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Former Madoff director sentenced to 10 years in prison in Ponzi scheme

Daniel Bonventre, formerly Bernard Madoff's director of operations,

Daniel Bonventre, formerly Bernard Madoff's director of operations, leaves the Federal courthouse in Manhattan Tuesday Feb. 18, 2014, in Manhattan, after testifying in his own defense. He is one of five people on trial for helping Madoff carry out his multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Bernard Madoff's former director of operations was sentenced at federal court in Manhattan to 10 years in prison for conspiracy and fraud Monday, less than half of the prison term the government wanted.

U.S. District Judge Laura Swain said Daniel Bonventre, 67, of New York City, accused of aiding Madoff's massive $20 billion Ponzi scheme by falsifying books, was not an "architect" of the fraud but deserved a stiff sentence for looking the other way.

"Dreams and trust were shattered," the judge told Bonventre, the first to be sentenced of five Madoff aides who went to trial. "Innumerable victims were left wondering 'What next?' This is the harm, Mr. Bonventre, that you and your co-defendants have wrought."

Two Long Islanders also convicted at trial in March -- former Madoff secretary Annette Bongiorno, 66, of Manhasset, and computer manager Jerome O'Hara, 51, of Malverne -- are to be sentenced Tuesday. Prosecutors want more than 20 years in prison for Bongiorno and more than 8 for O'Hara.

In their cases, like Bonventre's, prosecutors and defense lawyers have been battling over how harshly to punish aides who weren't convicted of orchestrating the fraud, but sat in the middle of it, cut corners for Madoff and looked the other way while it unfolded.

Prosecutors, who wanted Bonventre imprisoned for more than 20 years, said that even if he thought Madoff had assets to back investor accounts, his willingness to create phony records and lie to banks over two decades facilitated the scheme, and letting him off easy because he wasn't the mastermind would send the wrong message.

"It was egregious, it was repeated," prosecutor Randall Jackson told Swain.

Bonventre, who is planning to appeal the jury's guilty verdict, read a statement expressing remorse that he didn't figure out what Madoff was doing, but did not concede that he blinded himself to what was going on.

"He was a manipulator beyond manipulators," Bonventre told the judge. "I feel regret for what I was unable to do -- to see Bernie Madoff for who he really was, to see the monster behind the mask."

But Swain said if he hadn't avoided seeing the truth, Bonventre had reason to know from 1992 until Madoff went bust in 2008 that the business was based on fraud.

"He was a pampered, compliant and overcompensated worker who willfully blinded himself to inconvenient truths," Swain said.

Despite the seriousness of the crime, the judge said she had to take into account Bonventre's age and dozens of letters of support from friends and associates vouching for his character.

"You were not an architect of the Ponzi scheme, and you were not evil at heart," she said. "You should not spend the rest of your life in prison."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said afterward the sentence "fits Bonventre's central role in the biggest financial fraud in history," but a lawyer for investors who lost money said many would be disappointed.

"While Bonventre will serve only up to 10 years, the victims' lives have been and will continue to be shattered for the remainder of their natural lives," attorney Jerry Reisman of Garden City said.

The judge said she would recommend home confinement during the last year of the 10-year sentence to prison officials.

After that, Bonventre will be on probation for 2 years. Swain also imposed a $155 billion forfeiture order, which Madoff and all the others who were prosecuted are jointly liable for paying.

Madoff is in federal prison in North Carolina serving a 150-year prison term. Swain said she will recommend that Bonventre serve his time at a minimum-security federal prison camp in Pennsylvania, and gave him until Feb. 19 to surrender.

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