In an unusual about face, the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed an emergency motion to rein in its own hand-picked Receiver in the Stanford Financial case.
The motion seeks to bar Dallas attorney Ralph Janvey from collecting money--so-called "clawbacks"--from some Stanford investors. The clawbacks would add insult to injury for Stanford's alleged victims, requiring many to return what little they were able to salvage in the alleged scam.
In February, at the SEC's request, a federal judge had appointed Janvey as Receiver, giving him total control over Stanford's assets and ordering him to recover all funds traceable to the firm--which is accused, along with its CEO Allen Stanford, of running an $8 billion Ponzi scheme.
But now, according to the SEC, Janvey is preparing to file "possibly hundreds" of clawback claims against what the agency calls "innocent investors." The claims, the SEC argues, are "not supported by case law and are contrary to Commission practice." The motion asks that the SEC be given exclusive authority to pursue any such claims.
The dispute highlights a thorny issue in unwinding any Ponzi scheme, which by definition involves using money from new investors to pay "returns" to earlier investors.
In the Stanford case, Janvey was apparently preparing to recover not just the payments to the earlier investors, but some of their principal investments as well. The money has been frozen in brokerage accounts since February, leaving some investors with no access to their entire life's savings.
The SEC says Janvey is seeking to "randomly penalize" innocent investors who happened to have funds in their brokerage accounts at the time they were frozen. The SEC argues the move would not only be unfair, but it would offer "questionable benefit to all of the victims of the Stanford scheme."
But in a statement e-mailed to CNBC, Janvey says the $600 million in clawbacks--being sought from some 300 investors--would benefit the more than 25,000 victims of the alleged Stanford fraud.
Janvey says while the investors may believe he is seeking to deprive them of their money, it wasn't theirs to begin with.
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"The funds used to pay purported CD interest and redemptions was simply money that came from the thousands of CD holders who were deceived into purchasing CDs and who by chance or as the result of sales tactics by brokers, had not withdrawn funds from SIB as of the date the Receivership was put in place," Janvey writes.
The statement says the clawbacks are fully supported by case law, and Janvey says he "respectfully disagrees" with the SEC.