Stanford exec to walk free after posting bail

HOUSTON, (Reuters) – Laura Pendergest-Holt, the  first person arrested in the $8 billion Allen Stanford fraud  investigation, can walk free once she posts $300,000 bond, a  Houston judge ruled yesterday.

Pendergest-Holt, the 35-year-old chief investment officer  for the Stanford Financial Group who was arrested by the FBI on  Thursday, spent the night in a Houston detention center, then  faced U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy in court.
U.S. prosecutors had asked the judge to set bond at $1  million, an amount that Pendergest-Holt’s attorney, Dan  Cogdell, called “outrageous.”

While agreeing it was a serious case, Milloy lowered the  amount to $300,000 and ordered Pendergest-Holt, who appeared in  court dressed in a dark pants suit and heels, to wear an  electronic tracking device after her release.

The tall, slender brunette appeared grim for most of the  hearing but occasionally turned in her chair to smile at her  husband, equity fund manager Jim Holt.

FBI agents had arrested her at Stanford’s Houston-based  headquarters and accused her of obstructing an investigation by  the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into what the  agency called “massive ongoing fraud” by Stanford Financial  Group Chairman Allen Stanford and three of his companies.

The developments could signify that prosecutors are closing  in on the Texas billionaire, who has dual U.S. and Antigua  Barbuda citizenship and has been a prominent sponsor of  cricket, golf, tennis and polo events.

Under questioning from Pendergest-Holt’s lawyer, FBI agent  Vanessa Walther said there is no arrest warrant for Stanford  and he is believed still to be in northern Virginia, where he  was served court papers last week.

Meanwhile, Stanford’s assets are under the control of a  court-appointed receiver — Dallas attorney Ralph Janvey — who  must sort out dozens of claims by Stanford account holders who  have seen their funds frozen indefinitely.

A Dallas judge is expected to rule on Monday on whether to  extend a temporary restraining order that gives Janvey control  of Stanford’s assets — pegged by the company at $50 billion.

Pendergest-Holt’s criminal case also moves to U.S. District  Court in Dallas, where the charges were filed, lawyers said.

However, the receiver thus far has identified only about  $90 million in actual assets, the FBI’s Walther told the judge  yesterday. That does not include a Credit Suisse account  containing about $160 million that Pendergest-Holt had access  to and signed over to the receiver shortly before her arrest.

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