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Two Bernie Madoff close associates taken into custody, SEC files charges

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Working on behalf of charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI arrested a pair of longtime employees at Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. The SEC says Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi were key players in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, estimated to cost investors nearly $20 billion in loses, based on false claims of $65 billion in gains. Bongiorno was picked up Thursday at her home in Boca Raton, Fla. The SEC alleges she doctored account statements and toggled securities transactions, some that never happened, so that false gains appeared realized. Erin Arvedlund, author of "Too Good to Be True," a book on the rise and fall of Bernie Madoff, writes that Bongiorno served as Madoff's personal secretary and served to recruit Frank DiPascali Jr., the customer service representative for investors in the Ponzi scheme. According to Arvedlund, DiPascali was so abrasive it disincentivized investors to call and check on their investments."Frank was rude all the time," comments a San Francisco investor quoted in the book. "It wasn't personal and it was very unfriendly. Over time, I tried not to call." The two arrests are the result of DiPascali's cooperation with federal authorities. DiPascali pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges in August 2009. The other arrest Thursday of JoAnn "Jodi" Crupi at her home in Westfield, N.J., is based on allegations that when the fraud was on the verge of collapse, she helped decide which accounts should be cashed out. Crupi, the SEC maintains, prepared checks for those selected investors, many of them who were friends or family of Madoff. "Bongiorno and Crupi helped create an elaborate edifice of fake accounts, fake trades and fake profits," said George Canellos, director of the SEC's New York Regional Office. "Without their active and ongoing assistance, Madoff's world of lies would have been unsustainable." According to the SEC's complaint, Bongiorno also fabricated trades in her own BMIS accounts, depositing approximately $920,000 into these accounts but withdrawing approximately $14.5 million. The complaint adds Crupi had exclusive control over two important aspects of the BMIS fraud: She handled the primary bank account used in the Ponzi scheme, and she created false trading portfolios and account statements related to a purported hedging strategy. On Dec. 3, 2008, DiPascali told Crupi that the scheme was on the verge of collapse, yet she continued to process client deposits during this time period, depositing approximately $59 million of client checks into the Ponzi scheme bank account from Dec. 4-12, the SEC alleges. Finally, when the investor redemption fund had dwindled to a few hundred million dollars, Crupi reviewed the list of investors, with DiPascali, disregarding larger institutions and then prepared checks for the selected investors. Madoff, though, was arrested soon thereafter in March 2009, and the checks were seized before they could be distributed. But by then, Madoff investors say, it was too little too late. Write to Jacob Gaffney.

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