Friday, June 22, 2012
A former top lieutenant to imprisoned financier R. Allen Stanford pleaded guilty Thursday in Houston to obstructing the Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry that led to the downfall of his global empire. Laura Pendergest-Holt, 38, spoke in a soft, tremulous voice as she answered a federal judge’s pointed questions about her role in the multibillion-dollar fraud. She was chief investment officer of Stanford Financial Group, an international financial services company based in Houston. “I knew I was delaying the SEC,” she told U.S. District Judge David Hittner, providing the only real drama in the half-hour court hearing. hlt stanf In return for her guilty plea, and her agreement to forgo any appeal, the government said it would drop the remaining 20 criminal charges against Pendergest-Holt. Prosecutor Jason Varnado recommended a three-year prison sentence. The obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Hittner accepted the guilty plea and announced a Sept. 13 sentencing hearing. In the meantime, federal probation officials will prepare a pre-sentence report for the judge. Pendergest-Holt, attired in a black pantsuit, white jacket and flats, was allowed to remain free on bond. She left the courtroom in the company of her husband and attorney.