R. Allen Stanford, the Texas financier accused of defrauding investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, has become addicted to antianxiety medication while in federal detention, and that drug is probably contributing to fits of delirium, according to the testimony of several psychiatrists at a court hearing Thursday to determine his fitness to stand trial.
Psychiatrists testifying separately for the defense team and the prosecution said that Mr. Stanford had become mentally incapacitated by a combination of depression, addiction and possible severe brain injury suffered in a fight with an inmate in 2009.
While the psychiatrists disagreed on some points, they generally agreed that Mr. Stanford needed weeks if not months to undergo treatment for addiction and to complete a thorough battery of tests to determine how severe a brain injury he had suffered from the fight.
Mr. Stanford, 60, faces 21 criminal counts. He is accused of paying returns to investors from funds deposited by other buyers of high-interest certificates of deposit issued by his Stanford International Bank, in Antigua.
Mr. Stanford says he is innocent of all charges and that if his company was involved in any illegal activity, it was the fault of his former chief financial officer.
What began as a financial scandal has become a soap opera for Mr. Stanford, who was once estimated to have a personal fortune of more than $2 billion and had been awarded a knighthood in Antigua.
Since his indictment and imprisonment in June 2009, he was badly beaten in a fight with an inmate over using a telephone, suffering a broken nose and a major concussion that left him unconscious. He has also suffered other health problems, including an aneurysm in his leg.
During the hearing, Mr. Stanford listened quietly and with little reaction, smiling occasionally at his father and several other family members who whispered during the proceeding that the government was trying to poison him with drugs.
“He is unable to focus, he’s unable to keep a train of thought,” said Victor Scarano, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense. Steven Rosenblatt, a psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution, said, “I believe he was suffering delirium from medication that was prescribed in excess.”
In a recent court filing, a lawyer for Mr. Stanford, Ali Fazel, said his client had been heavily medicated for more than a year. “These medications have left Mr. Stanford in an unfocused and numbed state of mind,” according to the filing, which argued that the drugs were hampering his ability to review documents and prepare for trial.
Mr. Stanford has been taking large doses of the antianxiety drug clonazepam, along with antidepressants, for about a year. Gregg Costa, an assistant United States attorney, challenged the diagnosis of one of the psychiatrists, citing arguments Mr. Stanford had made in court in recent months and e-mails he had sent to friends, which Mr. Costa described as coherent and lucid.
Mr. Costa also said it was natural for a wealthy man to feel depressed after being imprisoned, and suggested that Mr. Stanford could have been faking the delirium in order to be let out of jail before facing trial.
Two employees at Mr. Stanford’s prison, a psychologist and a guard, countered the testimony of the psychiatrists and described Mr. Stanford as coherent, articulate and responsive in conversations they had with him.
Since his arrest Mr. Stanford has dismissed or been abandoned by at least five legal teams who have failed to persuade the court to free him before trial. The prosecution has argued successfully that Mr. Stanford has the international connections to flee.
Mr. Stanford’s former defense teams have argued that Mr. Stanford needed to be released because he had lost so much weight and suffered from depression, ulcers and a lack of sensation on the right side of his face. One psychiatrist predicted in late 2009 that continued imprisonment could lead to a “complete nervous breakdown.”
Mr. Stanford’s current legal team was appointed by the court after he was declared an indigent defendant. In October, he lost a lawsuit to have Lloyd’s of London honor an insurance policy to pay his legal fees. Lloyd’s and another insurer initially paid $6 million to several law firms for Mr. Stanford’s defense but then halted further payments, arguing that they were exempted from paying claims in cases of fraud.
Mr. Stanford’s trial was to begin Jan. 24, but his lawyers asked for a two-year delay to review evidence. Prosecutors have agreed to accept a delay, but a shorter one. Judge David Hittner of United States District Court ruled on Thursday evening that there could be a delay, and will would set a new trial schedule later.
To resolve the competency issue, both sides agreed to medical testing. The defense would like Mr. Stanford to receive treatment in Houston outside of prison, while the prosecution argued it should take place at a federal prison with medical facilities. A decision is pending.
Three ex-executives of Stanford International Bank will also stand trial. Mr. Stanford’s former chief financial officer, James M. Davis, has pleaded guilty and is a cooperating witness.