Prosecutors and defense attorneys painted very different pictures in closing arguments today in R. Allen Stanford’s criminal trial. Saying it “wasn’t OK for Allen Stanford to lie, cheat and steal for 20 years,” federal prosecutor William Stellmach asked jurors to find the Houston financier guilty of all 14 criminal counts against him. But Stanford defense attorney Ali Fazel, a partner in Scardino & Fazel of Houston, argued to jurors that the case is about “assumptions, presumptions, guesses and reasonable doubt” instead of lies.
Stanford, former chairman of Houston’s Stanford Financial Group (SFG) faces 14 criminal charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy to defraud investors who bought about $7 billion in certificates of deposit sold through Stanford International Bank (SIB). He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Stellmach, a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor from Washington, D.C., told jurors during closing arguments today that Stanford lied to people who purchased certificates of deposit from Antigua-based SIB by failing to tell them, among many things, that he used billions in deposits for business ventures in the Caribbean and personal expenses. “He flushed it away on a bunch of failing businesses, yachts and cricket tournaments,” Stellmach argued.
But Fazel’s partner Robert Scardino told jurors that Stanford put together a financial empire over 25 years that employed 5,000 people and managed as much as $50 billion for investors. He argued that no one who purchased CDs from SIB lost money until the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit against Stanford and others and a judge appointed a receiver over SFG assets. “Every person who bought a certificate of deposit, until the receiver came in, was paid every penny of their money,” Scardino told jurors.
During his closing arguments, Scardino questioned the reliability of testimony from the government’s main witness, James Davis, the former chief financial officer for SFG who pleaded guilty to three criminal charges and agreed to cooperate with the government.
In a rebuttal argument, prosecutor Gregg Costa, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas, cautioned jurors against believing the defense’s version of the facts. “For more than 20 years, Mr. Stanford was able to con thousands of people out of their life savings. Don’t let him pull one more con,” Costa told jurors. “He was never a rich person – he’s a thief,” Costa told jurors near the end of arguments that lasted most of the day.
Opening statements began on Jan. 24. Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas is presiding.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys