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Bernard Madoff’s longtime secretary defended herself from the witness stand Monday, telling a jury about a 40-year career working unwittingly alongside a historic Ponzi scheme that began when she recognized through Madoff’s stutter that he wanted a ham and cheese sandwich.
‘‘He gave me a thumbs up and said: ‘You’ll do really good here,’ ’’ Annette Bongiorno recalled. She was the second defendant to testify among five charged with helping Madoff cheat thousands of investors of nearly $20 billion.
She insisted repeatedly under questioning from her attorney, Roland Riopelle, that her ability to decipher unspoken words stopped short of realizing Madoff’s fraud in an office where colleagues often repeated Madoff’s mantra never to speak of his operations.