Was government fair in seizing R. Allen Stanford's assets before he went to trial

March 7, 2012 4:39:33 PM PST
As jurors decide how far prosecutors can go in scouring the international accounts of R. Allen Stanford, there are now questions over whether the government was fair in seizing Stanford's assets before he ever went to trial.

Stanford had money hidden away, but he wasn't able to spend any of that since it was all frozen by government lawyers.

At the outset, let's be clear -- we are not trying to suggest some sort of sympathy for a man now convicted of multiple counts of fraud with tens of thousands of victims. But the conviction happened on Tuesday, years before our judicial system ever proved he did anything wrong. Stanford lost, and before you say well that's just the system, stop.

It isn't ancient history. It's the Enron trial and it was in 2006, just six years ago.

Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling accused of running a fraud, costing investors billions. They were seemingly public enemies number one and two.

"They were compared to the worst of the worst," said Mike Ramsey, Ken Lay's lawyer.

Ramsey was Lay's lead lawyer, but not the only one.

"The war room was a whole floor of the Bank of America building," Ramsey said.

Lay and Skilling were allowed to keep millions for their criminal defense and it paid the rent and salaries of what became a decent size law firm. Dozens of lawyers plus assistants, even full time artists, working to save Lay and Skilling from decades in prison.

But when R. Allen Stanford got to the federal courthouse, there was no floor of lawyers to defend him -- just four lawyers paid by the government, not by the former billionaire.

"They took everything, and I mean down to his socks and underwear," said Stanford's former attorney, Dick DeGuerin.

Stanford's first lawyer, DeGuerin was forced off the case when Stanford's billions were frozen by a judge in Dallas.

Stanford's eventual public defenders were forced to submit expenses for approval to an appeals court. It became so burdensome that weeks before trial, defense expert witnesses quit when they couldn't get paid. The witnesses came back, but Stanford's lawyers told the judge, "The funding constraints in this case alone raise issues of constitutional magnitude." The judge disagreed.

So will the feds ever stop seizing people's money before trial?

"No. It will get worse," Ramsey said. "Because they're getting away with it."

Ken Lay still left the courthouse convicted, just like Stanford, even after spending all that money. But Ramsey says it was at least a fairer fight.

"He was not treated in a way that we as Americans can look back on with pride ten years down the road, " said Ramsey.

A gag order in the case prevented any of the lawyers from interviewing with us.

In a court filing months ago, federal prosecutors said, "Stanford's numerous lawyers have spent approximately ten million dollars total on Stanford's defense, including both insurance and Criminal Justice Act funds." That's taxpayer money. And you can't find those bills -- they're filed under seal.