Jurors who have listened to weeks of testimony in the fraud trial of former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford soon will decide whether he is, as prosecutors contend, a master con man who stole $7 billion from investors in a massive Ponzi scheme or the victim of an unscrupulous business partner and overzealous prosecutors.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys were set to make their closing arguments Wednesday at Stanford's trial, which began Jan. 23.
Stanford, the one-time billionaire who has been jailed without bond since being indicted in 2009, is on trial for 14 counts, including mail and wire fraud. He could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
Over a three week period, federal prosecutors methodically presented evidence, including testimony from ex-workers of Stanford's companies as well as emails, financial statements and other documents, that they say shows the flamboyant businessman orchestrated a 20-year scheme that bilked more than $7 billion from investors through the sale of certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua.
They say Stanford, 61, whose financial empire was headquartered in Houston, lied to depositors by telling them their funds were being safely invested but instead spent the money on his businesses and a lavish lifestyle that included yachts and private jets.
The prosecution's star witness, James M. Davis, the ex-chief financial officer of Stanford's companies, told jurors he and Stanford faked the bank's profits and used CD deposits to bribe an outside auditor and Antiguan bank regulators to help them hide the alleged fraud.
Defense attorneys tried to show Stanford was a savvy businessman whose business empire was legitimate. They blamed Davis for the alleged fraud. They said Stanford was trying to consolidate his businesses to pay back investors when authorities seized his companies.
Defense witnesses told jurors Stanford was not a hands-on boss and that Davis handled the day-to-day operations of his businesses.
Stanford's attorneys, who spent about nine days presenting their case, did not put the once high-flying businessman on the witness stand. Stanford had apparently wanted to testify but was convinced by his attorneys not to do so. Legal experts say it's usually better for a defendant not to testify.
Stanford was once considered among the wealthiest people in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion. But at his trial he had court-appointed attorneys because his assets have been seized by authorities.
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