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Ex-Stanford executives get 20 years over roles in $7 billion fraud

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - The final two defendants convicted for helping the former Texas billionaire financier Allen Stanford swindle investors were each sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison over their roles in his $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

Gilbert Lopez, the former chief accounting officer of Stanford Financial Group, and former controller Mark Kuhrt were sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston.

Jurors in November had convicted both defendants on nine counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy after a five-week trial. Each was also found not guilty on one wire fraud count.

Lopez, 70, and Kuhrt, 40, were jailed in downtown Houston following the sentencing.

Stanford, 62, is appealing his March 2012 conviction and 110-year prison sentence over what prosecutors called a massive fraud centered on the sale of bogus certificates of deposit by his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.

Prosecutors said evidence at Lopez's and Kuhrt's trial showed that the men knew Stanford was misusing the bank's assets, helped him conceal this misuse, and helped him deceive customers into believing he had infused hundreds of millions of dollars into the bank during the 2008 financial crisis.

In September, Stanford's former chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to an obstruction charge.

Last month, former chief financial officer James Davis was sentenced to five years in prison, after he had pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges and was the top government witness in Stanford's trial.

Davis had made about $13 million over 21 years working for Stanford, a former college roommate.

Jack Zimmermann, a lawyer for Lopez, said he had asked for a three-year prison sentence for his client, who plans an appeal.

"We're very disappointed," Zimmermann said in a phone interview. "Gil Lopez was sentenced to four times longer in prison than Davis, yet he earned nothing from the fraud, only his mid-level wages and bonuses for working as an accountant."

Richard Kuniansky, a lawyer for Kuhrt, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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 Nick Zieminski)

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