Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Two former employees of Bernard Madoff appeared in court after their arrests in connection with the money manager’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, which has led to charges against at least eight people.
Annette Bongiorno, 62, who recruited investors and helped run Madoff’s investment advisory office, was picked up today at her home in Boca Raton, Florida, Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman Jim Margolin said. Joann Crupi, 49, was arrested at her home in Westfield, New Jersey, Margolin said.
The U.S. announced an indictment in Manhattan against Bongiorno, who spent more than 40 years at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, and Crupi, who worked there for 27 years, adding them to a previous felony case brought against other Madoff employees. A separate civil complaint against both women was filed today by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in federal court in Manhattan.
“Bernard Madoff perpetrated the largest financial fraud in history, but as we allege again today, others criminally assisted his epic crime,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
“A house of cards is almost never built by one lone architect,” Bharara said. “As described in the superseding indictment, year after year, Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi protected and perpetrated the Madoff mirage, while putting very real money in their own pockets.”
“We look forward to demonstrating that she is not guilty of any of the crimes charged,” Bongiorno’s lawyer, Maurice Sercarz, said in an interview.
$5 Million Bail
U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in New York imposed bail of $5 million on Crupi. Crupi’s bond will require three signatures: her own, her partner’s and one from a financially responsible party. She could be released as early as today, Maas said.
“We knew that this was coming and we are prepared to meet these charges and disprove them,” Eric Breslin, Crupi’s lawyer, said after the bail hearing. Breslin said he would try to get a third person to co-sign the bond and attempt to get his client released from federal custody tonight.
In court, Breslin told Maas that his client would have been granted bail immediately if the case hadn’t been related to Madoff. He said Crupi met at least three times with federal prosecutors about the Madoff business, several of these meetings lasting as long as seven hours.
“Your honor, it’s been almost two years since Bernard Madoff was arrested,” Breslin said. “My client has met with the government. They have been candid with her about whether they believe her. She knew that she was going to be charged in this case.”
Offered to Surrender
He said that Crupi had even offered to surrender to the FBI instead of being arrested in front of her children. He said she was taken into custody this morning at 6 a.m.
At a hearing today in Florida, Bongiorno was ordered held over the weekend at the Palm Beach County Jail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann E. Vitunac, who presided over Bongiorno’s initial court appearance today in federal court in West Palm Beach.
The jail is a state facility also used by federal law enforcement, Vitunac said.
One of her lawyers, Nina Mandel, described Bongiorno as a “snowbird,” telling Vitunac she left New York for Florida two weeks ago even though she knew criminal charges were likely.
Wearing a black V-neck T-shirt, khaki pants, flip-flops and bifocals, Bongiorno arrived handcuffed for the hearing. Her husband, Rudy, was in the courtroom. He later declined to comment.
“I understand most of it, I don’t understand all of it,” Bongiorno told the judge when asked if she understood the charges. When asked if she comprehended the penalties she faces, she responded, “I guess so.”
Bongiorno, who started as an administrator for Madoff in 1968, and Crupi, who was hired by the firm in 1983 as a keypunch operator, were charged with conspiracy, securities fraud, falsifying books and records of a broker-dealer, falsifying books and records of an investment adviser and committing tax evasion.
Bongiorno faces as much as 75 years in prison if convicted of all charges, the U.S. said. At Crupi’s hearing in New York, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Baroni said she faces “a potential life sentence” if convicted of all counts.
Bongiorno managed Madoff investor accounts in November 2008 that purportedly held a balance of about $8.5 billion while Crupi controlled accounts with a balance of about $900 million, prosecutors said.
While claiming to execute trades, the two women simply posted fabricated transactions in their records and backdated them with historical prices to show a gain, the U.S. said.
The SEC alleges Crupi knew the financial condition of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and its dwindling assets.
On Dec. 3, 2008, Madoff’s chief finance officer, Frank DiPascali Jr., told Crupi that the scheme was about to collapse, the SEC and prosecutors alleged. She continued to process at least $48 million in client deposits through Dec. 12, the SEC claimed.
DiPascali, who was Bongiorno’s immediate supervisor, pleaded guilty to participating in Madoff’s fraud in August 2009 and is cooperating with the government.
When funds dwindled to a few hundred million dollars in the days before the firm collapsed, Crupi allegedly helped DiPascali review investor lists and identify which accounts should be cashed out. Madoff approved the moves and Crupi also prepared more than $350 million in checks for “preferred” investors, the U.S. said.
FBI agents found the checks on Crupi’s desk after Madoff’s arrest on Dec. 11, 2008, according to the indictment.
Bongiorno took $14.4 million out of the investment fund by creating sham trades in her own account, where she deposited a total of $920,000 from 1975 to 2008, the government charged.
She also received $325,000 in off-the-books payments from the firm, prosecutors charged.
Crupi allegedly received payments of more than $2.7 million from Madoff in 2008, taken directly from Madoff investor accounts, prosecutors said. She received more than $270,000 in off-the-books income from the firm, the U.S. said.
The U.S. in February charged Daniel Bonventre, Madoff’s ex-operations chief, adding him to an indictment against Jerome O’Hara and George Perez, two programmers who worked at Madoff’s investment business, who were charged last year. All three have pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
Madoff’s accountant, David Friehling, has pleaded guilty to helping Madoff prepare phony tax returns and is also cooperating with prosecutors.
Bongiorno worked as Madoff’s personal secretary in the 1980s. She also had clerical duties at Madoff Securities. Clients who discovered the wrong Social Security numbers on their statements were told to call Bongiorno, according to a copy of one such notice.
Bongiorno, who was raised in Howard Beach, New York, and also has a house in Manhasset, New York, introduced DiPascali, her neighbor, to the firm in the 1970s, according to a former employee.
Prosecutors have been seeking to seize more than $2 million in cash and the New York and Florida homes from Bongiorno and her husband, a former electrician with the New York City Department of Transportation. The couple is fighting the seizure attempt.
Madoff, 72, pleaded guilty last year to fraud and was sentenced to 150 years in prison for using new investors’ funds for payouts to existing ones in a scheme that ran from at least the early 1990s.
At the time of Madoff’s arrest, his firm’s statements reflected 4,900 accounts with $65 billion in nonexistent investments, according to Irving Picard, the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Madoff Securities. Investors lost about $20 billion in principal.
The Madoff case is U.S. v. Madoff, 09-cr-213, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at email@example.com.