Suspected Ponzi schemer Sir Allen Stanford’s chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt was indicted in Houston this morning for obstructing and conspiring to obstruct the federal investigation into Stanford’s sham money manager. Aside from a new allegation that Pendergest transferred $4.3 million of bank funds into the bank’s operating account after speaking to the SEC, the charges don’t appear much different from those laid out in a criminal complaint filed against the photogenic 35-year-old overseer of Stanford’s “Tier 2” investments in February. (That’s not for lack of rifling through her underwear drawer, according to a motion filed by her lawyer.)
That complaint depicted Pendergest-Holt’s role in the Stanford enterprise as less mastermind than a case of (yes we realize this is a lame joke but) “Who Framed Jessica Rabbit?”
It described in detail how Stanford lawyer Thomas Sjoblom — who was identified in the complaint as Attorney A — deflected the SEC’s January requests to get testimony from Stanford and his fearsome chief financial officer James Davis by explaining the two did not “micro-manage” the firm’s investments, and turning investigators instead to Pendergest-Holt and Stanford International Bank President Juan Rodriguez. Sjoblom then admitted in an email that it could be a problem that Pendergest-Holt knew nothing about the company’s “Tier 3 investments” — the secret part of Stanford’s scheme, where 80% of his investments had been located, according to the SEC — and arranged for her to be briefed on Tier 3 before she testified, explaining that the SEC only wanted to hear from executives familiar with the “entire investment portfolio.” Within three weeks of Sjoblom explaining this to her — during a meeting at the Stanford Aviation airport hangar in Miami, Florida — Davis had briefed Pendergest-Holt and Rodriguez on Tier 3, Rodriguez had resigned in horror, Pendergest-Holt had botched her testimony with all manner of rookie lies and evasions, and Sjoblom had quit the case altogether. A former SEC enforcement lawyer named Jacob Frenkel told the Daily Journal the complaint was “a printed invitation to Ms. Pendergest-Holt to get on the government’s train or be run over by it.”
So why didn’t she board the train?
Media coverage of Pendergest-Holt’s role at Stanford generally depicts her as something of a Stepford executive. Having grown up in the same tiny Mississippi town (Baldwyn) attending the same tiny Baptist church as Davis, she was “groomed” for a position at the firm from the age of 15 by the man she called a “visionary mentor,” according to the New York Times. She began at Stanford straight out of a master’s program in 1997 and enjoyed the requisite “meteoric rise,” replete, a story in this month’s Texas Monthly says, with the attendant designer clothes, $700 bottles of wine, corporate jet trips between Baldwyn and her Stanford office in Memphis, and “temper tantrums” when her expenses were questioned. And few media outlets fail to mention her looks. When one Wall Street Journal blog snippily called out a Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal profile for one too many uses of words like “striking” and “statuesque” the editor contacted the blogger and said he’d approved all the descriptive passages because “people kept bringing it up” to his reporter and it “seemed like part of the larger story.”
And perhaps it is, though it doesn’t get us much closer to the mystery of why Pendergest-Holt didn’t cooperate with the investigation. She has since sued Sjoblom for malpractice, so why not the “visionary mentor” who hired him? We’ll stay on the case…