They have so much riding on such slim hope, but it may be all they have left.
For two years, Stanford Financial Group’s victims have struggled with the grim reality of their situation. Not only is their money gone, but every safety net has failed them. Now, they’re hoping a new finding by a forensic accountant will give them a better chance at getting some of their money back.
Last week, investors circulated a declaration by FTI Consulting, an accounting firm hired by receiver Ralph Janvey to determine whether Stanford investors should be covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corp.
The ruling found that money that was supposed to buy certificates of deposit at Stanford’s Antiguan bank was diverted for other purposes.
The finding “100 percent supports the legal argument we’ve made” to get investors covered by SIPC, Angela Shaw, the head of the Stanford Victims Coalition, said in an e-mail sent to other investors.
After all, SIPC is covering some of the losses for Bernie Madoff’s victims because he never bought the stocks he told clients he’d bought for them.
While the two cases may seem similar, they aren’t. Nothing about the accountant’s findings in the Stanford case changes SIPC’s determination that investors aren’t covered, said Stephen Harbeck, SIPC’s chief executive.
“We don’t see a customer that we can protect,” he said.
SIPC doesn’t cover lost investment value, even if there may be fraud involved. Stanford investors’ money may have been diverted, but the CDs did exist and the bank still had records of investors owning them, the accountant’s report found. What was falsified, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, was the assets that backed up those CDs.
Hoping SEC will step in
Stanford investors, though, hope the FTI report will encourage the SEC, which missed so many warnings about Stanford for so long, to ask SIPC to extend the coverage. So far, it hasn’t. The SEC could even sue SIPC to compel it to cover Stanford’s victims, but that’s never happened.
“In this instance, both parties agree that there’s no cause to initiate coverage,” Harbeck said. “We were not designed to replace the initial purchase price when a security goes down in value.”
That, of course, is not what Stanford victims want to hear. And who can blame them? After all, they weren’t chasing exorbitant returns on risky investments. They thought they were buying a safe haven ï¿½ low-risk CDs – in a time of market turmoil. In many cases, they were following the advice of their trusted brokers.
Confusing to investors
SIPC is a narrowly defined insurance fund. The arcane details of its limitations have confused investors for years – at least the few who were even aware it existed.
In creating SIPC, Congress was careful to insure against broker misconduct, but not to shield investors from risk that, recent Wall Street bailouts aside, is supposed to be a part of investing.
The Stanford case, though, raises the question of whether that law needs amending.
After all, the SEC claims Stanford brokers peddled the bogus CDs, collecting commissions for selling them to clients of the company’s brokerage operation, which was a SIPC member.
In other words, SIPC coverage enhanced the veneer of credibility that Stanford used to sell itself to investors, and the FTI report describes a SIPC member firm that was diverting funds from customer purchases without the customers’ knowledge. The fact that the alleged fraud wasn’t quite as blatant as Madoff’s – an obfuscation instead of an outright lie – is a hairline distinction with multibillion-dollar consequences.
Given all the damage from Stanford’s collapse, perhaps some good can yet come from the ashes. Perhaps Congress can review the law and build better protections for future investors.
SIPC touts itself as investors’ first line of defense. For Stanford investors, it may be their last hope.