Madoff Ops. Director Testifies

Feb 20 2014 | 9:48am ET

For the first time, a defendant in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme case has testified.

Daniel Bonventre, who served as Madoff's operations director, told the jury that he had no idea that his boss was running a $65 billion fraud. He is one of five former Madoff lieutenants currently on trial for their alleged roles in the scam.

Bonventre's appearance on the stand was something of a surprise: Earlier this month, his lawyer said that he would not testify, but over the weekend announced that he had changed his mind.

Under tough cross-examination by prosecutors, Bonventre said that a 2001 news article questioning Madoff's returns "did not raise any red flags." Things got off to a testy start when Bonventre repeatedly told prosecutor Randall Jackson that he did not understand a question about whether he was "close friends" with another of the defendants, Annette Bongiorno.

"You went to college, correct?" Jackson asked. "Do you have any difficulty with the definition of the word 'close'?"

Bonventre said he did, although he eventually acknowledged that he and Bongiorno were friendly.

Jackson hammered away at Bonventre, challenging him on differences between his testimony and that of other witnesses. Bonventre will return to the stand today.

The trial of the five—who, in addition to Bonventre and Bongiorno are Joann Crupi, Jerome O'Hara and George Perez—began in October. Most of the trial has been taken up by the weeks-long testimony of prosecutors' star witness, former Madoff CFO Frank DiPascali, who accused Bonventre and the other defendants of dummying financial statements.

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