The SEC's Case Against Sir Robert Allen Stanford -- A Case Study in Investigative and Enforcement Failure

Since last year, we've followed the government's investigation and prosecution of Texan and Antiguan financier Sir Robert Allen Stanford for allegedly defrauding investors of billions in a Ponzi scheme. Well, as set forth in a 150 page Report of Investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the SEC has been following Stanford and his companies for much, much longer. OIG made the Report public yesterday. The Report reveals a stunning pattern of lack of diligence in SEC enforcement.

Stanford's investment advisor registered with the SEC in 1995. By 1997, the SEC's Fort Worth Office Examination Group had conducted an examination and concluded that the CDs Stanford and his companies were marketing were most likely a Ponzi scheme and that Stanford was allegedly engaging in fraud. However, despite the fact that the 1997 examination concluded that Stanford was likely engaging in a Ponzi scheme and referred the matter to the Fort Worth Office Enforcement Office, Enforcement staff did not open an investigation, or "matter under inquiry" (MUI), until May 1998. Enforcement sent Stanford Group Company (SGC) a voluntary request for documents. SGC refused to provide many of the requested documents, and the MUI was closed in August 1998.

The Examination Group conducted another examination of Stanford in 1998, and again concluded that the investments being offered by Stanford were highly suspicious. However, Enforcement staff did not listen to the Examination Group or review its report in deciding to close the investigation of Stanford and his companies.

A third examination of SGC was conducted in 2002 and once again concluded that the consistent above-market returns claimed by SGC were highly unlikely to be legitimate investments. The SEC again did not follow up on the examination, despite receiving conflicting representations from SGC regarding its due diligence and a growing number of complaints from outside entities confirming their suspicions.

In October of 2003, the SEC received a letter from the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) stating that Stanford's companies were engaged in an alleged massive Ponzi scheme. The Examination Group was asked to conduct a fourth investigation, which it did in October 2004. The investigation concluded that the CDs were part of "a very large Ponzi scheme." However, in March of 2005, senior Enforcement officials in Fort Worth learned of the Examination Group's fourth examination of Stanford and told them that "[Stanford] was not something they were interested in.”

Shortly thereafter, the head of Enforcement for the Fort Worth Office stepped down. The former head later sought to represent Stanford himself in proceedings by the SEC, despite the fact that he was involved in quashing the investigation of Stanford and his companies.

Enforcement sent Stanford International Bank (SIB) a second voluntary request for documents in August 2005. SIB refused to produce the requested documents. In November of 2005, Enforcement again closed its investigation of Stanford and his companies.

After the exposure of the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff in December 2008, the SEC began to receive complaints regarding the fact that it had allowed Stanford and his companies to continue to engage in a Ponzi scheme. The SEC finally shut down Stanford's companies and froze their assets in February 2009. In October of 2009, Senator David Vitter and Senator Richard Shelby wrote a letter to the SEC asking it to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into its investigation and handling of the Stanford matter.

The OIG Report found that Enforcement staff were reluctant to pursue cases which were novel or complex, preferring to focus on cases which were "quick hits" or "slam dunks." The Report notes that, in the 12 years between the time that the SEC first gained knowledge that Stanford and his companies might be engaging in a Ponzi scheme and the time that the SEC took action to freeze their assets, investments in Stanford's CDs grew from $250 million to $1.5 billion. A survey was taken of investors in Stanford's scheme with 95% responding that knowledge of an inquiry by the SEC would have affected their decision to invest.


Sir Robert Allen Stanford's Congressional Ties and Prison Blues

So whatever happened to indicted billionaire Sir Robert Allen Stanford? Well, not much, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Stanford, who is charged with allegedly defrauding investors of more than $7 billion, is still incarcerated, despite his extensive efforts to secure release prior to his trial since his arrest in June of last year. Stanford has submitted a report from a physician to U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in which the physician opines that Stanford is close to “a complete nervous breakdown.” Two psychiatrists have diagnosed Stanford with severe depression as a result of his confinement.

Stanford's counsel complained to the court that Stanford needed to have frequent communication with his defense team in order to review the more than 7 million documents in the case and answer questions by his counsel. Unmoved, Judge Hittner denied Stanford's latest motion for release in an order issued two days before Christmas, and Stanford has appealed the denial.

