The former controller who helped cook the books at Bernie Madoff's investment company was sentenced to no jail time at federal court in Manhattan Monday because she cooperated with prosecutors and testified against others.
Enrica Cotellessa-Pitz, 56, of Queens, who worked 30 years for Madoff, pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy and falsifying records, but maintained in testimony at the trial of five Madoff aides and again at sentencing that she never knew it was a Ponzi scheme.
"I, like others, did not question the authority of Bernie Madoff," she told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. "There was only one way to do things and that was his way. . . . I somehow lost my way."
Federal guidelines called for 50 years in prison, but Cotellessa-Pitz's "extraordinary cooperation" and her "extraordinary remorse," combined with financial reversals and public humiliation, merited a nonjail sentence.
"She has suffered a great deal," Swain said. She put Cotellessa-Pitz on probation for two years, and imposed a $97 billion forfeiture order, which all the Madoff defendants are theoretically responsible for paying.
No victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme spoke at the sentencing, and prosecutors raved about the help Cotellessa-Pitz gave them in understanding how Madoff pulled off his fraud. She was the first of a half-dozen cooperating witnesses to be sentenced.
In her testimony at the 2013 trial of her ex-boss, Madoff director of operations Daniel Bonventre, and four others, she described how she helped generate false reports to fool regulators and juggled the books to fend off an IRS audit of Madoff's personal taxes.
Cotellessa-Pitz, an economics major hired by Madoff right out of college, helped keep the books at the firm. By the time of the collapse she was making $450,000 a year and had an investment account worth $3.2 million on paper.
"I never imagined that my good fortune was at the expense of so many others," she told the judge. "Not a day goes by when I don't think of those I injured."
She said she has been banned from the financial industry, forfeited most of her assets and retirement savings, and voluntarily surrendered $50,000 she made from selling insider photos from Madoff's firm because it felt like "blood money."
Cotellessa-Pitz said she has only been able to find work helping a Queens dentist -- himself a Madoff victim -- with insurance claims, and has even been banned from volunteering at a Catholic school because felons aren't allowed on campus.
"Although I know it does not compare, I have lost a lot too," she said.