By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Baldwyn native Laura Pendergest-Holt was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday for obstructing a federal investigation of the Stanford financial empire.
Holt, 38, appeared with her attorneys in the same Houston, Texas, courtroom where her former boss, R. Allen Stanford, was convicted last March on multiple counts he masterminded a $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme on some 20,000 investors worldwide.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner revoked her bond and she was taken into custody immediately after her sentence was delivered.
The Stanford scheme was based on the sale of fake certificates of deposit through Stanford International Bank Ltd., based in Antigua. Many investors mistakenly believed the CDs were federally insured.
Many CD buyers received dividends across the years, from CD sales to others, but the scheme fell apart when the economic downturn sharply slowed these purchases.
Holt was chief investment officer for Stanford Financial Group based in Memphis. Stanford also had Mississippi offices in Tupelo and Jackson.
Most victims – who lost their retirement funds and life savings – have not received any compensation for their losses.
The entire Stanford financial empire, based in Houston, came crashing down in early 2009 under the weight of an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Last June, Holt admitted to obstructing that investigation by lying about Stanford’s investments and the integrity of their products.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors will drop 20 other counts she faced, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud.
Stanford is serving a 100-year prison sentence at a Florida maximum security facility.
In a deal with the government, Holt pleaded guilty June 21 to one count and faced up to five years in prison.
Holt was the first person indicted in the case. Prosecutors said she and other executives conspired to hide the bank’s true financial health and provide misleading testimony to the SEC in 2009 when it was investigating Stanford’s bank.
Two other indicted ex-executives – Gilbert Lopez, the ex-chief accounting officer, and Mark Kuhrt, the ex-global controller – are set for trial starting Sept. 28 in Houston. A former Antiguan financial regulator was also indicted and awaits extradition to the U.S.
James M. Davis, Stanford’s former chief financial officer, awaits sentencing likely after their trial.
The former Union County resident pleaded guilty three years ago for his role in the Stanford scandal and faces up to 30 years in prison.
He’s hoping, however, he’ll get leniency for his testimony against Stanford and the others.