Jury takes 20 hours to find Madoff associates guilty after five-month trial

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 11:09am

When it came down to it, the evidence was simply too overwhelming.

That was what several jurors said after they convicted five former Bernard Madoff associates of helping to conceal his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

The verdicts - guilty on all counts - came after just 20 hours of deliberations, which paled in comparison to the trial's extraordinary length. At more than five months, it was one of the longest white-collar criminal trials in the history of the federal court in Manhattan.

But the jurors said there was never really any doubt in their minds about the outcome.

"It was the overall picture," said Sheila Amato, an art teacher. "The facts speak for themselves."

The five employees - back-office director Daniel Bonventre, portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez - claimed they believed Madoff's business was legitimate and they were fooled into becoming unknowing accomplices.

Starting in October, the jurors heard about 40 witnesses testify and saw thousands of documents admitted into evidence, creating a trial transcript that reached 12,000 pages. The closing arguments stretched to nearly 25 hours over two weeks.

In all, the jurors had to determine a verdict for 59 individual charges, with Bonventre alone facing 20 counts of securities fraud, conspiracy, bank fraud, filing false tax returns and falsifying records.

Juror Craig Parise, a teacher, said the fact the fraud persisted for so long made it hard to believe that the defendants, some of whom worked at the firm for decades, were completely unaware.

"It would be different if it was a four-month Ponzi scheme," he said. "When it was 40 years, it's very hard to overlook that."

Defence lawyers tried to undermine the government's star witness, Madoff's top deputy, Frank DiPascali, by painting him as a career con man with a talent for deception that rivalled only that of Madoff himself.

But the jurors said they found his testimony credible and compelling. "It was pretty captivating," Amato said of DiPascali's testimony. "It wasn't scripted."

That stood in contrast to the testimony from Bongiorno and Bonventre, who both made the unusual decision to take the stand in their own defence. The jurors emphatically rejected their claims that they had no idea what was going on.

"I don't think it helped their case," Parise said. "It was slightly insulting. I think there was a lot of coaching going on."

The trial's length forced some attrition in the jury box, with two jurors and two alternates excused because of illness or travel plans. After one juror was forced to leave in the middle of deliberations, the judge decided to move forward with only 11 members, a rare but not unheard of occurrence.

Gloria Wynn, a pastor from the Bronx in New York, expressed relief that the case had ended. "It was a long trial, and I'm glad it is over," she said.