Friday, February 27, 2009

"The Party Is Over" for Stanford Financial

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Laura Pendergest-Holt was scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Houston on criminal charges of lying to obstruct a federal investigation of Stanford Financial Group and an alleged $8 billion fraud.

Pendergest-Holt, a native of Baldwyn, Mississippi, was working in Stanford's Memphis office in the Crescent Center last week when it was raided by U.S. marshals and the Securities Exchange Commission. Stanford's headquarters is in Houston.

Pendergest-Holt, 35, is a protege of one of Stanford's top executives, James M. Davis, who is also from Baldwyn, a small town 15 miles north of Tupelo. She started working for Stanford in 1997 and quickly rose to the position of chief investment officer, supervising a group of research analysts and producing monthly and quarterly reports.

In interviews yesterday, Baldwyn residents described her as a young woman clearly determined to go places in the world of business.

"She was incredibly smart," said Tammy Bullock, general manager of the Baldwyn News. Mayor Danny Horton called Pendergest-Holt "a fine young lady from a fine family." An FBI criminal complaint says Pendergest-Holt lied several times to obstruct an investigation that began in June of 2008. She met several times with people who were secretly cooperating with the investigation, according to the complaint.

Davis has made several investments in businesses on downtown Baldwyn's Main Street in an effort to revive it. He is expected to be a key figure in the criminal investigation.

Stanford sold certificates of deposit (CDs) with unusually high rates of return. Financial advisers got a 1 percent commission and additional commissions throughout the term of the CD.

"SFG promoted the CD products as secure investments that were very liquid and had very low risk," the complaint says.

Accounts at the Stanford office in Memphis have been frozen since last week.

The complaint describes a series of increasingly desperate meetings between Stanford officials and attorneys, some of whom are now cooperating with the government. At the conclusion of a meeting on February 6th, an unidentified cooperating witness "broke down crying," and an unidentified attorney said, "The party is over." And it appears to be.

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