Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009 | 7:04 p.m.
- Houston Chronicle: Ruling backs refusal of bail for Stanford
One month before his financial empire was shut down by regulators, Texas billionaire Robert Allen Stanford was running up a quarter-million-dollar gambling debt in Las Vegas, a lawsuit filed by a casino shows.
The Bellagio resort on the Las Vegas Strip sued Stanford in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas on Tuesday, claiming he owes $258,480 in unpaid gambling markers.
Stanford was indicted in June in what the U.S. Justice Department called a $7 billion global investment scheme to defraud investors. He remained jailed in Texas on Tuesday awaiting trial and has not yet responded to the Bellagio lawsuit.
In February, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Stanford and shut down his company's financial operations.
The luxury Bellagio resort, owned by hotel-casino company MGM Mirage, said in its lawsuit that Stanford signed for 14 gambling markers between Jan. 15 and Jan. 22.
The check-like markers, known as credit instruments evidencing a gambling debt under Nevada law, were presented for payment to Mellon United Nat'l Bank in Miami on Feb. 19, the lawsuit said. That was two days after the SEC moved against Stanford.
The lawsuit says all 14 checks were returned unpaid and were marked SIGM (signature not like on file) or RTM (return to maker). The checks ranged in amount from $3,480 to $40,000.
"Defendant is indebted to plaintiff for a gaming debt evidenced by such credit instruments," the lawsuit says.
The suit listed the defendant as "Robert Stanford" aka Robert A. Stanford, Robert Allen Stanford, R. Allen Stanford and Allen A. Stanford.
A Jan. 14 credit application attached to the suit and signed by Stanford listed his occupation as the owner of Stanford Development in Houston. A copy of a driver's license attached to the suit listed an address for Stanford as Stanford Estate in Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The suit seeks payment of the $258,480 plus interest at the rate of 18 percent per year and attorney's fees.
The Justice Department said in June that Stanford, 59, also chairman of Stanford Financial Group in Houston, three Stanford executives and the former chief executive officer of the Antiguan bank regulatory agency had been indicted on fraud and obstruction charges in the alleged fraud scheme.
The indictment alleged Stanford and his co-defendants schemed to defraud investors who purchased approximately $7 billion in certificates of deposit administered by Stanford International Bank Ltd. (SIBL), an offshore bank controlled by Stanford and located on the island of Antigua.
Stanford and his co-defendants allegedly misused and misappropriated most of those investor assets, including diverting more than $1.6 billion into undisclosed personal loans to Stanford, while misrepresenting to investors SIBL’s financial condition, its investment strategy and the extent of its regulatory oversight by Antiguan authorities, the Justice Department said.
The Bellagio markers have already caught the eye of the SEC, which in February froze Stanford's assets.
A report in the Houston Chronicle in May said that when the SEC filed its opposition to Stanford's request that at least $10 million of his funds be unfrozen to pay for his legal defense, the SEC included this note:
"The commission is investigating whether Stanford has violated the terms of the asset freeze after it was entered by writing a series of checks to the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in the aggregate amount of $258,480. All of these checks were dated February 19, 2009 (two days after entry of the asset freeze) (and) signed by Stanford.''
A Stanford criminal defense lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told the Chronicle that the footnote's implication was incorrect. DeGuerin noted Stanford signed the markers in January, before the SEC froze his assets.