Houston Business Journal by Olivia Pulsinelli, Web producer
A top executive in the now-defunct empire of disgraced Texas financier R. Allen Stanford was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday for her role in helping the once jet-setting businessman bilk investors out of more than $7 billion in one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history.
Former Stanford chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt’s sentence was part of a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors. She had pleaded guilty in June to one count of obstruction of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proceeding in exchange for the sentence.
After U.S. District Judge David Hittner handed down the sentence he revoked Pendergest-Holt’s bond, and she was taken into custody. She waved to her husband Jim Holt before she was put in handcuffs and taken from the courtroom by federal marshals.
A tearful Pendergest-Holt told Hittner prior to sentencing that she was sorry for putting her trust in Stanford and others in his financial empire, including the former chief financial officer, James M. Davis, who also has pleaded guilty and faces up to 30 years in prison.
“I’m sorry I was so trusting in people who didn’t deserve my trust, and my trusting them caused harm in others. I apologize greatly,” she said.
Prosecutors said Stanford, 62, used the money from investors who bought certificates of deposit from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for a lavish lifestyle that included yachts, a fleet of private jets and sponsorship of cricket tournaments. Authorities said Stanford and others in his companies lied to investors from more than 100 countries, telling them their funds were being safely invested in stocks, bonds and other securities.
Pendergest-Holt, 38, a native of Baldwyn, Miss., was the first person indicted in the case. Prosecutors said she and other executives conspired to hide the bank’s true financial health and provide misleading testimony to the SEC in 2009 when it was investigating Stanford’s bank.
One of her attorneys, Chris Flood, told Hittner that Pendergest-Holt was also a victim of Stanford’s Ponzi scheme and lost her life savings. Flood had asked that she not be imprisoned for three years but be allowed to serve that time in home confinement, a halfway house or a combination of the two.
She “is an extremely upstanding citizen and not a danger to anyone,” Flood said. “Don’t punish her for the crimes of Allen Stanford or Jim Davis.”
But prosecutor Jason Varnado told Hittner that from Pendergest-Holt’s statement in court on Thursday and from letters her family and friends had submitted calling her a victim, the former Stanford executive wasn’t taking full responsibility for what she had done. Varnado asked that she be sent to prison.
“She led (investors) to believe (their money) was invested in a particular manner … Ms. Holt is not a victim. She is a federal felon,” Varnado said.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors will drop 20 other counts she faced, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud.
Stanford, the one-time billionaire, was convicted in March on 13 of 14 fraud-related counts. In June, Hittner sentenced Stanford to 110 years in prison. He is serving his sentence in a prison in Central Florida.
Two other indicted ex-executives – Gilbert Lopez, the ex-chief accounting officer, and Mark Kuhrt, the ex-global controller – are set for trial later this month. A former Antiguan financial regulator was also indicted and awaits extradition to the U.S.
Dear Stanford Investors and Attorneys of Stanford Investors:
We at KLS, and the managers of this blog “Stanford’s Forgotten Victims”, are very pleased that we have been able to overcome the sovereign immunity hurdle, and the U.S. Government’s motion to dismiss in this case.
We recognize, however, that this is an opportunity not only for KLS and its clients but for all investors who have filed, or attempted to file claims with the SEC. As you know, we have filed our case as a class action. As such any victory we obtain is a victory for all class members (all those who have filed claims with the SEC).
Along with KLS, there were many other attorneys who did attempt to file claims with the SEC on behalf of their clients. Regardless of the rancor that may have existed between attorneys and investors in the past, now is not the time to dwell on conflict, but to breed the kind of bond that can assist this case in going forward with the kind of strength we want to engender, with seriousness, collegiality, fairness, and propriety as our guide.
Investor recovery should be first and foremost for all investors and all attorneys of investors. As such, we would like to encourage all investors (who have filed with the SEC in any manner whatsoever) or their attorneys who have done so, to contact us so that we can determine a common strategy forward to benefit all investors.
We thank you all for your support, and your criticism. After all, we believe, all the feedback we have received has assisted us, and culminated in the formulation of our initial victory in this case!
Dr. Gaytri D. Kachroo
KLS-Kachroo Legal Services, P.C.
225R Concord Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138
by PATSY R. BRUMFIELD/Daily Journal
HOUSTON, Texas – Baldwyn native Laura Pendergest-Holt is set for sentencing Thursday for her attempts to obstruct the investigation of a Ponzi scheme at Stanford International Bank Ltd. Holt was chief investment officer at Stanford Financial Group based out of Memphis, with offices in Tupelo, when the entire Stanford financial empire came crashing down in 2009 under the weight of a federal investigation. Her boss, R. Allen Stanford, was convicted last March of masterminding the scheme, which cost worldwide investors $7.2 billion. He is serving a 110-year prison sentence. In a deal with the government, Holt pleaded guilty June 21 to one count and faces up to five years in prison. Her deal recommends three years. She’ll appear before District Judge David Hittner for a 9:45 a.m. hearing in Houston, where Stanford built his empire. Co-defendants Mark Kuhrt and Gilbert Lopez, former Stanford executives, are set for trial there starting Sept. 28. Read more: djournal.com – Update Pendergest Holt sentence due Thursday for Stanford crime
Antigua St. John’s – Stanford victims in Antigua are calling the historic victory over the United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) a landmark achievement and “the best news the victims have had in three-and-a-half years.”
On Friday, a US Court ruled that the SEC must defend a negligence claim contending that the Commission had failed to act appropriately after concluding at least four times before 2008 that R. Allen Stanford was indeed operating a Ponzi scheme.
“We have made legal history with this latest ruling and I encourage all Stanford victims to go to http://stanfordsforgottenvictims.blogspot.com/ to read how they can join this lawsuit and for the first time have a chance of recovering their stolen money,” said spokesperson for the Stanford International Victims Group (SIVG) Kate Freeman.
She added that the achievement of attorney Gaytrie Kachroo is the first for any lawyer in finding a legal solution to the Discretionary Rule that has long protected the SEC from legal sanction when it failed to act accordingly.
“There are thousands of Stanford Victims that need to be made aware of what we have done here and also be given the chance of joining Kachroo Legal Services on this journey,” Freeman said.
The victims now have a clear passage to continue forward with the claim against SEC examiners, according to the ruling.
The lawsuit being carried by Kachroo claims that the SEC had a “nondiscretionary duty” to report Stanford to the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC) in the USA. The landmark judgment was filed on September 7.
“Gaytri Kachroo was originally contacted by me and another victim and asked to work on the behalf of the Stanford International Victims group to sue the American Government and the SEC. All other lawyers said this could not be done due to the “Discretionary Rule” that protects the US government and its departments,” Freeman said.
The attorney is reported as saying on Friday in a http://www.bloomberg.com report that the judge’s decision was the first to overcome the SEC’s “sovereign immunity.”
“The ruling handed down… is a bold statement and a warning to the government: if you fail to carry out your statutory obligations to protect the public against wrongdoing with massive repercussions to the investing public, you will be held liable,” Kachroo said in a statement.
According to the judgment, “…The Securities and Exchange Commission was obligated to report Stanford’s company to the Securities Investor Protection Corp. This obligation to report was not discretionary because the controlling statute mandates that the report be made.”
The SEC may use the next stage of the litigation to raise the argument that it had not concluded before 2009 that Stanford was running a Ponzi scheme, despite the plaintiff’s claims.
It is also being reported that the SEC shied away from investigating the case because of the clear complexities involved, as they reportedly preferred to investigate more slam-dunk cases due to work evaluation purposes.
The case is Zelaya v. United States, 11-cv-62644, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).