By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, March 17 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 began deciding
whether the defendants are guilty of aiding in Madoff's massive
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
took her more than eight hours, with the judge finishing
delivering them Monday and sending the jury out to start
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."
UNDER MADOFF'S SPELL
The five defendants - back-office manager Daniel Bonventre;
portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi; and
computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez - have
argued that they were tricked by the charismatic Madoff into
unwittingly helping him perpetuate the fraud.
Prosecutors have called that argument ridiculous,
questioning how the defendants, some of whom worked at Madoff's
firm for decades and backdated hundreds of fake trades, could
possibly have been unaware of the scheme.
Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence after
pleading guilty to the scheme in 2009, which cost investors an
estimated $17 billion in principal losses, has said he acted
With such a long trial, criminal lawyers said the closing
arguments will take on added significance as a guide for the
"The summations are very important, because it's an
opportunity for them to focus the jury on what they want them to
be thinking about," said Andrew Lawler, a white-collar defense
Perhaps underscoring that point, the defense lawyers took
the rare step of raising dozens of objections during Assistant
U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson's rebuttal last week, the last
argument the jury heard before beginning deliberations. Swain
issued more than half a dozen instructions to the jury at the
defense's request clarifying or correcting details in Jackson's
Every day for five months, Swain has also told the jurors to
keep an open mind and to refrain from discussing the case with
each other or anyone else until the deliberations begin.
But Hans, of Cornell, said that does not mean they will be
starting with a blank slate.
"My guess is in a five-month trial, the jurors have been
integrating the evidence into narratives," she said. "Now, after
the judge's instructions, they'll see which of these emerging
narratives matches the legal test."
RELYING ON EACH OTHER
In general, the jurors appear to have limited financial
expertise. None work in the financial industry; they include
three teachers, a building inspector, a custodian and a retired
chaplain, among others.
Robert Anello, a white-collar defense lawyer, said he
expected the jurors would rely on each other to recall important
details from the trial, with the lawyers' arguments serving as
"There's no way they're going to sift through 1,600
documents," Anello said. "But they're going to focus on things
that are important and talk to each other."
Even the most conscientious jury, however, would likely find
it impossible to remain attentive for more than 60 days of
testimony and argument. Several jurors have occasionally
appeared to fall asleep, including during some of the
"A juror would have to be Superman not to sleep at times
during a five-month trial," Anello said.
The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.