Prosecutors: Greed for millions drove Madoff aides

Bernard Madoff, center, walks out from federal court Bernard Madoff, center, walks out from federal court after a bail hearing in Manhattan. Five of his former employees are on trial in November 2013 for aiding his fraud which stole billions from investors. Photo Credit: Getty Images, 2009

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Greed is not good.

That was the theme of the day as Manhattan federal prosecutors began summations in the 4 1/2-month trial of five former Bernie Madoff aides by accusing them of telling an "avalanche" of lies to fool regulators and investors in return for millions in compensation.

"Greed," prosecutor John Zach told jurors Tuesday in a closing expected to continue Wednesday. "It's a tried-and-true reason why people participate in fraud. And the perks, the rewards of participating in this fraud were huge."

The five ex-aides -- including Madoff secretary Annette Bongiorno of Manhasset and computer programmer Jerome O'Hara of Malverne -- sat quietly as Zach showed pictures of each on monitors and denounced them one-by-one for their "crucial" role enabling the $20 billion Ponzi scheme.

Bongiorno, he said, effectively managed the investment advisory business, making up phony trades and positions on hundreds of customer statements to make them think they had nonexistent wealth, and altering old statements when audits loomed.

Trades were recorded on holidays, at levels above the volume and outside the trading range on the date they were purportedly made, Zach said. "They were just making things up out of thin air and throwing them on the statements," he argued.

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The prosecutor said Bongiorno, who testified she was clueless about the fraud, was not credible, and mocked her claim that she didn't "splurge" on big things before admitting on cross-examination that she owned a Bentley and two Mercedes vehicles.

"The motive was making a lot of money," Zach said. "You commit the crimes, you make the money, and Ms. Bongiorno made $18 million working at Madoff Securities."

Former account manager Joann Crupi and director of operations Dan Bonventre were critical to the scheme because they had responsibility for the Chase account used for investor deposits, Zach said.

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They saw the scheme unfolding, but kept the account off the books, Zach argued. "It was at the beating heart of the fraud," he said. "Customer money came in, customer money went out, but no stocks were purchased."

O'Hara and fellow programmer George Perez, Zach said, wrote software that used random number programs to spit out reports about the fictional trades, and both got raises when they confronted Madoff with suspicions about his activities.

"They essentially were the oil that made the fraud work," he said. "They were doing all the paperwork that would be used to deceive people."

At trial, prosecutors called as witnesses six former Madoff workers -- including Madoff lieutenant Frank DiPascali -- who have pleaded guilty to testify against their ex-colleagues. Defense lawyers contend those witnesses lied to get leniency.

Zach did not address the witnesses' credibility or respond to the defendants' core argument -- that they lacked sophistication and were fooled by Madoff into believing everything was OK, just as he fooled regulators and auditors.

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Closing arguments by both sides are expected to extend into next week.

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