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Madoff associates should get 'significant' time: prosecutors

Daniel Bonventre, back-office director for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, exits the Manhattan Federal Court house in New York, March 24, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five former employees of disgraced investment manager Bernard Madoff should be sentenced to "significant" prison sentences of up to 20 years or more, prosecutors said in a court filing on Friday.

"The five defendants here, along with others, were the people who allowed Madoff's fraud to succeed as wildly as it did," prosecutors with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office in Manhattan said in the filing. "Justice requires that each receive a significant prison sentence, commensurate with their active and long-standing role in the fraud."

A jury in March convicted Madoff's former office director Daniel Bonventre, portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi, and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez for helping their former boss conceal his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme for decades.

In the filing, prosecutors said that Bonventre and Bongiorno should be sentenced to a term greater than the 20-year sentence recommended by federal probation officers; that Crupi should be sentenced to more than the recommended 14-year sentence; and that O'Hara and Perez be sentenced to "substantially more" than the recommended eight years for each.

The five-month trial was one of the longest white-collar criminal trials in Manhattan federal court history, and the first criminal trial stemming from Madoff's fraud.

Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to running the Ponzi scheme estimated to have cost investors more than $17 billion of principal, and is serving a 150-year-prison sentence.

During the trial, attorneys for the former staffers cast their clients as mere puppets of a pathological liar who bewitched them into becoming unwitting accomplices.

"They thought he was almost a god," said Eric Breslin, a lawyer for Crupi, during the trial.

The jury disagreed, however, and found them guilty on all counts, including securities fraud and conspiracy to defraud clients.

In court filings, attorneys for Bonventre, Perez and O'Hara requested a sentence of home confinement and community service, or a short prison term. Attorneys for Bongiorno recommended she be sentenced to between eight and 10 years. Crupi's lawyer asked the court to exercise leniency, arguing that 14 years is "nearly as bad as a life sentence," as she would then be 70 upon her release.

Gordon Mehler, a lawyer for O'Hara, and Larry Krantz, a lawyer for Perez, declined to comment. Lawyers for Bonventre, Bongiorno and Crupi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(This story corrects the spelling of Madoff in headline)

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Eric Walsh)