Five former employees of Bernie Madoff were found guilty of conspiracy on Monday as a jury ruled they had for years helped conceal his massive Ponzi scheme.
The verdicts are the first jury convictions since Madoff’s $20bn scam was exposed six years ago, and come after a trial that lasted nearly six months.
Prosecutors argued that the defendants enriched themselves while they helped Madoff cheat investors and dupe government regulators. The decades-long scam came to an end in December 2008 when Madoff ran out of money and was arrested.
The defendants – Daniel Bonventre, a Madoff accountant and director of operations, 67; Annette Bongiorno, 65, who handled the financier's top clients; JoAnn Crupi, 52, who oversaw the company's bank account; and former Madoff computer programmers Jerome O'Hara, 50, and George Perez, 48 – had all pleaded innocent.
Their lawyers argued they had been hoodwinked by Madoff and his lieutenant, Frank DiPascali. DiPascali was the prosecution’s star witness against the former Madoff employees.
The panel, made up of nine women and three men, came to their decision a week after trial ended. Last Monday they asked US district court judge Laura Taylor Swain to review DiPascali’s testimony. DiPascali was one of Madoff’s closest associates and and specifically linked each defendant to the fraud.
DiPascali pleaded guilty in 2009 to 10 criminal charges including conspiracy, securities fraud, investment advisor fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud and perjury. He faces a maximum 125-year prison term. He may now receive a lighter sentence in return for his co-operation with federal prosecutors.
At the trial, the defence team characterized DiPascali as a convicted perjurer who would do anything to lighten his sentence. Defence lawyer Larry Katz called him a “conman's conman" who hid the truth from his clients. He said his clients were “used, abused and manipulated by two of the greatest criminal masterminds of all time: Bernard Madoff and Frank DiPascali." Prosecutors said DiPascali would face additional criminal charges and prison time if he lied on the witness stand.
The trial is the first Madoff-related case to be weighed by a jury. Madoff pleaded guilty without standing trial and is now serving a 150-year prison term at a federal penitentiary in North Carolina.
Before the verdict, the judge instructed the jury on the concept of "conscious avoidance," which she defined as someone deliberately closing their eyes "to what would otherwise be obvious to him or her."
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