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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Most lawmakers haven't returned donations from disgraced Texas banker Allen Stanford

By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Most lawmakers haven't returned donations from disgraced Texas banker R. Allen Stanford despite pleadings from a federal receiver who is trying to get the money back for defrauded investors.

Dallas attorney Ralph Janvey is sending new letters this week demanding the funds from about 70 members of Congress, as well as the fundraising committees for Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Janvey is seeking more than $1.8 million in contributions from Stanford, his top corporate lieutenants and employees of his offshore bank and affiliated financial services companies.

"The funds used to make these contributions came directly from defrauded investors," said Kristie Blumenschein, a spokeswoman for Janvey. "Such payments were fraudulent transfers, and the receiver has requested that the funds be returned to the receivership estate as soon as possible."

Janvey first asked for the money in February 2009. But only about $88,000 has been returned to Janvey, who was appointed to recover Stanford's far-flung assets and return as much money as possible to investors.

Stanford; his former chief financial officer, James M. Davis; and his former chief investment officer, Laura Pendergest-Holt, were indicted in June for their roles in what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission called a $7 billion Ponzi scheme involving high-interest certificates of deposit. Stanford International Bank Ltd. was based in Antigua.

Over the years, Stanford's robust lobbying team in Washington tried to weaken efforts to crack down on money laundering through offshore banks. Many of Stanford's top allies in Congress were Texans, including Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, who sent a sympathetic e-mail to Stanford the day he was charged.

If the lawmakers don't return the funds, Janvey could try to sue them to recover the money, said Phillip L. Stern, a Chicago securities attorney who previously worked as an enforcement attorney for the SEC.

"Ultimately, if they say no, he has to go to court," Stern said. "At which point these people would be able to argue that the receiver does not have the authority to recapture those funds."

Some lawmakers said last year they would donate Stanford's funds to charity, but most haven't even done that. Only about 15 of the 70 lawmakers on Janvey's list made any contributions from their campaign accounts to charities in 2009, according to CQ Moneyline, which tracks federal campaign donations.

And in most cases, their charitable contributions were less than the amount they received from Stanford.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn't returned $950,000 it received from Stanford and his employees over the years. The National Republican Congressional Committee, chaired by Sessions, didn't return $238,500. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hasn't returned $202,000.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senate committee didn't return a message Wednesday seeking comment. An official with Sessions' committee said the group has no plans to return the funds.

Texas lawmakers who haven't returned Stanford contributions to their personal campaigns or political action committees include Sessions, who has said he donated a $2,000 Stanford contribution to charity; Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is running for governor; Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio; Republican Sen. John Cornyn; Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands.

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