Stanford Pleads Not Guilty; Trial Set for Aug. 25

Billionaire R. Allen Stanford, who faces charges of fraud and conspiracy on allegations he swindled investors out of $8 billion in an elaborate Ponzi scheme, pleaded not guilty Thursday.

Stanford faces 21 felony counts in the alleged investment fraud. U.S. District Judge David Hittner is scheduled to preside over the Stanford trial, which is tenatively set for August 25. Stanford's attorney Dick DeGuerin estimated the trial would take six months.

Prosecutors argued Stanford should not be freed on bond as he awaits trial, despite DeGuerin's arguments that he has done charitable works and is not a flight risk.

Allen Stanford
Allen Stanford

Indicted Stanford executives Laura Pendergest-Holt, Gilberto Lopez and Mark Kuhrt also pleaded not guilty and remain free on bond.

The billionaire and the executives are accused of orchestrating a massive fraud by misusing most of the $8 billion they advised clients to invest in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank, based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.

The last inmate off the corrections shuttle bus, Stanford entered the courtroom still wearing his orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. He was brought in with five other prisoners scheduled for arraignment and seated in the back row of the jury box.

Stanford made eye contact with as many family members as he could, lifting his cuffed hands at one point to wave. He also gave a nod to Pendergest-Holt, who is free on bond and was able to come to court on her own.

She did not reciprocate.

Stanford was arrested June 18 in Virginia. He was returned to Texas on Tuesday and was being held in the Montgomery County Jail in Conroe, located just north of Houston, according to DeGuerin.

Stanford had tried to turn himself in to federal authorities in the months before his indictment. But authorities couldn't take him into custody until charges were filed.

Each of the most serious counts Stanford faces carry prison terms of up to 20 years.

Stanford is taking the anti-anxiety drug Ativan after initially turning to alcohol to deal with the stress of the case, his criminal attorney said in a filing.

Also indicted was Leroy King, the former chief executive officer of Antigua's Financial Services Regulatory Commission, who was taken into police custody Thursday and will appear in Antiguan court later in the day.

"(Leroy King) was taken into police custody early this morning ... pending a formal extradition request" from the United States, Antigua and Barbuda's Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Armstrong told Reuters by phone.

King was sacked last week by the government after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought charges against him alleging he received "thousands of dollars in bribes" from Stanford to cover up the fraud, including cash, Super Bowl tickets and access to Stanford's fleet of private aircraft.

Armstrong said U.S. authorities would have 45 days to formally proceed with an extradition case against King, a period that could be extended to 60 days. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa said the U.S. is commencing extradition proceedings.

Antigua and Barbuda was at the heart of Stanford's business empire stretching from the Caribbean to the United States, Latin America and Europe.

Antigua's biggest bank, Stanford International Bank Ltd. (SIB), sold the certificates of deposit (CDs) that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says bilked thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.

Stanford, Pendergest-Holt, Lopez, Kuhrt and King are charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail, wire and securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Stanford and Pendergest-Holt are also charged with conspiring to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and obstruction of an SEC investigation.

The indictment charged Stanford and the others with falsely claiming to have grown $1.2 billion in assets in 2001 to roughly $8.5 billion by the end of 2008. The operation had roughly 30,000 investors, officials said.

Investigators say even as Stanford claimed healthy returns for those investors, he was secretly diverting more than $1.6 billion in personal loans to himself.

The indictment also says Stanford and the other executives misrepresented the Antigua island bank's financial condition, its investment strategy and how it was regulated.

James M. Davis, 60, Stanford Financial Group's chief financial officer, faces similar charges in a criminal information. He is due in court July 1.

A separate indictment in Florida accused another Stanford worker, Bruce Perraud, of destroying records important to the investigation.

The SEC filed a civil lawsuit in February accusing Stanford and his top executives of committing crimes similar to those in the indictment.

AP and Reuters contributed to this report