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Jurors, experts say overwhelming evidence led to conviction of Texas tycoon Stanford
HOUSTON (AP) ' In the end, the flashy business suits, charming smile, 112-foot yachts, luxurious private jets and a passion for the sport of cricket couldn't mask what Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford actually was: a con man.
Jurors who convicted the financier on fraud-related charges for bilking investors out of more than $7 billion after a seven-week trial took to heart the words of prosecutor Gregg Costa. During his closing arguments he said Stanford "wasn't a rich person. He was a thief."
"Fraud is just theft wearing a business suit," he said.
Jurors said the totality of the evidence, including testimony from a key insider and boxes of documents, was overwhelming and led them to convict Stanford. Legal experts said prosecutors made the case as simple as possible for jurors and that the financier wasn't helped by their portrayal of him as a man fueled by ego and greed.
Prosecutors said Stanford ran a massive Ponzi scheme for 20 years in which he used the money from investors who bought certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank in Antigua to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and support his heavy personal spending habits.
Defense attorneys portrayed Stanford as a visionary entrepreneur who made money for investors and conducted legitimate business deals. They accused the prosecution's star witness ' James M. Davis, the former chief financial officer for Stanford's various companies ' of being behind the fraud and tried to discredit him by calling him a liar and tax cheat.
Jurors David Wright and alternate juror Bruce Forrest said they found Davis credible and his testimony compelling.
"Jim Davis was most compelling. We believed him," said Forrest, 47, who runs an optical business.
Over more than four days of testimony, Davis detailed how he and Stanford faked the bank's profits and fabricated documents to hide the fraud.
Philip Hilder, a Houston criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who followed the trial, said Davis' testimony was key to Stanford's conviction.
"His testimony was a killer," he said.
Jurors expressed disappointment that Stanford didn't testify, but don't know if it would have made a difference.
Some legal experts had advised against Stanford testifying, saying the larger-than-life businessman might have come across as arrogant.
"Personally, I think his ego was so high and so big they couldn't afford to put him on the stand," said Wright, an accountant.
While defense attorneys made a mistake in promising jurors that Stanford would testify, they ultimately made the right decision, said Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago-based attorney who specializes in investment fraud.
"I'm sure Mr. Stanford is thinking had he gotten on the stand, he could have convinced them he was not guilty," he said. "But that is a fallacy. I think jurors would have had an easier decision."
Stanford's case also wasn't helped by the prosecution's tactic of constantly highlighting his billionaire lifestyle and portraying him as egotistical and controlling, Stoltmann said.
Jury foreman John Wojciak called the jurors' deliberations "a difficult process."
"We went through each piece of evidence. We worked very hard," said Wojciak, a chemical engineer.
The jury was in agreement fairly early on 13 of the 14 counts Stanford faced, but were deadlocked on one wire fraud count, Wright said.
Jurors said they acquitted Stanford on this one count ' in which he was accused of bribing an Antiguan regulator with Super Bowl tickets ' because they didn't have enough information to know if Stanford broke laws in Antigua.
Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John's University in New York City, said the jury's deliberations, particularly on the acquitted count, showed "they went through the evidence bit by bit. They did a heck of a good job."
Sabino said the guilty verdict is also a reflection of prosecutors' successful efforts to simplify the case for jurors.
The jury cleared the way for U.S. authorities to go after $330 million in stolen investor funds sitting in Stanford's frozen foreign bank accounts.
Stanford, 61, is set to be sentenced on June 14 and could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Forrest said he hopes investors taken in by Stanford's scheme will "at least get a sense of closure that he'll get his when he is sentenced."
Follow Juan A. Lozano at http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70