Testifying in her own defense on charges she participated in the fraud, Bongiorno said she never thought that warning was unusual.
Not after she was specifically quizzed whether she or any relatives had any securities industry experience before she was hired in 1968.
Not after Madoff instructed her to enter backdated trades in customer accounts, in some cases months or up to a year after the purported trades.
And not after he rejected her suggestion that she go to school and study to obtain a securities license of her own.
"You don't need it," Bongiorno said Madoff insisted. "Everything you need to know, I'll teach you."
Bongiorno's defense is based on proving the instructions and secrecy prevented her from learning that the trading practices she was taught were actually illegal. She is one of four former co-workers accused of knowingly aiding and personally profiting from the fraud that Madoff used to steal as much as $20 billion from thousands of average investors, charities, celebrities, financial funds and other victims.
He pleaded guilty after the scam collapsed in Dec. 2008 and is now serving a 150-year prison term.
Bongiorno is the second co-defendant to take the witness stand in the trial, which is now in its fifth month.
"Did you ever commit a fraud?" asked her defense lawyer, Roland Riopelle, shortly after she took the witness stand.
"Never knowingly," testified Bongiorno, now a 65-year-old North Hills, N.Y. resident.
Her testimony sketched a self-portrait of a woman who aspired only to be a secretary and almost unquestioningly obeyed the orders of the boss she grew to idolize — to the point that Bongiorno said she for decades kept a desk photo of Madoff on which she'd written "my hero."
Other portions of ! her testimony — expected to continue for hours before federal prosecutors begin a tough cross-examination — focused on showing how Madoff won and kept her trust while he ran the largest and longest-running financial scheme in history.
When her parents told her to resign because she worked late every night shortly after being hired, Madoff instead proposed that he and his wife, Ruth, meet with them. The Madoffs, shared a Sunday dinner at Bongiorno's Howard Beach, Queens home, and charmed the objections away.
When she and her husband, Rudy, got married, Bongiorno testified that Madoff paid for the couple's honeymoon in Paris and England.
And when her mother suffered a stroke in Florida, Bongiorno said Madoff somehow found an available opening in a Long Island nursing home where the severely ill woman ultimately spent her final months near family and friends.
Wiping away tears as she recounted the intervention, Bongiorno testified she asked Madoff how he'd managed to locate a bed when she'd contacted the same facility and been told there was no room.
"I made them an offer they couldn't refuse," Bongiorno said Madoff smilingly replied.