* Laura Pendergest-Holt admitted to obstructing SEC probe
* SEC had sought details about Stanford International Bank
* Allen Stanford charged with running $7.2 bln Ponzi scheme
* Allen Stanford serving 110-year prison term
By Jonathan Stempel
Sept 13 (Reuters) - A former top executive at Allen Stanford’s now-defunct financial firm was sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for obstructing a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe into the disgraced financier’s estimated $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Laura Pendergest-Holt, 39, had pleaded guilty in June to one count of obstruction of justice, after originally facing 21 counts including fraud and conspiracy.
The sentence was part of a plea agreement, and was imposed by U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston.
Pendergest-Holt had been chief investment officer at Stanford Financial Group, where prosecutors said Allen Stanford ran a two-decade fraud centered on bogus certificates of deposits from his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.
In her plea, Pendergest-Holt admitted to concealing details about the bank’s investments that she knew the SEC wanted.
Prosecutors said she did this to impede the regulator’s probe and keep Stanford’s bank in operation.
Hittner also sentenced Pendergest-Holt to three years of supervised release. The defendant was not fined, but was taken into immediate custody following Thursday’s hearing.
Before Stanford’s fraud was uncovered in 2009, Pendergest-Holt had had a love affair with James Davis, Stanford’s former chief financial officer and the government’s main witness in the case against the former billionaire.
“She feels terrible about ever getting involved with Robert Allen Stanford and Jim Davis and that people were ever defrauded by them,” Chris Flood, a lawyer for Pendergest-Holt, said in a phone interview. “She lost everything herself in the CD program, and was a victim.”
Stanford is serving a 110-year prison sentence following his conviction in March on 13 criminal counts.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Sept. 28 for a criminal trial of two former Stanford accounting executives, Mark Kuhrt and Gilberto Lopez.
The case is U.S. v. Stanford et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 09-cr-00342. (Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)