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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Stanford out of sight again

FREDERICKSBURG (Virginia) - TEXAS billionaire Allen Stanford was nowhere to be seen on Friday in this historic Virginia town, site of a fierce battle in the American Civil War and reputed through local lore to be haunted.

The home of relatives of a woman said to be a girlfriend of Stanford became a magnet for reporters and photographers, but there were no signs that anyone was inside.

Intense speculation had surrounded Stanford's whereabouts since Tuesday, when the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against him, two of his colleagues and three of his companies, accusing them of an $8 billion fraud.

Stanford, who failed to respond to a subpoena earlier this week, surfaced here on Thursday and was served with court papers related to the SEC charges.

An American flag fluttered in the cold breeze above the doorway of this modest, three-story brick house that belongs to relatives of Andrea Stoelker, according to a cross-referencing data bank and the Free Lance-Star, a Fredericksburg newspaper.

Mr Stoelker is a former local resident identified in published reports as president of the board of directors of a cricket tournament that Stanford sponsored in Antigua, headquarters of his Stanford International Bank (SIB).

No one at the Stoelkers' house returned a message left on an answering machine that greeted callers: 'You've reached the Stoelkers. We're not available to take your call right now.

Please leave a message, and we'll call you back as soon as possible.' Late in the afternoon, a young man dressed in jeans and who looked to be in his 30s, emerged from the house and stood at the top of the front steps. When asked about Stanford's whereabouts, he said, 'I don't have a clue,' and quickly turned to go inside. He declined to give his name.

The FBI said its agents were acting at the request of the SEC when they served Stanford with papers in Fredericksburg, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Washington, DC.

'We were helping out there to locate and serve papers,' said Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman in Washington. Stanford, 58, was not taken into custody, Carter said. He declined to discuss how Stanford had been located. Other officials said he was not a fugitive and had not been hiding.

SEC spokesman Kevin Callahan said that Stanford and his two co-defendants had surrendered their passports in keeping with a judge's order. The co-defendants are James Davis, SIB's chief financial officer, and Laura Pendergest-Holt, chief investment officer of a Stanford affiliate. -- REUTERS

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