Stanford's trial is still a year away, scheduled to begin in January 2011. He has denied the government's charges, as well as civil fraud charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Also reported in the Chronicle, similar to confessed attorney/Ponzi schemer, Scott Rothstein, Stanford allegedly had many ties to politicians. The Department of Justice is investigating approximately $2.3 million dollars in alleged contributions from Stanford and his staff to politicians over the past decade, as well as $5 million paid to lobbyists.  Donations by Stanford and his staff included $40,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, $100,000 to the inaugural committee of George W. Bush and $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He furthermore set up his own lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. Stanford is alleged to have successfully lobbied to defeat legislation in Congress relating to financial secrecy and offshore banking which would have allegedly revealed his activities.

Stanford allegedly treated politicians to trips to the Carribean, hosting dinners with lobster and caviar. Illustrative of Stanford's high level government contacts was the fact that, mere hours after Stanford was arrested last year, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent Stanford an e-mail stating that he "loved" Stanford and believed in him, and offering his advice or to listen to Stanford. Stanford and his staff contributed $44,375 to Sessions. Stanford entertained numerous Congressional delegations to the Carribean nation of Antigua, where Stanford was based, at a total cost of $311,307. Stanford also hosted a wedding dinner for New York Representative John Sweeney at a five-star restaurant owned by Stanford in Antigua, and held a cocktail fundraiser for Ohio Representative Bob Ney in Miami. Ney was later sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for accepting money and gifts from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Stanford opened a trust office in Miami in 2001, which allegedly enabled his bank to sell millions in certificates of deposit. This event allegedly prompted him to become involved in politics in order to prevent legislation which would have forced Stanford to reveal the source of the flow of monies to the office.

19 politicians have returned a total of $87,800 in contributions from Stanford to the court-appointed receiver. Other politicians have stated that they have donated money contributed by Stanford to charity, including $45,000 by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, and $11,800 by Representative Charlie Rangel.


Sir Robert Allen Stanford Roundup

The Blog is getting caught up today on the news surrounding former wealthy financier, alleged Ponzi schemer and cricket fanatic Sir Robert Allen Stanford. First, last Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Stanford allegedly lobbied the U.S. to permit Cuba to participate in an international cricket tournament. One of Stanford's companies, Stanford Financial Group, paid the Ben Barnes Group of Austin, Texas, $500,000 to lobby the U.S. Treasury Department to permit Cuba to particpate in the Stanford-20 Carribean Cricket Tournament in Antigua, citing Cuba's participation in the World Baseball Classic as precedent. In 2006, the U.S. government granted a special license for Cuba to participate in the tournament, after the Cuban government promised to donate any and all winnings from the tournament to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. However, in 2007, the U.S. reversed itself and blocked Cuba's participation.

Then on Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Houston attorney Kent Schaffer, of the firm Bires & Schaffer, will represent Stanford working with the federal public defender's office for the Southern District of Texas. Stanford, once a billionaire, was left without means to pay for his defense after the government seized and froze his assets and the District Court refused access to the assets. Stanford nevertheless appears to be getting competent and skilled counsel--Mr. Schaffer's profile lists numerous high-profile clients including large corporations, a U.S. Congressman, late actress Farrah Fawcett, late MLB player Ken Caminiti, NFL player Dante Hall and other professional athletes, rap artists, authors and writers and a defendant in the Enron trial.

Finally, on Friday, Stanford Financial Group's former Global Security Director, Thomas Rafanello, pled not guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to charges that he shredded documents, as reported by Bloomberg. The government's indictment alleges that Rafanello and Bruce Perraud shredded documents in response to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and in violation of a court order. Rafanello is a former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Miami office.


Receiver in Stanford Case to Defend $27 Million in Legal Fees

The sums which investors were allegedly defrauded of in the matter of Sir Robert Allen Stanford aren't the only jaw-dropping amounts involved in the case. As reported by the Associated Press, a hearing is being held today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas concerning the $27 million in legal fees claimed by the receiver appointed by the Court to manage Stanford's companies. The receiver, attorney Ralph Janvey of Krage & Janvey, L.L.L.P. in Dallas, Texas, is claiming the legal fees for hundreds of attorneys and consultants his firm had to hire in an effort to trace the alleged billions of dollars Stanford and his network of companies allegedly defrauded investors of. Mr. Janvey, a former Assistant Director of Securities for the United States Comptoller of the Currency, has served as a court-appointed equity receiver for the Securities and Exchange Commission on previous occasions.



