By Daniel Wagner and Rasha Madkour

WASHINGTON -- While R. Allen Stanford's investors were swallowing claims of vast returns on safe investments, some of his employees weren't so sure.

And though one of them tried as early as 2003 to pass on to regulators his concerns about the bank, nothing came of it until Stanford's operations were raided and shut down Tuesday.

The Texas billionaire with a reputation for jet-setting and lavish spending faces civil charges for allegedly lying about his investment strategy. But in 2003, when his offshore banking empire was exploding in size, even asking managers one question too many could get you fired, Miami broker Charles Hazlett said.

Hazlett was a top performer at Stanford's bank, having sold $10 million in certificates of deposit in a single quarter of 2002. The company rewarded him with a new BMW.

But when a client asked Hazlett for details about the investments, no one at the bank would give him even basic information about risk ratings and asset allocation, he said in an interview.

Eventually, Hazlett said, he called a meeting with a top officer of the bank to ask how the investments worked. Instead of answers, he got an ultimatum: Resign or be fired.

"I kind of peaked when I won the car and was doing great, but as soon as I started questioning things at the bank, they were setting up to let me go," Hazlett said.

It wasn't just promises to investors of earning twice the normal rates on certificates of deposit that fed his suspicions, Hazlett said. The company also lacked detailed balance sheets. And it used a small and little-known accounting firm.

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