A Manhattan federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed the convictions of five former aides to Bernard Madoff found guilty of fraudulent conduct that helped him pull off his epic $20 billion Ponzi scheme, rebuffing claims that prosecutors made improper appeals to the jury’s emotions.
Long Islanders Jerome O’Hara, 53, of Malverne, a computer programmer, and Annette Bongiorno, 67, of Manhasset, an account manager, were convicted along with programmer George Perez, operations director Daniel Bonventre, and account manager Joann Crupi.
In addition to attacks on the sufficiency of the evidence and technical legal arguments, the defense claimed that prosecutor Randall Jackson crossed the line in his summation with colorful comparisons of the five to arsonists, drug dealers, the Sopranos and a “Godfather” character.
“The government’s use of analogies to enable jurors unfamiliar with securities trading to evaluate evidence in the context of ‘more accessible’ crimes was not a model of advocacy,” the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel wrote. “But the government is not barred from using such rhetorical devices so as to require a new trial here.”
During oral arguments last month, two panel members – Judges Reena Raggi and John Walker – also expressed concern about references to civil rights figures such as Thurgood Marshall, which the defense said were designed to rile up a majority-minority jury against all-white defendants.
But in Wednesday’s ruling, the judges said the references – which the government said were responses to historical references to the rights of the accused by the defense -- didn’t require reversal. “While the prosecutor’s choice of subject was peculiar and his subject needlessly grandiose, it did not constitute severe misconduct,” the judges said.
The five Madoff defendants are serving federal prison terms ranging from 2-1/2 to 10 years. Madoff himself pleaded guilty in 2009 and is serving a federal prison sentence of 150 years.
Defense lawyers said they were disappointed by the appeals ruling and the failure to sanction U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office for its arguments. “These defendants were victims of Madoff’s misuse of his iconic status and are paying for it with more than just money,” said Andrew Frisch, Bonventre’s lawyer. “The court’s ruling… serves to encourage what the trial judge in this case characterized as conduct unworthy of government prosecutors.”
O’Hara and Perez are due to be released this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons website, while Bongiorno and Crupi are scheduled for release in 2020 and Bonventre in 2023.