Pendergest-Holt Pleads

Laura Pendergest-Holt, former chief investment officer for Stanford Financial Group (SFG) of Houston, pleaded guilty on June 21 to obstructing a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Stanford International Bank (SIB). According to the factual basis for the guilty plea, Pendergest-Holt pleaded guilty to a single count of obstruction in connection to sworn testimony she provided when appearing before the SEC on Feb. 10, 2009, in Fort Worth. Pendergest-Holt had earlier pleaded not guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges related to an alleged conspiracy to defraud investors who bought about $7 billion in certificates of deposit sold through SIB. Her plea averts a trial set for September. Pendergest-Holt’s June 21 plea before Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner came one week after Hittner sentenced former SFG Chairman R. Allen Stanford to 110 years in prison. In March, a federal court jury found Stanford guilty of 13 of 14 criminal counts against him. Jurors found him not guilty of one count of wire fraud. If Hittner accepts Pendergest-Holt’s plea deal in United States v. Laura Pendergest-Holt, she will be sentenced to three years in prison and three years of supervised release after that. The deal calls for a fine of up to $250,000. Hittner scheduled her sentencing for Sept. 13. Chris Flood of Flood & Flood in Houston, who represents Pendergest-Holt, declines comment due to a gag order in the case. Jason Varnado, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, declines comment due to the gag order.

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$13.7 Million Verdict Tossed

On June 8, a trial judge granted a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict that blocks a lawyer and his wife from receiving a $13.7 million award they won in a defamation case. On April 20, a Tarrant County jury ruled for plaintiffs Mark Lesher, of Texarkana’s Lesher & Associates, and his wife Rhonda, finding defendants Jerry Coyel, Shannon Coyel and Charlie Doescher were liable for defamation over allegedly inflammatory comments posted about the Leshers on a website. But in the final judgment, 348th District Judge Dana Womack ruled that the Leshers should take nothing. John Mercy, a partner in Texarkana’s Mercy Carter Tidwell who represents the Leshers, says because Womack’s ruling did not specify what jury findings she disregarded, “we’re still deciding what route we’re going to take, but we will appeal” the final judgment. R. Wesley Tidwell, a partner in Paris’ Ellis & Tidwell who represents the defendants, says he argued to the trial court that the plaintiffs had not proven their allegations. “Early on in the litigation, we had requested through discovery statements any evidence that would link our clients to the statements. Those were not produced, and even at trial they were not presented and admitted,” Tidwell says. “And we believed and argued at the conclusion of the trial as well as post-verdict that the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden. I think the jury lost sight of the legalities of the case and focused on the emotion of the parties.”

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The Network

This month, four tax lawyers left Gardere Wynne Sewell and moved their specialized tax practice to McDermott Will & Emery. Former Gardere partner Mark R. Martin, now head of McDermott’s transfer pricing practice, says his group joined McDermott because of the firm’s network of international offices and large tax practice. Martin says transfer pricing is a “big, emerging area” for the Internal Revenue Service. It calls for allocating income and expenses between companies and subsidiaries located in other countries to ensure the proper taxes are paid, he says. “The transactions are between related parties, for example, a U.S. parent company and its subsidiary in Japan,” he says. Martin, partner John T. Woodruff and associate Mark Horowitz joined McDermott in Houston, while partner Cym H. Lowell, who writes thrillers on the side, will work out of a satellite office in Dallas. Martin says he and Lowell joined McDermott on June 1, and the other lawyers, along with three tax professionals who also will work in Dallas, moved over in the weeks before the firm announced the hires on June 19. Martin declines to identify clients the group brought to McDermott but says they include a number of multinational companies involved in the energy, chemical and engineering industries. He says Lowell represents a large number of Japanese companies. Steven Spears, partner in charge of McDermott’s Houston office, says the new lawyers have a “very exciting practice in an area where they are the pre-eminent people in the country.” He says the Dallas satellite office is being treated as part of the Houston office. Gardere managing partner Stephen Good says, “We wish them the best of luck.”