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A federal judge in Dallas has upheld most of the claims in a major lawsuit against five banks accused of playing a role in Texas financier Allen Stanford's massive Ponzi scheme.
Tuesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge David Godbey means the suit filed in 2009 on behalf of thousands of Stanford victims can proceed against the banks, which include HSBC, Societe Generale, Toronto Dominion Bank, Trustmark National Bank and the Bank of Houston. The suit accuses the banks of playing "an essential role" in the $7 billion fraud, which each bank has denied.
While Godbey threw out some of the claims the victims were pursuing under Texas state law, the ruling allows the bulk of the case to move forward in federal court. That is important to the more than 20,000 Stanford victims, because unlike victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme uncovered just two months earlier, they have recovered almost nothing. Also, while the Justice Department and federal authorities reached a $2 billion settlement last year with Madoff's primary banker, JPMorgan Chase, they have thus far declined to pursue similar cases against Stanford's bankers. That means that for Stanford's victims, this civil case may be one of their last remaining hopes for a meaningful recovery.
An attorney for the Official Stanford Investors Committee, the lead plaintiff in the case, called the judge's ruling "very gratifying."
"The court's decision … represents a huge step forward in our efforts to hold those who aided and abetted Allen Stanford's giant Ponzi scheme responsible for damages to the innocent investor-victims of this horrible crime," said attorney Peter Morgenstern in an email.
But the case still has a long way to go. While none of the banks was immediately available for comment, all have fought the case every step of the way. In a 2013 court filing, HSBC argued that not only did all of the alleged activity take place overseas and outside U.S. jurisdiction, but also that there was no evidence the bank did anything wrong.
"At most, the committee has alleged that HSBC performed customary correspondent banking services for (Stanford International Bank) and 'should have discovered' Stanford's fraud in the process," the filing said.
Stanford is serving a 110-year sentence at a federal prison in Florida. He is appealing his 2012 conviction on 13 felony counts.