A federal jury in March convicted five former aides to Bernie Madoff of conspiracy in the only trial stemming from his $20 billion Ponzi scheme, but as their sentencing this week approaches, the verdict hasn't settled disputes about their degree of culpability.
In sentencing letters to Manhattan U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, defense lawyers for the five have cast them as bit players who were blind to the big picture and lied to by Madoff. Three have asked for home confinement -- including former director of operations Dan Bonventre, who prosecutors said should serve more than 20 years in prison.
"Mr. Madoff had thousands of victims, and Mr. Bonventre is among them," wrote his lawyer, Andrew Frisch. " . . . The jury's verdict does not support the prosecutors' over-the-top advocacy nor the naked vengeance that they urge . . . with language all but evoking lighted torches and pitchforks."
The government, on the other hand, contends that all five -- Bonventre, former account managers Annette Bongiorno and JoAnn Crupi, and former computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez -- deserve stiff sentences because they were key facilitators whose requests for leniency suggest a "remarkable lack of contrition."
"A jury has found each of the defendants guilty of participating in the largest fraud in United States history," prosecutors wrote, "but one would not be able to tell that from the defendants' sentencing submissions."
At the five-month trial that climaxed in March, prosecutors alleged that each of the five helped Madoff cut corners in ways that assisted his overall Ponzi scheme.
Testimony indicated that Bongiorno, 66, of Manhasset, and Crupi, 53, of Westfield, New Jersey, created phony account statements. O'Hara, 51, of Malverne, and Perez, 48, of East Brunswick, New Jersey, oversaw computer programs used to create phony records. Bonventre, 67, of New York City, allegedly helped oversee the bank account used to carry out the Ponzi scheme and lied to banks.
The jury returned guilty verdicts on 31 counts of conspiracy, fraud and falsifying records, but none of the charges alleged that any of the five knew the full scope of the scam.
Because of the size of the fraud, federal sentencing guidelines call for all five to get 78 years in prison or more. Probation officials have recommended 20 years for Bonventre and Bongiorno, eight years for O'Hara and Perez, and 14 years for Crupi.
Prosecutors urged Swain to impose harsher sentences on all of them, filing more than 300 pages of statements from victims, citing the hefty pay and perks the five received, and lashing their failure to protect victims by revealing what they knew, even if it wasn't the whole picture.
"Any one of these five defendants could have stopped it decades ago," prosecutors said. "Instead, they chose to personally profit."
Defense lawyers, who have signaled they plan to appeal the verdicts, said in filings that their ability to get a fair trial was hampered by the association with Madoff, and argued that their clients -- like many of the government's own cooperating witnesses -- were simply too unsophisticated to see the big picture.
"The person the prosecution tried to portray me as is a very far cry from the man I am," O'Hara wrote in a letter to the judge. "I feel deep sympathy for the many victims who lost so much. I have grown ashamed that I was also fooled."
Bonventre is scheduled to be sentenced Monday, Bongiorno and O'Hara Tuesday, Perez on Wednesday, and Crupi on Dec. 15.