March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Five former members of Bernard L. Madoff’s inner circle told a “staggering” number of lies to prop up their boss’s $17.5 billion Ponzi scheme, a prosecutor said during closing arguments in their criminal trial.
“Day after day, year after year, these defendants told an avalanche of different lies that allowed Madoff to steal billions from investors,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Zach told jurors in Manhattan federal court yesterday. They each “made the fraud possible in their own way.”
Testimony in the case ended yesterday. The criminal trial, now in its fifth month, is the first stemming from the swindle, which collapsed after Madoff’s arrest in December 2008 revealed his investment advisory unit hoarded customer cash for decades instead of using it to buy securities.
Prosecutors say the five were driven by greed to create millions of fake trading confirmations, bogus customer statements and falsified internal records to trick customers and regulators. Defense lawyers claim the group was duped into unwittingly aiding Madoff’s plot. All deny wrongdoing.
Zach began his summation yesterday by taking jurors through the evidence against each defendant.
Daniel Bonventre, Madoff’s former operations director who joined the firm in the 1960s, siphoned about $800 million in customer money from the investment-advisory business to the broker-dealer unit he oversaw to hide the latter’s losses in the last decade, Zach told jurors.
Bonventre managed the bank account at the center of the scam, lied to banks to secure loans, helped hide the existence of the investment unit from regulators and helped Madoff commit tax fraud, Zach said. In return, Bonventre got an inflated salary, unlimited use of a corporate credit card for personal expenses and payment of his country club dues and son’s tuition, the prosecutor said.
Bonventre “cooked the books at Madoff Securities for decades,” Zach said. “The perks, the rewards for committing these frauds was huge.”
Annette Bongiorno, who ran the investment advisory business and had a staff of about a dozen -- several of whom testified at the trial -- was responsible for billions of dollars in fake trades and oversaw projects to re-create and backdate customer statements to trick auditors, Zach said.
Zach targeted Bongiorno’s claim in her testimony last month that she didn’t know it was wrong to backdate trades. Bongiorno, who worked for Madoff for 40 years and managed his biggest clients, surely noticed trading activity that didn’t match reported volumes and prices for securities, he said.
“To hear her tell it, she never paid attention to anything at Madoff Securities,” he said. The trading was “wildly, wildly unrealistic.”
Zach mocked Bongiorno’s claim that she led a simple life and didn’t splurge on luxury items, showing the jury for the second time photographs of the Bentley she owned and the condo she bought in Florida for $6.5 million.
“Any human being would know a Bentley is a splurge,” Zach said, adding that Bongiorno decorated her home like a “palace.”
Without Bongiorno and Bonventre, “the fraud never would have been able to take place,” he said.
Joann Crupi, who joined Madoff’s firm in the 1980s and oversaw large investment-advisory accounts, worked with Madoff on projects to alter records and trick regulators, Zach said. She managed the firm’s checking account.
“There was money going in, money going out, but never any money for buying securities,” he said.
Madoff’s inventory of fake securities peaked in 2006 at 1.2 trillion shares, even though the Depository Trust Corp., where real shares are stored for securities companies, showed Madoff’s firm owned less than 1 million, Zach told the jury today.
The defendants got around the discrepancy by creating fake DTC reports, Zach said, showing jurors side-by-side comparisons of legitimate and false DTC printouts. In some, $17 billion in fake Treasuries were added and holdings of fewer than 100 real shares in a company were changed to more than 100,000, he said.
Whenever Madoff had a liquidity crisis, the investment advisory unit’s biggest customers, Jeffry Picower and Stanley Chais, would rescue the con man with loans, Zach said.
Chais, who died in 2010 at age 84, denied knowing about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and said he was duped. Picower, who began investing with Madoff in the late 1970s, died in 2009 at age 67. His estate in 2010 agreed to forfeit $7.2 billion to victims of the fraud and the U.S.
“They extracted a price” from Madoff for their help, profiting from the fraud “at the expense of smaller customers,” Zach said. Bongiorno, who managed their accounts, “used smoke and mirrors” to mask the loans, while Bonventre used their contributions to fraudulently secure bank loans, according to the prosecutor.
In the days before the fraud collapsed, Crupi was “frantically writing checks” to Madoff insiders to help them cash-out before the authorities caught on, he said.
Former Madoff computer programmers Jerome O’Hara and George Perez, accused of writing code to automate the creation of fake account statements and other false documents, left a detailed trail of their wrongdoing in the outdated computer systems Madoff used since the 1980s, Zach said yesterday.
“They essentially were the oil that made the fraud work,” Zach said. They used “some of the most corrupt programming you could possibly imagine,” he said.
Computer code written by O’Hara and Perez created randomized transaction numbers to make fake documents look realistic, and re-created from scratch backdated account statements that could be altered to trick regulators, he said. When the men learned how essential they were to the fraud in 2006, they confronted Madoff and demanded payments in diamonds, he said.
Madoff, 75, pleaded guilty in 2009 and is serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina. While he claimed he carried out the fraud alone, seven others pleaded guilty later, including several who testified at the trial.
The case is U.S. v. O’Hara, 10-cr-00228, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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