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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lawmakers rebuff pleas to return funds from alleged Ponzi schemer

While Allen Stanford was flying high, he and his colleagues spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions and lobbying payments to curry favor in Washington. But all that money was diverted from investors in what authorities have called an elaborate Ponzi scheme, second only to Bernard Madoff’s in U.S. history, according to court documents.

Since Stanford’s arrest in 2009, a court-appointed receiver for the Houston-based Stanford Financial Group has been struggling to reclaim investor funds paid out to in-house and contract lobbyists, financial advisers and others whose services may have helped enable the scheme.

The receiver, Dallas lawyer Ralph S. Janvey, has been able to recover only about 5 percent of the political contributions he has targeted. Four of the principal national Republican and Democratic fundraising committees took in $1.6 million in Stanford donations, but they are vigorously fighting demands that they return it

At least 50 members of the House and Senate have either ignored restitution demands or donated some of Stanford’s campaign contributions to charity instead, according to the receiver and a survey by The Washington Post. Included are House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.); Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.); Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who chairs a Finance Committee subcommittee; and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

After questioning by The Post, a few of the lawmakers say they are having second thoughts. “We’re prepared to send the money back if they’re prepared to send us a release,” a spokesman for Cantor’s fundraising committee said.

“A check will be cut shortly,” Nelson’s spokesman said, explaining that the senator earlier donated matching funds to charity in keeping with his practice for “individuals who run afoul of the law.”

Kevin M. Sadler, an Austin-based lawyer who speaks for Janvey, said no one in Washington has argued that Stanford, who is in federal custody while awaiting trial, is innocent. Instead, they have challenged the receiver’s legal standing or argued that he waited too long to litigate. “Such indifference to the victims of a massive fraud scheme is difficult to understand,” Sadler said.

Thus far, Janvey has filed 45 lawsuits as part of his global scramble to recover a fraction of the more than $7 billion that prosecutors allege Stanford stole from investors in 114 countries. His authority has been upheld twice in federal civil court, where an appellate panel affirmed last December that there was considerable evidence that “the Stanford enterprise operated as a Ponzi scheme.” It cited in particular the August 2009 guilty plea of Stanford aide James Davis, who said the firm had routinely reported false returns and used new income to pay client debts.

Noting this confession, Janvey forged a legal strategy that includes pursuing payments to lobbyists and advisers, arguing that the money represented fraudulent transfers and therefore is eligible for seizure.

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