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Texas financier charged in $7 billion Ponzi scheme

WASHINGTON - Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was indicted and jailed yesterday on charges that his international banking empire was a Ponzi scheme built on lies, bluster, and bribery.

WASHINGTON - Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was indicted and jailed yesterday on charges that his international banking empire was a Ponzi scheme built on lies, bluster, and bribery.

The Justice Department announced the charges against Stanford and six others who allegedly helped him run a $7 billion swindle.

Stanford was arrested Thursday in Fredericksburg, Va., at his girlfriend's home. He appeared in Richmond yesterday before a federal magistrate, who ordered him sent back to Texas for a hearing on whether he should be held without bail.

Stanford appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck wearing dark pants, a white open-collar shirt, no jacket, tie, or belt. Lauck agreed with prosecutors that Stanford posed a flight risk and ordered him to remain in custody until the hearing in Houston.

Among those charged were executives of Stanford Financial Group and a former Antiguan bank regulator, Leroy King, who prosecutors say should have caught the fraud but instead took bribes to let the scheme continue. In February, King told reporters his agency properly scrutinized Stanford's business.

At his zenith, Stanford was a larger-than-life figure in Antigua. His enterprises there include a newspaper, two restaurants, a development company, and the ornately landscaped Stanford cricket grounds, where he shook up the staid world of professional cricket last year by bankrolling the purse in a $20 million winner-take-all match.

The Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement director, Robert Khuzami, said investigators had built "an impressive criminal case from the rubble of this massive fraud." If convicted of all 21 charges, Stanford could face as much as 250 years in prison, officials said.

Dick DeGuerin, Stanford's lawyer, said in a written statement that Stanford was "confident that a fair jury will find him not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."

The indictment unsealed yesterday in Houston charged that Stanford and other executives at his firm falsely claimed to have grown $1.2 billion in assets in 2001 to roughly $8.5 billion by the end of 2008. The operation had roughly 30,000 investors, officials said.

Investigators say that even as Stanford claimed healthy returns for those investors, he was secretly diverting more than $1.6 billion in personal loans to himself and investing the rest in high-risk private equity and real estate.

Court papers charged that Stanford and top executives orchestrated the huge fraud by advising clients to buy certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank, which is based in Antigua.

While Stanford is less well-known than the infamous swindler Bernard L. Madoff, authorities said both men's businesses were based on the same type of scam - faking investment returns while attracting new investors to pay the previous customers and keep the operation afloat.

Authorities say they are investigating 100 other possible Ponzi schemes, although none on the scale of the Stanford or Madoff cases.

"We will find you, we will stop you, and we will make you pay for your crime," said Gregory Campbell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Madoff pleaded guilty in March to pulling off a swindle in which his investors lost an estimated $50 billion to $65 billion. The New Yorker is scheduled to be sentenced June 29.

Stanford, 59, has been working since February to challenge what his attorney called "the false accusations against him." DeGuerin said that rather than resulting from fraud or a Ponzi scheme, "the present insolvency of the Stanford Companies was caused by the SEC's heavy-handed actions, which have destroyed and continue to destroy much of the value" of the companies and their investors.

A group of cheated Stanford investors said in a statement that the losses on their investments "are devastating, as senior citizens are losing their homes, going without medical care, and becoming a burden on their children and families."