A former top operations officer for swindler Bernard Madoff said Tuesday his boss was a trusted and respected finance man -- until he was exposed as the biggest con artist in Wall Street history.
Testifying in his own defense in federal court in Manhattan, Daniel Bonventre said Madoff created an aura of being "the most magnanimous, caring individual" until his massive Ponzi scheme revealed that his whole facade was a fraud.
"Now, I think he's a terribly ill man, and it's difficult to reconcile everything I knew for 40 years and what I know now," Bonventre said in answer to questioning from his defense attorney, Andrew Frisch.
Bonventre is on trial with five other former Madoff employees on charges they helped their former boss carry out his long-running Ponzi scheme, which investigators said defrauded thousands of investors out of $17 billion. Madoff's secretive business came crashing down in December 2008 and he is now serving a 150-year federal prison sentence.
Prosecutors contend that Bonventre; Annette Bongiorno, who was Madoff's secretary in the advisory business; and other employees helped create fictitious documents used to carry out the investment advisory fraud in which investors were told they were receiving healthy returns when in fact none of their money was invested.
But on the witness stand, Bonventre, 67, said he helped run the legitimate broker-dealer side of Madoff's operation. At times, Madoff would have him reconcile the statements of the company's special account with Chase Bank, which was used by the investment advisory operation, Bonventre said. His role was simply to make sure the account entries were correct and he wasn't aware of anything else about that side of the business, Bonventre testified.
In Bonventre's case, the defense strategy appears to be aimed at showing the jury that he wasn't aware of the fraudulent scheme, but rather checked calculations and arithmetic as asked. Bonventre also indicated that he never coached government witness and ex-Madoff employee Frank DiPascali on how to reconcile trades for the advisory business. Rather, Bonventre testified, he answered questions by DiPascali and Madoff in a 10-minute conversation about how trades were reconciled in the broker-dealer operation.
The trial has been under way since the fall and is expected to go through this week with more defense witnesses, including possible testimony from one more defendant, a legal source said.