Screw sculpture not allowed as evidence in Madoff aides' fraud trial

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A federal judge Wednesday barred the government at the upcoming trial of five aides to Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff from introducing evidence about a sculpture of a giant screw that Madoff kept in his office.

The screw sculpture appeared in photos of Madoff's desk, and a witness would testify that it was removed during an SEC on-site examination in 2005, prosecutors said. But defense lawyers argued that it was unfair to link a possible symbol of ripping off investors to their clients.

"The issue with this screw is that there is a secondary meaning that the government is going to try to implant with the jury, that it was a kind of inside joke . . . that was known to some of the defendants here," said Eric Breslin, the lawyer to Madoff account manager Joann Crupi.

Manhattan U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain said that any evidentiary value of the screw was outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, and even ordered prosecutors to "Photoshop" its evidence to eliminate the sculpture.

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"See if you can get that screw out of the picture," she said.

The trial of Crupi, Madoff aide Annette Bongiorno, operations officer Daniel Bonventre and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez is scheduled to begin on Oct. 7 and last an estimated 12 weeks.

In other rulings yesterday, Swain said she would allow limited evidence of extravagant in-kind compensation -- such as a beach house -- that some defendants got from Madoff, and kept the door open to allowing defense evidence about romantic relationships among Madoff staffers.

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