July 27, 2021

Allen Stanford’s Federal Fraud Trial Begins in Houston

“Some people trusted Mr. Stanford with their entire life savings,” Gregg Costa, an assistant United States attorney, told the jurors in his opening statement. “He told them lie after lie after lie. Lying, stealing and bribery: It’s those three things the evidence will show over the next several weeks.”

Mr. Stanford faces 14 charges of defrauding nearly 30,000 investors from 113 countries in a Ponzi scheme involving fraudulent, high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on Antigua. At the heart of the prosecution case is the allegation that billions of dollars were missing from the investors’ accounts because Mr. Stanford skimmed the money for himself and his private businesses and to offer bribes to an independent auditor. Meanwhile, the chief Antiguan bank regulator was given not only bribes but thousands of dollars’ worth of Super Bowl tickets and rides on Mr. Stanford’s private jet.

“Basic elementary math is all you need to know,” Mr. Costa told the jurors, saying that they would see documentation that while Mr. Stanford’s bank gave literature promising conservative investments behind the bank’s high-interest certificates of deposit, they were instead placed in risky assets or not invested at all.

He also promised that they would hear “the ultimate inside story” from James Davis, Mr. Stanford’s former chief financial officer, who was a witness to the fraud and a subsequent cover-up aimed at thwarting a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and keeping investors from withdrawing their money.

Mr. Stanford, dressed in a light gray suit and a white shirt without a tie, listened to the charges and replied with a soft but steady voice: “I plead not guilty to every count.” His lawyer, Robert Scardino, told the jury in his opening that “Mr. Stanford’s financial empire was real. He paid every depositor what they were owed for 22 years.”

Mr. Scardino mocked Mr. Davis, the chief witness for the prosecution, who is accused of doing Mr. Stanford’s fraudulent bidding and has been indicted separately as a co-conspirator in the case. “He is going to testify and admit that he is a liar and a crook and yet these prosecutors are going to ask you to believe him,” Mr. Scardino said. Mr. Davis, Mr. Scardino said, “ran the company. The only company being investigated here was the company that Davis ran.”

Mr. Stanford is now a much diminished figure from the swaggering financier with a muscular physique who only three years ago had a knighthood from Antigua and an estimated fortune of over $2 billion. Now 61, Mr. Stanford is far thinner and has a hesitant, weary presence. He claims that he suffers amnesia from a beating he endured two years ago while in custody near Houston when he got into a fight with a fellow inmate. He is an indigent defendant, whose fortune is lost even if he is eventually acquitted. During the arguments, he sat with his chin resting on his left hand, and occasionally fiddled with his glasses.

Mr. Scardino described Mr. Stanford as a “Texas boy, born in Mexia, Tex.,” who was a generous philanthropist. Of the allegations of a Ponzi scheme, he said there was no such evidence and the government’s case was “sloppy.”

“He paid every penny that was promised,” Mr. Scardino argued. “He didn’t take the money and run.”

The case involves two competing narratives intended to tug at the emotions of the jurors. For the prosecution, the Stanford case is a Ponzi scheme in which he and five co-conspirators gave investors false financial statements indicating that the high-interest C.D.’s he offered were invested in conservative assets when $2 billion was actually lent to Mr. Stanford.

Auditors, along with the head of the Antiguan Regulatory Commission, received bribes to cover up the scheme and misinform the S.E.C. starting in 2005, according to the prosecution. When investors began taking out their assets, Mr. Costa said, Mr. Stanford got desperate and lied to investors that he had put $700 million of his own money in the bank, and then flew to Libya looking for an infusion of money. After that, Mr. Costa said, Mr. Stanford “waved a magic wand” to claim that land he had bought in Antigua for $63 million was suddenly worth $3 billion to fraudulently pad the assets of his bank.

Mr. Stanford’s lawyers portrayed him as a victim of an overly aggressive federal government investigation. “They seized everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything. They even took his underwear,” he said. “From a billionaire to nothing.”

The jury, chosen in a two-day process, listened intently and many took notes. While in custody in a medium-security prison outside Houston, Mr. Stanford was seriously beaten by a fellow inmate in a dispute about a telephone, suffering several broken facial bones and a concussion. A year ago, United States District Judge David Hittner ruled that he was unfit to stand trial after psychiatrists said the beating and subsequent overmedication had warped his memory and left him in no condition to defend himself.

Last month, Mr. Stanford’s lawyers argued that he still could not defend himself. But Judge Hittner ordered the trial to go on, in part because a government psychologist said it was likely that Mr. Stanford had fabricated answers to a battery of memory tests. Defense lawyers have said they intend to put Mr. Stanford on the stand.

Neither the beating nor any memory loss was addressed in Tuesday’s opening arguments. The trial is expected to last at least six weeks.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1b0d4cd81c6d0c8e1b966164b918622d

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