The notoriety of the Bernard Madoff case — including the recent suicide of the disgraced financier's son — has made it tough for a former back office worker to make bail, her defense attorneys told a judge on Monday.
Lawyers for Annette Bongiorno said the onslaught of negative publicity has discouraged supporters from signing a $5 million bond that would win her release on charges she made millions of dollars by helping Madoff conceal his massive financial swindle.
Prosecutors argued that stringent bail conditions were appropriate.
"Ms. Bongiorno was not simply a secretary," Assistant U.S. Attorney Julian Moore said. "Ms. Bongiorno was a key player in this fraud."
Bongiorno, 62, is currently under house arrest in Florida. She didn't attend Monday's hearing.
FBI agents arrested Bongiorno and another longtime employee for Madoff's firm, Joann Crupi, last month in the ongoing investigation of the fraud. Bongiorno was picked up at her home in Boca Raton, Florida, while Crupi was arrested at her house in Westfield, New Jersey.
An 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."
Seized records show that Bongiorno deposited about $920,000 in her own Madoff account from 1975 to 2008 and withdrew more than $14 million over the same period, the indictment says. Prosecutors say she used stolen investor funds to buy expensive homes and cars and to support her unemployed husband.
Crupi's attorney complained last month that federal authorities had grilled his client for hours on end at least three times since the Madoff scandal broke and had "dragged" her out of her home at dawn even though she had volunteered to surrender to avoid being arrested in front of her children.
Crupi is free on $5 million bail.
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.
Also under scrutiny was Madoff's eldest son, Mark, who hanged himself Saturday by a dog leash on the anniversary of his father's arrest two years ago.