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Defense: Madoff's secretary ignorant of fraud

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. Credit: Getty Images, 2009

Annette Bongiorno, the former secretary of financial con artist Bernard Madoff, carried out his orders to falsify stock trades without knowing that it was all part of his gigantic $17 billion Ponzi scheme, her defense attorney argued Tuesday.

In his four-hour summation in federal court in Manhattan, Roland G. Riopelle asked the jurors not to be blinded by anger or jealousy over the tens of millions of dollars that Bongiorno earned -- but ultimately lost -- while working for Madoff before his company imploded in December 2008.

"It is not what Mrs. Bongiorno earned that matters, it is what she knew," argued Riopelle in his effort to convince the jury that his client was kept in the dark by her boss and others about the true nature of Madoff's massive scam.

Bongiorno, 65, a diminutive woman who lives in Manhasset, has been on trial since October with four other ex-employees of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. They are all charged with willfully helping to falsify investor account records to perpetuate Madoff's fraud, the largest in Wall Street history.

Bongiorno, who originally lived in Howard Beach, worked for Madoff for more than 40 years. She took the stand in her own defense and testified that the stock trading entries she made on customer records were given to her by Madoff and one of his top aides, Frank DiPascali.

In his summation, Riopelle used a slide presentation that included a photograph of a New York Magazine cover depicting Madoff as the evil-looking Batman character The Joker. Using extracts from testimony, Riopelle argued that DiPascali and fellow employee David Kugel, both of whom have pleaded guilty to being part of the Madoff fraud and testified for the prosecution, would burnish the truth so that they would get a break when they are sentenced for their crimes.

Some of the falsehoods Kugel allegedly made in his statements to investigators centered on a $6 million payment to him from his Madoff account, which has not been found in any records uncovered in the investigation, Riopelle said in court. The attorney suggested to the jury that Kugel, who had once lived in the same Manhasset neighborhood as Bongiorno, had hidden the payment and that prosecutors gave him a blank check on the issue so that he could implicate others in the fraud.

Riopelle said that while DiPascali and Kugel have cooperation agreements in which they promised to tell the truth, it is the truth as the government understands it and "not the truth."

The summations are scheduled to continue Wednesday before Judge Laura Swain. The case may go to the jury as early as Friday. If convicted, the defendants face lengthy prison sentences and forfeiture of all of their assets.

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