R. Allen Stanford is entitled to a new trial because publicity prior to the six-week proceeding and Twitter posts by reporters in the courtroom likely tainted the jury, his lawyers told a U.S. judge.
The Texas financier, who was accused of leading a $7 billion international investment fraud, was found guilty of 13 criminal counts by a federal court jury in Houston on March 6. Facing as long as 20 years in prison for each of four wire fraud and five mail fraud charges, Stanford is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14.
His lawyers, in a 71-page filing with U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who presided over the case, said the pretrial and midtrial publicity probably prevented the jury from being impartial.
“This court failed to sequester the jury and permitted the news media to occupy the courtroom during trial and permitted the media to ‘tweet’ throughout the trial,” they said in a filing late yesterday, referring to Twitter Inc.’s platform for disseminating 140-character messages via the Internet.
Stanford, 61, led Houston-based Stanford Financial Group and securities firm Stanford Group Co., as well as the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd., which issued certificates of deposit sold by the brokerage.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Stanford misled investors about how he and his organization were investing the CD depositors’ money. Defense lawyers countered that the organization maintained sufficient assets to honor its commitments until it was closed after being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2009.
Stanford was indicted in June 2009. The criminal trial started with jury selection on Jan. 23.
“This court never instructed the jury to stay off Twitter, despite his knowledge that the media tweets were taking place,” Stanford’s lawyers argued.
The judge’s failure to restrict reporters or adequately instruct the jurors to avoid their reports violated Stanford’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury, defense lawyers Robert Scardino and Ali Fazel said.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, declined to comment, citing a gag order by the judge.
The case is U.S. v. Stanford, 09-cr-00342, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).