BY: Miami Herald Staff
U.S. District Judge David Hittner had final say, issuing the sentence after presiding over a hearing in Houston where two people spoke on behalf of Stanford’s investors about how the $7 billion fraud over 20 years affected their lives.
For what is considered to be the largest financial fraud, Bernie Madoff was sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison, convicted of bilking investors for more than $15 billion.
Stanford once spread his wealth across South Florida, living in a $10 million mansion in Coral Gables, bobbing on Biscayne Bay aboard a $6 million yacht and presiding over his financial empire from posh headquarters at the Miami Center near Bayfront Park.
He also was the big man in Antigua, with a newspaper, a couple of restaurants, a development company and lavish cricket grounds where he once bankrolled a $20 million winner-take-all match. His lawyers at his trial said their client was a visionary businessman who tried to bolster the economy of Antigua, where he was known as “Sir Allen” after being knighted by the government.
On Thursday, Stanford was just another convict in court awaiting his fate.
“To the bitter end, he was a con man and a coward,” prosecutor William Stellmach said, chastising Stanford for defrauding thousands of people of their life savings.
Stanford was found guilty in March by a federal jury in Houston. Arrested three years ago, he was convicted of 13 of 14 fraud-related counts.
His downfall marks the end of his rise from humble roots in Texas to one of the richest people in the United States.
Three years ago, The Miami Herald found that Stanford made a deal with Florida regulators allowing him to open a special trust office without regulation. His office sold $800 million in bogus certificate of deposits, mainly to South American investors. Checks were sent to Antigua and records were destroyed.
Calling Stanford arrogant and remorseless, prosecutors said he used the money from those investors to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for a lavish lifestyle that included yachts, a fleet of private jets and sponsorship of cricket tournaments.
After his arrest, the man whose net worth was estimated at $2 billion had to rely on court-appointed attorneys to defend him. His assets were frozen and then seized.
Three other former Stanford executives are scheduled for trial in September. A former Antiguan financial regulator was indicted and awaits extradition to the United States.
During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Stanford gave a rambling statement to the court in which he denied he did anything wrong. Speaking for more than 40 minutes, Stanford said he was a scapegoat. He blamed the federal government’s “gestapo tactics,” when a U.S.-appointed receiver took over his companies, for tearing down his business empire and preventing his investors from getting any of their money back.
“I’m not here to ask for sympathy or forgiveness or to throw myself at your mercy,” Stanford told Hittner. “I did not run a Ponzi scheme. I didn’t defraud anybody.”
Angela Shaw, a Dallas-area woman who founded the Stanford Victims Coalition and spoke during the hearing, said while she had hoped the financier would receive the maximum sentence, she was more upset that Stanford didn’t apologize in court for what he did.
“It would have gone a long way to show there is some level of remorse and some measure of humanity,” she said.
Jaime Escalona, a Venezuelan man who lost $1.5 million and founded the Coalition of Latin American Stanford Victims, turned to face Stanford and said: “You deserve what’s coming to you. You are a dirty rotten scoundrel.”
Madoff’s name was often mentioned during Thursday’s sentencing, with prosecutor Stellmach insisting Stanford’s crimes were worse because he kept most of the fraudulent proceeds for himself, bribed regulators and targeted middle-class investors. Defense attorney Ali Fazel said that unlike Madoff, Stanford had legitimate businesses.
In addition to sentencing Stanford to prison, the judge ordered him to forfeit $5.9 billion. But that was mostly symbolic.
Stanford is now penniless.