March 25 (Bloomberg) -- The five former Bernard Madoff aides on trial for perpetuating the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history never had a chance once deliberations began, jurors who delivered a guilty verdict on all 31 counts said.
The defendants were seen as liars who wanted to get rich off the $17.5 billion fraud, requiring little persuasion before a unanimous decision was reached, three members of the panel said yesterday in interviews outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan. After a five-month trial, the group of eight women and three men, deliberated for four days.
“The facts spoke for themselves,” said Sheila Amato, an art teacher in Rockland County, a New York suburb. She said the five defendants, who worked with Madoff for decades, were his “soldiers” and he was their “commander.”
The verdict was a significant victory for the U.S. government, coming in the only criminal trial brought since Madoff’s confession and arrest in December 2008, around the peak of the financial crisis.
The jury was particularly unimpressed with the testimony of defendants Annette Bongiorno, 66, who ran Madoff’s investment advisory unit, and Daniel Bonventre, 67, the former operations chief, viewing their decisions to take the stand as mistakes that revealed the strength of the government’s case, the jurors said.
The jurors believed all the defendants were lying to the court and themselves when they argued they were duped by Madoff and didn’t have enough education in the securities industry to recognize the fraud, according to Amato.
“They were in it for so long, the truth became a blur,” Amato said. “They were certainly getting a lot of perks.”
Prosecutors had shown extensive evidence of the group being given millions of dollars in compensation and unusual bonuses, as well unlimited use of company credit cards for personal expenses, including cruises and family vacations.
Madoff refused to cooperate, claiming he carried out the fraud alone. He is serving a 150-year-prison sentence. The defendants face as long as 20 years in prison on the most serious count of securities fraud when they are sentenced in July.
Craig Parise, a juror from Westchester County, said considering all of the evidence together “made the decision very easy,” though the defense “did a good job at trying to turn your attention.”
“The evidence was just overwhelming,” said Parise, who teaches fifth grade at a school in the Bronx, New York. “I don’t think education has any bearing on your intelligence,” he said, rejecting the defendants’ claims to be ignorant.
Nancy Goldberg, 56, a juror from Yorktown Heights, works as an instructional assistant at a public high school in Bedford, New York, and traveled for two hours each way to court. She said one thing that helped the panel reach a guilty verdict was that the fraud went on for so long, making it impossible to believe the defense claim that the defendants were kept in the dark by Madoff.
“The defense lawyers worked hard with what they had, but justice was done,” Goldberg said.
She said jurors didn’t believe the testimony of Bongiorno and Bonventre, who surprised onlookers by deciding at the last-minute to testify in their own defense.
“It was embarrassing for them, because they weren’t telling the whole truth. I can tell you I didn’t believe them because of their body language and their voices,” Goldberg said. “Taking the stand was a big mistake because it was an embarrassment to watch them. We didn’t buy it.”
Convicted with Bongiorno and Bonventre were Joann Crupi, 53, who managed large accounts, and computer programmers George Perez, 48, and Jerome O’Hara, 51, who were accused of automating the scam as it grew rapidly in the 1990s. Goldberg said Madoff manipulated the defendants into doing his bidding and running the scheme.
“He made them feel important because he was generous,” she said. “I think he gave them money and raises and extras to keep them going along.”
Jurors found Frank DiPascali, Madoff’s ex-finance chief, to be the government’s best witness, Goldberg said.
“I found him charismatic and very intelligent,” she said. “If only he’d used it in the right way, he’d be in a different place.”
DiPascali pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and agreed to cooperate with the government. He hasn’t been sentenced.
Parise, 39, who said he’d like to get a beer with DiPascali, said the documentary evidence was the strongest part of the case, with the government’s cooperating witnesses playing a secondary role.
The jury was particularly impressed with prosecutor Randall Jackson’s closing statement, which cemented the jurors’ views, Parise said.
Amato said that while she was aware of Madoff’s fraud, she didn’t know much about it before the trial.
“I didn’t know anyone who’d invested with Madoff,” Amato said. “Sitting on this trial for five months was like getting a college education in securities fraud.”
The case is U.S. v. O’Hara, 10-cr-00228, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).