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Judge drops sick juror from trial of Madoff aides

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After a two-day delay, the jurors considering whether to convict five former Bernard Madoff aides of helping him perpetuate his Ponzi scheme will resume deliberations on Friday with one fewer member.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in New York ruled on Thursday that the trial would move forward with only 11 jurors, after a juror fell sick on Tuesday and has not yet recovered.

"I believe that is the efficient way to go," she said.

The five aides -- back-office director Daniel Bonventre, portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi and computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez -- have all denied the charges, saying they were fooled by Madoff into believing the business he ran was legitimate.

The case, which is already one of the longest white-collar criminal trials in New York history, was put on hold on Tuesday afternoon when juror No. 6, a teacher from Westchester, became ill. Deliberations began on Monday afternoon.

Swain said at a court hearing on Thursday that the juror was unable to come to court on Friday and that it was unclear whether she would recover by Monday.

Government lawyers urged Swain to bring the jury back on Friday, either with 11 members or by substituting one of the alternate jurors, who have been on standby in case they are needed.

Adding an alternate juror, however, would require the jury to begin deliberating from scratch.

Defense lawyers had asked Swain to consider delaying a decision until Monday in the hopes that the juror would feel better, arguing that she deserved the chance to continue deliberating after sitting through five months of testimony.

Swain's decision means the sick juror will not be able to rejoin jury.

The trial, which began in October, included more than 40 witnesses and thousands of documents entered into evidence.

The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Andrew Hay)

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