* Jury begins deliberations
* One of the biggest thefts in history -prosecutor
* Government witness is a liar - Stanford attorney (Adds lawyers’ comments, adds comment by Stanford investor, details of case)
By Anna Driver
HOUSTON, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Allen Stanford perpetrated one of the biggest thefts in history, a U.S. prosecutor said on Wednesday as the former financier’s trial neared its end.
Stanford, 61, is on trial in federal court in Houston, accused of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Jurors began deliberations after hearing final arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“It was one of the greatest thefts in history. Billions of dollars,” prosecutor Gregg Costa said as he summed up the government’s case. “Fraud is just theft wearing a business suit,” he said.
Prosecutors contend that Stanford stole money from investors in Stanford International Bank in Antigua and used it to finance a playboy lifestyle. Stanford’s attorneys say he was not involved in day-to-day business decisions or any fraud.
In closing arguments for the defense, Stanford lawyer Robert Scardino referred to testimony during the trial from James Davis, Stanford’s former chief financial officer.
Davis, who has pleaded guilty to three criminal counts in a plea agreement, testified that he and Stanford ran the alleged scheme together. He also said that Stanford made multimillion-dollar withdrawals from a Swiss bank account funded with investor money.
Scardino said it was ironic that prosecutors called Stanford a liar “when the key witness in their case has got to be one of the biggest liars you’ve ever heard about or read about.”
After Scardino finished his defense, Stanford walked over to his lawyer, embraced him and appeared to kiss him on the side of the head.
Prosecutors contended that Stanford used phony financial reports and bribed a local bank regulator to persuade clients that funds deposited with Stanford International Bank in Antigua had been invested safely.
“The truth was that he flushed it away on failing businesses, yachts and cricket tournaments,” prosecutor William Stellmach said, referring to Stanford’s sponsorship of cricket.
During the trial, former employees testified in Stanford’s defense that he left the day-to-day responsibility for running his companies to others. Accountants and other expert witnesses told the jury that the bank’s financial reports were not fraudulent.
But Stellmach said the money trail told a different story. “If you follow the money, that path, that road, leads straight to Allen Stanford,” he said.
The courtroom was packed with attorneys, journalists and investors who said they lost money with Stanford.
Prosecutors have said it was the biggest financial scam since the one orchestrated by Bernard Madoff. Madoff was arrested in 2008 and is serving a 150-year prison term for a Ponzi scheme considered to be the biggest financial fraud in U.S. history.
Stanford investor Cassie Wilkinson, who has attended much of the trial, said she was brought to tears by Costa’s closing arguments. “As an investor we felt ignored for so long. To hear Gregg say we had been taken, scammed, gave me hope,” she said.
The case is USA v. Stanford et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, No. 09r-00342. (Reporting By Anna Driver; Editing by Eddie Evans and Matthew Lewis)