Nearly four months after the start of the federal trial of five former aides to Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, prosecutors rested their case Tuesday, setting the stage for defense efforts to rebut dozens of witnesses and a mountain of evidence.
Lawyers for four of the aides already have said their clients probably won't testify, but during a defense case that could last two weeks they hope to present character evidence, show inconsistencies among prosecution witnesses and play a video of Madoff lauding effective regulation in a 2007 speech.
If U.S. District Judge Laura Swain in Manhattan allows the video, the jury would get its first look at the man at the center of the case in action to assess defense claims that his hypnotic personality duped those around him into believing questionable activities were OK.
"We seek to illustrate for the jury what these defendants saw when Madoff perpetuated his lies with ease and practice in the days when his reputation and his word were unimpeachable," Eric Breslin, the lawyer for former Madoff aide Joanne Crupi, wrote in a letter asking the judge to approve it.
The five aides are charged in federal court in Manhattan with aiding Madoff's epic fraud by helping him cut corners and mislead customers and regulators for three decades. It is the first criminal trial stemming from the fraud, which collapsed with Madoff's Dec. 11, 2008, arrest.
The defendants include account managers Crupi, 52, of Westfield, N.J., and Annette Bongiorno, 65, of Manhasset; operations manager Dan Bonventre, 66, of Manhattan; and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara, 50, of Malverne, and George Perez, 47, of East Brunswick, N.J.
Since prosecutors began their case on Oct. 16 they have presented testimony from a half-dozen ex-aides who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, including former top lieutenant Frank DiPascali, who began Dec. 2 and finished Jan. 15.
DiPascali and others testified that Crupi and Bongiorno used The Wall Street Journal to make up phony trades to put on investor accounts, Bonventre helped create phony ledgers to fool regulators and help Madoff cheat on his taxes, and the programmers devised "special" software to automate the lying.
Bonventre, the first defendant to begin presenting his case Tuesday, told Swain that he didn't want to testify. Lawyers for Bonventre, Crupi, O'Hara and Perez have also said their clients are unlikely to testify.
Defense lawyers first asked to play the Madoff video during opening statements. Prosecutors argued it wasn't relevant, and Swain nixed it. But Breslin, in a letter filed Monday, argued that it went to the heart of the case.
"We have now listened to . . . months of testimony in which Bernard Madoff was mentioned, referred to or otherwise spoken about on every single trial day," he said. "Simply saying that Madoff lied can never come close to showing his lies in operation."