By Anna Driver and Eileen O'Grady
HOUSTON (Reuters) - The jury weighing evidence against Allen Stanford said on Monday it was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of the former Texas financier.
Stanford, on trial in federal court in Houston, is accused of running a $7.1 billion Ponzi scheme.
After the jurors sent a note saying they were unable to reach a verdict, U.S. District Judge David Hittner called them into the courtroom and instructed them to keep deliberating, saying the trial had been costly in time and money. "I'm going to ask that you continue your deliberations," he said.
The jury started deliberating last Wednesday and has worked for more than 20 hours.
It was not clear whether jurors had failed to reach a verdict on any of the 14 counts against Stanford, or whether they had failed to do so on just some of the counts. Failure to agree on all counts could result in a mistrial.
Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor who has been following the trial, said it was not unusual for a jury to be deadlocked initially in a complex trial such as this one.
If they remain deadlocked, it could turn into a hung jury, but the more common outcome is that the jury comes up with a unanimous decision, said Hilder, a white-collar defense attorney in Houston.
Jurors went home for the day and were due start again at 9:30 a.m. CST (1530 GMT) on Tuesday. Hittner said if the jury again could not reach a verdict, he would ask whether jurors had reached agreement on any of the charges.
Stanford turned to family members in the courtroom, smiling, after reading the note from jurors.
A mistrial would be a major setback for the government in a case that has already dragged on for three years since federal agents shut down Stanford's financial operation in February 2009.
While in jail awaiting trial, Stanford suffered a beating that left him with brain damage. He then became addicted to anti-anxiety medication. His lawyers said he had lost his memory and was not competent to stand trial.
Judge Hittner declared him competent in December and the trial began on January 23.
During the trial, prosecutors said Stanford used Stanford International Bank in Antigua as his own personal ATM, spending the deposits of his investors to finance a playboy lifestyle.
The government's star witness, former Stanford aide James Davis, testified how he and Stanford funneled money from the bank in Antigua to a secret Swiss bank account that Stanford tapped for his personal use.
Stanford's lawyers, however, made a blistering cross-examination of Davis, who admitted to being a liar and to destroying evidence. Legal experts said the cross-examination undermined Davis' credibility as a witness. Davis, 63, has pleaded guilty to three criminal counts in a plea agreement.
During the trial, defense lawyers portrayed Stanford as a visionary who was not involved in his firm's daily activities. They blamed Davis for any fraud and argued that Stanford's businesses were viable until the government shut his operations down.
(Reporting by Anna Driver and Eileen O'Grady; Editing by Matthew Lewis)