NEW YORK: Four former employees of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges they were in on his massive fraud, while a judge ordered a fifth - longtime Madoff secretary Annette Bongiorno - to New York to face trial with them.
Bongiorno, who was arrested last month, has failed to make bail set at $5 million. U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain rejected a defense request in federal court in Manhattan to lower the total, saying Bongiorno must surrender to U.S. marshals on Thursday afternoon in Florida, where she's under house arrest.
The judge said she views the 62-year-old defendant as a flight risk because she's admitted she and her husband have access to at least $2.4 million. That kind of wealth "can take you a long way," she said.
Swain said she would reconsider the decision if the couple forfeits the money, and set another bail hearing for Thursday morning.
Bongiorno was recently named in a new indictment along with another back office worker, Joann Crupi, former operations chief Daniel Bonventre and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez. The four, who are out on bail, were arraigned on Thursday.
The indictment alleges that Bongiorno and Crupi, 49, "'executed' trades in the accounts of (wealthy clients) only on paper ... and that achieved annual rates of return that had been predetermined by Madoff."
Prosecutors say Bongiorno deposited about $920,000 in her own Madoff account from 1975 to 2008 and withdrew more than $14 million in investor funds over the same period to buy expensive homes and pay for other luxuries, the indictment says.
Prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission have alleged Bonventre knew that the billions of dollars Madoff was collecting from investors were not being used to buy securities, and that he falsified records to hide the scheme. O'Hara and Perez are accused of programming an old IBM computer to churn out account statements for unsuspecting clients that showed phony returns.
Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison after admitting that he operated his fraud for at least two decades, cheating thousands of people, charities, celebrities and institutional investors. Losses are estimated at around $20 billion, making it the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history.
Still under investigation are Madoff's brother Peter and son Andrew, who were executives in the Madoff firm's market-making and proprietary-trading business. Neither has been charged.
Madoff's eldest son, Mark, had also come under scrutiny. He hanged himself Saturday on the anniversary of his father's arrest two years ago. - AP
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