Defense rests at Texas financier Stanford's trial

February 27, 2012 - 6:35 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — Attorneys for Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford rested their case on Monday without having the once high-flying businessman testify at his fraud trial on charges he bilked investors out of more than $7 billion.

The jailed financier's attorneys told U.S. District Judge David Hittner that Stanford would not take the witness stand in his own defense. With both defense attorneys and prosecutors having finished presenting their cases, closing arguments were set for Wednesday in the trial, which is in its sixth week.

Stanford, 61, is accused of orchestrating a 20-year scheme that took billions through the sale of certificates of deposit from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua. They also allege Stanford, whose financial empire was headquartered in Houston, lied to depositors by telling them their funds were being safely invested but instead spent it on his businesses and his lavish lifestyle.

Defense attorneys tried to show the financier was a savvy businessman whose business empire was legitimate. They have blamed Stanford's ex-chief financial officer, who was the prosecution's star witness, for the alleged fraud. They have told jurors he was trying to consolidate his businesses to pay back investors when authorities seized his companies.

At the start of the trial, Stanford's attorneys had told jurors the financier would testify. But there apparently had been an internal debate between Stanford and his defense team about whether he should take the stand.

A gag order in the case is preventing prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing the case. But Stanford's mother, Sammie Stanford, said that her son was alone in wanting to testify.

"I think nobody wanted him to (testify) but him," she said. "I think he bowed to the majority."

Sammie Stanford, 82, who was allowed to speak with her son in a back room before the final decision was announced, said her son had been ill and was probably not up to testifying. The financier had been sneezing and coughing last week during the trial and Hittner had ended testimony early on two days because Stanford wasn't feeling well.

Sammie Stanford said her son also still suffers memory loss and can't sleep due to an addiction he developed in jail to an anti-anxiety drug and injuries from a jail fight. Stanford was declared incompetent last year due to the drug addiction and treated, but in December Hittner declared him fit for trial.

After its final expert witness testified earlier Monday, Hittner gave Stanford's legal team about 15 minutes to make a final decision on whether the financier would testify.

After the short break, defense attorney Robert Scardino asked Hittner if he could have the rest of Monday to make a decision. Hittner said no.

"I need to know right now, is your client taking the stand or not?" Hittner asked.

Scardino was given another short break so he and Stanford's legal team could step into a back room and consult one more time with the financier. Scardino then returned and said the defense was resting its case.

Stanford's attorneys spent about nine days presenting their case. Prosecutors took about three weeks.

The final defense witness was Leonard Lyons, a certified fraud examiner. He called "misleading" claims by prosecutors that Stanford used up to $2 billion in CD deposits as personal loans and transferred millions in investor funds to a secret Swiss bank account for his own personal use and to bribe Antiguan regulators.

Lyons said prosecutors did not fully trace where all of the bank's funds went to or how they were used because authorities didn't have access to all of the bank's records, many of which were located outside the U.S.

Stanford is on trial for 14 counts, including mail and wire fraud, and could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison if convicted. Once considered among the wealthiest people in the United States with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion, he has been jailed without bond since being indicted in 2009.

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