A decade after then-Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford was arrested for running the nation's second-largest Ponzi scheme, Baton Rouge couple Charles and Betty Sanchez — like so many local victims of the investment scam — are enduring what their lead attorney calls a "financial Katrina" and hoping to someday recoup the quarter of a million dollars they lost.
"Here we are 10 years later and still fighting this battle," the 81-year-old Charles Sanchez said as he and his 79-year-old wife sat in a conference room Thursday at the Preis Gordon law firm in Baton Rouge.
"It's a sad affair, this whole thing. It's been a drain on our lives," added Sanchez, a former state and Baton Rouge city-parish worker. "A lot of people got hurt, our age and older."
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said recently that less than 5 percent of the $7 billion taken by Stanford has been returned to victims to date.
Too little, said Cassidy, who recently met with attorneys representing Societe Generale, or SocGen, a Swiss bank reportedly holding $210 million in stolen assets from the Stanford Ponzi scheme.
"This money belongs to the victims of the Stanford Ponzi scheme and should be returned without delay," Cassidy said in a written statement. "It should not be spent in endless litigation."
Cassidy's meeting with the SocGen lawyers came in response to a letter he and fellow U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., fired off in February demanding that the bank return the frozen funds to Stanford's victims.
The Louisiana senators alleged in the letter that SocGen "aided and abetted" Stanford's banking outside the United States and continues to hold his victims' money "hostage."
"We strongly urge you to return these funds to their rightful owners without further delay," Cassidy and Kennedy wrote. "Regulatory intervention should not be necessary for Stanford's victims to receive the justice they deserve."
Phil Preis, the lead lawyer for Charles and Betty Sanchez and dozens of other local Stanford victims who filed a class-action lawsuit a decade ago, said local victims suffered about $250 million in damages. Many of the victims were retirees from Exxon and other plants along the Mississippi River.
"We call it a financial Katrina," Preis said.
With legal interest, the $250 million figure has ballooned to $450 million, he said.
"This is an important case for the Baton Rouge community," Preis added, choking up at one point while talking about the victims and their devastating losses.
The class-action suit was filed in 2009 against the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions and Pennsylvania-based SEI Investments Co., a multibillion-dollar international financial services firm.
After a decade of litigation in the case, Preis sees a little light at the end of the long tunnel. He said the claims against SEI could go to trial in Baton Rouge federal court in a year and a half.
"I hope I'm still around," Charles Sanchez quipped as his wife grinned. "It's been a long ordeal for both of us."
Allen Stanford was convicted of fraud in 2012 and is serving a 110-year prison sentence.
Stanford Trust Co. was based in Baton Rouge, and the Stanford Group — another Stanford entity — had offices in downtown Baton Rouge. Victims of the Ponzi scheme invested their retirement savings as rollover IRAs into certain fraudulent CDs sold in Baton Rouge by Stanford Trust.
The $250,000-plus that Charles and Betty Sanchez hope to recover was money that her aunt Mamie Helen Bowman and Bowman's husband had invested with Stanford. Bowman, a schoolteacher for more than 33 years, died in 2014 at age 98. Her husband died previously.
"That was supposed to pay for her long-term care in a nursing home," Charles Sanchez said. Bowman was in a nursing home when the Stanford companies collapsed. Charles and Betty Sanchez are her legal representatives.
The suit alleges SEI performed the accounting and reporting of the IRA investments and "actively and materially aided" Stanford Trust and Stanford Group Co. to "perpetuate the massive Ponzi scheme." SEI denies the allegations.
OFI is accused of turning a blind eye to Stanford's fraud scheme. OFI has stated in court documents that it does not guarantee investors in OFI-regulated companies, such as Stanford Trust Co., won't lose money to fraudulent conduct.
The suit's claims against OFI remain in Baton Rouge state court, but Preis said the main focus of the litigation is on SEI.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell, of Baton Rouge, certified the suit as a class action in 2012 on behalf of some 1,100 Louisiana residents. His ruling survived a lengthy appeals process.
Allegations that Louisiana financial regulators' failure to perform their duties contributed to the massive losses suffered by hundreds of Lou…
In 2014, in what Preis described as a "big victory," the U.S. Supreme Court said class-action suits by Stanford's victims could go forward.
Federal law says securities fraud-related class-action suits cannot be filed under state law, as these were, but a federal appeals court said these could move forward because the main part of the fraud involved certificates of deposit, rather than stocks and other securities. The high court agreed.
In January, a federal judge in Texas moved the litigation against SEI back to federal court in Baton Rouge after more than five years of discovery in the case.
"The wheels of justice move slowly, particularly in this case," Preis said. "We're hoping it'll pick up the pace here in Baton Rouge."
Given the age of the victims and the fact that the case has been pending for a decade, Preis said he hopes the case can now be expedited.
He said there are a staggering 400,000 documents in the case.
Allen Stanford bilked some 25,000 investors in more than 100 countries, from Baton Rouge to Bolivia, and lived a lifestyle of island-hopping luxury.
Investors were told by Stanford's financial advisers that their money was safely held in CDs at Stanford International Bank in the Caribbean island of Antigua. The money for the CDs, however, funded his lavish habits.
A New Orleans federal appellate court has let stand Houston investment promoter R. Allen Stanford’s 2012 fraud conviction and 110-year prison …
In a Ponzi scheme, named for the 1920s swindler Charles Ponzi, the operator pays returns to early investors by funneling to them the money put in by later investors, rather than with any profits earned by shrewd trading. The apparent high rate of return lures new investors and reinvestments.
Ponzi schemes collapse, as Stanford's did, when sufficient numbers of prospective new investors cannot be persuaded to add more money to the pot, and periodic payments cease.