Remember Stanford – the wannabe king of 20/20?

By Trevor Chesterfield | April 01, 2010

Whatever happened to that American clown imperial pretender ‘Sir’ Allen Stanford? The big-mouth pretentious prig who wore that ugly smirk and the moniker ‘sir’ in front of his tawdry Texan name?

If you recall, he was the man who funded cricket’s first million dollar T20 venture in 2008 and like all megalomaniacs threatened to not only take control of West Indies cricket, but run the game in the Caribbean the way Robert Mugabe does Zimbabwe, as his own fiefdom.

Apart from being stripped of the honorific ‘Sir’, when seen last, on December 17 last year, making a court appearance for a failed bail bid, he had emerged as an unkempt figure from the dark caverns of a private prison where he is still incarcerated in Huston. As the legal wrangles continue over his part in a giant fraud, money laundering case, he faces 21 federal criminal charges of a misappropriation of funds involving his one-time financial empire. Not only have his assets been frozen, his state of health is said to be cause for concern as well and now seeks a new legal team to fight his case.

And this is the guy who in July 2008 suggested he would take over world cricket and restructure the laws (‘rules’ as he called them). There were insinuations how his plans would make Lalit Modi’s Indian Premier League, appear as would any two bit junior amateur concern compared to his own bigger commercial corporate venture.

‘What I have in mind will make (Modi’s) IPL franchise system look like so much small change to what I have in mind, ‘was one of the misplaced claims.

Big talk and all so much like a blast from the past. Instead of reality, it represented a caricature scene out of the popular soapie of the late 1970s and 1980s ‘Dallas’ as Stanford told his grovelling acolytes at a meeting in Antigua how all Texans are big thinkers. ‘It is why we are so great at what we do and why any opposition gets well crushed the way any lowlife cockroach should’.

If you recall, he was in a sense trying to behave as would a modern version of the old ‘Louisville Lip’ aka Cassius Clay and now Mohammed Ali. Comments such as ‘big money always talks, the flashier the better and buys new friends, even titles’ and ‘I’ll give that old folksy place Lourdes (sic) a smart facelift’ were part of his cheap chatter image along with his confetti-like money style, a well-dressed, gaudy charlatan who once tried to wow Lord’s and the pompous England (and Wales) Cricket Board, with his brazen behaviour.

While Ali could at least deliver with honesty and classy knock outs, and smile at his success, giving him every right to boast, Stanford’s ponzi scheming, like that other greedy swindler Bernie Madoff, New York’s own bucket of scum, tried to pull a fast one. Those who doubted Stanford from the start were justified in their own suspicions how at first glance he was another pernicious phony. The world is full of them, and since he has been unmasked as such, has been stripped of his knighthood through which he tried to grease-palm his way into the Lord’s Longroom.

While Madoff’s scam took even celebrities for a major ride, leaving them fuming at being such a bunch of fools at being taken in by such a shallow con artist with a thespian gift for smooth chatter and seduction, the barefaced Stanford was someone of another cut of the cloth as it were. On the face of it, with a clean cut name like ‘Sir’ Allen Stanford and a then estimated US$7-billion to support his fancy philanthropic image, he was seen as a new age type hero.

Especially with a handle like Stanford, revered as it is in American academic circles, and naturally to boost his business profile he would lay claim to being a distant descendant of the founder of Stanford University, Leland Stanford.

Life was one of flamboyant luxury, and a style that goes hand in hand with the multi-billionaires of this world, who are high on the Forbes lists of the corporate and executive rich. He enjoyed a lavish jetset lifestyle whether travelling or dining. Scenes of Roman-style banquets where they served exotic seafood dishes on gold plated plates and drank exquisite tasting 30-year-old champagne from France at US$10 000 a bottle, while wearing hand-tailored finely woven silk suits and shirts, was an every day occurrence.

Even his Huston, Texas, offices had a personal bathroom, a private exit from the building and kitchen run by chefs to feed his many guests in a mahogany and marble diningroom.

Stanford had it all. He was the 21st Century quintessential multi-millionaire with his philanthropy, sports promotions and financing deals. Even down to living part of the time on the Caribbean tax haven of Antigua, home of several famous former West Indian cricketers.

On the surface, the cricket bug bit him. He promoted a personally sponsored a million dollar series of T20 games throughout the Caribbean. Later there was a match between his own Stanford All Stars, made up of West Indian players and staged at an all-purpose international cricket venue at St John’s and a select England XI for the astonishing prize of US$20-million. This project was the defining game in the 2008 Stanford Super Series with each player in the winning side earning US$1-million.

