Testimony to begin in trial of financier Stanford

HOUSTON (AP) -- Texas financier R. Allen Stanford built a vast fortune through his network of banks and other businesses in the U.S., Latin America the Caribbean, and he led a lifestyle befitting a billionaire business magnate.Once considered one of the U.S.'s wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion, Stanford snatched up luxury homes and cars, private jets and yachts, and became so prominent in his adopted country of Antigua, where he took on dual citizenship, that he was knighted by the Caribbean island's government and became known as \Sir Allen.\On Tuesday, after much delay, federal prosecutors in Houston were due to begin laying out their case against Stanford, telling jurors that the 61-year-old's business empire was built on smoke and mirrors and that he bilked investors out of more than $7 billion over 20 years as part of a massive Ponzi scheme. Jury selection in Stanford's trial resumed Tuesday, after starting a day earlier, and was anticipated to conclude with opening statements expected later in the dayStanford, who denies the claims and says his businesses were legitimate, is charged with 14 counts, including wire and mail fraud, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He is expected to testify during the trial, which will likely last at least six weeks.Stanford's business empire was run through the Houston-based Stanford Financial Group, but at its heart was Antiguan-based Stanford International Bank. The bank mainly sold certificates of deposit, or CDs, that promised substantially higher rates of return than U.S. banks and promised investors their money was safe.Prosecutors say Stanford used money from the sale of the CDs, which were sold to clients from more than 100 countries, to pay off those purchased earlier once they matured and to support his other businesses, which included other banks, a brokerage firm that sold the CDs, an airline, cricket grounds and restaurants. They say Stanford used up to $2 billion of investor funds as personal loans to support his lavish lifestyle, and that he and three former executives at his companies who also face charges covered up their misdeeds by fabricating the bank's records and bribing Antiguan regulators.\It's a bait and switch

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