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US/ANTIGUA: Texas Financier and Antiguan Official Charged With Fraud

by Clifford Krauss New York Times
June 19th, 2009

In June 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission made a secret plea to Antigua’s top banking regulator, Leroy King: help investigate whether Stanford International Bank, based in the Caribbean money haven, was engaged in a huge fraud of its investors.

F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg News

R. Allen Stanford, shown in the Houston office of his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, in April, surrendered to the F.B.I. on Thursday.

But unknown to the agency, someone else had gotten to him first. R. Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire whose bank made him a powerful figure in Antigua, had already started making a series of payments to Mr. King that would eventually top $100,000 in exchange for his help in warding off the S.E.C.

Those accusations were contained in an indictment unsealed Friday by the Justice Department, which accused Mr. Stanford of operating a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme with the help of the bank’s top lieutenants — as well as with the regulator who was supposed to be scrutinizing Mr. Stanford’s operations.

“Nothing can go more to the heart, and attack the heart of regulation and law enforcement,” said Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general of the agency’s criminal division, than when regulators “receive bribes, so that they don’t do what they’re entrusted to do.”

The Justice Department said that while Mr. Stanford was defrauding about 30,000 investors of $7 billion, he was paying Mr. King thousands of dollars a month to conduct fake audits aimed at assuring the bank’s investors, and American regulators, that its finances were sound.

Mr. King, who has been suspended from his role as the chief executive of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission, is also accused of showing Mr. Stanford the S.E.C.’s inquiries as they came in so that Mr. Stanford and his lieutenants could “dictate the substance, and even the content” of responses, which Mr. King then returned to the S.E.C. on the Antiguan banking regulators’ letterhead.

“Instead of buying the safe and sound investments he promised his clients, Stanford bought Antigua’s top securities cop,” Robert Khuzami, the S.E.C.’s enforcement director, said in a statement. “While Stanford quarterbacked his massive Ponzi scheme, he paid the referee to spy on the huddles and provide an insider’s play-by-play of the S.E.C. investigation.”

The charges were among several that detailed how Mr. Stanford and his associates supposedly exaggerated the growth of assets in its reports, to $8.5 billion in December 2008, from $1.2 billion in 2001. Nearly $5 billion of that, according to the indictment, was actually overstated stakes in properties and notes on loans to Mr. Stanford. The bank also diverted more than $1.6 billion into undisclosed personal loans to Mr. Stanford, the indictment said, and engaged in wire and mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct an S.E.C. investigation.

Also named in the indictment were Laura Pendergest-Holt, the chief investment officer for the Stanford Financial Group, who was previously indicted in the case; its chief accounting officer, Gilberto Lopez; and its global controller, Mark Kuhrt. Ms. Pendergest-Holt has declared her innocence. James Davis, the chief financial officer, who is cooperating with prosecutors, was not indicted, but his involvement in various offenses was outlined in the indictment.

The action had been expected since the S.E.C. filed complaints against Mr. Stanford and other senior executives in February, closing his operations based in Houston. But it came as a new low point for a man who clawed his way out of rural Texas to build a personal fortune of more than $2 billion, and whose lavish spending and lifestyle in Antigua made him influential with the island’s top politicians — as well as regulators like Mr. King.

If convicted on all charges, Mr. Stanford faces up to 250 years in prison.

Dick DeGuerin, Mr. Stanford’s lawyer, said in a statement that his client was “confident a fair jury will find him not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.”

Mr. King, who holds both an American and an Antiguan passport, was not available for comment. But in an interview in February, just after Mr. Stanford’s offices in Houston were raided by federal authorities, Mr. King said: “I am absolutely sure that my banking system is clean.”

Mr. Breuer, the assistant attorney general, said that he believed that Mr. King was still in Antigua and that he could be extradited to the United States. He added that the Justice Department was working closely with Antiguan authorities, who he said were being extremely cooperative.

Mr. Stanford was taken into custody Thursday night when federal agents came to arrest him at his girlfriend’s house in Virginia. He spent the night in jail and appeared in federal court on Friday.

A receiver appointed when the S.E.C. first took action against Mr. Stanford has so far found less than $2 billion in recoverable assets related to the scheme. More than $300 million in investor funds has been frozen in foreign banks, but Mr. Breuer estimated that $1 billion cannot be found.

A federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case said that investigators were unable to track billions of dollars more in missing funds because much was wasted on a variety of risky investments, as well as cricket sponsorships, jets, yachts and other accouterments of Mr. Stanford’s lifestyle. Much more could still be hidden in bank accounts. He added that it had been difficult to locate many large depositors, some of whom are believed to be Latin Americans who were hiding money to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.

Tim Johnson, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said that authorities would “likely be unable to restore all of the money that has been lost by the victims of these offenses that have been charged.”

In a telephone interview Friday, the attorney general of Antigua and Barbuda, Justin Simon, said he would consider any United States request for extradition of Mr. King, who has been on leave since March. Mr. Simon said the Antiguan government was conducting an independent investigation of the official.

“This concerns me greatly because it reflects adversely on the commission,” he said, referring to the Financial Services Regulatory Commission. But, he added: “I think I am satisfied” that Mr. King “hid things” from the commission’s board “and got involved in a personal relationship with Stanford.”

He said it was “a distinct possibility” that Mr. King would also be prosecuted in Antigua.

S.E.C. officials said that while foreign nationals were charged with some frequency, it was rare if not unprecedented to charge a foreign financial regulator with fraud.

Before becoming Antigua’s top bank regulator, Mr. King worked for 25 years as a banker in the United States, according to an announcement published when he was appointed to Antigua’s regulatory commission. He began his career at the National Bank of Westchester in New Rochelle, N.Y., and retired from the industry as a vice president for Bank of America Corp" href="http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/bank_of_america_corporation/index.html?inline=nyt-org">Bank of America.

The Justice Department indictment shows that from 2005 through early 2009, Mr. King made more than 20 deposits, ranging from $2,000 to $9,700, with regular frequency into accounts he held at eight different banks along the East Coast of the United States.

Soon after the first deposits shown in the indictment were recorded in 2005, Mr. King told the S.E.C. that if Mr. Stanford were running a Ponzi scheme, his agency’s examinations would have detected it, even though he knew he had ordered his own agency not to scrutinize Stanford International Bank’s operations and finances, according to the indictment.

Fast-forward to February of this year, when the S.E.C. announced it was going after Mr. Stanford. Mr. King began transferring large amounts of money from an account held at a bank in New York to an Antiguan account. On Feb. 23, according to the indictment, he transferred $150,000 to Antigua. Two days later, the S.E.C. contacted Mr. King to ask for his help in determining the size and scope of the fraud at Stanford International Bank.

On March 2, Mr. King transferred another $410,000 from his New York bank account to Antigua. The day after, Mr. King sent the S.E.C. a letter with his reply: His agency, Mr. King wrote, had “no authority to act in the manner requested and would itself be in breach of law if it were to accede to your request."





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