Jailed Stanford accuses ex-lawyer of incompetence

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2010 8:12 PM
Jailed Stanford accuses ex-lawyer of incompetence

Jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford's lead attorney was replaced on Wednesday after the once high-flying billionaire accused him in a scathing letter of incompetence, unethical behavior, deceit and only caring "about dipping his fingers in the money pot" of a case that has so far resulted in millions of dollars in legal fees.

Stanford's newest legal team, appointed by U.S. District Judge David Hittner during a court hearing, will now have less than three months to prepare for Stanford's Jan. 24 trial, in which he faces charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion in a massive Ponzi scheme.

It will be the fifth set of lawyers since an indictment came down 16 months ago against Stanford, who has been accused by previous attorneys of being uncooperative and difficult to work for.

Stanford's letter, which was written on Aug. 23, was briefly mentioned at Wednesday's hearing but was not discussed in detail as it was filed under seal.

But in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Stanford begged for Bob Bennett to be replaced.

"I believe there have been some serious issues of misconduct and unethical behavior by my attorney that has left me in this situation of severe desperation," Stanford wrote to Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, the chief judge for the Southern District of Texas.

Stanford wrote the letter a day before the start of a four-day hearing that was held in Houston federal court as part of a lawsuit on whether an insurance policy would continue paying for his legal fees in criminal and civil cases arising from the Ponzi scheme allegations. Bennett was also Stanford's attorney in the lawsuit.

Stanford lost in that case, as U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas ruled the insurer no longer had to keep footing Stanford's legal bills after the company had shown the financier had likely committed acts of money laundering, voiding the policy.

In his letter, Stanford accused Bennett of being extremely disorganized, neglecting his case on a daily basis, visiting him daily in jail only so he could bill him for the hours and demanding that he be paid $1,000 per hour.

Stanford said his family and friends have tried to perform some of the legal work Bennett has neglected doing, that Bennett created a hostile working environment for his employees, which caused turnover and hurt the case, and that Bennett also tried to demand $5,000 from Stanford's 83-year-old father "or risk losing my case!," in reference to the legal fees lawsuit.

"It quickly has become apparent that Mr. Bennett too only cares about dipping his fingers in the money pot and not advancing my case for my benefit," Stanford wrote.

Due to a gag order issued by Hittner, Bennett said there was little he could say on Stanford's accusations.

But Bennett said he thought the issues raised in the letter had been previously resolved and that Stanford had agreed on the first day of the August hearing on the legal fees lawsuit to withdraw the letter.

"He stated he wanted to not go forward with any of the issues raised in the letter," Bennett said.

But these issues apparently were still unresolved on Wednesday as during the hearing, Stanford sat at one table with the three attorneys he had wanted as replacements. Bennett, with his back to Stanford, sat at another table.

With the insurance policy no longer paying his legal fees, Stanford is now considered an indigent defendant and has to rely on court appointed attorneys. As of late last month, the now voided insurance policy had paid more than $8.2 million in legal fees for Stanford's criminal and civil cases.

Stanford didn't get the lawyers he wanted. Hittner instead appointed Houston attorneys Ali Fazel and Robert Scardino.

Stanford, once considered one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion, has said he can't pay for his legal defense because all his assets have been seized by authorities. He's been jailed since his June 2009 indictment.

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 businesses were headquartered in Houston.

However, Stanford's attorneys say he ran a legitimate business and didn't misuse bank funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle, as prosecutors allege.

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

Stanford and the former executives are also fighting a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed in Dallas that makes similar allegations.