SEC Eyes Sir Robert Allen Stanford's Upaid Gambling Debt


As we check back with Sir Robert Allen Standford, the most noteworthy development is perhaps that the Bellagio, a Las Vegas casino and luxury resort, filed suit against Stanford last week in a Clark County Nevada district court for an alleged $258,480 in unpaid gambling debts.The lawsuit alleges that Stanford signed for 14 markers between January 15 and 22 of this year.

Oddly enough, Stanford is allegedly a self-professed Southern Baptist who reportedly infused the boardroom culture in his companies with religion, surrounded himself with individuals he met through church and used church contacts to find customers. Furthermore, Stanford's adoptive home, Antigua and Barbuda, is one of the leading host nations for the multi-billion dollar international online gambling  industry. Stanford, however, reportedly refused to deal with persons involved in gambling in his business dealings. While Stanford's companies based in Antigua have ceased operations, its online gambling sector has continued to thrive.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has frozen Stanford's assets, is investigating the Bellagio markers.


Sir Robert Allen Stanford Changes Counsel; Government Opposes Counsels' Move to Determine Payment of Legal Fees

Financier Sir Robert Allen Stanford continues to seek access to funds to pay for his defense to charges of defrauding investors of hundreds of millions of dollars. On July 31, Mr. Dick DeGuerin of DeGuerin & Dickson filed a Motion to Withdraw as Attorney of Record for Stanford. The Motion stated that Stanford had received a press release and a facsimile informing Mr. DeGuerin that Stanford was replacing him with Mr. Robert Luskin and other attorneys with the firm of Patton Boggs LLP.

On August 4, Stanford filed an Expedited Motion to Permit New Attorneys to Appear for Limited Purpose, seeking to allow the firms Patton Boggs and Sydow & McDonald LLP to appear in the case for the limited purpose of resolving Stanford's access to monies to pay his legal fees and expenses. The memorandum in support of the Motion, filed by Michael D. Sydow of Sydow & McDonald, relates that the Securities and Exchange Commission has seized and frozen Stanford's assets and those of his companies and placed the assets and Stanford's records under the control of a Receiver. The memorandum also relates that, although Stanford is the beneficiary of directors & officers liability provisions of insurance policies through his companies, the insurers have denied coverage because the Receiver has claimed that all insurance proceeds belong to the Receivership Estate. The attorneys state that, if they are successful in receiving sufficient assurances that their legal fees will be paid, they will enter full appearances on Stanford's behalf.

The Government has filed a Response to the Motion. It maintains that allowing such a conditional appearance would create a risk of indefinite delay in the proceedings. It also points out that Patton Boggs already represents Stanford in the SEC proceeding, and that it is capable of litigating Stanford's access to funds in that proceeding. The Government requests that the attorneys' request to make a conditional limited appearance be denied.

Stanford's dilemma is a familiar one in white collar criminal cases. A defendant's assets are frozen, depriving him or her of the means to pay for private counsel to defend against complex criminal charges. The defendant is then given appointed counsel who, in most cases, provide a skilled and competent defense, but in others merely increase the Government's chances of obtaining a plea or conviction.  

Sir Robert Allen Stanford's Continuing Pretrial Detention Blues

Sir Robert Stanford has filed a Motion for Relief from Oppressive Jail Conditions. Stanford is currently being held at the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas. The Motion alleges that temperatures have reached 100 degrees and that the cell in which Stanford is being housed in a cell with 8 to 10 other men and with no windows or air conditioning. Stanford requests transfer to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Houston. The Motion also asserts, as a ground for transfer, the fact that the government has provided discovery in electronic form and the Joe Corley Facility does not permit the use of electronic devices. Stanford's counsel, Dick DeGuerin, claims that he has tried to work these issues out with the U.S. Marshals Service and the staff of the Joe Corley Detention Facility, but to no avail.

A status conference has been set in Stanford's case for September 10, which the defendants moved to continue from August 17. Meanwhile, Stanford's appeal of the District Court's denial of pretrial release is listed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, U.S. v. Stanford, Case No. 09-20444.

