HOUSTON – There was nothing “extravagant” about millions that were paid to the outside auditor of jailed Texas tycoon R Allen Stanford’s Caribbean bank, an accountant told jurors Thursday at the financier’s fraud trial.
Prosecutors allege the bank was at the centre of a Ponzi scheme that took billions from investors. But Morris Hollander, a forensic accountant hired by Stanford’s defense team, testified that his review of financial statements and other documents seemed to show the bank was being properly audited by the businessman’s outside auditor, CAS Hewlett, and the bank was adhering to international accounting rules.
Stanford is accused by prosecutors of orchestrating a 20-year scheme that bilked more than $7 billion from investors through the sale of certificates of deposit from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua. They also allege Stanford, whose financial empire was headquartered in Houston, lied to depositors by telling them their funds were being safely invested but instead spent it on his businesses and his lavish lifestyle.
Prosecutors allege Stanford bribed Hewlett, who was based in Antigua, with more than $4.6 million from a secret Swiss bank account over a 10-year period to help him hide the massive fraud. Defense attorneys say the money was for payment of auditing services.
“Are these amounts (the $4.6 million) extravagant … if you were auditing the bank?” Ali Fazel, one of Stanford’s attorneys asked.
“In my view they are not extravagant,” Hollander said.
Hollander spent much of his time going over the bank’s reports and explaining financial terms to jurors, sometimes in painstaking detail.
This prompted federal prosecutor Gregg Costa to say during a jury break that the testimony was moving at a “glacial pace” and to suggest the defense team was delaying the trial – in its fifth week – so it could have more time to prepare for when Stanford takes the stand.
Fazel replied that “assumes Stanford will testify.”
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)