Financier R. Allen Stanford convicted in $7 billion swindle

March 7, 2012 12:14 pm

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HOUSTON -- Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford spent more than 20 years charming investors, who handed him billions of dollars they had spent their lives accumulating through hard work and saving.

Mr. Stanford promised them safe investments that would help fulfill their dreams of being able to retire comfortably or pay their children's college tuition. All the while, he was pulling their money out of his Caribbean bank to pay for a string of failed businesses and a jet-setting lifestyle.

Mr. Stanford, once considered one of the wealthiest people in the United States, with a financial empire that spanned the Americas, was convicted Tuesday on charges that he bilked investors out of more than $7 billion.

Prosecutors said his business acumen was nothing more than an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme, and jurors convicted him on 13 of 14 charges, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud. He was acquitted on a single count of wire fraud that accused him of bribing a regulator with Super Bowl tickets.

Mr. Stanford looked down when the verdict was read in federal court in Houston, where his financial empire was based. His mother and daughters hugged one another, and one of his daughters started crying.

"We are disappointed in the outcome. We expect to appeal," Stanford attorney Ali Fazel said after the hearing. He said he couldn't comment further because of a gag order U.S. District Judge David Hittner placed on attorneys in the case.

Prosecutors and Mr. Stanford's relatives declined to comment on the verdict, but former investor Cassie Wilkinson found comfort in it. "As an investor, you have to doubt whether or not you were stupid or just taken advantage of. This relieves that doubt. It's a vindication," said Ms. Wilkinson, 62, who lives in Houston. She declined to say how much money she and her husband lost.

A civil trial in which prosecutors hope to seize about $300 million from more than 30 Stanford-controlled accounts in countries including Switzerland, Britain and Canada started later Tuesday before the same jury and will continue today. Judge Hittner will likely set Mr. Stanford's sentencing date after the civil trial, which could last as little as a full day.

Jurors have been told not to comment on the case until the civil trial ends.

The most serious charges against Mr. Stanford carry as much as 20 years in prison, and if Judge Hittner ordered him to serve his sentences consecutively, the 61-year-old could spend the rest of his life behind bars. In a similar but unrelated case, disgraced financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

Prosecutors say Mr. Stanford used investors' money to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for luxuries such as yachts and private jets. His attorneys portrayed Mr. Stanford as a visionary entrepreneur who made money for investors and conducted legitimate business deals.

A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that accuses Mr. Stanford and his former executives of fraud is pending.

First Published 2012-03-06 23:53:34

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