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Financier Stanford convicted in $7 billion fraud

In this Aug. 24, 2010 file photo, jailed Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford arrives in custody at the federal courthouse in Houston. Stanford, charged with bilking investors out of $7 billion in a massive Ponzi scheme, was found guilty on 13 of 14 counts by a jury Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Philli

HOUSTON (AP) -- Former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford, whose financial empire once spanned the Americas and made him fabulously wealthy, was convicted Tuesday of bilking his investors out of more than $7 billion through a Ponzi scheme he operated for 20 years.

A day after telling U.S. District Judge David Hittner they were having trouble reaching a verdict, jurors convicted Stanford on 13 of 14 charges he faced, acquitting him on a single count of wire fraud stemming from Super Bowl tickets he allegedly used to bribe a regulator.

Stanford, who was once considered one of the wealthiest people in the U.S., looked down when the verdict was read. His mother and daughters, who were in the federal courtroom in Houston, hugged one another, and one of the daughters started crying.

"We are disappointed in the outcome. We expect to appeal," Ali Fazel, one of Stanford's attorneys, said after the hearing. He said he couldn't comment further because of a gag order Hittner placed on attorneys in the case.

Prosecutors and Stanford's family members declined to comment, but one of his investors, Cassie Wilkinson, welcomed the verdict.

"As an investor, you have to doubt whether or not you were stupid or just taken advantage of. This relieves that doubt. It's a vindication," said Wilkinson, 62, who lives in Houston. She declined to say how much money she and her husband lost.

A shorter civil trial before the same jury, in which prosecutors hoped to seize money from more than 30 Stanford-controlled accounts in countries including Switzerland, Britain and Canada, began later Tuesday. Hittner will likely set Stanford's sentencing date after the civil trial, which could last as little as a day.

Stanford, 61, faces up to 20 years for the most serious charges against him. But if Hittner orders him to serve his sentences consecutively, Stanford could get up to 230 years in prison. Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, by comparison, was sentenced to 150 years in prison for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

Prosecutors say Stanford used investor money to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for his lavish lifestyle, which included buying himself yachts and private jets. His attorneys portrayed Stanford as a visionary entrepreneur who made money for investors and conducted legitimate business deals.

Stanford was once considered one of the wealthiest people in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion. But he had court-appointed attorneys after his assets were seized.

During the more than six-week trial, prosecutors methodically presented evidence, including testimony from ex-employees, emails and financial statements, they said showed Stanford orchestrated a 20-year scheme that bilked billions from investors through the sale of certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua.

They said Stanford, whose financial empire was headquartered in Houston, lied to depositors from more than 100 countries by telling them their funds were being safely invested in stocks, bonds and other securities instead of being funneled into his businesses and personal accounts.

The prosecution's star witness - James M. Davis, the former chief financial officer for Stanford's various companies - told jurors he and Stanford worked together to falsify bank records, annual reports and other documents in order to conceal the fraud.

Stanford had wanted to testify and jurors were told he would do so, but his attorneys apparently convinced him not to take the witness stand.

Stanford's attorneys told jurors the financier was trying to consolidate his businesses to pay back investors when authorities seized his companies. Stanford's attorneys highlighted his work to build up Antigua's economy as well as his philanthropic efforts on the island. Stanford, the largest private employer on the island nation, was widely known as "Sir Allen" after being knighted by Antigua's government.

The financier's attorneys accused Davis of being behind the fraud and of lying so he could get a reduced sentence. Davis pleaded guilty to three fraud and conspiracy charges in 2009 as part of a deal he made with prosecutors.

On Monday, during their third day of deliberating, the jury told Hittner it was having trouble reaching a verdict. Hittner gave jurors an Allen Charge, an order meant to prod juries toward a unanimous verdict, which seemed to bolster their deliberations and help them reach a verdict. Jurors would not be able to comment on the case until the civil trial is concluded.

Three other indicted former executives of Stanford's companies are to be tried in September. A former Antiguan financial regulator accused of accepting bribes from Stanford was also indicted and he awaits extradition to the U.S.

The financier's trial was delayed after he was declared incompetent in January 2011 due to an anti-anxiety drug addiction he developed in jail and he underwent treatment. He was also evaluated for any long-term effects from being injured in a September 2009 jail fight. Stanford was declared fit for trial in December.

Stanford and the former executives are also fighting a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed in Dallas that makes similar allegations.



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