NEW YORK — The longtime secretary of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff and four other back-office subordinates of the Ponzi king are going to trial today as the government for the first time shows a jury what it has collected in its five-year probe of one of history's biggest frauds.
The trial in federal court in Manhattan is expected to last up to five months and feature the unveiling of the government's prize witness — Frank DiPascali, Madoff's former finance chief.
The government is counting on him to explain to jurors the roles each defendant played in a fraud that prosecutors say stretched back into the early 1970s and consumed nearly $20 billion invested by thousands of victims, including retirees, charities, school trusts and even Holocaust survivors. Much of the money has since been recovered by a court-appointed trustee.
Amid a collapsing economy, Madoff was forced to reveal his fraud in December 2008, acknowledging that accounts he had told investors were worth nearly $68 billion only days earlier actually held only a few hundred million dollars. He pleaded guilty to fraud charges a few months later and was sentenced to a 150-year prison term in Butner, N.C.
Madoff, 75, claimed during his guilty plea that he acted alone, but the government says that was not true, and it will use the trial to try to prove it.
Prosecutors say fictitious trades and phantom accounts were created with help from Madoff's secretary, Annette Bongiorno, a supervisor in his private investment business; Daniel Bonventre, his director of operations for investments; JoAnn Crupi, an account manager; and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez. All have pleaded not guilty. Six others have pleaded guilty in the case, including DiPascali.
Pretrial maneuvers included an effort by prosecutors to exclude from evidence any mention of the sexual and romantic activities that seemed to permeate Madoff's offices when he was perceived as a high-flying Wall Street guru.