SIPC Rebuffs Stanford Investors Demands to Cover Losses

The agency that insures U.S. brokerage accounts has again rebuffed demands it provide coverage to investors in Allen Stanford's alleged $7 billion Ponzi scheme, making it increasingly likely the issue is headed to court.

Allen Stanford
Allen Stanford

In a December 2 letter to members of Congress, obtained by CNBC, the head of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) says the organization has a "fundamental disagreement" with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which demanded in June that SIPC pay the investors or be sued.

Thousands of investors lost everything in the 2009 collapse of Stanford Financial Group, which the SEC alleges was a global Ponzi scheme involving bogus certificates of deposit.

In the letter to members of Congress, SIPC Chairman Orlan Johnson says providing the coverage would be "unprecedented," because the investors "chose to purchase CDs issued by an offshore bank in Antigua," which is not covered by SIPC.

The investors have countered that most of the CDs were purchased through Stanford's U.S. broker-dealer, a SIPC member.

In June, the SEC sided with the investors and threatened to sue SIPC to force the coverage, which provides as much as $500,000 per account.

SIPC promised to reconsider its position at its September board meeting, but instead has remained publicly silent on the issue.

In the letter to Congress, Johnson claims that privately, SIPC and the SEC have been working "in good faith" to resolve their disagreement.

Neither SIPC nor the SEC would comment on the discussions, which apparently are aimed at settlement to avert a lawsuit by offering a partial payout to investors.

Meantime, patience among the investors and members of Congress is wearing thin.

On Tuesday, Sen. David Vitter, Republican from Louisiana, urged SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro to make good on the threat to sue.

"This again is dragging on, six months after your positive, concrete action," Sen. David Vitter, told Schapiro at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

"I think the SEC needs to take definite action again before the end of the year in a positive way, and I'm afraid that's going to mean suing SIPC," Vitter said.

"I share deeply your concern about this and that we not take longer than is absolutely necessary," said Schapiro in response. But she was non-committal about filing suit.

Schapiro said the SEC is working on "the best possible result for victims."

But the main group representing Stanford's 28,000 investors says they are entitled to full coverage, and in a letter to the SEC's general counsel this week, the Official Stanford Investors Committee echoed Vitter's call for the SEC to go through with the court action.

SIPC is essentially caught between the SEC and its own members--brokerage firms that would bear the cost of any payout while they are already compensating customers of Bernard Madoff and MF Global.

Wall Street's main trade group, the Securities Industry Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), has come out against coverage for Stanford investors. SIFMA argues SIPC coverage does not extend to fraud, but only guarantees the return of investors' cash and securities. In the case of Stanford, SIFMA contends, those securities are the certificates of deposit which are now worthless.

A SIFMA spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of a partial payout to investors.

The SEC sued Stanford and his companies in February 2009, putting them out of business. Stanford, 61, has denied wrongdoing.