Texas mogul Stanford surrenders to FBI
Billionaire accused of running massive Ponzi scheme to face criminal charges.
HOUSTON (Reuters) -- Texas billionaire Allen Stanford will appear in federal court in Virginia Friday to answer allegations he orchestrated a massive fraud through his Antigua bank that bilked investors out of billions of dollars.
Stanford, 59, arrived at the courthouse to face criminal charges at a 1:30 EDT hearing before federal magistrate Hannah Lauck after surrendering to FBI agents outside his girlfriend's house in Virginia late on Thursday.
His case will be the first major financial crimes prosecution brought under the administration of President Barack Obama, who has vowed to crack down on economic malfeasance.
Stanford already faces civil charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that he fraudulently sold $8 billion in certificates of deposit with improbably high interest rates from his Stanford International Bank Ltd, headquartered in Antigua.
The SEC filed new civil charges against accountants and an Antigua regulator, saying they aided Stanford in orchestrating an $8 billion Ponzi scheme, or pyramid investment plan, according to documents filed in U.S. district court in Dallas.
"He surrendered," Dick DeGuerin, Stanford's Texas attorney, told Reuters by telephone Thursday night after speaking with his client. "He's in FBI custody."
Justice Department officials, including the U.S. attorney from Houston, planned a news conference at noon EDT in Washington to announce the criminal charges.
Stanford, who holds dual U.S. and Antigua and Barbuda citizenship, denies any wrongdoing and has said he would put up "the fight of my life" if indicted.
"If the SEC had not come in and disemboweled a living, breathing strong organization the way they did, there's no question on God's green earth that everyone would have been made whole and we would have had a lot of money left over," Stanford told Reuters in an interview in April.
In its civil case, the SEC in February accused Stanford, his college roommate and three of their companies of carrying out a "massive Ponzi scheme" over at least a decade and misappropriating at least $1.6 billion of investors' money.
"This starts to bring closure for the victims," Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC enforcement official, said of the criminal indictment.
Stanford now faces concrete charges and "is no longer swinging at a pinata," said Frenkel, now an attorney in Rockville, Maryland.
Stanford, a golf and cricket promoter, became the first American to be knighted by Antigua and Barbuda in 2006. He made his first fortune in real estate in the early 1980s and expanded the family firm into a global wealth management company.
Before the SEC leveled the fraud charges, his personal fortune was estimated at $2.2 billion by Forbes magazine. Stanford was a generous sports patron and owned homes in Antigua, St. Croix, Florida and Texas.
To date, the only Stanford official to have faced criminal charges is Laura Pendergest-Holt, the chief investment officer for the Stanford Financial Group. She was arrested by the FBI in February and later freed on bail.
Pendergest-Holt and James Davis, Stanford's one-time roommate at Baylor University who served as the company's chief financial officer, were both named in the SEC's first civil complaint.
Davis has not been charged with criminal activity and is cooperating with federal authorities, although his attorney has said he expects his client to be indicted.
Nigel Hamilton-Smith, the Antiguan official named to oversee the liquidation of the offshore bank that was run by Stanford, has accused the tycoon of using client funds to pay for jets, lavish homes and yachts.
Stanford's Antiguan liquidators and the company's U.S.-based receiver have been locked in a battle over control of the offshore bank.
Ralph Janvey, the Dallas lawyer appointed by U.S. District Judge David Godbey to oversee Stanford's assets and operations, has filed court papers arguing he should oversee the Antigua bank along with the U.S.-based Stanford entities he controls.