American Scene: Financier Stanford convicted in $7 billion Ponzi fraud

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HOUSTON — Former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford, whose financial empire once spanned the Americas and made him fabulously wealthy, was convicted Tuesday of bilking his investors out of more than $7 billion through a Ponzi scheme he operated for 20 years.

A day after telling U.S. District Judge David Hittner they were having trouble reaching a verdict, jurors convicted Stanford on 13 of 14 charges he faced, acquitting him on a single count of wire fraud stemming from Super Bowl tickets he allegedly used to bribe a regulator.

Stanford, once considered one of the wealthiest people in the U.S., looked down when the verdict was read. His mother and daughters, who were in the federal courtroom in Houston, hugged one another, and one of the daughters started crying.

“We are disappointed in the outcome. We expect to appeal,” Ali Fazel, one of Stanford’s attorneys, said after the hearing. He said he couldn’t comment further because of a gag order Judge Hittner placed on attorneys in the case.

Prosecutors and Stanford’s family members declined to comment, but one of his investors, Cassie Wilkinson, welcomed the verdict.

“As an investor, you have to doubt whether or not you were stupid or just taken advantage of. This relieves that doubt. It’s a vindication,” said Ms. Wilkinson, 62, who lives in Houston. She declined to say how much money she and her husband lost.

A shorter civil trial before the same jury, in which prosecutors hoped to seize money from more than 30 Stanford-controlled accounts in countries including Switzerland, Britain and Canada, began later Tuesday. Judge Hittner will likely set Stanford’s sentencing date after the civil trial, which could last as little as a day.

Stanford, 61, faces up to 20 years for the most serious charges against him. But if Judge Hittner orders him to serve his sentences consecutively, Stanford could get up to 230 years in prison. Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, by comparison, was sentenced to 150 years in prison for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

NEVADA

American Indian tribes cautious on online gambling

LAS VEGAS — Leaders who run casinos for American Indian tribes are telling regulators and companies they won’t support new laws involving online gambling unless it’s clear how tribes nationwide will be affected.

Chairwoman Leslie Lohse of the California Tribal Business Alliance said Tuesday that online gambling has cultural and economic implications that shouldn’t be brushed off because others are in a hurry to start taking bets.

Ms. Lohse says tribal sovereignty and other issues need to be addressed before tribes eagerly support Internet gambling laws in California or nationwide.

The comments reveal fierce competition between those who might want Internet gambling in some form. The tribes, like others, don’t want to be hurt or left out.

FLORIDA

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