Five former aides to Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff were convicted on all counts of conspiracy and fraud Monday, a clean sweep for the government in the first criminal trial stemming from the $20-billion scam.
After taking just four days to convict on all 31 counts after a 5-month trial in Manhattan federal court, jurors said afterward that they just didn't buy the claims of the longtime Madoff workers that he fooled them into thinking everything was legal.
"I didn't believe them," said juror Craig Parise, of Westchester County. "I don't believe you can work somewhere for 40 years earning the amount of money they did without knowing what's going on."
"I think they might not have known how big it was, but they were involved," said Nancy Goldberg, a juror from Yorktown Heights. "The number of years -- decades and decades. If I worked there, I'd get suspicious."
Relying on a half-dozen Madoff ex-workers who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, prosecutors accused former account managers Annette Bongiorno, 66, of Manhasset, and JoAnn Crupi, 53, of Westfield, N.J., of putting fake trades on account statements.
Former operations manager Dan Bonventre, 67, of Manhattan, and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara, 51, of Malverne, and George Perez, 48, of East Brunswick, N.J., were charged with helping churn out phony statements and reports to fool customers, auditors and regulators.
All five were convicted of conspiracy to defraud customers, securities fraud and falsifying records. With tax, bank fraud and other counts that varied by defendant, they face maximum prison terms from 78 to 220 years.
"This largest-ever Ponzi scheme could not have been the work of one person," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "The scheme these defendants helped perpetrate cost innumerable investors their life savings. Now it likely will cost the defendants their freedom."
The defendants -- who cried or choked back tears and embraced family members after the string of 59 separate guilty verdicts were read -- declined to comment as they left the courtroom with their heads down. Dismayed defense lawyers said appeals were likely.
"We're disappointed in the verdict," said Bonventre's lawyer Andrew Frisch. "The list of Bernard Madoff's victims now includes these five former employees."
"The name Madoff was a tall mountain to climb," said Crupi lawyer Eric Breslin. "I'm not criticizing anyone, but that's just a fact."
During the trial -- whose six-month duration was one of the longest Manhattan federal court observers could remember -- two of the defendants took the stand to assert their innocence. But jurors said Bongiorno and Bonventre didn't help themselves and didn't appear truthful. "They seemed scripted," said juror Sheila Amato, a teacher from Rockland County.
O'Hara and Perez, the two computer programmers, both wrote letters to themselves in 2006, recording a meeting in which they told Madoff they were "uncomfortable" with some programs they were writing. Their lawyers argued the letters were exculpatory. But prosecutors said that instead of leaving, they kept working for Madoff, and jurors agreed -- attributing it to the hefty pay and perks all the defendants were getting.
"I feel sorry for them," Goldberg said. "They should have walked away. But money is the root of all evil."
Members of the panel said they largely accepted the testimony of Frank DiPascali, the former Madoff lieutenant and star government witness, who testified for nearly a month under a plea deal, and had few disagreements in the jury room.
"Bernie Madoff could not have done this on his own, as one person," said Amato. "He would not have taken his trips to south France and left it all in the hands of one person. There had to be others involved."
Before Monday's verdict, nine former Madoff employees -- including Madoff himself, in prison in North Carolina -- had pleaded guilty. In addition to the 14 convictions, one case remains outstanding.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain to immediately jail the five defendants. She refused, saying that with all of their assets already frozen, they had no ability to flee, but ordered them all to be outfitted with electronic monitoring bracelets.
The defendants and potential sentences
All five defendants were convicted of a number of conspiracy to defraud customers, securities fraud and falsifying records charges:
Daniel Bonventre, 67, of Manhattan, found guilty of 20 charges, faces a maximum of 220 years.
Jo Ann Crupi, 53, of Westfield, N.J., was found guilty of 13 charges and faces a maximum of 175 years.
Annette Bongiorno, 66, of Manhasset, was found guilty of 10 charges and faces a maximum of 78 years.
Jerome O'Hara, 51, of Malverne, was found guilty of eight charges and faces a maximum of 100 years.
George Perez, 48, of East Brunswick, N.J., was found guilty of eight charges, and faces a maximum of 100 years.