| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 18 In an unusual move, Bernard
Madoff's former back-office director took the witness stand in
his own defense on Tuesday, telling a federal jury that he had
no idea his boss was operating a Ponzi scheme until the day
Madoff was arrested in December 2008.
Daniel Bonventre, one of five former Madoff aides on trial
in federal court in Manhattan who are accused of aiding in the
fraud, said he remained in the dark throughout his 40 years at
"Did Mr. Madoff lie to you over the years?" Bonventre's
lawyer, Andrew Frisch, asked.
"Probably every day," Bonventre replied.
It is relatively unusual for criminal defendants to testify
in their own defense, making Bonventre's testimony a calculated
risk. The decision likely shifts the jury's focus to Bonventre's
credibility, rather than the prosecution's burden of proof, said
Robert Anello, a white-collar defense lawyer not involved in the
"Many jurors in white-collar cases are waiting to hear from
the defendant," said Anello, a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz
Grand Iason & Anello. "The natural inclination is, 'This is a
gentleman who is articulate, who can operate a business - why
can't he tell us his story?'"
As recently as last week, Bonventre told U.S. District Judge
Laura Taylor Swain that he did not wish to testify, but in a
letter sent to Swain over the weekend, Frisch said his client
had changed his mind.
It remains unclear whether the other four defendants -
portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi and
computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez - will also
All five have said they were duped by Madoff into believing
the investment business was legitimate. Madoff is serving a
150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to running the
Ponzi scheme, which cost investors an estimated $17 billion in
Under questioning from Frisch on Tuesday, Bonventre said
Madoff seemed to be a caring, thoughtful boss who took care of
his employees' families, including hiring a number of their
Madoff arranged for Bonventre's first wife to be transferred
from another hospital to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
in Manhattan after she was diagnosed with cancer, he testified.
Later, Bonventre said, Madoff gave him the home number for his
personal cardiologist when Bonventre's current wife, Barbara,
had chest pains.
Madoff's doctor discovered an aneurysm and scheduled
surgery, Bonventre said.
After Madoff's confession, he said, he wondered whether that
generosity of spirit was all part of Madoff's con, a form of
manipulation to create a false persona.
"I think he was a terribly ill man," Bonventre said. "It's
difficult to reconcile everything I knew about him for 40 years
and everything I know now. I could live to be 100, and I'm not
sure I would have a better answer."
At times, Bonventre said, he questioned certain aspects of
Madoff's business that seemed unusual or nonsensical, but he
said Madoff's explanations were always plausible.
"During your years at the firm, did it ever dawn on you that
Mr. Madoff was running a fraud?" Frisch asked.
"No," Bonventre said.
Government lawyers have yet to question Bonventre.
The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.