Friday, January 27, 2012

Fraudsters: How Allen Stanford kept the SEC at bay"

From Reuters via
In 2009, federal investigators finally arrested Houston financier R. Allen Stanford. For twenty years, Stanford allegedly had run a $7 billion Ponzi scheme from his offshore bank on the Caribbean island of Antigua. U.S. authorities had been nosing around Stanford's empire for longer than a decade but hesitated to open a full-blown probe.

As Stanford's trial began this week, one question left unanswered was: How did he keep authorities at bay for so long? A Reuters examination of his case finds that the answer lay in part in the legal advice he obtained from former SEC officials and other ex-regulators and law-enforcement officials.

Among those Stanford sought help from was famed securities lawyer Thomas Sjoblom. Then a partner at the international law firm of Proskauer Rose and chair of its securities practice, Sjoblom also was a former 20-year veteran of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division.

What Sjoblom allegedly did next for Stanford has drawn the scrutiny of federal prosecutors. The Justice Department has been investigating Sjoblom for possible obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and conspiracy related to his efforts to persuade the SEC to stand down from its investigation of Stanford, according to people familiar with the probe.

Sjoblom is one of the most senior attorneys ever to be investigated for allegedly crossing the line from legal advocacy on behalf of a client to violating the law. He hasn't been charged, however, and it is possible he never will be.

Stanford went on trial on Monday in federal court in Houston on charges that he defrauded more than 30,000 investors from more than 113 countries, and also obstructed the SEC's investigation of him. Only Bernard Madoff is alleged to have stolen more. Stanford has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors are likely, in making the obstruction portion of their case against Stanford, to detail Sjoblom's alleged role in assisting Stanford in that effort. Attorneys began their opening arguments on Tuesday.

People with first-hand knowledge of the matter say that Sjoblom had offered the Justice Department his testimony against Stanford in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution for himself - an offer rejected by the Justice Department. Prosecutors demanded a formal acknowledgment by Sjoblom of his own alleged criminal participation in an attempt by Stanford to derail investigations by the SEC, according to people involved in the discussions.

Sjoblom declined to answer questions when reached by telephone as well as inquiries submitted to him by email.

Ordinarily, attorneys are precluded from being witnesses against former clients because of the attorney-client privilege.

But under a legal doctrine known as the crime-fraud exception, an attorney can tell what he knows if his client has sought advice that would abet the commission of that fraud or some other criminal act - or in rare instances, if the attorney himself aided a crime. The crime or fraud disclosed or discussed must also then occur for the attorney to be able to testify. If Sjoblom had testified against Stanford, he would have been one of the most prominent attorneys to turn against such a client.

The trials could cast light on the broader mystery of how the alleged Stanford fraud could have gone on so long even though federal regulators were examining the Texas financier for years. The case has put the SEC and other federal agencies in an embarrassing light, creating fresh fodder for critics of the revolving door between government and the private sector....MORE