Five former aides to Bernard Madoff who spent decades working for his firm were found guilty of helping run the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, a $17.5 billion fraud exposed by the 2008 financial crisis.
The three men and two women, hired by Madoff with little financial experience, were convicted on all counts. The defendants failed to persuade a federal jury in Manhattan they were ignorant of the fraud despite being part of the inner circle at his New York-based firm.
Hatched in the 1970s, Madoff’s fraud targeted thousands of wealthy investors, Jewish charities, celebrities and retirees. It unraveled in 2008 when the economic crisis led to more withdrawals than Madoff could afford to pay out. In addition to $17.5 billion in principal, it erased about $47 billion in fake profit that customers thought was being held in their accounts.
Monday’s verdict, after five months of testimony and four days of deliberations, is a major victory for the U.S. government, coming in the only criminal trial brought in the five years since the scam was revealed. Madoff refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Some clients learned they lost their life savings after Madoff’s confession and arrest on Dec. 11, 2008, leading to criticism of regulators who repeatedly overlooked the scam. Madoff, 75, pleaded guilty the next year and is serving 150 years in a North Carolina prison.
Prosecutors began probing Madoff’s highest-ranking employees soon after his arrest. While the con man claimed to have carried out the fraud alone, seven of his former workers later pleaded guilty, including his former finance chief, Frank DiPascali, who testified at the trial as the government’s key witness.
The defendants are Annette Bongiorno, who ran the investment advisory unit at the center of the fraud; Joann Crupi, who managed large accounts; Daniel Bonventre, the ex-operations chief of Madoff’s broker-dealer; and computer programmers George Perez and Jerome O’Hara, accused of automating the scam as it grew rapidly in the 1990s.
Testimony began in October with industry experts, accountants, tax employees, federal agents and former clerical staff who worked at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC’s offices on three floors of a lipstick-shaped Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. They all gave evidence against the former employees, some of whom worked for Madoff since the 1960s and left extensive paper trails found in storage boxes, filing cabinets and 1980s-era computer systems.
The case is U.S. v. O’Hara, 10-cr-00228, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).