NEW YORK – Bernard Madoff's former secretary surrendered Tuesday in Florida after a judge revoked her $5 million bail, saying her access to large amounts of money created "a very real potential" she could flee.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain rejected the arguments by lawyers for 62-year-old Annette Bongiorno that her husband should be allowed to post money from his bank accounts to support a bail package. She surrendered to U.S. marshals in West Palm Beach, Fla., before the 3 p.m. deadline set by Swain, said Bongiorno's lawyer, Maurice Sercarz.
"She's a fighter. She's a tough lady," Sercarz said. He added that her immediate concern as she surrendered was for the welfare of her husband.
Earlier in the day, the judge ordered her surrender, saying there was a "serious risk the defendant will not appear" in court to face charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and falsifying records. The judge cited what she called an abundance of "very strong" evidence that there were "unrestrained assets that pose a very real potential for the facilitation of flight." Bongiorno's next court date is scheduled for Jan. 14.
Bongiorno was arrested last month. Authorities said she helped Madoff cover up a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that made her wealthy as it wiped out the life savings of thousands of clients.
Sercarz asked Swain to delay the effect of her ruling to give him time to immediately appeal but she declined. Sercarz said the detention order was being appealed to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which also rejected his request for an immediate stay of Swain's surrender order.
"I'm disappointed," Sercarz said after Swain ruled from the bench. He said he did not know if his client would be held at a West Palm Beach, Fla., jail or if she would be put on a plane and eventually brought to New York.
"We knew this day was coming," he said.
He said Bongiorno would not flee.
For a long time, Bongiorno has known she might face prosecution and was "not just a subject but a target" of the investigation into Madoff's collapsed financial empire, Sercarz said.
"This process has been excruciating for her," he said.
Bongiorno was recently named in a new indictment along with another back office worker, Joann Crupi, former operations chief Daniel Bonventre and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez. The four have remained free on bail.
The 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."
Prosecutors say Bongiorno deposited about $920,000 in her own Madoff account from 1975 to 2008 and withdrew more than $14 million in investor funds over the same period to buy expensive homes and pay for other luxuries.
Madoff, 72, pleaded guilty to fraud charges last year and is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
An investigation continues to determine who knew about Madoff's fraud or assisted it during its more than two-decade existence. Authorities have said they continue to investigate Madoff's brother Peter and son Andrew, who were executive in the Madoff firm's market-making and proprietary-trading business. Neither has been charged.
Madoff's eldest son, Mark, who had also worked at Madoff's firm and been a subject for investigators, committed suicide 10 days ago on the two-year anniversary of his father's arrest.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.