New Allen Stanford Indictment Unlikely to End Delays
A federal grand jury in Houston has returned a new, 14-count indictment against alleged fraudster Allen Stanford, who was already accused in 2009 of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. But the new charges are unlikely to move the case closer to a trial.
Stanford was initially charged along with three former executives and the former top banking regulator in Antigua, the home of Stanford's offshore bank. But the co-defendants' cases were separated from Stanford's last year. The new indictment charges Stanford alone.
As in the earlier case, he is accused of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, obstruction of an SEC investigation and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The new indictment removes two counts of wire fraud and five counts of mail fraud, and Stanford is no longer accused of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Still, Stanford faces up to 250 years in prison.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a court-imposed gag order in the case.
While the new indictment sharpens the focus on Stanford as a lone defendant, it is unclear whether it will do much to advance a case that has been hopelessly stalled for months.
Stanford's original trial, scheduled for January, was postponed indefinitely after he became addicted to prescription drugswhile in federal custody and a judge ruled him incompetent. Because of that, he is also unable to answer the new charges against him and will not attend an arraignment scheduled for May 19. Stanford's court-appointed defense attorney, Ali Fazel, says that as a matter of law, Stanford cannot enter a plea.
"He has been found incompetent," Fazel said. "We are on standby."
The fate of Stanford's initial co-defendants—former chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt, former accounting executives Mark Kuhrt and Gilbert Lopez, and former Antiguan banking regulator Leroy King—also remains unclear. Pendergest-Holt, Kuhrt and Lopez have all pleaded not guilty. King, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Antigua, has been fighting extradition to the U.S.
Fazel notes that as a matter of law, the judge in the case could put the co-defendants on trial at any time, but instead has chosen to delay their cases until after Stanford's trial, which has been postponed indefinitely.
"The other defendants are free on bond and have had months to study the charges," Fazel said. Citing the judge's gag order, however, Fazel to speculate on why the co-defendants are being allowed to wait for trial.
"Make of that what you will," he said.
The new indictment comes at a time when investors and others touched by the Stanford scandal have been turning up the heat on the authorities in hopes of moving the case along. The delays have confounded efforts by a court-appointed receiver to recover assets for Stanford's alleged victims, because most of the missing funds are believed to be in overseas accounts. Without a guilty verdict and a forfeiture order, the funds are off limits to U.S. authorities, meaning investors are likely to see just pennies on the dollar.
The receiver, Dallas attorney Ralph Janvey, has instead been focusing his efforts in the U.S. Janvey has filed dozens of so-called "clawback" claims, including against dozens of former Stanford employees and investment advisors. One such claim targets two advisors widely credited with helping authorities make their case against Stanford: Charles Rawl and Mark Tidwell of Houston.
The two sued Stanford in 2007, saying they left the company due to rampant fraud, which the company denied. Rawl and Tidwell say they brought their evidence to the SEC, which sued Stanford in 2009. (Read about other whistleblower cases and how the SEC rewards tipsters here.)
Rawl, who has not spoken publicly about the case in two years, told CNBC exclusively this week that he and Tidwell contacted the SEC seeking help with the suit by the receiver, but were told they are on their own.
"The SEC attorneys informed us that, you know, 'We've got your back guys, you're good with us,'" Rawl said. But apparently that goodwill only went so far. Rawl said they were told, "We like you, you're our guys, but we don't control the receiver. There's nothing we can do to help you.'"
An SEC spokesman did not respond to CNBC's request for a comment.
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Rawl believes the government is intentionally dragging its feet because authorities took so long to move in on Stanford. A 2010 SEC Inspector General's report found the agency was aware of issues at Stanford as far back as 1997. Rawl alleges the delays in Stanford's criminal case are part of what he calls a cover-up.
"The further that people dig, the more embarrassment on the government's part," Rawl said. "I think certain people hope it just fades away."