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They are pinning their hopes on Laura Prendergest-Holt,

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They are pinning their hopes on Laura Prendergest-Holt, SIB's chief investment officer. She has also been accused of fraud - but investigators hope she may cooperate, in return for leniency, in unlocking the secrets of the missing Stanford billions.

Who is Laura Pendergest-Holt? (Day 5)

Published February 21, 2009 Baldwyn , Downtown Tupelo , Fairpark District , Northeast Mississippi , general business

Want to see more pictures of Jim Davis, Laura Pendergest-Holt, their Tupelo office and their Baldwyn homes? Click here.

Pendergest-Holt described as brilliant, despite claims

2/22/2009 4:27:39 AM
Daily Journal
Daily Journal

BALDWYN - Laura Pendergest-Holt is the youngest and perhaps most unlikely member of the Stanford Financial Group trio accused of an $8 billion fraud.

The Baldwyn native, now 35, "had no financial services or securities industry experience" before joining SFG in 1997, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Yet less than a decade later she was managing more than $15 billion in assets and running a worldwide team of equity, policy and sector analysts, Pendergest-Holt told the Memphis Business Journal in 2006.

Her rise to the top might seem improbable, but Pendergest-Holt had a killer combination of beauty, brains and connections. She knew key players in the Stanford firms, was an expert number-cruncher and has been described as strikingly beautiful and statuesque.

"Laura Pendergest may have had no financial experience, but she is also not unattractive," remarked one commentator at Business Week's online forum.

She also is a celebrated math whiz:

- Student Council treasurer at Baldwyn High School, class of 1991.

- Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from Mississippi University for Women, class of 1995.

- Master's of Science in mathematics from Mississippi State University, class of 1997.

In 2006, she was one of the Memphis Business Journal's Top 40 Under 40. She was a speaker at the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration's annual banking and finance symposium in November, which Stanford sponsored.

Ken Cyree, dean of the Ole Miss business school and a professor of finance, said Pendergest-Holt did an "excellent job.

"She was very knowledgeable and talked a good bit about global markets and the opportunities in global finance," Cyree said.

Said former classmate Matthew Wilson: "She has always been a very intelligent woman."

"She was just a brilliant woman, so I have never had been surprised that she would go as far as she did," said Wilson, a Corinth attorney who attended middle school and high school with Pendergest-Holt and also sang with her in a church choir.

"I can't speak to why they hired her, other than the fact that she has a very sharp head on her shoulders, and I have never questioned her integrity," he said. "If the allegations in the complaint are true, it is in complete diametric opposition from the Laura Pendergest I knew."

Investment fraud allegations
The SEC on Tuesday accused Pendergest-Holt, chief investment officer of SFG, in a multibillion-dollar investment scheme involving high-return CDs. Also accused were R. Allen Stanford - who owns SFG, Stanford International Bank and Stanford Group Company - and Stanford's former college roommate, James "Jim" Davis.

Davis is SIB's chief financial officer, and he provides at least one clue as to how Pendergest-Holt climbed so high in the company's ranks: Both hailed from Baldwyn, population 3,300. And neither one was a newcomer; their families had lived in the area for five generations.

In a Memphis Business Journal story three years ago, Pendergest-Holt described Davis as her "visionary mentor" and said "he has taught me so many lessons both professionally and in the community."

Pendergest-Holt first worked for Stanford in its Memphis office. In fact, she was head of research for Davis. Also working in the office was her brother-in-law, Ken Weeden. Weeden is a 1987 graduate of Daniel High School in New Albany and married Pendergest-Holt's sister, Amy.

But Pendergest-Holt returned to her hometown in May when Stanford Financial Group opened new offices in Tupelo's Fairpark District, about 20 miles from her hometown.

It was also in May that Pendergest-Holt married her husband, Jim Holt, who is vice president of CMSU & Associates, a private investment management firm in Potomac, Md., where he has worked since 2000.

He was at the couple's Baldwyn home Friday afternoon and said the situation has been difficult for him and his wife, who was out of town at the time. While many of the town's residents have been sympathetic - some even bringing the couple homemade cakes and pies - many national news outlets have been unkind, Holt said.

He said his wife has cooperated fully with SEC investigators and that he hopes she'll soon have the chance to tell the public her side of the story.

Pendergest-Holt indeed has cooperated and is so far the Stanford group's most senior member to have testified as part of the SEC's investigation, which still is ongoing.

The Times of London has said investigators "hope she will lead them to the heart of what appears to be one of the world's biggest scams."

Business editor Dennis Seid contributed to this story. Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or

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