HOUSTON — Investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by convicted ex-Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford have begun getting back some of what they lost after a recovery process that has dragged on for more than 4½ years.
However, the amounts being returned to many who lost their life savings ultimately will be only a pittance of their investments — about 1 percent of what they put in. The largest claim being paid out in the first distribution of funds to victims of Stanford’s scheme is about $50,000, while the smallest is $2.81. Many of the claims seemed to be in the range of $1,000 to $4,000, according to court documents filed late last month.
British retiree Kate Freeman, who lost $820,000 in the scheme, said she and other investors continue to be frustrated by the slowness of the recovery process.
“After nearly five years, it’s just the biggest disappointment — isn’t it? — that this is all we’re getting,” Freeman, in her late 50s, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from her home in Antigua.
David Arlington, an attorney for Ralph Janvey, the U.S. court-appointed receiver who is making the initial distribution, said he expects that most of this first allotment of funds — about $1 million — will be disbursed within the next few months.
“Obviously, it’s a huge milestone in this receivership to be able to begin making payments to investors. We’re pleased with the fact that we are doing that,” he said.
Prosecutors said Stanford persuaded investors to buy certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua then used the money to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for his lavish lifestyle. In a Ponzi scheme, money from new investors is used to pay old ones.
Stanford, 63, was convicted last year on 13 fraud-related counts and sentenced to 110 years in prison.
In Louisiana, about $1 billion of the total loss was suffered by about 1,000 investors spread across the Baton Rouge, Covington and Lafayette areas. That is the estimate of state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, and Baton Rouge attorney Phil Preis, who represents scores of victims in two suits pending in the nation’s capital.
One of those cases, now before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, could determine whether the federal Securities and Exchange Commission can order the financial services industry to bail out victims of giant Ponzi schemes.
For more than 40 years, under congressional authority, the industry has insured defrauded victims in some cases up to a maximum that now stands at $500,000. But, for the first time in its history, the industry-funded Securities Investor Protection Corp. has refused such an order by the SEC in the Stanford case.
A related case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether victims of investment fraud can band together to file class-action suits in state courts.
Stanford victims are suing financial services companies alleged to have ignored evidence of fraud by a promoter, Stanford, who hired them.
Stanford’s financial empire once spanned from the U.S. to Latin America and the Caribbean. After its collapse, a U.S. federal judge in Dallas and an Antiguan court both appointed people to try to recover assets. The U.S. Justice Department also undertook its own effort.
Janvey’s initial distribution of funds is part of $55 million that he got approval in May to disburse.
“He’s got $55 million to pay out. If he releases them in small batches like this, it’s going to take forever. It just seems so badly organized,” Freeman said.
Arlington said the distributions to investors are being made as quickly as possible but are dependent on how soon investors return paperwork needed to finalize their claims.
“We’re pleased with the pace we expect to achieve in sending these payments out,” he said.
Janvey has said additional money that already has been collected or will be obtained through lawsuits or other efforts also will be distributed at some point.
Angela Shaw, a Dallas-area woman who founded the Stanford Victims Coalition after three generations of her family lost $4.5 million in the fraud, remains critical of how long it’s taken to get money to investors and of the millions of dollars the receiver has spent on various fees.
“Any amount (for investors) is welcome, but it’s such a minuscule amount that it’s beyond insulting. It’s really sad,” she said.
While Janvey has begun distributing funds, liquidators in Antigua announced Tuesday they plan to make their initial distribution by late November or early December.
Marcus Wide, with the Stanford International Bank Joint Liquidators, said because of pending lawsuits and sales of property once owned by Stanford, he could not say how much money the liquidators have collected for investors or would be initially distributed.
Janvey and the Antiguan liquidators had been at odds as they fought over many of the same assets, but they agreed earlier this year to combine their efforts.
“The fact we are all working on the same team is definitely a plus and will maximize recoveries,” Wide said.
The Advocate contributed to this report.
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