NEW YORK — A federal jury on Monday found five associates of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff guilty of 31 counts of aiding one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.
With that verdict, the jurors rejected the former employees’ central defense: that only Madoff had known the evil purpose behind the chores he told them to carry out, while they had simply trusted for decades in the honesty of a man widely known and respected on Wall Street.
“There’s really no dispute here that there was a massive criminal conspiracy,” John Zach, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury in the closing weeks of the five-month trial.
Prosecutors said that the two portfolio managers on trial, JoAnn Crupi and Annette Bongiorno, as well as the firm’s operations director, Daniel Bonventre, conspired in various ways to lie to customers, cheat on taxes and falsify records at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, the firm Madoff founded in the early 1960s.
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The government also accused two computer programmers, Jerome O’Hara and George Perez, of helping sustain the $17 billion Ponzi scheme by knowingly creating computer programs that could create fake trades and records.
Each of the five defendants faces decades in prison, although the ultimate sentences will be the decision of Judge Laura Taylor Swain of U.S. District Court in Lower Manhattan, who presided over the complex trial.
“These convictions, along with the prior guilty pleas of nine other defendants, demonstrate what we have believed from the earliest stages of the investigation: This largest-ever Ponzi scheme could not have been the work of one person,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, whose office brought the case.
“The trial established that the Madoff fraud began at least as far back as the early 1970s, decades before it came to light,” Bharara said. “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.”
While lawyers for the defense claimed that their clients did not knowingly participate in any of the deception, their arguments were challenged by testimony from Frank DiPascali Jr., Madoff’s closest ally and co-conspirator in the long-running fraud.
DiPascali pleaded guilty in August 2009 and has been cooperating since then with federal prosecutors in hopes of reducing the 125-year prison term he faces for his own pivotal role in the Ponzi scheme.
Lawyers for the five former employees had argued that DiPascali’s self-interest — he hopes for a more lenient sentence — undermined his credibility.
In his closing remarks, Larry Krantz, one of the defense lawyers, said that DiPascali lied to Perez and O’Hara “over and over again in order to trick them into working on the projects that he needed them to work on,” according to court records.
Gordon Mehler, the lawyer for O’Hara, said Monday, “The jury has spoken, but we are very disappointed, of course.” Mehler said he planned to appeal.
Eric Breslin, who defended Crupi, said, “We believe there is and remains compelling evidence in Crupi’s favor and we will continue to press her case forward.”
Madoff’s brother, Peter B. Madoff, who worked alongside his brother for nearly four decades, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to tax and securities fraud charges, but was not accused of knowing about the Ponzi scheme. In December 2012, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Counting the Madoff brothers and DiPascali, nine defendants have pleaded guilty to charges related to the fraud.
Monday’s verdict adds five more names to the roster of those convicted in the 5-year-old investigation, for a total of 14.
The trial of the five longtime staff members gave the government its first opportunity to lay out all the evidence it collected in the years after the collapse of Madoff Securities in 2008 after Madoff confessed to his sons about the swindle. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison.