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Five former Bernard Madoff workers convicted in case's first trial

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Five former employees of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff were convicted Monday at the end of a six-month trial that portrayed them as telling an elaborate web of lies to hide a fraud that enriched them and cheated investors out of billions of dollars.

The trial was the first to result from the massive fraud revealed in December 2008 when Madoff ran out of money and was arrested. He pleaded guilty and is serving a 150-year prison sentence.

The case focused on five people who prosecutors said helped him carry out the fraud.

Each was convicted of conspiracy to defraud clients, securities fraud, and falsifying the books and records of a broker dealer. Prosecutors obtained convictions on all 33 charges, though only one defendant was charged in some counts.

Prosecutors unveiled hundreds of exhibits and showcased dozens of witnesses to try to prove charges against Annette Bongiorno, Madoff's longtime secretary; Daniel Bonventre, his director of operations for investments; JoAnn Crupi, an account manager; and Jerome O'Hara and George Perez, both computer programmers.

The defendants largely took the verdict in stride except for Crupi, who looked shocked when the first guilty verdict was read and later shook her head. Bongiorno wrote notes on paper during the reading.

"These convictions, along with the prior guilty pleas of nine other defendants, demonstrate what we have believed from the earliest stages of the investigation: This largest-ever Ponzi scheme could not have been the work of one person," U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said. "These defendants each played an important role in carrying out the charade, propping it up and concealing it from regulators, auditors, taxing authorities, lenders and investors."

Bongiorno and Bonventre testified for several days in their own defense. They insisted that they were victims of Madoff's fraud as well, losing millions of dollars they had invested with him because they believed in and trusted him.

Bongiorno, 65, told the jury that she once asked how the firm was "making money when everyone else was losing money." She said Madoff told her that they could make money in a down market by shorting stocks. Bongiorno said she believed him.

Clients lost nearly $20 billion. A court-appointed trustee has recovered much of the money by forcing those customers who received big payouts from Madoff to return the funds. When the fraud was revealed, Madoff admitted that the nearly $68 billion he claimed existed in accounts was actually only a few hundred million dollars.

The centerpiece of the prosecution's case was Frank DiPascali, Madoff's former finance chief, and five other insiders who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.

At times, however, their testimony seemed to support the defendants' claims that they were kept in the dark.

DiPascali acknowledged that he lied to Perez and O'Hara "to trick them into working on the projects that he needed them to work on."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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