DALLAS – A federal judge ruled Monday that thousands of investor accounts with Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford's financial companies will remain frozen for another 10 days, and a court-appointed receiver said he's developing a plan to return some of the money to its owners.
The accounts have been frozen by a temporary restraining order during the federal investigation of Stanford's businesses. U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey on Monday extended the order until March 12.
Stanford's companies have been in receivership since the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil action alleging involvement in an $8 billion investment fraud. Stanford is accused in the civil charges but has not been charged with a crime.
Chuck Meadows, an attorney representing R. Allen Stanford, said his client denies the allegations made in the government's amended claim filed Friday. That claim accused Stanford and his finance chief, James M. Davis, of conducting a "massive Ponzi scheme," misappropriating billions of dollars of investors' money and falsifying bank financial statements to conceal the fraud.
Texas lawyer Ralph Janvey, the court-appointed receiver authorized to freeze the assets of the billionaire and his main companies, said the Stanford companies have a "liquidity problem ... and tens of millions in unpaid bills."
Janvey said he will file a plan by March 16 to start releasing accounts of less than $100,000 to their owners. He said he has already released some mutual fund accounts.
There are mutual funds and numerous other accounts not tied directly to the alleged fraud, and those account holders now face dire economic consequences because they don't have access to their money.
"We're very conscious of the hardships being caused to people who are very innocent," Janvey said.
The freeze has affected hundreds of ordinary investors now having trouble paying their bills. Aurelio Fernandez, who represents more than 600 Venezuelan investors, said his clients have been unable to access their money.
"This is more than a legal case. This is a real human tragedy for many families," Fernandez said. "There are people who have lost their means of economic support."
Janvey, who is trying to get an accounting of Stanford funds in his two weeks as receiver, described to the judge the difficulty in accounting for billions of dollars across more than 175 business entities in 100 countries. He said he has been working with a number of foreign governments trying to recover their assets.
Janvey said he has identified the companies' major control operations and ceased electronic transfers out of most accounts. He also has been contacting elected officials, asking them to return campaign contributions from Stanford or his companies.
Also at Monday's hearing was an attorney for Laura Pendergest-Holt, the chief investment officer of Stanford Financial Group who faces criminal charges of obstructing the SEC investigation. She was arrested Friday and posted bond.
Her attorney, Jeff Tillotson, said Pendergest-Holt was cooperating with federal authorities and that her surprise arrest amounted to a "ferocious legal ambush."
"Laura met with the government for several hours on Thursday and the end result was she was arrested," Tillotson said.
The hearing was moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate more than 120 onlookers, many of them lawyers representing those with frozen accounts. But the judge quickly served notice that their claims would not be heard Monday.
"The urge to stand and speak — and say, 'Judge, a second of your time' — I know that urge can be irresistible, but I ask you to resist it today," said Godbey, addressing the attorneys in attendance.