However, the wealthy playboy facade was starting to crumble. This was beneath the weight of what for years, had been a well-constructed and manipulatively managed and planned Machiavellian fraud scheme. As with Hansie Cronje, the late South African cricket captain seduced by the money so readily made available by Indian bookmakers to throw games, Stanford was about to be exposed as nothing more than another cheap con artist – a dishonest cardboard cutout fake. Or, if you prefer, was unmasked to be your archetypal Ponzi activist who enjoyed living off the earnings of others who had trusted the well-woven fantasy he presented through his so-called philanthropic persona.

His Walter Mitty-fantasy world figure slowly began to unravel from June 2008. He arrived with the arrogance of a South American banana republic drug cartel boss in a helicopter hired to make a grand entrance at the historic 195-year-old England cricket venue Lord’s, in the leafy exclusive London suburb of St John’s Wood and carrying a large transparent case purported to contain US$1-million in cash.

Giles Clarke, head honcho of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and select mandarins of the ECB were on hand to greet him. Clarke is an Arabic-speaking Oxford University graduate with your typically unflappable urbane British public school background. However, it is as an investment banker that he looked at the Stanford cricket operation with the idea of it being a beneficial long-term business opportunity for the ECB. Stanford was in town to sign a five-year deal worth millions.

Yet, as Clarke and other ECB bureaucrats hovered around the now ubiquitous case with its alleged million-dollar cash cargo, Stanford gave an arrogant smirk in what was a typical display of unctuous condescension for the camera. So did the others after their initial narcissistic yet false show of bonhomie and backslapping greetings.

“Just what is so historic about this ground?” he sneered when asked a question by a British tabloid reporter of what it felt like being at such a famed venue for the first time. “Ask me after I have made a bid and bought it. I can assure you there will be a few changes to its folksy image.”

He let out a few loud fatuous guffaws, reminding the scribes not to forget that he is ‘Sir’ Allen Stanford and not plain Mr Allen Stanford, as being an Antiguan citizen he was entitled to the knighthood, awarded by the Antigua government for reasons that have never been clear. He used the title as a pretentious brandname to show off to others: a narcissistic adornment to suit his egotistical image.

A posse of streetwise and sceptical veteran British cricket journalists were less impressed with this type of braggadocio approach by an American masquerading as someone he was not. They felt strongly about how the ECB was dealing with a man whose character references were flawed. To the journalists he was an opportunist around whom rumours had been circulating of major misappropriation of bank funds.

When doubts began to emerge in October 2008 over Stanford’s financial dealings, there was what was called a ‘gut feeling’ among several English cricket writers of how the million dollar game deal lacked transparency and was a sham. The cynics among them of that June meeting and the pre-match hype reports in late October and early November 2008 were later shown to be unerring in their comments of ‘greedy administrators in it for the money’.

They also saw the approach by the game’s organisers in St John’s Antigua as ‘callow and lacking in the professionalism needed to give it a corporate identity.’ Within weeks, the Stanford T20 three-ring cricket circus had been dismantled. First to go was the so-called Stanford Legends idea to promote the Stanford brand.

Then in February 2009, the ECB terminated their contracts with Stanford when the cases of fraud were made after a lengthy investigation by a United States Government agency, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Now there is a major row over who is owed what in an on-going legal battle.

Reports are that the SEC alleges Stanford operated a gigantic Ponzi scheme. Stanford has denied that allegation that he and several associates stole more than $7.2-billion from investors.

A Ponzi scheme is a fake business in which early investors receive returns on their money. Those returns, however, are not actual profits from any legitimate business. They simply are portions of the money placed into the fake business by subsequent investors.

CBSNewsOnline — February 22, 2009 — There are many victims swindled by billionaire investor, R. Allen Stanford, including those who worked at his business in Antigua, where Stanford was a financier and philanthropist.

In Antigua they were scrambling to get their money out of his bank and many, as with Madoff, realised too late they had been seduced by a phoney image and suckered by extra returns that he was using for his own benefit. One known employer was happy enough to quit. He had not invested in the fake Stanford scheme. It was, as Mike pointed out, a blessing. He has his wife to thank for saving his money from such a sleazy squandering.

A former Stanford associate says that Stanford had hoped to use his cricket contacts to pull in other major investors, including England and West Indian players.

Photos showed queues outside establishments in Antigua whose facades were of ugly modernity with false chrome and cheap plastic; or hideous modern corporate monstrosity amid the gentle, quaint colonial style buildings of Spanish, French and English. What this showed is that Stanford has no feeling for tradition and as such, no respect for history. In this he is the same as Modi. While Kerry Packer created history with World Series Cricket, Stanford and Modi had to reinvent their own brand to attempt to make a name.

For Stanford, it is all quite a comedown for a man who said he would turn his Twenty20 cricket promotion into a world event. His 60th birthday this year passed unnoticed while two years ago it was in lavish surroundings, on Antigua; this year it was the four walls of the cell in a private prison.

©: Copyright – Trevor Chesterfield.
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