NEW YORK (AP) – The former secretary for imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison after she apologized to victims of the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar fraud and berated herself for failing to see past her boss’s influence and the riches he bestowed on her.
Annette Bongiorno, 66, was sentenced in Manhattan by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who said she believed Bongiorno’s testimony at trial that she was largely duped by Madoff into manufacturing fake trade results for his private investment business.
She called her “a pampered, compliant and grossly overcompensated clerical worker who supervised other clerical workers with a ferocious enthusiasm.”
The judge said Bongiorno “could and should have recognized that Mr. Madoff’s success seemed impossible because it was impossible.”
Swain added: “Ms. Bongiorno chose to put her life and the life of others in the wrong hands.”
One of Madoff’s computer programmers was awaiting an afternoon sentencing. Bongiorno was convicted earlier this year along with four others after a six-month trial. Sentencing proceedings resulting from it will conclude on Monday.
On Monday, Madoff’s director of operations was sentenced to a decade in prison.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Bongiorno was “at the very heart of the fraud” for decades. They had sought a prison sentence of more than 20 years.
The fraud cost thousands of investors nearly $20 billion. Madoff, 76, was arrested in December 2008 and is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
Before she was sentenced, Bongiorno portrayed herself as a loyal worker who was in over her head from the time she was hired at age 19.
“Not once in my 40 years there did anyone say to me, ‘Annette, this is not the way it’s done in the real world,'” she said. “I thought I was doing my job as I thought it should be done.”
To the victims, Bongiorno said: “I am so very sorry. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. I didn’t have intent to steal from you. I understand how you are feeling because I am a victim of Madoff as well. I believed in Madoff and cared for him just like you.”
She said she knows people whisper about her when she goes to the supermarket.
“I will be haunted by my shame for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ve lost friends and family members who now shun me because of the charge the government brought against me and my convictions. I have lost so much.”
The judge, who also ordered forfeiture of $155 billion, said she will recommend that Bongiorno serve the last year of her prison term in home confinement.