Madoff Controller Says She Faked Books, Was Unaware of Theft

Enrica Cotellessa-Pitz, Bernard Madoff’s ex-controller, said she didn’t know her former boss was running a massive Ponzi scheme while she helped falsify the firm’s accounting for almost a decade.

Cotellessa-Pitz, 53, pleaded guilty to four criminal counts at a hearing in Manhattan federal court yesterday, admitting she created phony stock records, made false entries in the firm’s general ledgers and filed untrue reports with regulators.

“Although I now know the crimes I committed helped to cover up and perpetuate Bernard Madoff’s fraud, at the time I did not know that Madoff and others were stealing investors’ money,” she told U.S District Judge Laura Taylor Swain at the plea hearing.

Cotellessa-Pitz pleaded guilty to conspiracy, falsifying books and records of a broker-dealer, falsifying books and records of an investment adviser and making false filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She faces as long as 50 years in prison when she’s sentenced, Swain told her yesterday.

She also faces forfeiture of $97.3 billion, Swain said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Baroni told Swain that Cotellessa-Pitz has been working with the government to unravel the Madoff fraud for “quite a long time now.”

Free on Bond

Cotellessa-Pitz is to remain free on $2.5 million bond, secured by $800,000 in cash or property and guaranteed by eight co-signers. She has until Jan. 3 to meet the requirements. Her sentencing is set for June 22.

Madoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges, is serving 150 years in prison for the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. Investors lost about $20 billion in principal, the trustee liquidating Madoff’s business in bankruptcy court has said.

Irving Picard, the trustee, sued Cotellessa-Pitz and her husband, Thomas Pitz, in 2010, seeking the return of money he claimed they received from the fraud. The SEC filed a civil complaint against her today.

Cotellessa-Pitz, who lives in Ozone Park, New York, was hired in 1978 to work part-time for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, she said. She said she was promoted to controller and began falsifying the firm’s books, under the direction of Daniel Bonventre, the firm’s director of operations, from about 1999 until the Madoff fraud became public in December 2008.

Bonventre was charged in the case and pleaded not guilty.

Cotellessa-Pitz told Swain that, along with other Madoff employees, she created fake documents under-reporting firm profits to help Madoff with a 2004 state tax audit and a 2007 federal audit, she said.

The criminal case is U.S. v. O’Hara, 10-CR-228, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The bankruptcy case is Picard v. Cotellessa-Pitz, 10-4213, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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