Stanford Financial Group officer arrested

February 26, 2009 8:23:45 PM PST
Eyewitness News has learned of the first criminal charges as a result of the Stanford financial investigation after Stanford's chief investment officer is behind bars in Houston. [THE CHARGE: Read the U.S. Dept. of Justice release on the arrest]

Laura Pendergest-Holt was taken into custody Thursday and will be in court on Friday morning.

Pendergest-Holt is the chief investment officer for Stanford Financial Group. Her attorney told us she has been cooperating with federal investigators and the receiver so this arrest comes as a big surprise. In fact, she testified under oath to SEC investigators on Feb. 10, a week before the raid of the Stanford offices.

The Federal Detention Center in downtown is hosting its latest high profile white collar inmate. Pendergest-Holt is spending the night here. Though she was already named in the SEC civil complaint, accused of scamming 50,000 investors out of billions of dollars, she is the first of the Stanford brass to be charged criminally.

According to the FBI, Pendergest-Holt was arrested without incident around 3pm Thursday afternoon at Stanford's Galleria offices. She's been charged with obstruction of a proceeding by the SEC for allegedly making false statements.

The Department of Justice said that Pendergrast-Holt lied on at least five occasions about both her knowledge of Stanford's business and how much preparation she did before her sworn SEC testimony.

Her attorney said at the time of her arrest she was meeting with the receiver. In fact, it was at least the third time she had flown from her home in Mississippi to meet with the receiver in Houston since federal authorities seized all assets. The attorney said that instead of being thanked for her cooperation, she was arrested.

At a meeting tonight packed with angry Stanford investors who can't get to their money because their accounts are frozen, the arrest was welcome news.

"If she had anything to do with what's been going on I say great to the FBI," said one investor.

"I think that's a good move if she was obstructing justice," said another investor.

On Friday, Pendergest-Holt will be in federal court and according to her attorney, Dan Cogdell, she "will plead not guilty to this because she is not guilty nor is she guilty of any fraud that occurred at Stanford." Cogdell said she has been cooperating with the SEC for weeks.

Mark Groesbeck is a Stanford financial advisor.

"Laura Pendergest-Holt always came across as a very honest intellectual person. I want them to get to the bottom and if that's what it takes, I hope she will cooperate," said Groesbeck.

Pendergest-Holt's attorney points out she didn't have to meet with the feds, rather she chose to do so. She will make her initial appearance Friday morning and hopes to be released on bond by Friday afternoon.

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