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In Reversal, Ex-Madoff Aide Takes Stand In His Own Defense

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NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - In an unusual move, Bernard Madoff's former back-office director took the witness stand in his own defense on Tuesday, telling a federal jury that he had no idea his boss was operating a Ponzi scheme until the day Madoff was arrested in December 2008.

Daniel Bonventre, one of five former Madoff aides on trial in federal court in Manhattan who are accused of aiding in the fraud, said he remained in the dark throughout his 40 years at Madoff's firm.

"Did Mr. Madoff lie to you over the years?" Bonventre's lawyer, Andrew Frisch, asked.

"Probably every day," Bonventre replied.

It is relatively unusual for criminal defendants to testify in their own defense, making Bonventre's testimony a calculated risk. The decision likely shifts the jury's focus to Bonventre's credibility, rather than the prosecution's burden of proof, said Robert Anello, a white-collar defense lawyer not involved in the case.

"Many jurors in white-collar cases are waiting to hear from the defendant," said Anello, a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello. "The natural inclination is, 'This is a gentleman who is articulate, who can operate a business - why can't he tell us his story?'"

As recently as last week, Bonventre told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain that he did not wish to testify, but in a letter sent to Swain over the weekend, Frisch said his client had changed his mind.

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