By Latin American Herald Tribune staff
HOUSTON -- FBI agents have arrested Laura Pendergest-Holt, the chief investment officer of troubled Stanford Financial Group, for "obstruction of a proceeding before an agency of the United States," according to Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Rita M. Glavin and Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Division of the FBI, Andrew R. Bland, III.
According to the complaint, Pendergest-Holt made "several affirmative misrepresentations" to the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to obstruct its investigation of Robert Allen Stanford, the Texas financier accused by the SEC of defrauding investors in an $8 billion scheme involving certificates of deposit.
Pendergest-Holt was arrested Thursday in Houston. The FBI said she was taken to the federal detention center and will appear Friday morning before U.S. Magistrate Mary Milloy at the federal courthouse in Houston.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that Pendergest-Holt met with several SFG corporate officers in Miami during the week of Feb. 2, 2009, to prepare for her upcoming testimony before SEC staff scheduled a week later. Pendergest-Holt is alleged to have discussed with those corporate officers the SIB's "Tier III" Portfolio, using a computer-generated pie chart she created. The complaint alleges that the pie chart reflected, among other things, a $1.6 billion loan to a shareholder from the Tier III Portfolio.
The complaint alleges that the following week, on Feb. 10, Pendergest-Holt, accompanied by an attorney, made several misrepresentations under oath to SEC investigators during her testimony, including her alleged failure to reveal that she had participated in the Miami preparation session with SFG corporate officers. Pendergest-Holt also allegedly misrepresented her own preparatory work for the testimony, saying she had met with no one other than the attorney as she worked to ready herself for the session with the SEC.
The complaint alleges further that Pendergest-Holt failed to reveal to the SEC investigators during the testimony session that she was a member of the SIB's investment committee, or the extent of her knowledge of the bank's Tier III Portfolio. The complaint also alleges that at no point did Pendergest-Holt reveal that the $1.6 billion loan had been discussed with corporate officers in Miami. When asked by investigators if she served on the SIB limited investment committee, Pendergest-Holt is alleged to have answered "no."
Pendergest-Holt was interviewed again by SEC investigators on Feb. 17, 2009, in Memphis, Tenn., and, according to the complaint, she continued to obstruct the SEC's investigation by saying she had no knowledge of the Tier III Portfolio.
"The complaint is merely an accusation based on a finding of probable cause by a magistrate judge, and the defendant has not been indicted by a grand jury," said the FBI. "The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law."
Pendergest-Holt has been represented by Brent Baker of Parsons Behle & Latimer in Salt Lake City.
There has been no official comment from Baker at press time, but earlier he said “We intend to abide by our legal responsibilities. We are willing to fulfill anything that is required.”
Baker was previously an SEC attorney who helped prosecute Anthony Elgindy, the stock-picker convicted in 2005 on 11 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, extortion and racketeering. Baker was also part of the SEC team that sued Credit Bancorp, a Switzerland-based investment firm, for allegedly defrauding four investors of $120 million.
In the SEC complaint filed on the 17th of February when they raided and seized the U.S. offices of Stanford Financial, the SEC argued that "Stanford International Bank's investment committee, which is purportedly responsible for the management of the bank's multi-billion dollar portfolio of assets, is comprised of Stanford, Stanford's father, Davis, Goswick and Laura Pendergest-Holt. "
"Pendergest-Holt, who became acquainted with Davis at their church in Baldwin, Mississippi, joined SFG in 1997, after graduating from Mississippi State University with a master's degree in mathematics. Prior to joining SFG, Pendergest-Holt had no experience in the financial services or securities industries."
"Based on these relationships, and the fact that Stanford is the sole shareholder of SIB and SGC, it appears that Stanford is subject to little or no independent oversight."
Pendergest-Holt is married to Jim Holt, who is vice president of CMSU & Associates, a private investment management firm in Potomac, Md., where he has worked since 2000. The Sir Allen Stanford Story: The Emperor Has No Clothes Revisited
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