By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Laura Pendergest-Holt rolled the legal dice Thursday, but she doesn’t know which side came up.
Holt, 38, a Baldwyn native, pleaded guilty to one federal count of obstructing justice in the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s investigation of R. Allen Stanford’s financial dealings.
She did so in the face of 20 other charges pending against her in Houston, Texas, where Stanford built his international empire.
She did so, knowing that the judge presiding over her fate – District Judge David Hittner – last week sentenced her former boss to 110 years in prison after a March 6 conviction on 13 of 14 counts.
Before it all fell apart, Holt was Stanford’s top female executive as chief investment officer.
Documents associated with her Texas plea show that she knew absolutely nothing about a major part of Stanford investments until the game was almost over, although she told clients and other company employees otherwise.
All these charges surround the worldwide despair of as many as 30,000 Stanford investors who lost everything when Stanford Financial Group and its affiliates, including Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd., came crashing down in 2009.
Thursday, Hittner told her he’d think about the government’s recommendation that she get a three-year prison sentence, rather than the maximum five years that usually comes with such a plea.
In calculating her fine, the court will take into consideration that she is a defendant with the array of Stanford companies, Stanford and former chief financial officer James M. Davis in a parallel, civil lawsuit brought by the SEC in Dallas, Texas.
The court-appointed receiver in that case, who is liquidating assets worldwide for a victims fund, says all of Holt’s assets, totaling about $350,000, have been “restrained.”
On Page 11 of the 13-page agreement, Holt signed her name Thursday in a tight, shaky-looking hand.
If Holt upholds her end of the deal, the government agrees it will ask the court to dismiss all other counts against her.
However, if Hittner rejects the plea agreement, she will be permitted to withdraw her guilty plea and go on trial.
If Holt had gone to trial, the government states it would have offered a variety of facts to establish her guilt:
* Holt joined Stanford Financial Group as a research analyst in June 1997, ultimately promoted to its chief investment officer in the spring of 2005.
She “gave the impression” to the bank’s clients and company employees that she was aware of the bank’s entire portfolio of non-cash assets, which reportedly were cared for by a global network of money managers.
She knew that Stanford, Davis and others had secretly “segregated” the bank’s investment portfolio into three tiers – cash, money-manager investments and “other,” called Tier III. She did not tell bank clients that Tier III included “the vast majority” of the bank’s entire investment portfolio.
She also did not disclose that up until late 2008 – just a few months before the federal indictments – she knew anything about Tier III.
* Holt agreed to testify falsely to the SEC after she, Davis and Stanford were subpoenaed to appear at a hearing about their financial dealings.
According to the plea agreement, if she fails to fulfill it completely, her plea and sentence will stand, while the government may move against her on all other charges.
Thursday’s 30-minute hearing was described as a “re-arraignment.” She pleaded not guilty to all charges during her first arraignment in 2009.
Not long after that indictment, Holt moved to North Carolina with her husband, James. Her Baldwyn home on Clayton Street recently was sold by its mortgage holder.
Holt’s other Stanford boss and former lover, Davis, pleaded guilty in August 2009 to three counts related to the Stanford scandal.
Davis, formerly of Union County, faces up to 30 years in prison but said he hopes for leniency after he helped the government make its case and testified during Stanford’s seven-week trial earlier this year.