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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

Authorities: 2 adults dead at high school

A man fired from a private school Tuesday returned to campus with a gun hidden in a guitar case and fatally shot the headmistress before committing suicide, authorities said.

No students were injured.

Officers responded to the Episcopal School of Jacksonville at 1:23 p.m. Tuesday after receiving reports of a person with a gun, and the school was placed on lockdown. When officers arrived, Dale Regan, head of the school, and the gunman were found dead, Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt said.

The gunman has not been identified.

Episcopal has about 900 students in grades 6-12. Its campus sits along the south bank of the St. Johns River in central Jacksonville.

Ms. Regan began working as a teacher at the school in 1978, according to a profile published in the Florida Times-Union in 2010. She went on to become the first female to hold the school's top position.

In 2011, Ms. Regan was honored for her accomplishments with the newspaper's EVE Award for Education. She was recognized for her work in opening two new classrooms at the school that use new technology and are designed to foster innovation in teaching.

WASHINGTON

Miss Seattle apologizes for city-bashing tweet

SEATTLE — The newly crowned Miss Seattle says she was just having a bad day back in December when she tweeted, "Ugh can't stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people."

Since winning the pageant Saturday, Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn has said she was just complaining about the weather like any Seattle native and didn't mean that people in Seattle are annoying.

She is a former Miss Phoenix who graduated from Arizona State University. Miss Ahn told KIRO-FM she was in a transition period three months ago, missing friends and sunshine.

She says she learned a valuable lesson.

She tweeted Monday: "I really do love Seattle ... the summers are to die for."

Miss Seattle represents the city this summer at the Miss Washington pageant.

NEW JERSEY

Workers sue colleague over $38.5M lottery prize

ELIZABETH — Five New Jersey construction workers are suing a former colleague who claims he was the sole winner of a $38.5 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot.

The workers say they and Americo Lopes were members of a weekly lottery pool. They say each person would contribute $2 and Lopes would buy the tickets.

Mr. Lopes says he played the lottery by himself and as a member of the pool. He claims the winning ticket in the November 2009 drawing was one he bought for himself.

Mr. Lopes chose the lump-sum payment option and received $24 million. The five plaintiffs are seeking an even split of that money, meaning they and Lopes would get $4 million each.

The trial in the civil lawsuit began Tuesday in Union County.

ALASKA

Guard dismisses charges against crash survivor

JUNEAU — The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday dismissed negligent homicide and other charges against the sole survivor of a 2010 helicopter crash off the Washington coast.

The decision in the case of Lt. Lance Leone was in line with the recommendations of an investigating officer, who oversaw a three-day military hearing in December. Lt. Leone was the co-pilot of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying from Astoria, Ore., to the crew's base in Sitka, Alaska, when it crashed off the Washington coast in July 2010.

He was charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of government property stemming from the crash, which killed pilot Sean Krueger and crewmen Brett Banks and Adam C. Hoke. The negligent homicide charges were related to Banks and Hoke.

Lt. Leone, who has earned a long list of Coast Guard awards and accolades, was the sole survivor. He recovered from injuries and had been cleared for flight re-training when he was charged.

The charge sheet alleged Lt. Leone failed to properly navigate the helicopter to avoid charted hazards and that he negligently failed to ensure it was flying at a higher altitude. It also claims he did "without proper authority, through neglect, destroy by causing the crash of CG-6017," an aircraft valued at $18.3 million.

In January, the investigating officer who presided over a three-day military hearing, Capt. Andrew Norris, recommended the charges be dismissed.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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