NEW YORK (AP) — Five ex-employees of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff aided him in history's biggest Ponzi scheme by helping to "perpetuate Madoff's elaborate fiction," generating millions of pages of fake documents over three decades to fool thousands of investors, government regulators and financial institutions, a prosecutor told jurors at a criminal trial Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Schwartz introduced the government's case to newly sworn-in jurors in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the trial was expected to last about five months.
Schwartz pointed at each defendant as he explained that it would be impossible to fool thousands of investors all alone, as Madoff had claimed when he pleaded guilty to fraud charges in 2009. He is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
"These are the people who helped him do it," Schwartz said. "Bernie Madoff needed help to fool so many people for so long."
He added: "A fraud of this size and scope and duration could not have been carried out alone."
The defendants are Annette Bongiorno, Madoff's longtime secretary; 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.
The trial is the first to result from the 2008 collapse of Madoff's private investment business, which cost investors nearly $20 billion. A court-appointed trustee has recovered much of the money by forcing those customers who received big payouts from Madoff to return the funds. When the fraud was revealed, Madoff admitted that the nearly $68 billion he claimed existed in accounts was actually only about $300 million.
Schwartz described the defendants as "necessary players" in Madoff's fraud, saying Bongiorno, hired in 1968, and Crupi, hired in 1983, decided which stocks and bonds to claim Madoff had purchased for his clients. He said they helped Madoff while rewarding themselves with tens of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses.
He said O'Hara and Perez developed a software program that "generated information out of thin air" and helped fool government regulators. Bonventre, he said, "cooked the books."
Six others have pleaded guilty in the case, including Frank DiPascali, Madoff's former finance chief and the government's prize witness.
Madoff, 75, is serving his sentence at a North Carolina federal lockup.