Hundreds seek money as Stanford fallout spreads
St. John's/Caracas, February 19, 2009
People scrambled to get back their money from firms linked to Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, as fallout from US fraud charges against him spread from the United States and the Caribbean to Latin America and Europe.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission, which charged Stanford and two Stanford Group Co executives on Tuesday with an $8 billion fraud, said it did not know where the flamboyant 58-year-old financier and sports entrepreneur was.
In Miami, the local NBC television station reported that Stanford Group offices there had been raided by federal authorities, a day after a similar raid at Stanford's US headquarters in Houston.
The US Attorney's Office and an FBI spokeswoman in Miami said their agencies had not been involved in the latest raid and referred calls to the SEC.
Stanford's operations in Miami and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were being shut down by a court-appointed receiver, a source briefed on the matter said.
ABC News, citing federal authorities, reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others have been investigating whether Stanford was involved in laundering drug money for Mexico Gulf cartel.
Citing unnamed officials, ABC reported Mexican authorities had detained one of Stanford's private planes as part of the investigation, which has been going on since last year.
Officials said checks found inside the plane were believed to be connected to the Gulf cartel, one of Mexico's most violent gangs, ABC reported.
ABC cited authorities as saying Stanford could potentially face criminal charges of money laundering and bribery of foreign officials. Authorities said the SEC's action against Stanford on Tuesday may have complicated the federal drug investigation.
From the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua, a key outpost in Stanford's business empire, to Andean nations Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, investors and depositors, most angry, some in tears, besieged his banks and companies to try to redeem funds or seek information about their savings.
After the shock generated by the alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme fraud blamed on Wall Street veteran Bernard Madoff, regulators sought to calm public fears about another major financial scandal at a time of global recession and banking failures.
In Colombia, a local affiliate of Stanford halted its activities on that country's stock exchange. In Ecuador, the local Stanford affiliate was suspended for 30 days from operating in the Quito stock exchange, the bourse said.
While mystery surrounded Stanford's whereabouts, CNBC television reported that he tried to hire a private jet to fly from Houston to Antigua, but the jet lessor refused to accept his credit card.
The SEC accused Stanford in a civil complaint of fraudulently selling high-yield certificates of deposit from his Antiguan affiliate, Stanford International Bank Ltd (SIB).
Asked by reporters whether there would be more fraud cases of the scale and scope of Madoff and Stanford, US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters: "It's hard to say. I'd like to think that those are going to be the largest."
He declined to comment on why the Justice Department has not filed criminal charges against Stanford. Asked if Stanford may be outside the United States, SEC spokeswoman Kimberly Garber said: "Certainly that's a possibility, but we don't know."
In the twin-island Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda, where Stanford is the biggest private employer, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said the SEC charges could have "catastrophic" consequences, but urged the public not to panic.
In Antigua's capital, St. John's, and in Venezuela's, Caracas, hundreds besieged Stanford banks and offices.
"I heard the news and came straight down. We've had money here for two years and I want it back," said Caracas resident Josefina Moreno, who