Sometimes the federal judiciary rules in favor of small investors who lose their savings to slick promoters like Robert Allen Stanford, of Houston, Texas. On other occasions, federal judges can crush those same investors.
That was the roller coaster ride federal courts provided in 2014 for about 1,000 Louisiana residents and more than 20,000 people in other states and countries.
By year’s end, those towering ascents and stomach-churning plunges left diminished hope of recovering much of the $5.5 billion to $7 billion estimated to have been swindled from people who placed their savings with Stanford Group Co. That firm and its sister companies were shut down by federal regulators in February 2009.
The Houston-based brokerage had offices in Baton Rouge and several other cities across the nation. It also was insured through a federally chartered and industry-funded safety net — the Securities Investor Protection Corp., better known as SIPC.
Ten months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The circuit court’s decision granted investors permission to proceed with negligence and fraud claims in state courts against companies that provided back-office services to Stanford’s juggernaut. That was the high point of the year for some investors.
In July, though, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court decision that allowed SIPC to refuse a directive by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC had ordered SIPC to begin proceedings that could have reimbursed each of the Stanford victims as much as $500,000 of their individual losses.
The SEC later decided against an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As devastating as this year’s court ride was for investors, it provided Stanford, 64, hope of overturning a federal fraud conviction in Houston that sent him to prison for 110 years in Coleman, Florida.
Among the Washington appellate court’s rulings was a decision that investors could not be considered SIPC-insured customers of Stanford Group Co. and a bogus Stanford bank because their money should have been categorized as loans. That categorization, the court ruled, means people who thought they were Stanford investors actually became Stanford’s partners — not his customers.
Now, Stanford is asking the 5th Circuit to overturn his criminal conviction. In that appeal in New Orleans, Stanford argues that the appellate ruling in Washington, D.C., bolsters his view that neither the SEC nor any other federal agency had probable cause to target him for investigation. That’s because, Stanford says, the ruling supports his contention that people who invested in his offshore bank through his Stanford Group Co. “were not customers of the domestic-based SGC.”
Federal prosecutors have not yet filed a response to Stanford’s argument.