Billionaire ruled unfit to stand trial due to drug addiction
Financier and cricket mogul Sir Allen Stanford was unfit to stand trial on charges of running a $7-billion fraud and needs treatment for a drug addiction, a US judge ruled.
Stanford’s trial had been due to begin this week but was postponed indefinitely until he could be considered fit to prepare his defense.
The financier has pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of fraud, money laundering and obstruction. He faces up to 375 years in jail if convicted.
“The court finds Stanford is incompetent to stand trial at this time based on his apparent impaired ability to rationally assist his attorneys in preparing his defense,” US District Judge David Hittner wrote in his ruling in Houston, Texas.
“The court’s finding that Stanford is incompetent, however, does not alter the court’s finding that Stanford is a flight risk.”
Psychiatrists for the government and Stanford’s team testified on Stanford’s condition at a hearing earlier this month. They said he was suffering from bouts of delirium linked to his dependency on a strong anti-anxiety medication.
They found the 60-year-old was also depressed and incompetent to stand trial due to a brain injury he sustained during a 2009 jailhouse brawl, and recommended he be weaned off the drug.
Hittner denied a request by Stanford’s lawyers to release him on bond and place him in a private treatment facility for his addiction.
Instead, he ordered the inmate to be committed to the custody of the attorney general to “undergo medical treatment for his current impaired mental capacity” and get a psychiatric evaluation.
The judge also recommended that the flamboyant Texan be sent to a medical facility within the US Bureau of Prisons, namely citing the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, where Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff is currently serving a 150-year term for defrauding investors of $20 billion.
The psychiatrists who examined Stanford found he was currently taking at least three medications to treat his depression and anxiety — clonazepam (Klonopin), mirtazapine (Remeron) and sertraline (Zoloft) — and that he was taking particularly high doses of clonazepam.
Clonazepam can be addictive when the body develops tolerance to the drug.
Lawyers for Stanford did not immediately return requests for comment.
Stanford allegedly ran the most high-profile fraud since Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff was charged in a $50-billion Ponzi scheme in December. But while that scandal has damaged — or ruined — the portfolios of foundations and celebrities around the world, the effect of Stanford’s alleged scheme has thus far centered more on Washington.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the Sanford Financial Group (SFG) gave $2.4 million to political parties, committees and more than 100 political candidates — past and present — since 2000, including $31,750 to President Barack Obama when he was a senator.
Obama’s White House rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), received $28,150 from SFG, the center said.
As early as 2006, US officials were so worried about rumors of “bribery, money-laundering and political manipulation,” that they avoided contacting or being photographed with Stanford, according to a US State Department cable, revealed late last year by WikiLeaks.
“Allen Stanford is a controversial Texan billionaire who has made significant investments in offshore finance, aviation, and property development in Antigua and throughout the region,” the cable noted. “His companies are rumoured to engage in bribery, money-laundering and political manipulation.”
“Embassy officers do not reach out to Stanford because of the allegations of bribery and money-laundering. The ambassador managed to stay out of any one-on-one photos with Stanford during the breakfast,” it added.
A self-described “maverick,” Stanford hit international sports headlines by creating the eponymous Stanford Super Series Twenty20 cricket competition.
— With earlier reporting by Jeremy Gantz and AFP