Stanford receiver faces herculean task

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Life isn’t easy for Ralph Janvey, the court-appointed receiver now overseeing the financial empire of Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, accused by U.S. regulators of carrying out a massive Ponzi scheme.

Texan billionaire Allen Stanford talks during an interview in Miami in this May 1, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Janvey, a straight-talking, Dallas-based lawyer and adjunct law professor at Southern Methodist University, has taken the helm of Stanford Financial Group, after a U.S. judge tapped him to serve as the receiver, with final say over Stanford’s vast estate of offices, island properties, yachts and castles.

So far, he has been sued by angry investors and had to fire 1,000 Stanford employees on Friday.

“Imagine being thrust in at the top of this company right now,” said Michael Goldberg, an attorney with Akerman Senterfitt in Miami, who has served as a receiver in many other SEC cases. By all measures of the law Janvey “is Stanford now,” Goldberg said.

It is not the best time to take charge.

The company is in “dire” financial condition, with “tens of millions of dollars” in unpaid bills, Janvey reported to U.S. Judge David Godbey last week. There is mounting evidence that estate assets will only provide a “fraction” of amount needed to cover claims, Janvey said. On Friday, Janvey slashed 1,000 Stanford jobs -- about 85 percent of the company’s workforce.

U.S. securities regulators have accused Stanford, his college roommate and three of their companies of carrying out a “massive Ponzi scheme” over at least a decade and misappropriating at least $1.6 billion of investors’ money.

Charles Meadows, a Dallas-based lawyer representing Stanford, said in a filing that the allegations against his client are “false and the SEC has presented no evidence of any such Ponzi scheme.” Janvey did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Alan Bromberg, a professor at the Dedman School of Law at SMU, once taught Janvey as a law student and described him as “one of the best I’ve ever had.”

Now Bromberg is filling in for Janvey’s evening class on regulation of securities markets -- with about 25 students.

After being appointed receiver, Janvey “just called me and said ‘Can you pick up my class on Monday,’” Bromberg said.


Now, Janvey must scour the globe and attempt to return assets to bereaved investors, field angry calls and emails from shareholders who have had access to their accounts frozen and decide the eventual fate of the company.

“He’s got poor people who think their life savings are gone calling him and trying to speak to him,” Goldberg said. “He’s getting barraged by thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls.”

To make matters worse a group of Stanford clients last week sued Janvey, the SEC and the U.S. Marshals office for freezing their assets.

Janvey must wage legal skirmishes on multiple fronts, including an altercation over 101 gold bars worth $3 million that are the foundation of an upcoming exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.

Bringing some measure of relief, Judge Godbey last week ordered the release of about $500 million from Stanford customer brokerage accounts held by Pershing LLC that had been subject to a court-ordered freeze since February.

Less than a month into his new job, Janvey has been very busy. Janvey told Judge Godbey last week that he’s changed the locks at Stanford offices, hired guards, locked away gold coin and bullion (Stanford Coins and Bullion Inc dealt in precious metals), and copied the contents of 300 computer hard drives.

“I take very seriously my responsibility as the receiver,” and all his actions are “aimed at maximizing the recovery by innocent claimants,” Janvey said in a court filing.

Janvey’s primary task is returning shareholders’ assets -- or what is left of them -- to their rightful owner. But first he has to find them, a job that could prove challenging.

There are at least 175 separate Stanford entities ranging from securities brokers to gold coins and bullion to insurance dealers, and real estate development ranging from hotels to clubs to golf courses, Janvey said.

One company’s organizational chart spans 25 pages and that changes every day, he said in a court filing.

Stanford’s assets stretch from the Virgin Islands to Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, and Janvey has moved to freeze his fleet of airplanes and other exotic conveyances.

Janvey has grounded a fleet of six company jets -- including Stanford’s personal Bombardier 500 luxury jet -- at a municipal airport in Sugar Land near Houston, according to the U.S. Marshals.

Stanford’s 120-foot custom yacht -- the Sea Eagle with a potential worth of about $20 million -- is unable to move from the St. Croix Marina, according to its captain.

The fruit of Janvey’s efforts could afford him a lifestyle commensurate with Stanford himself one day, Goldberg said.

“Mr. Janvey will certainly be able to afford a yacht after this case,” Goldberg said. “He’s going to be working very hard for many years.”

Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas; Editing by Andre Grenon