By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
HOUSTON, Texas – Fallen financier R. Allen Stanford’s jury began deliberations Wednesday on allegations of worldwide fraud and financial intrigue.
Before it did, prosecutors and defense attorneys made their final pitches for his conviction or acquittal.
“Fraud is just theft in a business suit,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa told Stanford’s jury in final closing arguments, The Houston Chronicle reported. “Tell Mr. Stanford that his days of conning people are at an end.”
After three alternates were excused, the eight men and four women began deliberations about 3:50 p.m. in Houston, where Stanford built his financial services empire.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who’s presiding over the case, will be away from the federal courthouse on Friday and said that if the verdict comes then, it will be sealed for announcement Monday.
Defense attorney Ali Fazel told the jury no evidence exists that Stanford cheated anyone.
“How could it happen with just two people,” he asked, referring to Stanford and the government’s key witness, James M. Davis, who was Stanford’s right-hand man and chief financial officer for nearly two decades.
Stanford, 61, was indicted in 2009 accused is leading a $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme on purchasers of certificates of deposit in his Stanford International Bank Ltd. in Antigua.
The 14 counts against him include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of a government investigation and money-laundering.
“Is it OK to lie?” said prosecutor William Stellmach as he began the government’s closing statements.
The government insists that $2 billion in loans to Stanford constituted fraud because bank investors weren’t told about them or that they weren’t secured with any collateral.
Stellmach reminded jurors that the largest part of the bank’s investments – called Tier 3 – was secret and known only to Stanford, Davis, and in the end by a few other high-placed executives.
The second “Big Lie,” he said was that the bank could repay its depositors, but by the end of 2008, SIBL owed $7 billion that it didn’t have.
“Did Mr. Stanford know about ‘the hole’?” Stellmach said. “Know about it, he dug it.”
The entire scheme depended on new CD money coming in, he said.
Thirdly, Stanford lied when he told investors he’d put $500 million into the bank in 2008 and that CD depositors’ money was protected, Stellmach added.
More than a thousand Mississippians were among the 22,000 customers worldwide who lost their life savings and retirement funds when the Stanford empire collapsed in 2009 under the weight of a federal agency investigation.
The prosecutor also sought to debunk reasons Stanford’s attorneys said he wasn’t guilty – it was Davis’ swindle and it was the receiver’s fault the company crashed.
The jury began the trial’s 26th day hearing read the 44-page instructions they will consider. They must be unanimous on each charge to convict him of it.
“The government must prove Mr. Stanford guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Hittner told them.
Robert Scardino, another defense attorney, told the jury it’s ironic that the government would ask if it’s OK to lie when its chief witness, Davis, “has to be one of the biggest liars you’ve ever seen or heard about.”
Stanford’s loans were reported to the shareholders and the IRS, he said.
To believe the crux of the government’s case, “you have to believe Mr. Davis,” Scardino added.
Davis lived near Baldwyn and often worked out of Stanford offices in Tupelo and Memphis.
Scardino questioned why Davis transferred $6 million into an account he controlled when Stanford was running out of money in late 2008.
He reminded them that Davis “stole” his own children’s money left to them from insurance after their mother killed herself.
Chronicle reporter Terry Langford reported that after Scardino closed his remarks and the jury took a break, Stanford rose from his chair and kissed the attorney on his head.
During testimony a few weeks ago, Davis testified his boss directed him to “cook the books” for years and syphoned off billions to fund his lavish, playboy lifestyle and pet business projects without telling bank investors.
Hittner told the jury that just because Davis pleaded guilty doesn’t mean Stanford is.
A September trial is scheduled for co-defendants, including Baldwyn native Laura Pendergest-Holt, Stanford’s former chief investment officer.
Trial observers say Stanford’s verdict could have an impact on the later trial since the charges are virtually the same.