Two former accounting executives were found guilty of helping Texas financier R. Allen Stanford hide a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors of $7 billion.
A jury of seven men and five women in federal court in Houston deliberated for 16 hours over three days before convicting Stanford’s ex-Chief Accounting Officer Gilbert Lopez, 70, and former Global Controller Mark Kuhrt, 40, of conspiring to hide a fraud scheme built on bogus certificates of deposit at Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd.
The men were each found guilty yesterday of 9 of 10 wire fraud counts and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“They knew the bank was doing one thing and promising investors another, and they helped hide it,” prosecutor Jason Varnado told jurors during closing arguments Nov. 14. “The only explanation for that is a criminal explanation.”
The men face prison terms of more than 20 years when they are sentenced Feb. 14 by U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who presided over the trial. Hittner ordered both men to be taken into custody over the government’s recommendation that they remain free on bond.
“Based upon the facts in this case and this being an international scheme, I believe there are enough potential contacts out there that I decline to allow them to remain free,” Hittner said.
Lawyers for both defendants said they will appeal the verdicts.
Lopez and Kuhrt are the last former Stanford executives to face criminal trial over the scheme. Prosecutors told jurors the accountants were among a handful of employees carefully tracking funds Stanford “sucked out” of the bank to finance risky private ventures ranging from Caribbean airlines to resort developments to international cricket tournaments.
Stanford, 62, was convicted in March of masterminding the fraud and stealing more than $2 billion of investor deposits to finance a lavish lifestyle of private jets, yachts and waterfront mansions along with his money-losing side enterprises. He is serving a 110-year term in a Florida federal prison while he appeals his verdict and sentence.
Lawyers for Lopez and Kuhrt urged jurors to acquit the men, claiming they were duped by Stanford and finance chief James M. Davis into creating the false financial statements investors relied on in buying the bogus CDs.
Stanford told CD buyers their money was invested in conservative liquid assets and overseen by international money managers. Evidence at his jury trial showed that Stanford and Davis secretly controlled more than 80 percent of the bank’s investments, much of which was loaned to Stanford or used to underwrite his other businesses.
Jurors heard Lopez, Kuhrt and Davis testify during the five-week trial. Davis pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in 2009, testified against Stanford at his trial and is awaiting sentencing.
The defense attorneys told jurors the accountants relied on investment returns provided by Stanford and Davis and never intended to falsify company records or break any laws. The accountants also lobbied Davis to publicly disclose Stanford’s borrowings to investors and were overruled, they said.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever there was a massive fraud going on, but it was a Stanford and Davis fraud, not a Lopez and Kuhrt fraud,” Richard Kuniansky, Kuhrt’s lawyer, told jurors in closing arguments Nov. 14.
The case is U.S. v Lopez, 4:09-cr-0342, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).