Bongiorno said she recorded backdated trades, sometimes months after
the fact, but never suspected there was anything illegal about it.
"Did anyone ever suggest to you that there was something wrong with
that practice?" her lawyer, Roland Riopelle, asked her.
"The only person who ever suggested that to me was you," she
Bongiorno is on trial in Manhattan federal court along with four
other Madoff employees, all accused of aiding the fraud.
She became the second defendant to testify in her own defense, after
Madoff's director of operations, Daniel Bonventre, chose to do the
same last week. His testimony concluded on Monday morning.
The other defendants — portfolio manager Joann Crupi and computer
programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez — have indicated they
will not testify. All five have denied knowing about the scheme,
saying they were fooled by the charismatic Madoff into believing the
trading business was legitimate.
Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty.
The criminal case is the first to reach trial since the firm
collapsed in 2008, revealing a fraud that cost investors an
estimated $17 billion in principal losses.
Prosecutors have accused Bongiorno of arranging for fake trades to
be recorded in customer accounts using historical stock prices,
concealing the fact that no trading was taking place at all in the
firm's investment advisory business.
But Bongiorno flatly denied she had any inkling that Madoff — whose
photo she kept on her desk with the notation "my hero" scribbled
across it — was doing anything illegal.
In approximately an hour of testimony, Bongiorno portrayed herself
as an inexperienced 19-year-old who knew nothing about the
securities industry when she arrived at Bernard L. Madoff Investment
Securities in 1968, seeking a career as a secretary. The firm had
fewer than 10 employees at the time.
She met Madoff on her first day, when she took his lunch order. In
those days, she said, he suffered from a stutter and had trouble
explaining that he wanted a ham and cheese sandwich.
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With a brother who also stuttered, she said, she understood what he
wanted and brought him the sandwich.
"He said, 'You're going to do really good here,'" and gave her a
thumbs-up, she said.
Like Bonventre before her, Bongiorno said Madoff was exceptionally
generous with his employees, paying for her honeymoon as a wedding
gift. When her mother had a debilitating stroke, Madoff secured her
a spot in a nursing home where she had been turned down, she
testified, her voice cracking.
"He said, in typical Bernard Madoff fashion,
'I made them an offer
they couldn't refuse,'" she recalled.
When she learned of the fraud upon Madoff's arrest in December 2008,
she said, she told a colleague to throw the "hero" photo of Madoff
The decision to testify in her own defense is unusual for a criminal
defendant and represents a calculated risk, offering the jury an
explanation but subjecting her to what will likely be intense
questioning from the government about how she could have been so
completely in the dark.
Prosecutors have not yet had a chance to question Bongiorno, who
will resume testifying on Tuesday. The trial, now in its fifth
month, is expected to conclude within two weeks.
The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Ken
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