Control over ex-tycoon Stanford's assets at issue

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By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — As former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford's criminal case gets ready to wind down with his sentencing Thursday for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, the battle for control of his remaining assets around the globe still hasn't been settled.

Investors are hoping to get back some of the money that was taken from them, but those leading the efforts are at odds over who should control Stanford's frozen bank accounts and properties. They've even duplicated efforts to go after certain assets.

The legal battle over the assets has frustrated investors, who are still waiting for a payout more than three years after Stanford's businesses were shut down.

"There are people who have died while waiting for a distribution of the assets, people whose families have been left with nothing, people basically living on donations," said Luis Lopez Duran, a Venezuelan attorney who lost money in the scheme.

Prosecutors say Stanford used the money from investors who bought certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua to fund a string of failed businesses, bribe regulators and pay for his lavish lifestyle. Stanford was convicted in March on 13 of 14 fraud-related counts and could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Stanford's financial empire once spanned from the U.S. to Latin America and the Caribbean. An Antiguan court and a U.S. judge in Dallas have both appointed people to try to recover assets. The U.S. Justice Department is also undertaking its own effort.

Ralph Janvey is the receiver appointed by a federal judge in Dallas. Since 2009, he has worked to close Stanford's various companies and sell his assets, having so far collected more than $220 million.

But Janvey has also racked up more than $108 million in fees and expenses, leaving just $112 million for investors.

Kevin Sadler, an attorney for Janvey, defended these costs, saying Stanford's empire "collapsed, it left a huge mess that has required a huge (and expensive) clean up."

Meanwhile, an Antiguan court appointed liquidators who say they have recovered or could potentially recover more than $323 million in assets for investors. But about $212 million is tied up in land once owned by Stanford that has yet to be sold.

Edward Davis Jr., one of the attorneys for the liquidators, said their process is cheaper, faster and better than the Janvey-run receivership, which he said is inefficient and too expensive.

"We are trying our very utmost to gather up assets and make claims to put money in (investors') pockets," Davis said.

The liquidators are also battling the U.S. Justice Department for control of about $330 million in frozen Stanford bank accounts in Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In a May 3 letter, the liquidators asked the Justice Department to withdraw its claim. Davis said the liquidators are worried a large portion of these funds would not go to investors but instead be used to pay for U.S. receivership costs and claims by the Internal Revenue Service against Stanford.

In a June 4 response, Frederick Reynolds, a deputy chief with the Justice Department, suggested U.S. officials as well as Janvey and the liquidators meet to try to settle their differences.

"Continued litigation among the parties will only ensure that the total amount of money available for distribution to Stanford victims will be depleted by costs and fees incurred by the Receiver and the Joint Liquidators," he wrote.

The liquidators have said such a meeting would do no good. The Justice Department has since said if it gets control of the $330 million, it will use the Janvey-run receivership to distribute those funds to victims.

Investors, meanwhile, are divided over who should be in charge.

Richard Watson, a British citizen who lives in Antigua and lost much of his life savings, believes the liquidators should handle everything.

"Our worry is that those funds will find their way to the DOJ, from the DOJ they will go to the U.S. receiver and they will be squandered in attorney's fees. And the creditors won't see one cent," he said.

But Angela Shaw, a Dallas-area woman who founded the Stanford Victims Coalition after she and her husband lost $2 million in the scheme, said the liquidators aren't sincere and "just want a piece of the pie." Shaw said Stanford's assets should be distributed under U.S. law, which was used to prosecute Stanford.

"If they are interested in helping victims, they should not tie up those assets," she said.

Regardless, whatever is ultimately recovered will be only a fraction of what investors lost. More could be recouped through lawsuits, but that could take years.

Investors have until Sept. 1 to make a claim with the U.S. receivership. The liquidators do not have a deadline.

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Associated Press writer Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano at http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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