Ex-Employee Blew Whistle On Stanford

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(CBS/AP) A former employee of Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford's financial operation blew the whistle on what she called a "Ponzi scheme to defraud [the bank's] clients,” over five years ago, reports the Financial Times.

According to the paper, Leyla Basagoitia told an arbitration panel of the National Association of Securities Dealers, the finance industry's self-regulatory body, that she suspected Stanford Financial Goup of operating an "illegal Ponzi scheme," in October 2003. Basagoitia also says she informed the Securities and Exchange Commission at around the same time, raising questions about why regulators closed the $8 billion investment operation just last week, reports the paper.

Meanwhile, FBI agents arrested the chief investment officer of troubled Stanford Financial Group on Thursday, accusing Laura Pendergest-Holt of obstructing a SEC fraud investigation.

Pendergest-Holt was arrested in Houston, where Stanford Financial Group is based. The FBI said she was taken to the federal detention center and would appear in federal court Friday morning for an arraignment.

"She is looking forward to working with the government to get all the facts out and put this behind her," her attorney Brent Baker said Thursday night.

The government alleges in a federal complaint that Pendergest-Holt obstructed the investigation with some of her answers to SEC investigators' questions, including failing to reveal to the SEC how much she knew about investments in Stanford International Bank Ltd.

The FBI said in an affidavit that Pendergest-Holt repeatedly misrepresented how much she knew about the bank's Tier III portfolio, which represented about 81 percent of the bank's portfolio, and did not let the SEC investigators know that she had learned of a $1.6 billion loan to a shareholder.

The complaint also alleges that Pendergest-Holt did not reveal that she was a member of the bank's investment committee.

"We appreciate the quick and decisive action of the Department of Justice and the FBI, and thank them for their fine work and cooperation in this matter," SEC Deputy Enforcement Director Scott Friestad said in an e-mail.

Stanford is accused in civil charges of lying about the safety of investments he sold as "certificates of deposit" and promised unrealistically high rates of return. Regulators also said he faked historical data about other investments which he then used to lure in more investors for the CD products.

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