Allen Stanford Investors Face Long Haul to Recover Money
Tuesday's conviction of Texas financier Allen Stanford on 13 out of 14 counts provides a small measure of vindication for investors in the $7 billion Ponzi scheme.
Houston investor Cassie Wilkinson, who lost some $500,000 invested with Stanford, said the verdict proves investors were duped and not victims of their own greed.
"It actually restores my faith in the justice system because we felt, as victims we’ve really felt abandoned by our government," Wilkinson said.
But beyond that, the 28,000 investors will still be hard pressed to get much of their money back anytime soon.
On Wednesday, the same jury that convicted Stanford in the criminal case will be asked to decide whether the Justice Department can seize some $300 million in offshore bank accounts linked to Stanford. The accounts are believed to represent the largest potential source of funds to repay investors.
But even if the U.S. government gains access to the accounts, it will have a fight on its hands according to attorney Kevin Sadler of Baker Botts, who represents the court appointed receiver rounding up funds for investors.
The guilty verdict is "a good milestone on a long road," said Sadler, who represents receiver Ralph Janvey.
But Sadler said liquidators in Antigua — home of Stanford's offshore bank — are laying claim to some of the funds as well.
"It should help DOJ in their fight with the Antiguan Liquidators to get funds frozen overseas returned to US," Sadler said.
"But Antiguans are determined to get their hands on that money," Sadler wrote in an e-mail to CNBC.
Stanford was the largest private employer in the island nation, and his indictment wreaked havoc there.
The founder of the Stanford Victims Coalition also expressed concerns that the verdict is something of a hollow victory for investors.
"I am happy to see Allen Stanford found guilty on almost all of the charges, but the victims' justice is in recovering their losses," said Angela Shaw, who lost some $2 million in the scam. "To date, there has been no recovery whatsoever for the victims of this crime. In the three years it took to convict Stanford, many of his victims lived a life that is worse than prison in many ways."
In addition to the tug-of-war over Stanford's bank accounts, the investors are locked in a battle with the organization that insures U.S. brokerage accounts, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).
SIPC provides payments of up to $500,000 for investors in failed brokerage firms, but does not compensate investors for worthless securities. The organization said the Stanford certificates of deposit are just that and has denied coverage to the investors. SIPC also said it should not be forced to compensate depositors in a non-U.S. bank.
The investors claim they are victims of theft, which normally is covered by SIPC. And they said most investors purchased their CDs from Stanford's U.S. brokerage, a SIPC member.
The SEC has gone to court to force SIPC to pay. The case is still pending.
While it is unclear whether the guilty verdict in Stanford's criminal trial will help bolster the investors' position in the SIPC case, it could help sway dozens of so-called "claw back" suits filed by the receiver, seeking tens of millions of dollars.
"Some defendants sued by the Receiver have claimed there was no Ponzi scheme," Sadler said, "so this verdict should shine some sunlight on that fog."
No date has been set for Stanford's sentencing. If sentenced consecutively on all 13 counts, he faces up to 230 years in prison.