Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Prosecutors: 2-year Stanford trial delay too long

Federal prosecutors say they don't object to a delay of this month's scheduled trial of former high-flying Texas billionaire investor R. Allen Stanford but argue the two-year postponement sought by Stanford's lawyers would be far too long.

Defense lawyers should have additional time to prepare but they already have filed motions "covering most conceivable legal issues" in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa said Monday in a filing with U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner.

"The requested continuance of two years is excessive," Costa said, adding that such a delay would be inconsistent with the public's interest in a speedy trial for Stanford. "Stanford will use a lengthy continuance to further what appears to be his only goal in this case: obtaining pretrial release."

Stanford is accused of bilking investors out of $7 billion in a Ponzi scheme and was supposed to go on trial Jan. 24. An appeal by Stanford contends the January trial date already violates his interest in a speedy trial, Costa noted.

Hittner has scheduled a status conference for Thursday on claims from Stanford's lawyers, following an examination by a psychiatrist they selected, that their client is not competent to stand trial. Hittner, acting on a government request, authorized a second competency exam for Stanford. Results were ordered sealed.

Psychiatrists and prison officials were expected to appear at the Thursday hearing to help Hittner decide if Stanford should undergo further observation or move forward with trial.

In his most recent court filing, Costa recommended Hittner put off the trial set for later this month, resolve the competency issues and then set a firm trial date.

"The setting of a firm date, which should be much sooner than the two-year continuance the defense seeks, is in the best interests of the parties, the court, witnesses and victims," he said.

A gag order issued by the judge in September bars lawyers from publicly discussing the case outside the courtroom.

Stanford and three ex-executives of his now-defunct Houston-based Stanford Financial Group are accused of orchestrating a colossal pyramid scheme by advising clients from 113 countries to invest more than $7 billion in certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank on the Caribbean island of Antigua, promising huge returns..

Stanford's attorneys say he ran a legitimate business and didn't misuse bank funds to pay for what the prosecutors have said was a lavish lifestyle.

Stanford and the executives have pleaded not guilty to various charges, including money laundering and wire and mail fraud.

They are also fighting a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed in Dallas that makes similar allegations.

Stanford once was considered among the wealthiest men in the U.S. with an estimated worth topping $2 billion. He's been jailed since his indictment in June 2009. Since then, he's had a series of health problems, including a non-life-threatening aneurysm in his leg and a concussion and broken nose after getting into a jail fight in September 2009.

He lost a lawsuit last October to have his insurance company pay for his legal fees. Costa said in Monday's filing the defense request for a two-year trial delay was based on erroneous premises that his "game of 'musical attorneys'" - his current lawyers are his fifth set of lawyers - "are attributable to uncertainty over the insurance policy and not his ever-changing predilections" and that the case was so complicated it would require two years to prepare.

Costa said Stanford's attorney changes were "a problem of his own making" and his current legal team, court-appointed since he's been declared an indigent defendant - "greatly overstates the complexity of the case."

By MICHAEL GRACZYK, The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post


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