Ex-Stanford exec Holt pleads guilty to obstruction

Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:15pm EDT
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By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The chief investment officer of disgraced former billionaire Allen Stanford's defunct financial firm pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to U.S. regulators in 2009 in an effort to delay their probe into a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

Laura Pendergest-Holt, 38, admitted to a single count of obstruction of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for her role in the scheme. She originally was charged in 2009 with 21 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction.

"I knew I was delaying the SEC," she said tearfully before U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston of her testimony before SEC lawyers without sharing details about the firm's fraudulent portfolio she knew they wanted.

"Did you know what you were doing at the time?" Hittner demanded loudly.

"Yes, your honor," Holt replied, her voice breaking.

The maximum penalty for the obstruction charge is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and probation for three years.

However, the plea deal is structured so that Holt's lawyers, prosecutors and Hittner agree up front to a sentence of three years followed by three years' probation, attorneys told the judge. If all three parties agree, such structured plea deals negate the need for federal probation officers to conduct investigations and submit sentencing recommendations to the judge.

Hittner did not accept the plea deal up front on Thursday. He said he would consider it at her sentencing on September 13.   Continued...

Former Stanford Financial executive Laura Pendergest-Holt arrives at federal court in Houston for a pre-trial hearing October 14, 2009. REUTERS/Richard Carson