Daniel Bonventre, Bernard Madoff’s former operations chief, asked a judge to dismiss criminal charges against him after prosecutors began seizing assets including money he set aside to pay his lawyer.
Bonventre is among five former Madoff aides who face charges for helping their boss run a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. In a court filing today, Bonventre accused prosecutors of interfering with his constitutional right to counsel by seizing assets. The seizure followed four requests that he cooperate in the probe, his lawyer said.
Andrew Frisch, Bonventre’s lawyer, wrote in the filing in Manhattan federal court that the seizure appears to be designed to pressure him and other defendants to cooperate in the Madoff investigation. Bonventre was arrested in February. Late last month, prosecutors said in letters to Frisch that they were seizing Bonventre’s funds, including brokerage accounts.
“Nothing else reasonably explains why the government has waited until now to frustrate Mr. Bonventre’s ability to defend himself,” Frisch wrote. “Instead, the government sent the letters just six days after counsel complained that he intended to challenge the recent superseding indictment.”
Annette Bongiorno, 62, another ex-Madoff aide and Bonventre’s codefendant, asked today to be released from prison because prosecutors began seizing her accounts last week. Bongiorno was locked up last month after a judge said she had access to millions of dollars that might help her flee.
Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, declined to comment on the two requests.
Bonventre and Bongiorno, who was arrested in November, deny wrongdoing. The two are accused of conspiracy and securities fraud for aiding Madoff in his decades-long fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Schwartz wrote in a Dec. 21 letter attached to Bonventre’s filing that Frisch, along with a forensic accounting firm, was a “direct recipient” of almost $1 million in funds traceable to Madoff’s fraud, a claim Bonventre denies. Because the U.S. is seeking $154 billion from Bonventre, the lawyer was told to “refrain from drawing down” the account, according to the letter.
Prosecutors “made four separate overtures” to obtain Bonventre’s cooperation, his lawyer said in the filing. The first came in March 2009, after Bonventre spent three months aiding investigators pouring through records of Madoff’s firm, according to the brief. Prosecutors again sought his assistance in November 2009 and twice last year after his indictment in March.
Bonventre’s lawyer noted in the brief that, in an unrelated case, a federal judge in New York in 2007 dismissed tax charges against former executives of KPMG LLP after finding that prosecutors had pressured the firm not to pay their legal fees.
Bongiorno’s lawyers, in papers filed today, said prosecutors late last week began taking control of most of the bank accounts belonging to their client and her husband. Citing these “changed circumstances,” defense attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Laura Swain to set Bongiorno’s bail at $2.5 million, which she would be able to post.
“These accounts represent a significant part of the defendant and her husband’s liquid assets,” the lawyers, Maurice Sercarz, Roland Riopelle and Diane Ferrone, said in the filing.
Madoff, 72, is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison in North Carolina after admitting he ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history. At the time of his arrest in 2008, his client account statements reflected about $65 billion in nonexistent investments. Investors lost about $20 billion in principal.
The case is U.S. v. O’Hara, 10-cr-00228, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).