HOUSTON -- Is it okay to lie?
With those words, federal prosecutors began their closing arguments against R. Allen Stanford, the disgraced Houston financier accused of cheating investors out of billions of dollars in what the government called one of the greatest thefts in history.
After more than a month of testimony, attorneys for both sides spent Wednesday summarizing their arguments in Houston s biggest white-collar fraud trial since Enron. The case went to the jury late Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors accuse Stanford of siphoning $160-million into a Swiss bank for his personal use. But beyond that, they argue he also invested more than $2-billion in his own business ventures everything from yachts and jets to an exclusive resort and misled investors by telling them their money was deposited in safe government securities.
For him, the bank was his own personal ATM, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Stellnach told the jury.
Stanford, sitting silently at the defense table, shook his head during much of the prosecution s closing argument. Defense attorneys urged jurors to ignore the prosecutors emphasis on yachts and private jets and pay attention to the evidence in the case.
There is no evidence that Mr. Stanford cheated anyone, defense attorney Ali Fazel told jurors. It s not there.
Stanford stands accused of orchestrating an international Ponzi scheme that cost investors more than $7-billion. His financial empire attracted customers with high-interest certificates of deposit paying about 4 percent more than standard U.S. banks. Stanford promised customers their money would be parked in conservative investments.
But the truth is that he flushed it away on a bunch of failing businesses, yachts and cricket clubs, Stellnacht told the jury.
Prosecutors say Stanford diverted billions into his own companies and bankrolled the lavish lifestyle of a global financier. The fourteen count indictment also alleges he misled investors with falsified financial data, blocked an investigation by U.S. securities regulators and dodged oversight by bribing auditors and banking regulators in Antigua.
The rat was watching the cheese, Stellnacht told jurors, echoing the words of an Antiguan bank regulator who testified Stanford used his influence to have her fired.
Jurors have sat through more than a month of often tedious testimony outlining the arcane details of Stanford s investments. They ve heard from not only investors who ve lost their money, but also the company s chief financial officer, James Davis, who cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for damaging testimony against Stanford.
The key witness in their case is one of the biggest liars you ever heard about or read about, said Robert Scardino, one of Stanford s lawyers.
His attorneys argue that Stanford paid off all of his CD customers until an SEC investigation destroyed his ability to pay off investors.
He never failed to repay depositors, Fazel argued.
Prosecutors have tried to simplify the case with colorful charts and graphs, painting a picture of a banking and investment empire that was actually a multi-billion dollar sham plundered by Stanford. For $2-billion, Stellnacht told the jury, You could build Reliant Stadium and field the Texans and have enough to buy the Rockets, too. Defense attorneys spent most of a day picking apart the government s exhibits and decrying them as deceptive.
Even though his attorney told the jury he would testify, Stanford decided against taking the stand. Friends said Stanford had been eager to testify, but his attorneys advised against it. The instructions read by U.S. District Judge David Hittner specifically told jurors they re not allowed to hold that against Stanford.
For more than twenty years, Mr. Stanford was able to con people out of their hard earned dollars. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa told jurors. Don t let him pull one last con job.