Flamboyant billionaire financier 'Sir' Allen Stanford has pleaded not guilty to 21 charges of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He faces a maximum sentence of 250 years. His investors lost an estimated $7 billion in what authorities say was an enormous Ponzi scheme. Stanford was arraigned in a Houston courtroom Thursday morning after surrendering to the FBI in Virginia last week.
Stanford and his alleged co-conspirators are charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud investors who purchased approximately $7 billion of CDs from the Stanford International Bank, an off-shore entity based in Antigua. Stanford and his co-defendants are accused of misusing and misappropriating most of their investment assets.
The indictment alleges that Stanford and his associates falsely claimed that the bank's assets had grown from $1.2 billion in 2001 to $8.5 billion by December 2008. Stanford's colleagues Laura Pendergest-Holt, Gilberto Lopez and Mark Kuhrt also entered not guilty pleas at the hearing.
The Stanford Group also allegedly made thousands of dollars in bribes to the former head of Antigua's Financial Services Authority to ensure the bank was not audited. That official, Leroy King, has reportedly been arrested in Antigua.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy ruled late Thursday that Stanford will be released on $500,000 bond. His trial is scheduled for August.
Stanford's attorney, Dick Deguerin, said last week that his client will continue to fight the allegations against him and that he is confident that a jury will find him not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. Deguerin called the allegations against his client "false".
"To the contrary," said Deguerin, "the present insolvency of the Stanford Financial Companies was caused by the SEC heavy-handed actions, which have destroyed and continue to destroy much of the value of the Stanford Companies and consequently the interests of investors."
In April, Stanford told ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross in an exclusive interview that he expected to be indicted soon, but denied that he had run any sort of Ponzi scheme.
"I would die and go to hell if it's a Ponzi scheme," Stanford said in reaction to the civil allegations from the SEC that he bilked thousands of customers in a scheme involving "self-styled certificates of deposits" with "improbable" rates of return.
"Baloney. Baloney," Stanford told ABC News. "It's not a Ponzi scheme . If it was a Ponzi scheme, why are they finding billions and billions of dollars all over the place?"
The SEC froze all of Stanford's assets it has found, including $4.6 billion which a federal judge recently "unfroze" so it could be distributed to his depositors and customers. According to SEC officials, only $500 million connected to the alleged fraud has been recovered so far.