'Colorful' Houston Billionaire in Fraud Probe
Robert Allen Stanford, accused today by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a phony $8 billion investment scheme using self-styled certificates of deposit (SEC statement), could rank among the biggest scammers in history if the allegations against him turn out to be true.
The eccentric Houston billionaire who runs Stanford Financial Group and lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allegedly promised "improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates" on the certificates of deposit he sold. The commission's complaint alleges that Stanford misrepresented to investors that their deposits were safe and falsely claimed they were reinvested primarily in liquid financial instruments.
The charges may be linked to a Texas wrongful-termination lawsuit filed last summer by two former brokers who claimed they had witnessed "unethical and illegal business practices" at the money management firm, according to The New York Times. The company has said the lawsuit was filed by disgruntled employees and is "totally without merit."
The Times first reported last week that federal authorities were probing Stanford's finances.
Stanford's grandfather, Lodis Stanford, founded the investment house in 1932 during the Great Depression. By the 1980s, the family-owned business had made a fortune by investing in depressed Houston real estate. This year, Stanford was ranked by Forbes as one of the 400 richest Americans; his firm controls $51 billion in assets.
Stanford told CNBC in a May 2008 interview that he avoided the suprime mortgage meltdown "100 percent" because he couldn't "get my arms around it."
Stanford has a colorful personal history: At one point, he claimed to be a distant relative of Leland Stanford, California's former governor and the founder of Stanford University. But the university has denied any relationship between the two.
Stanford also had an unusual encounter with the Rev. Gerard Critch, a Virgin Islands priest who claimed he had been afflicted with signs of "stigmata," said to be the wounds of Jesus Christ. Stanford reportedly carried "a vial of congealed fluids extracted from Critch's foot as a memento," The Times of London reported.
And in Antigua, Stanford is "akin to royalty," being knighted by the former prime minister and referring to himself as "Sir Allen Stanford" on the company's Web site.
By Derek Kravitz |
February 17, 2009; 2:56 PM ET
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