While in no way meaning to detract from the charges against Stanford and his codenfendants, which are extremely serious in magnitude, this Blog notes that arch-Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff and celebrity attorney-turned-crook Marc Dreier were both granted pretrial release and were confined to their residences with electronic monitoring devices. Given that the government has frozen all of Stanford's assets effectively starving his defense of funding, and that the defense has alleged deliberate misrepresentations by the prosecution in arguing for pretrial detention, pretrial release appears to be appropriate in Stanford's case. We will await the hopefully speedy resolution of the bail issue by the Fifth Circuit.

Sir Allen Stanford Remains in Custody Pending Appeal

As we have noted, the prosecution of wealthy, international financier Sir Robert Allen Stanford has been characterized from the outset by vigorous disputes over bond for Stanford. The prosecution has argued that Stanford poses a risk of flight given his international connections and the potential that he possesses resources hidden overseas. The defense, led by attorney Dick DeGuerin, has hit back, arguing that Stanford possesses considerable ties to the U.S. and voluntarily surrendered himself, and further charging that the prosecution has made numerous knowing misrepresentations in arguing against bond for Stanford.

The U.S. magistrate judge had ordered Stanford to be released on $500,000 bond, however the District Court Judge reversed the order and ordered Stanford to remain in custody. Last Friday, Stanford's attorneys appealed the Court's bond determination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The government is certainly pulling out all the stops in putting pressure on Stanford, who is charged in an alleged Ponzi scheme which allegedly lost investors $7 billion. Not only has it managed to deny him bond, but it has frozen his assets and those of his companies. Yesterday, the defense was granted permission by the Court to file a motion regarding attorney's fees ex parte and under seal.


Bail Battle Continues in Prosecution of Sir Robert Allen Stanford

The prosecution in the case of wealthy international financier Sir Robert Allen Stanford wants Stanford behind bars even before he has his day in court, arguing that his contacts abroad create a great risk that he will flee the country. Stanford, through his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, has countered that he possesses ties to the U.S. and voluntarily surrendered to authorities following the issuance of the warrant for his arrest. The dispute over potential pretrial release/bail for Stanford in this case has been particularly heated, as shown by a chronology:

June 19: At Stanford's initial appearance, U.S. Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia determines that Stanford is a flight risk and orders him detained. Stanford is transported to Houston.

June 25: At Stanford's arraignment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy sets Stanford's bond at $500,000 but stays bond pending the prosecution's appeal of the bond.

June 29: U.S. District Judge David Hittner holds hearing on the revocation of Magistrate Judge Stacy's release order. Judge Hittner reverses release order and orders Stanford detained.

July 7: Stanford files a 48-page Motion to Reconsider and/or Reopen Detention Order, with numerous exhibits. Mr. DeGuerian alleges in the Motion that the prosecution made numerous misrepresentations of material facts in arguing for the revocation of Stanford's bond. Stanford claims that the government made the following alleged intentional misrepresentations to the Court in order to cause Stanford's release to be revoked:

1. That Stanford's expired Antiguan diplomatic passport was allegedly "missing;"

2. That Stanford allegedly siphoned approximately $100 million from a bank account with Societe Generale Swiss in late 2008;

3. That Stanford's primary residence is allegedly not the U.S. and that he does not have strong ties to Texas;

4. That $1 billion is allegedly "missing" from Stanford's companies;

5. That Stanford has engaged in allegedly suspicious travel while he has been under investigation and that he allegedly has contacts outside the U.S. who would gladly help him flee; and

6. That Stanford allegedly bribed Antiguan officials.

The Stanford case is a good example of how allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and misrepresentations can play into the very inception of a case or into stricly procedural matters, without having to await formal challenges to charges on the merits. In any event, Stanford's attorneys have certainly presented a forceful argument for his release on bond, and we look forward to monitoring the Court's resolution of his Motion.


Sir Robert Allen Stanford Enters Not Guilty Plea to $7 Billion Fraud Charges/Court States Intention to Release Him on $500,000 Bond

Sir Robert Allen Stanford entered a plea of not guilty yesterday to the indictment charging him with alleged defrauding investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy presided over the arraignment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

Also yesterday, Stanford's co-defendant and alleged co-conspirator, Leroy King, a former official with Antigua and Barbuda's Financial Services Regulatory Commission, was arrested in Antigua. King is in custody pending a potential extradition request to the United States.

