/ 19 June 2009

Stanford in US court in massive fraud case

Texas billionaire Allen Stanford will appear in a federal court in Virginia on Friday over allegations of massive fraud involving his Antigua bank, United States officials said after he surrendered to the FBI.

Stanford is expected to be transferred to Houston after his initial court appearance to face criminal charges in a sealed indictment, a federal official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The golf and cricket promoter already faces civil charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that he fraudulently sold $8-billion in certificates of deposit with improbably high interest rates from his Stanford International Bank, headquartered in Antigua.

Stanford (59) was spending the night in a Virginia jail and was due to appear before a federal magistrate judge on Friday morning in Richmond, the federal official said.

”He surrendered,” Dick DeGuerin, Stanford’s Texas attorney, told Reuters by telephone on Thursday after speaking with his client. ”He’s in FBI custody.”

The Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment on Stanford’s arrest.

Justice Department officials, including the US attorney from Houston, plan to hold a news conference on Friday in Washington to announce the criminal charges.

Stanford, who holds dual US and Antigua and Barbuda citizenship, denies any wrongdoing and has said he would put up ”the fight of my life” if indicted.

”If the SEC had not come in and disemboweled a living, breathing strong organisation the way they did, there’s no question on God’s green earth that everyone would have been made whole and we would have had a lot of money left over,” Stanford told Reuters in an interview in April.

‘Massive Ponzi scheme’
In its civil case, the SEC in February accused Stanford, his college roommate and three of their companies of carrying out a ”massive Ponzi scheme” over at least a decade and misappropriating at least $1,6-billion of investors’ money.

”This starts to bring closure for the victims,” said Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC enforcement official, referring to the criminal indictment.

Stanford now faces concrete charges and ”is no longer swinging at a pinata”, said Frenkel, now an attorney in Rockville, Maryland.

The first American to be knighted by Antigua and Barbuda in 2006, Stanford made his first fortune in real estate in the early 1980s and expanded the family firm into a global wealth management company.

Before the SEC leveled the fraud charges, his personal fortune was estimated at $2,2-billion by Forbes magazine. Stanford was a generous sports patron and owned homes in Antigua, St Croix, Florida and Texas.

To date, the only Stanford official to have faced criminal charges is Laura Pendergest-Holt, the chief investment officer for the Stanford Financial Group. She was arrested by the FBI in February and later freed on bail.

Pendergest-Holt and James Davis, Stanford’s one-time roommate at Baylor University who served as the company’s chief financial officer, were both named in the SEC’s civil complaint.

Davis has not been charged with criminal activity and is cooperating with federal authorities, although his attorney has said he expects his client to be indicted.

Nigel Hamilton-Smith, the Antiguan official named to oversee the liquidation of the offshore bank that was run by Stanford, has accused the tycoon of using client funds to pay for jets, lavish homes and yachts.

Stanford’s Antiguan liquidators and the company’s US-based receiver have been locked in a battle over control of the offshore bank.

Ralph Janvey, the Dallas lawyer appointed by U.S. District Judge David Godbey to oversee Stanford’s assets and operations, has filed court papers arguing he should oversee the Antigua bank along with the US-based Stanford entities he controls.

The Antiguan liquidators disagree. – Reuters