United States District Judge David Hittner ruled yesterday (January 18) that there would be no more delays granted to Stanford’s legal team and the Texas financier accused of defrauding thousands of investors in a US$7 billion Ponzi scheme would do so in a matter of days.
The federal judge’s decision came after defence attorneys for Stanford argued that they needed a delay in the trial so they could have more time to study possible testimony from expert witnesses on accounting procedures. They also put forward that one of their contract workers involved in document preparation needed cancer surgery and would be unavailable to work for at least several weeks.
However, Judge Hittner was as un-swayed by these arguments as he had been in recent weeks by motions by Stanford’s lawyers that their client was not mentally competent to stand trial and that the trial should be postponed because they had not had sufficient time to prepare a defence.
“My finding still remains that he is competent and ready to go,” Hittner said yesterday.
Ali Fazel, a defence attorney, said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision that the trial would begin on Monday. “I didn’t like it, but that’s just the way it is,” he said.
Stanford, 61, has pleaded not guilty to 14 criminal counts alleging that he had defrauded nearly 30,000 investors from 113 countries in a Ponzi scheme involving bogus high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank headquartered in Antigua.
He and three other senior executives of Stanford Financial Group are accused of lying about the growth of bank assets in investor reports, diverting more than US$1.6 billion into undisclosed personal loans to Stanford, engaging in wire and mail fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct a Security and Exchange Commission investigation.
According to prosecutors, the former financier, who was granted a knighthood in Antigua, skimmed money from investor funds to live a lavish lifestyle that included mansions, yachts and a private island.
Once estimated to have had a personal fortune of more than US$2 billion, Stanford is now considered indigent since all his assets have been frozen by court order, and therefore deserving of a taxpayer-financed defence. He has repeatedly appealed for his release pending trial, but he has been imprisoned as a flight risk since his indictment in June 2009.
His latest team of four court-appointed lawyers filed a motion last week to leave the case, claiming they did not have sufficient resources or time to organize a proper defence. They also said their efforts had been held back when contractors working to prepare documents for the defence quit at the end of last year after they had not been paid for several months.
The lawyers had argued that they should be given three more months to prepare. Judge Hittner repeatedly rejected the bid, arguing that the defence team has had more than a year to prepare a defence. Meanwhile, the contractors have returned to work after an appellate court ordered them to and granted them some back pay