Jury: US can go after $330M in Stanford accounts

March 8, 2012 - 7:15 PM
Stanford Trial

R. Allen Stanford, center, leaves the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse, Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Houston. Stanford, once considered one of the wealthiest people in the U.S., with a financial empire that spanned the Americas, was convicted Tuesday on charges he bilked investors out of more than $7 billion. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Nick de la Torre)

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas jury cleared the way Thursday for U.S. authorities to go after $330 million in stolen investor funds sitting in frozen foreign bank accounts controlled by convicted Ponzi schemer R. Allen Stanford.

The jury, which convicted the former tycoon on 13 of 14 fraud-related counts earlier this week, found there to be sufficient evidence the money in 29 accounts in Switzerland, Britain and Canada was some of the more than $7 billion he stole from investors over 20 years.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner set a June 14 sentencing date for Stanford, who faces up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges but could be looking at a life behind bars if the judge orders the sentences to run consecutively. In a similar but unrelated case, Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for orchestrating the largest pyramid scheme in history.

Stanford's attorneys, Robert Scardino and Ali Fazel, said they plan to appeal his conviction after he is sentenced. They said a gag order limits what they can say about the case, but that one argument they could make on appeal would be they weren't given enough time to prepare their defense. Stanford hired and fired several attorneys before the court appointed his current legal team, which is his fifth.

"Our client spent almost nine months in a mental facility in North Carolina before the trial. We had 30 days with a competent client," Scardino said.

Scardino said he couldn't say what Stanford has told him about being convicted.

"It's hard to know what a man is thinking about when he's looking at spending the rest of his life in prison," he said.

"We did the best we could with what we had," Scardino added.

Bruce Forrest, one of the alternate jurors who did not deliberate but came back to the federal courthouse Thursday, said he hopes the judge sentences Stanford to consecutive prison terms.

"I hope Mr. Stanford never sees the light of day," said Forrest, 47, who runs an optical business.

Another juror, David Wright, said Stanford's many victims were on the jury's minds throughout the trial, especially during deliberations Thursday about whether authorities could seize the bank accounts.

"We're not going to forfeit this money and not give it back to the people," said Wright, who has work experience in accounting.

Prosecutors declined to comment after Thursday's verdict. But prosecutor Gregg Costa said in court Wednesday that "the money we get back is going to go to the victims."

Thursday's decision doesn't guarantee U.S. authorities will get the money, as liquidators appointed by an Antiguan court also are vying for much of it. Authorities say getting the money could take years because each request will have to be evaluated by officials in the countries where the accounts are based.

Prosecutors say Stanford ran a Ponzi scheme for 20 years in which he used the money from investors who bought certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and support his heavy personal spending habits.

A U.S. postal inspector testified that he traced $2.5 million in investor money to two accounts controlled by one of the financier's girlfriends, including money that had been moved from an account dubbed "Baby Mama Trust." Stanford, who is going through a divorce, fathered children by several girlfriends, whom authorities called his "outside wives."

Defense attorneys portrayed Stanford as a visionary entrepreneur who made money for investors and conducted legitimate business deals. They accused the prosecution's star witness, an ex-Stanford employee, of being behind the fraud.

Stanford did not testify in his own defense.

Three other former Stanford executives are scheduled for trial in September. A former Antiguan financial regulator was indicted and awaits extradition to the U.S.

The financier's trial was delayed after he was declared incompetent in January 2011 due to an anti-anxiety drug addiction he developed in jail. He underwent treatment and was declared fit for trial in December.

A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that also accuses Stanford and his former executives of fraud is pending.

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