By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that R. Allen Stanford, the Texas financier accused of defrauding thousands of investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, will go on trial next week, nearly three years after his arrest.
At the hearing, Mr. Stanford’s lawyers said he would testify at the trial, giving him an opportunity to describe how he was beaten so seriously by a fellow inmate while in custody in Texas that his memory and ability to prepare for trial was impaired.
United States District Judge David Hittner in recent weeks ruled against motions by Mr. 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 enough time to prepare a defense.
“My finding still remains that he is competent and ready to go,” Judge Hittner said Wednesday.
|Defense lawyers for Mr. Stanford argued again this week that they needed a delay in the trial. They said that they needed more time to study possible testimony from expert witnesses on accounting procedures and that one of their contract workers involved in document preparation needed cancer surgery and would be unavailable to work for at least several weeks.
Mr. Stanford, 61, pleaded not guilty to a revised 14-count indictment charging him with defrauding nearly 30,000 investors from 113 countries in a Ponzi scheme involving bogus high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which is based on the Caribbean island of Antigua. At the hearing Mr. Stanford, who wore a green prison suit, appeared relaxed while talking with his lawyers. He closed his eyes at times while listening to the lawyers review the procedures for the trial, to start Monday.
Mr. Stanford and three other senior executives of the Stanford Financial Group are accused of lying about the growth of bank assets in investor reports, diverting more than $1.6 billion into personal loans to Mr. Stanford and engaging in wire and mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Stanford skimmed money from investor funds to live lavishly, with mansions and yachts, essentially converting Antigua into a private playground.
What began as a financial scandal second only to the Bernard L. Madoff pyramid scheme that unfolded as financial markets collapsed in 2008 has devolved into a messy, slow-moving soap opera. Mr. Stanford has been represented since his arrest in 2009 by about a dozen lawyers, many of whom have either quit or were fired for various reasons. Even his current legal team has tried to resign.
Once estimated to have had a personal fortune of more than $2 billion, Mr. Stanford is now considered an indigent defendant deserving of a taxpayer-financed defense since all his assets are frozen by court order.
Mr. Stanford’s latest team of four court-appointed lawyers filed a motion last week to leave the case, explaining that they did not have sufficient resources or time to organize a proper defense. They also said their efforts had been held back when contractors preparing documents for the defense quit at the end of last year because 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 defense team had had more than a year to prepare. Meanwhile, the contractors have returned to work after an appellate court ordered them to do so and granted them some back pay.
During a break at the hearing, Ali R. Fazel, a defense lawyer, said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision that the trial would begin on Monday.
At the hearing, defense lawyers gave some clues about their strategy. They said investors had received payments from their Stanford bank certificates of deposit on schedule until the S.E.C. sued the Stanford Financial Group. Mr. Stanford has long argued that the federal government was responsible for a run on his firm’s assets. Robert A. Scardino Jr., another defense lawyer, said, “We fully intend for Mr. Stanford to take the stand.”
Mr. Stanford was declared incompetent to stand trial last January because he had become addicted to anti-anxiety medication prescribed to him while in detention in a federal facility outside of Houston. Psychiatrists said the drug, prescribed after he had a fight with a fellow inmate over use of a telephone, probably contributed to fits of delirium.
Psychiatrists who testified for the prosecution and defense last year suggested that Mr. Stanford had become mentally incapacitated because of depression, possible brain injury suffered in the fight and addiction to medication prescribed after the beating.
Over the last year, Mr. Stanford has undergone evaluation and drug rehabilitation. He was declared competent in December to stand trial, though his lawyers say he has not had enough time to review thousands of documents to participate in his defense.
Mr. Stanford says he cannot recall events that happened before the fight. But prosecutors and doctors at the North Carolina facility say Mr. Stanford has been faking memory loss. Gregg Costa, the lead federal prosecutor, has said that Mr. Stanford is trying to “game the system.”
As the trial proceeds, the leading witness for the prosecution will be James M. Davis, the former chief financial officer of the Stanford Financial Group, who has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges. In a plea agreement, Mr. Davis said Mr. Stanford ordered him to report false revenue and false investment portfolio balances to banking regulators as far back as 1988.
Mr. Davis and the two other former Stanford executives who have been charged in orchestrating the Ponzi scheme face separate proceedings. The prosecution and other lawyers involved in the case said the trial should last at least three weeks.
His lawyers continued to contend on Wednesday that he is not competent to stand trial.
“You’re still pushing that?” Judge Hittner responded incredulously when he heard from the defense lawyers that Mr. Stanford was unable to participate fully in his defense.