Stanford remains in custody. Magistrate Judge Stacy told the parties yesterday that she intended to order Stanford released on $500,000 bond, but that she would reserve her ruling until today to give the government time to appeal her decision. Assistant United States Attorney Paul Pelletier argued that there are no set of conditions which would guarantee Stanford's appearance at trial. The Government has filed a Memorandum in Support of Detention, arguing that Stanford should be denied bond based on the fact that he has a motive to flee, as well as the means and opportunity, noting, among other things, that Stanford's passport shows that he has traveled to over 30 foreign countries, and entered Antigua over 40 times in 2008. The defense filed a Memorandum in Support of Standford's Right to Pretrial Release on Wednesday, arguing that Standford is not a flight risk and that Stanford is required to be released on his own recognizance or an appearance bond under 18 United States Code section 3142. The memorandum cites the fact that Stanford voluntarily surrendered his passport to the Government after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud suit against him back in February; and that he arranged to voluntarily surrender to authorities upon learning of his indictment. We note that Stanford also has a home in South Florida... complete with a moat.

Indictment in the Sir Robert Allen Stanford Case/Stanford to Be Arraigned in Houston Today

Sir Robert Allen Stanford is scheduled to be arraigned today on conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction charges in Houston in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Stanford is represented by attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Sean Ryan Buckley, of the Houston firm of DeGuerin and Dickson.

According to the docket for the case, the Government obtained its 21-count indictment, which can be viewed here, last Thursday and promptly moved to seal (i.e. prevent public access to) it, and then unsealed it on Friday shortly before Stanford’s arrest.

The Court will likely revisit the issue of whether Stanford is entitled to release before trial. On Friday, the Court ordered co-defendants Mark Kuhrt and Gilberto Lopez released on a $100,000 unsecured bond. However, given Stanford’s considerable wealth and ties abroad, any amount of bond imposed in his case will undoubtedly be far higher, if Stanford is granted pre-trial release at all, that is. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia determined that Stanford posed a high risk of flight, and denied bond.

The case will be tried before U.S. District Judge David Hitter, a brief description of whom can be found here.

Sir Robert Allen Stanford Indicted in Alleged Second Largest Ponzi Scheme in U.S. History

The writers of Federal Criminal Defense Blog have been busy writing on other matter and apologize for the brief hiatus. Much has happened in the sphere of white collar crime even during our short absence, most notably developments in the two largest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history, and we have some catching up to do.

We’ll start with the second largest—an indictment indictment against billionaire Texas financier Sir Robert Allen Stanford, 59, was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday according to the Associated Press  and the BBC. The 50-page indictment alleges that Stanford and six other defendants with allegedly perpetrated a $7 billion Ponzi-style fraud. It charges Stanford and the other defendants with 21 counts, including 7 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct an investigation for the Securities and Exchange Commission, obstruction of an investigation by the SEC and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Defendants Laura Pendergest-Holt, Gilberto Lopez and Mark Kuhrt are executives of Stanford Financial Group. Defendant Leroy King, a former bank regulator for the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, allegedly accepted more than $100,000 in bribes from the other defendants in order to allow the alleged scheme to continue.

The indictment alleges that the defendants sold certificates of deposit issued by Stanford International Bank, based in Antigua, to investors, promising large returns. The defendants allegedly made false claims to investors regarding the growth of Stanford Financial Group’s assets.

The scheme had approximately 30,000 investors. Stanford is alleged to have diverted more than $1.6 billion in investment funds in personal loans to himself. More than $1 billion in investment money is allegedly unaccounted for. Stanford is also charged in the indictment with allegedly conspiring to obstruct an SEC proceeding. Stanford Financial Group’s finance chief, James M. Davis, is cooperating with investigators. Davis has been charged with fraud and obstruction in a separate indictment.

Stanford was the owner of a newspaper, two restaurants, and a development company in Antigua, and was a cricket enthusiast and owner of the Stanford cricket grounds in Antigua. In 2008, Stanford staged a $20 million, winner-takes-all, match between a West Indian XI and England at the grounds. In 2006, Stanford became the first American to be knighted by Antigua and Barbuda.

Stanford is represented by attorney Dick DeGuerin, who has issued a statement to the press that Stanford is innocent of the charges. Stanford has made repeated statements as to his innocence and has alleged that no money was lost.

Stanford surrendered to the FBI on Thursday and had his initial appearance on Friday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck determined that Stanford posed a flight risk and ordered him to remain in custody pending a future detention hearing in Houston. Several governments have frozen his assets. Stanford faces as much as 250 years in prison if convicted.