Texas financier R. Allen Stanford's trial on charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion as part of a massive Ponzi scheme will begin in January 2011, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The date chosen by U.S. District Judge David Hittner is earlier than the summer of 2011, which was requested by attorneys for Stanford and three other executives of the now-defunct Stanford Financial Group. Defense attorneys had argued they needed the extra time to sort through 5.5 million documents to prepare their cases.
Prosecutors wanted to go to trial next September.
"It's been six months since this case was indicted. It's time for a trial date. (The scheme's alleged) victims have a strong interest in this case moving along," said prosecutor Gregg Costa.
Hittner said there were going to be no more delays.
"One way or another the case has to be tried," he said.
Stanford and other executives of the now-defunct Houston-based Stanford Financial Group are accused of orchestrating a Ponzi scheme by advising clients to invest more than $7 billion in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank on the Caribbean island of Antigua.
Investors from 113 countries were promised huge returns on their CDs and that their investments were safe.
But authorities say Stanford and the executives fabricated the bank's balance sheets, bribed Antiguan regulators and misused investors' money to pay for his lavish lifestyle.
Stanford and the three executives have pleaded not guilty.
Another former executive, James M. Davis, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
After setting the trial date, Hittner held another hearing on whether attorneys' fees in the case will be paid by an insurance policy Stanford's company had to pay for legal fees if executives were ever accused of crimes.
Attorneys for the insurance company, Lloyd's of London, told Hittner the policy doesn't pay on allegations of money laundering. One of the charges Stanford and the other executives face is conspiracy to commit money laundering.
But attorneys for Stanford and the executives argued the allegations have not been proven and if the policy is denied, taxpayers would be stuck footing the bill for attorneys' fees because the lawyers would have to be court-appointed.
Kent Schaffer, Stanford's attorney, said he and the lawyers for the other indicted executives believe if they are not privately paid for their work it could delay the case even more.
Lloyd's of London attorneys estimate legal fees could be as much as $100 million but Schaffer said the total is actually closer to $20 to $30 million for all four defendants.
Hittner did not make a ruling on the issue but instead ordered attorneys from both sides to submit additional motions by Jan. 7.
Stanford, 59, who was unshaven and wore a green prison jumpsuit, looked healthier than the last few times he's been in court.
Since being jailed in June, Stanford has suffered various health problems and has been hospitalized at least twice. In August, he had an irregular heartbeat and high pulse. Medical tests detected a non-life-threatening aneurysm in his leg. In September, he suffered a concussion, broken nose and two black eyes after getting into a jail fight. During a court hearing in October, Stanford wiped away blood from his mouth and chin. His attorney blamed it on stress.
"He's feeling a little bit better," Schaffer said.