By JUAN A. L.OZANO/Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A former employee of Texas financier R. Allen Stanford told jurors at Stanford’s fraud trial Wednesday that he believes he saw the former billionaire making up accounting figures used in an annual report to woo investors.
Leo Mejia, who worked for an advertising company created by Stanford to promote his various businesses, testified that he became uneasy working for the financier because he lost confidence in the accuracy of financial information he was given to include in advertising materials.
Prosecutors allege Stanford bilked investors out of more than $7 billion through a scheme centered on sales of certificates of deposit from a bank Stanford owned on the Caribbean island of Antigua, which promised substantially higher rates of return on the CDs than U.S. banks and promised investors their money was safe. The financier’s businesses were headquartered in Houston.
Authorities say Stanford, 61, sank investors’ money in a variety of his own businesses, including two airlines, and that he used up to $2 billion of investors’ money as personal loans to buy homes and yachts and fund cricket matches.
Stanford’s attorneys contend he was a savvy businessman whose financial empire was legitimate and who never failed to pay what was owed to investors.
Stanford is on trial for 14 counts, including mail and wire fraud, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He was once considered one of the United States’ wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion.
Mejia testified that one of his responsibilities was to help put together the bank’s annual report, which was used to promote the bank and attract new customers. He said that when he was preparing the bank’s 1988 annual report, he saw Stanford and his chief financial officer, James Davis, use a calculator to make various faulty changes to figures related to the bank’s finances just before the report was sent off to be printed.
“Did you notice any problem with the numbers Stanford was getting by punching into the calculator?” prosecutor Gregg Costa asked Mejia.
“Yes. When I was working I noticed very easily that some of those numbers didn’t add up correctly. I mentioned they didn’t add up. They laughed and corrected those numbers,” Mejia said.
At the time, the bank was in Caribbean island nation of Montserrat. It later moved to neighboring Antigua.
Mejia described the errors he saw as an “obvious mistake. Like nine plus one does not give you five.”
Davis has pleaded guilty in the case and is expected to testify against Stanford.
Mejia also told jurors he was surprised that after those figures were submitted to the bank’s auditor, they were approved and sent back to him in 15 minutes.
“It took me more to do my checkbook. I thought that was quick,” he said.
Prosecutors allege Stanford bribed the auditor as well as Antiguan regulators to hide the true condition of the bank’s financial health and promote the fraud.
Mejia also told jurors Stanford described investors as “greedy” and that the bank’s office in Montserrat was mostly an empty building that had a couple of computers that were not plugged in. Mejia said he was fired in 1992 for receiving an overpayment of $750.
The prosecution’s first witness, Michelle Chambliess, who had worked for Stanford selling CDs to investors, testified earlier Wednesday that she had also become uneasy with how the financier ran the bank, including using deposits for personal loans. She also said the bank’s insurance policy was from a company set up by Stanford.
Ali Fazel, one of Stanford’s attorneys, tried to suggest to jurors that both Mejia and Chambliess, who was also fired, were not experts in the complexities of the financier’s various businesses and were not qualified to assess if there was any wrongdoing.
“You’re just guessing? You’re just speculating?” Your entire testimony is speculation,” Fazel told Mejia.
Testimony resumes Thursday in Stanford’s trial, which will likely last at least six weeks.