The defense has rested its case in the fraud trial of Texas financier Allen Stanford without calling him to testify in his own defense. That means the case in what prosecutors call one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history could go to the jury by Wednesday afternoon.
The decision is a calculated gamble by defense attorneys, who had told jurors at the outset of the trial that Stanford would take the stand.
“Anticipate hearing from Mr. Stanford himself,” defense attorney Robert Scardino told jurors in his opening statement on January 24.
Since then, Stanford’s testimony was eagerly anticipated, not only by reporters, but by Stanford’s thousands of investors, many of whom planned to be in court to hear his explanation of what happened. Prosecutors, meanwhile, prepared for a blistering cross-examination.
A defendant has the right not to testify, however, and jurors are generally instructed not to draw any conclusions about a decision not to take the stand.
In the end, that decision was Stanford’s alone, and it went down to the wire.
This afternoon, after the defense finished questioning its final expert witness, former FDIC investigator Leonard Lyons, Scardino asked Judge David Hittner if the defense could have until the end of the day to decide, but the judge said no.
After a brief conference including Stanford’s mother and his girlfriend, the defense rested its case.
“He did what they think was best,” his 82-year-old mother Sammie Stanford told CNBC, suggesting defense attorneys talked him out of testifying. Her son has been suffering from a cold for much of the trial, and earlier had unsuccessfully claimed he was incompetent to stand trial after he was beaten by a fellow inmate and became addicted to prescription drugs while in custody.
“He’s still not feeling well,” Sammie Stanford said.
The judge and attorneys for both sides will spend Tuesday working out the instructions to the jury. Closing arguments begin Wednesday morning.
Stanford, 61, faces 14 counts in an alleged $7 billion Ponzi scheme involving certificates of deposit issued by his offshore bank in Antigua. Prosecutors claimed the CDs, which supposedly were backed by safe and liquid investments, were instead used to fund Stanford’s lavish lifestyle. In a Ponzi scheme, funds from new investors are used to pay returns to earlier investors. Some 28,000 investors in 130 countries purchased the CDs.
The five-week trial included testimony by Stanford’s former Chief Financial Officer and college roommate James Davis, who pleaded guilty to three felony counts in 2009. The prosecution’s star witness, Davis testified Stanford orchestrated the fraud, skimming billions of dollars in customer funds for himself, and for bribes to regulators and auditors.
The defense case consisted primarily of experts who said Stanford’s global financial empire was solvent, with plenty of assets to pay depositors, until the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Stanford and had his companies placed in receivership in 2009.
Additional reporting by Jessica Golden in Houston.