Frank DiPascali, the former financial chief for disgraced billionaire financier Bernie Madoff, told a federal court judge on Tuesday that he and others knew as far back as the early 1990s that no sales were taking place in Madoff's investment scam. He made the comments while pleading guilty to criminal charges as part of a government cooperation agreement for his role in Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
"I knew and other people knew no sales were taking place," said DiPascali during the hearing. "I represented trades were taking place when they were not. Most of the time, money just went into bank accounts" that Madoff controlled, he said. He admitted he helped perpetuate the illusion that sales had taken place.
"I lied to the SEC under oath at Madoff's direction," said DiPascali. He then apologized: "I know my apology means nothing, but I hope my actions moving forward mean something and bring some measure of comfort to those I hurt."
The charges included conspiracy, securities fraud, investment-adviser fraud, falsification of books, mail fraud, wire fraud, international money-laundering, perjury and federal income tax evasion. Prosecutors are looking for $170 billion in forfeiture from Madoff's former right-hand man.
DiPascali, 52, has long been rumored to be cooperating with prosecutors in the case and was expected to implicate others. His testimony could swing open the prosecutorial floodgates, leading to many charges against others in the Madoff camp.
"He could potentially be an extremely pivotal person in this play," says David Bernfeld of Bernfeld, DeMatteo & Bernfeld LLC, who represents about a dozen Madoff victims.
Bernfeld notes that DiPascali appeared in response to a criminal-information hearing rather than to a grand-jury indictment. This usually means the person has taken a plea and is cooperating with prosecutors to get leniency in sentencing, he says. "Is he going to take down the remaining house of cards? I can't say that, but I would think he could be a significant player in the mosaic," says Bernfeld.
Until now, Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison, has steadfastly insisted he acted alone in the scheme and refused to point the finger of blame at anyone else. Madoff's brother and sons, who worked under the same roof, as well as his wife Ruth, have come under intense scrutiny during the probe but have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Madoff's outside accountant, David Friehling, is the only other person to be formally charged in the seven-month investigation until now. He pleaded not guilty to fraud charges.
However, DiPascali is viewed as a major linchpin in the case, having worked alongside Madoff for 33 years, where he supervised the taking and tracking of client orders. He described himself as director of options-trading, even though no actual trading took place during the Ponzi scheme. Some experts speculate that DiPascali is cooperating in exchange for leniency.