The former head of the DEA's Miami office said he feels vindicated by his acquittal on federal charges of helping financier Allen Stanford hide evidence of an alleged $8 billion Ponzi scheme.
"I was an agent for over 30 years and I believed in the United States and I believed in the system and the system didn't fail me," Tom Raffanello told ABC News. "The system proved that what I said from day one was true."
In a rare move, Judge Richard Goldberg interrupted jury deliberations Friday to acquit Raffanello and codefendant Bruce Perraud, saying the evidence against the two former Stanford security employees was s "substantially lacking."
Raffanello, who worked as Stanford's security chief after leaving the DEA, said he never considered plea bargaining.
"I said from day one it wasn't true," said Raffanello. " I offered to correct the record, but no one would listen.
Janice Burton Sharpstein, one of Raffanello's defense attorneys, said the judge's ruling was very rare. "We witnessed a miracle," said Sharpstein, who said such rulings are usually made either before or after the jury deliberates, not during deliberations.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice in Washington said, "We're disappointed with the court's ruling."
Raffanello and Perraud were charged with four counts related to the shredding of documents, including obstruction of an SEC investigation and conspiracy, and could have faced up to 50 years in federal prison if convicted. Before going to work for Stanford as his security chief, Raffanello was a DEA agent for nearly 30 years, including a stint as head of the agency's Miami office.
Attorneys for the men had asked for a mistrial Friday after jurors, who began deliberating Thursday, sent a note to the judge saying they were confused about the law. Judge Richard Goldberg acquitted the defendants while the jury was still deliberating.
One of the defense attorneys had told ABC News Thursday he was confident the jury would return a verdict of not guilty. Ed Shohat, lawyer for computer technician Perraud, accused of shredding documents, cited a comment by Judge Goldberg during the trial about the quality of the government's case.
"He said the evidence was extremely thin," said Shohat. "The evidence was slight in this case that the defendants, Tom Raffanello and Bruce Perraud, had any intent to violate the law."
The two shredded documents at Stanford's Fort Lauderdale office in 2009 as the flamboyant financier's banking business was imploding. Stanford, currently awaiting trial in a Texas jail, is accused of ripping off investors in a pyramid scam.
The defense said that Raffanello and Perraud did not violate the law because the shredding was routine and the data was backed up on computers.
Prosecutors alleged that Raffanello had Perraud call in a shredding company even though he knew there was a federal investigation and he was not supposed to destroy documents.
The Miami Herald reported that in court on Wednesday, before the case went to the jury, Judge Richard Goldberg had called the prosecutors' evidence "slim."
A retired DEA agent who attended all but one day of the eight-day trial had echoed defense attorney Shohat's hope that the judge's comment might be reflected in the jury's verdict.
Jim Shedd said he thought the judge was going to throw out the case. "We were surprised when he didn't," said Shedd.
Shedd noted that many DEA agents, both retired and on-duty, attended the trial to show support for Raffanello, as did other law enforcement officers.
"There was a constant coming and going," said Shedd. "There was a point in time where we had all the benches full."
Alleged Ponzi Scheme
The defendants worked for "Sir" Allen Stanford, who is charged with fraud, conspiracy and obstruction in a 21-count federal indictment. If convicted, Stanford faces a maximum sentence of 250 years. Stanford surrendered to the FBI in Virginia in June 2009 and has pled not guilty. The government of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua, which had knighted Stanford in 2006, stripped him of his knighthood and his "Sir" in October 2009.
Authorities say Stanford and his alleged co-conspirators engaged in a scheme to defraud investors who purchased approximately $8 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. The bank 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.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also filed a civil complaint alleging Stanford ran a fraud promising investors impossible returns, much like Bernard Madoff's $65 billion alleged Ponzi scheme.
In April 2009, Stanford told ABC News 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?"
In August, Stanford's former chief financial officer James Davis pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail, wire and securities fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct a SEC investigation, in relation to the alleged scheme.
Davis' plea agreement brought forth bizarre details about the case, including the allegation that Stanford entered into a "blood oath" with Antiguan bank officials.
The plea agreement alleged that Stanford and Leroy King, the former administrator and CEO of Antigua's Financial Services Authority, participated in the brotherhood ceremony together with another employee of the Financial Services Regulatory Commission.
"This brotherhood oath was undertaken in order to extract an agreement from both King and the other FSRC employee that they, in exchange for regular cash bribe payments by Stanford to King and the other FSRC employee, would ensure that the Antiguan bank regulators would not 'kill the business' of SIBL," the agreement reads. It also said that Sanford's alleged fraud dates back to 1990.