their boss, telling an elaborate web of lies to hide a fraud that enriched them and cheated investors out of billions of dollars.

The trial, one of the longest in the storied history of Manhattan federal court, was the first to result from the massive fraud revealed in December 2008 when Madoff ran out of money and was arrested. And it was a renunciation of Madoff's claim when he pleaded guilty to fraud charges in March 2009 before trial that he acted alone.

"The evidence was just overwhelming," juror Craig Parise told reporters as he left the courthouse.

Another juror, Sheila Amata, said she hoped "this brings some level of closure" to the victims. She added that the "facts spoke for themselves" in the case and that Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence, "seemed to have a split personality." Evidence showed him showering employees, friends and some select customers with favors and riches while he plundered the investment accounts of others.

The case focused on five people who prosecutors said helped Madoff carry out the fraud.

Each was convicted of conspiracy to defraud clients, securities fraud and falsifying the books and records of a broker dealer. Prosecutors obtained convictions on all 31 charges, though only one defendant was charged in some counts.

Prosecutors unveiled hundreds of exhibits and showcased dozens of witnesses to try to prove charges against Annette Bongiorno, 66, Madoff's longtime secretary; Daniel Bonventre, 67, his director of operations for investments; JoAnn Crupi, 53, an account manager; and Jerome O'Hara, 51, and George Perez, 48,computer programmers.

The maximum potential sentences range from 78 years to 220 years in prison when the charges for each defendant are stacked up, but the actual sentences are likely to be far below that once the judge takes into consideration prior records and other facts unique to each defendant.

The defendants largely took the verdicts in stride except for Crupi, who looked shocked when the first guilty verdict was read and later shook her head.

After sentencings were set for the last week of July and U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain rejected requests that the defendants be immediately detained, the defendants emerged from court to hug family members. They declined to comment as they passed reporters.

Bonventre attorney Andrew Frisch said as he left court they were disappointed by the verdicts and will appeal.

"The list of Bernard Madoff's victims now include these five former employees," Frisch said.

Attorney Eric Breslin, representing Crupi, said: "The name Madoff was a tall mountain to climb. I think it's just a fact."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the convictions, along with prior guilty pleas of Madoff and eight other defendants, demonstrate what prosecutors have believed since the early stages of the investigation: "This largest-ever Ponzi scheme could not have been the work of one person."

"These defendants each played an important role in carrying out the charade, propping it up and concealing it from regulators, auditors, taxing authorities, lenders and investors," Bharara said.

One case remains outstanding, that of a former senior tax partner at the accounting firm Konigsberg Wolf & Co. who was charged with aiding Madoff by directing others to falsify records to conceal his fraud.

Bongiorno and Bonventre testified for several days in their own defenses. They insisted they were victims of Madoff's fraud, losing millions of dollars they had invested with him because they believed in and trusted him.

Bongiorno told the jury she once asked how the firm was "making money when everyone else was losing money." She said Madoff told her they could make money in a down market by shorting stocks and she believed him.

Parise, the juror, said the testimony by Bongiorno and Bonventre "did not help their cause."

Clients lost nearly $20 billion. A court-appointed trustee has recovered much of the money by forcing those customers who received big payouts from Madoff to return them. When the fraud was revealed, Madoff admitted that the nearly $68 billion he claimed existed in accounts was only a few hundred million dollars.

The centerpiece of the prosecution's case was Frank DiPascali, Madoff's former finance chief, and five other insiders who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.

At times, however, their testimony seemed to support the defendants' claims they were kept in the dark.

DiPascali acknowledged he lied to Perez and O'Hara "to trick them into working on the projects that he needed them to work on."

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