By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Baldwyn native Laura Pendergest-Holt may or may not have a deal with her guilty plea Thursday for her role in the $7.2 billion Stanford Ponzi scheme.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner asked her, “Did you know what you were doing at the time?”
“Yes, your honor,” said Holt, whose husband, James, came with her to the downtown Houston courthouse.
She pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which was looking into the financial dealings of her boss, R. Allen Stanford, especially through his Caribbean-based Stanford International Bank Ltd.
In exchange for the one-count plea, federal prosecutors recommended she spend three years in prison.
Hittner did not accept Holt’s plea deal immediately, saying he will consider it when he prepares for her Sept. 13 sentencing. The maximum penalty for the crime is five years.
She also faces a fine up to $250,000 and a three-year supervised release, once she’s out of prison.
The judge also showed little patience with her tears, prodding her to admit she lied to delay SEC investigators, prop up the bank’s operations and keep her own, substantial paycheck coming.
“The defendant is pleading guilty because she is guilty of the charge contained in Count 20 of the indictment,” her plea agreement reads.
Hittner will sentence her Sept. 13, and she remains free on $300,000 bond likely until she turns herself in to the facility selected by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
In her plea agreement, Holt:
* Waives the right to appeal or contest her sentence, whatever it is, on any grounds.
* Agrees she is satisfied with her legal representation.
* Will pay a fine large enough to reimburse the government for the cost of her imprisonment and supervision afterward.
“I knew I was delaying the SEC,” Reuters reported that the Mississippi State University alumna told the court in a tearful voice.
Holt, 38, was Stanford Financial Group’s highest-ranking female as its chief investment officer in 2009 when a federal investigation brought it crashing down.
Stanford’s empire had its headquarters in Houston, and Hittner’s courtroom is where on March 6 a jury found him guilty on 13 counts in the investor scheme. Last week, the judge sentenced him to 110 years in prison.
Without the plea deal, Holt faced a Sept. 10 trial start on 21 counts ranging from money laundering to mail fraud and conspiracy.
Three others – two former executives and an Antiguan ex-bank regulator – still face charges in the scam, which cost some 30,000 investors worldwide their life savings and retirement funds.
In her first court appearance is several years, Holt looked “very demure,” a Houston Chronicle reporter noted. She wore a black pant suit, a white jacket and silver hoop earrings.
Holt worked out of Stanford offices in Memphis and Tupelo, and was accused during Stanford’s trial of hiring unqualified personnel including relatives and fellow church members as financial managers there.