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At Madoff trial, star witness faces cross-examination

Frank DiPascali exits Federal Court after he testified

Frank DiPascali exits Federal Court after he testified in Manhattan. (Dec. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

One-time Bernie Madoff deputy Frank DiPascali dodged questions about whether he was a professional con man Wednesday as cross-examination of the star prosecution witness began after more than five days of testimony at the trial of five former Madoff aides.

DiPascali, who pleaded guilty in 2009 and testified against his ex-colleagues in hopes of leniency, was targeted by defense lawyer Larry Krantz for lying to investors, regulators and co-workers for 30 years about his knowledge of the Ponzi fraud.

"Is it fair to say you became very good at conning people?" asked Krantz, the lawyer for former Madoff computer programmer George Perez, 47, of East Brunswick, N.J.

"I never took a survey," responded DiPascali, who raked in millions serving as Madoff's right-hand man.

Perez and the other defendants -- including fellow programmer Jerome O'Hara, 50, of Malverne, and account manager Annette Bongiorno, 65, of Manhasset -- are charged in federal court in Manhattan with helping cook the books to fool customers and auditors. They all claim they were duped.

DiPascali, who implicated all of them, held his temper during an aggressive cross-examination, but quibbled repeatedly with Krantz -- insisting that the five "sportfishing boats" he got from Madoff were not yachts, and requesting a definition of "lavish" when asked about the house he built with his Madoff money.

He also avoided a direct answer when asked if he would have made even more money if he was paid for every lie he told. "I don't know what the rate per lie would be, sir," DiPascali responded.

Completing his direct testimony Wednesday morning, DiPascali provided new details of the steps Madoff took five years ago to prepare for his demise, after telling DiPascali in a closed-door meeting on Dec. 3, 2008, that he had run out of money, options and time. He said Madoff asked him to burn "damning" documents in a firepit at his home. DiPascali refused, but said he filled 22 boxes with incriminating records and delivered them to Madoff's driver. He was later told they had been shredded.

He also testified that Madoff at first planned to hang on until after Christmas, to give him time to talk to family and take care of close associates. But DiPascali realized the timing had moved up when Ruth Madoff dropped off some gifts at the office on Dec. 10.

"She looked catatonic," testified DiPascali, who said that in normal times Madoff's wife was an attractive woman. "She looked horrible. She looked like she had been crying all day."

DiPascali said he followed her out of the office, jumped on an elevator with her and said, "Ruthie, it's going to be OK."

Prosecutor John Zach asked him if he believed what he was saying. "No," DiPascali answered. Madoff turned himself in the next day.

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