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Stanford Sentenced to 110-Year Term in $7 Billion Ponzi Case

The New York Times

June 14, 2012

Stanford Sentenced to 110-Year Term in $7 Billion Ponzi Case

HOUSTON — Jaime Escalona was fleeced so thoroughly by the financier R. Allen Stanford that he could no longer pay for his grandson’s autism treatments, he said in a steady voice in court on Thursday, before turning to the defendant and declaring, “You are a dirty, rotten scoundrel.”
Mr. Stanford took the insult in stride, and stared right back.
Then Angela Shaw Kogutt, who said three generations of her family had lost over $4 million because of Mr. Stanford’s “financial terrorism,” asked all the scores of victims in the federal court gallery to stand before Mr. Stanford to show him their faces of misery. Judge David Hittner of the Federal District Court told Mr. Stanford he was under no obligation to look, but he swiveled his chair toward the victims anyway without a flinch or sign of caring.
For Mr. Stanford, his day in court on Thursday — the day he was sentenced to 110 years in prison without parole for masterminding a $7 billion Ponzi scheme — was anything but a time for contrition. Instead, after refusing to testify in his own trial, Mr. Stanford broke his silence to say that unlike Bernard L. Madoff, the most prominent of Ponzi scheme swindlers, “I am not a thief.”
Rather, he said, he was the victim of government “Gestapo tactics” that provoked a run on his Caribbean bank and then sold off his assets at bargain-basement prices. Anyone who lost their money, he said, did so because of the government’s “unnecessary” actions.
“I’m not up here to ask for sympathy or forgiveness,” he said in a rambling statement to the court before the sentencing, intermittently holding back tears and shuffling papers. “I’m up here to tell you from my heart I didn’t run a Ponzi scheme.”
In response, the federal prosecutor William J. Stellmach called Mr. Stanford’s version of events “obscene.”
“This is a man utterly without remorse,” Mr. Stellmach said. “From beginning to end, he treated all of his victims as roadkill.”
A federal jury in March convicted Mr. Stanford of running an international scheme over more than two decades in which he offered fraudulent high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.
Prosecutors argued that Mr. Stanford had consistently lied to investors, promoting safe investments for money that he channeled into a luxurious lifestyle, a Swiss bank account and various business deals that almost never succeeded. Mr. Stanford’s defense lawyers pleaded for a sentence effectively of time served because of the three years he spent in prison awaiting trial. Prosecutors recommended 230 years, the maximum according to sentencing guidelines, for his convictions on 13 counts of conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, obstruction and money laundering. He was acquitted of one count of wire fraud.
The prosecutors heavily relied on James M. Davis, Mr. Stanford’s former roommate from Baylor University, who served as his chief financial officer. Mr. Davis testified that the Stanford business empire was a fraud, with bribes paid to Antiguan regulators and schemes to hide operations from federal investigators. He described how Mr. Stanford had sent him to London to send a fax to a prospective client from a bogus insurance company office to reassure him that his investment would be safe.
For Mr. Stanford, the verdict and sentencing represented the end of a remarkable career that began when he bought a Texas fitness club. After it went bankrupt, he tried offshore banking and lived a life of glamour. Mr. Stanford is now a shadow of the swaggering financier who only three years ago had an estimated fortune of over $2 billion, a knighthood awarded by Antigua and a collection of yachts and a fleet of jets, and even his own professional cricket team and stadium on the West Indies island.
As Mr. Stanford spoke to the court, dressed in a loosefitting olive green prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed, he did not go into details about the accusations. But he and his lawyer, Ali R. Fazel, said that unlike Mr. Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in 2009, Mr. Stanford was accused of pocketing money that was actually invested in many enterprises, some of which had earned United States regulatory approval. Mr. Stanford said he had employed more than 5,000 people and lent money to the government of Ecuador and several corporations, municipalities and hospitals.
“Stanford was a real brick-and-mortar financial institution,” Mr. Stanford said, referring to his bank. “I am not a thief.”
Mr. Stanford and his lawyers have said he will appeal the convictions and sentence. Mr. Stanford will remain in the Federal Detention Center in Houston for the next month or two until the federal Bureau of Prisons decides where to assign him.
Mr. Fazel told the court again on Thursday that Mr. Stanford’s clients had been paid on schedule until the Securities and Exchange Commission made the first accusations three years ago, destroying the value of his businesses.
“Mr. Stanford is 62 years old,” Mr. Fazel said. “He will die in prison. That’s a tall order for someone, even if he made a mistake, who intended to pay every single investor back. Bernie Madoff didn’t invest a dime in anything. Allen Stanford did.”
But the prosecutors contended that while Mr. Stanford told his clients that their CDs were insured and that the money he invested went into safe financial instruments, he was actually diverting it to his own real estate and private ventures, using more than $2 billion to finance his lifestyle. As prosecutors did in the trial, Mr. Stellmach painted him as a man “who for 20 years orchestrated a massive fraudulent scheme. He corrupted everything he touched.”
Ms. Kogutt and Mr. Escalona, representing two victims’ groups, described how investors had lost their homes, retirements and ability to pay for their children’s and grandchildrens’ educations. They said some victims had become suicidal.
“Mr. Stanford’s heartless actions were coldly calculated and premeditated,” said Mr. Escalona, a Venezuelan who spoke for Latin American investors. Ms. Kogutt, who is from Dallas, said Mr. Stanford “played with our futures as if playing a board game and with our money as if it were Monopoly money. He’s just a common thief.”
It took three years to bring Mr. Stanford to trial because he was severely beaten in a 2010 fight with another federal inmate in a prison outside Houston and then became addicted to prescription antistress drugs. He underwent a year of therapy before Judge Hittner ruled that he was fit to stand trial. The defense said Mr. Stanford could not properly defend himself because he had lost much of his memory.
In an apparent appeal for a lighter sentence, Mr. Stanford said in court Thursday that he had worked hard to recover his memory, though he said it was still like “Swiss cheese.” He spoke of the “toxic mix” of drugs that he been prescribed in federal prison and the assault that led to six hours of surgery.
“This was not three years of pleasure by any stretch,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” he added, not even the prosecution lawyers.

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