| NEW YORK, March 12
NEW YORK, March 12 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 naivete 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
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.
The witnesses have included several former Madoff employees
who pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and cooperated
in the hopes of receiving reduced prison sentences.
Throughout the closing arguments, defense lawyers have
sought to question those witnesses' credibility, most notably
Frank DiPascali, Madoff's former right-hand man and the
government's star witness.
DiPascali this week has been alternately described as "a con
man's con man," "toxic," "sick," "a master manipulator," "a
pathological liar" and "in a whole new category of liar."
DENYING PARTICIPATION IN FRAUD
He spent decades lying to outside auditors, clients and
government regulators, including under oath before the U.S.
Securities and Exchange Commission, they said.
He also lied to employees at the firm, including the
defendants, about the nature of the business, the lawyers
The lawyers have not denied that their clients participated
in aspects of the fraud: backdating trades that never actually
occurred, creating computer programs used to deceive auditors
and helping Madoff hide the true scope of his investment
But they assert that in each case, the employees were doing
as they were told or operating under false assumptions fed to
them by DiPascali or Madoff himself.
"The government's entire case is that Madoff Securities was
a fraud," said Eric Breslin, Crupi's lawyer, on Monday. "If
that's their case, we just wasted five months. The point is,
what did these people know?"
The lawyers have also pointed out that none of the former
Madoff employees who testified, even those who pleaded guilty to
committing fraud, realized it was a Ponzi scheme until the
firm's collapse, when Madoff revealed he had no money left.
Both Bonventre and Bongiorno took the stand in their own
defense, an unusual move for criminal defendants because it
opens them up to cross examination from prosecutors.
Their lawyers said they had told the jury the truth: that
they had every reason to believe that Madoff, hailed by Wall
Street as an extraordinarily successfully money manager, was
running a legitimate business.
Bongiorno, whose handwriting showed up on dozens of
documents that arranged for backdated fake trades, simply did
not realize that there was anything wrong with the practice.
"At Madoff, every trade was backdated," Riopelle said. "It
didn't occur to her to worry about that."
The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.