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NEW YORK — Bernard Madoff's former operations chief testified Tuesday that he trusted a boss who "seemed to have the respect of the entire world" during the more than four decades they worked together before Madoff confessed to orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme.

"Now, I think he's a terribly ill man, and it's difficult to reconcile everything I knew for 40 years and what I know now," the former employee, Daniel Bonventre, told a federal jury in New York City.

He was defending himself against charges that he joined Madoff in a fraud that cheated thousands of people out of nearly $20 billion.

The 68-year-old defendant — one of five ex-Madoff employees on trial — spoke admiringly at times about Madoff even as he firmly distanced himself from his boss's crimes.

"He was generous, kind, considerate ... always seemed to have the right answer," Bonventre said. "He seemed to have the respect of the entire world."

Madoff, 75, is serving a 150-year prison sentence after admitting that the trades listed on statements mailed to investors in his private investment business were fabricated for decades.

Bonventre said he directed the legitimate side of Madoff's business that competed with the New York Stock Exchange to process trades, sometimes a half-billion daily in the company's last decade.

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