First arrest made in Stanford fraud case

Authorities say Chief Investment Officer Laura Pendergest-Holt concealed her role in and familiarity with the investments of Stanford Financial Group.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The FBI made the first arrest in the Stanford Financial Group fraud investigation Thursday, detaining Chief Investment Officer Laura Pendergest-Holt on federal obstruction charges.

The U.S. Justice Department said Pendergest-Holt was to make an initial court appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Houston Friday after her arrest by FBI agents -- in a federal criminal probe that began in June 2008.

It corrected an earlier release that said she had already made a court appearance.

The department said Pendergest-Holt concealed her role in and familiarity with the investments of the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank from Securities and Exchange Commission investigators earlier in February.

U.S. securities regulators have filed civil charges against the financial group's chairman, Allen Stanford, along with Pendergest-Holt and Chief Financial Officer Jim Davis, accusing them of fraudulently marketing $8 billion in high-interest certificates of deposit issued by the Antigua bank.

In Houston, Pendergest-Holt's attorney, Brent Baker, said by telephone that "she is looking forward to having the truth come out and to putting this whole affair behind her as soon as possible."

The criminal complaint against Pendergest-Holt said she failed to tell investigators she had served on the bank's investment committee and that the investment portfolio holding more than 80 percent of its assets included a $1.6 billion loan to a top Stanford executive -- evidently Stanford.

It said Pendergest-Holt wrongly denied she had prepared with company officials before her SEC interview.

The complaint charging her said, during those preparations, Pendergest-Holt and other officials learned of the $1.6 billion loan and that $541 million credited as a capital contribution in December 2008 consisted of assets already bought by the bank just months before for $88.5 million.

It quoted an attorney who had helped in the sessions as saying, on a day in which one witness had threatened to go to the authorities, "the party is over."

Separately, a source familiar with the case said Stanford had not retained an attorney as of earlier this week and that paying for legal help was a problem because authorities had frozen all of his assets.

There were reports last week, after Stanford was served in Virginia with the civil papers, that he had hired high-profile Washington lawyer Brendan Sullivan. But the official said: "You would not get Brendan Sullivan to take a charity case."

Davis, he said, was in talks on arranging representation.

SEC Deputy Enforcement Director Scott Friestad said after Pendergest-Holt's arrest: "We appreciate the quick and decisive action of the Department of Justice and the FBI, and thank them for their fine work and cooperation in this matter." To top of page

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