By ISABEL VINCENT and MELISSA KLEIN
The e-mail was flagged “Importance: High.” A top executive at the Stanford Financial Group wanted an answer.
“Have we an update on Antigua?” demanded Lionel C. Johnson, a senior VP.
“Greg Meeks and Ed Ahmad have both called again this afternoon inquiring about the status of Ahmad’s VIP-box invitations.”
The Feb. 19, 2008, e-mail, obtained by The Post, was addressed to Yolanda Suarez, chief counsel for the company run by now-disgraced billionaire banker Allen Stanford. It and other insistent messages during that period show Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks was determined to get his pal, Edul Ahmad, invited to a Caribbean cricket match so he could meet another Meeks buddy, Stanford.
The urgent pleas were made a year after Ahmad handed Meeks $40,000.
Stanford would also throw cash at the congressman a few months later — hosting a lavish fund-raiser in St. Croix in July 2008, complete with Cristal champagne and caviar, that raised at least $13,800 for Meeks’ campaign committee.
Now the circle of friends threatens to become a circle of felons.
Stanford, 61, is awaiting trial on charges he engineered a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Ahmad, 43, was indicted this summer in New York, accused of falsifying $50 million in loan applications. And Meeks, 57, is under investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for the $40,000 Ahmad payment and is at the center of a separate federal probe for his role in a Queens nonprofit that allegedly stiffed Hurricane Katrina victims.
Meeks, an eight-term congressman, has a penchant for hobnobbing with shady characters and had few qualms about accepting their cash — or doing them favors.
Stanford, a flamboyant businessman from Texas who once ran a bodybuilding gym in Waco, took over the family financial business. He also started his own bank in 1985 on the island of Montserrat and later moved his operations to Antigua. Forbes ranked him as the 205th-richest American in 2008, with an estimated worth of $2.2 billion.
Meeks’ relationship with Stanford dates back to at least 2003, when the congressman and his wife traveled to Antigua and Barbados on a junket sponsored by the Inter-American Economic Council, a Washington, DC, nonprofit backed by Stanford. It would be the first of many trips to sunny climes that Meeks and his wife, Simone-Marie, would take on the nonprofit’s dime.
Meeks sits on both the House’s Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees and belonged to the Caribbean Caucus, an informal group of lawmakers Stanford sought to woo.
The economic development of the Caribbean, and the US Virgin Islands in particular, has been Congressman Meeks’ focus for over a decade,” Johnson, an executive in charge of government affairs at Stanford Group, wrote in an e-mail exhorting company employees to attend the July 2008 fund-raiser. Ticket prices began at $1,000 for the soirée at Stanford’s hilltop compound in St. Croix.
Eighty guests dined on lobster, caviar and foie gras and sipped Cristal and Mondavi Opus 1, a Napa Valley red that retails for $200 a bottle. An organizer of the party said the cost of the catering alone topped $25,000.
But, records show, the Meeks campaign reimbursed Stanford for only $3,591.
Stanford company employees donated $7,200, and Stanford himself gave $4,600. The company’s PAC kicked in another $2,000. The total take for the fund-raiser appears to be $34,000, according to campaign finance records.
The Texas receiver for the victims of Stanford’s alleged Ponzi scheme is seeking to claw back the $6,600 donated by Stanford and the company’s PAC, along with money Stanford gave to other pols, including Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel.
“Representative Meeks has not returned any of the money requested. The receiver asked Representative Meeks to join the dozens of other politicians and political committees who have returned their Stanford-related contributions,” said Kevin Sadler, the attorney for the receiver.
Sadler said he is in talks with Rangel’s lawyer to return the money, which included $8,300 to the Rangel campaign and $2,500 to his National Leadership PAC. Both Meeks and Rangel have said in the past that they gave the donations to charity.
In 2006, Stanford called in a chit for his generosity, asking Meeks to use his influence with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The billionaire wanted Meeks to tell Chavez to begin a criminal investigation into a whistleblower at Stanford’s Venezuelan bank.
Meeks allegedly was heard on a speakerphone telling Stanford he would intervene with Chavez, according to the Miami Herald.
Meeks was soon in Venezuela visiting Chavez, ostensibly to thank him for providing cheap home heating oil to Americans. A year later, the whistleblower was arrested.
While Meeks was meeting with Chavez, there were already grave concerns among US government officials about Stanford’s reputation. The US ambassador to Barbados attended a “Legends of Cricket” breakfast along with Stanford in Bridgetown and tried to avoid being photographed in public with him.
“His companies are rumored to engage in bribery, money-laundering and political manipulation,” read a May 2006 diplomatic cable about the breakfast meeting, released last month by WikiLeaks.
When Stanford was knighted in Antigua in 2006, the title was so controversial that the country’s prime minister called the honor “most unfortunate.”
Stanford was indicted in June 2009 on charges of perpetrating a $7 billion fraud by selling certificates of deposit that promised inflated rates of return. He is currently being held at a medical center in the feds’ Butner, NC, prison, the same lockup holding Ponzi king Bernie Madoff. Stanford was declared incompetent to stand trial in January because of an addiction to prescription medication, but he is expected to be re-evaluated.
Meeks refused to answer any questions about his relationship with Stanford, or why he agreed to introduce Ahmad to the billionaire.
Both men have an interest in cricket. Stanford owned a cricket team and stadium, and Ahmad sponsored his own cricket competition in New York.
Meeks and Ahmad are longtime friends. The congressman held after-hours meetings with the real-estate broker at his Queens district office, and Ahmad boasted that he had his own personal political representation.
Meeks claims the $40,000 he pocketed from Ahmad was a loan, but a House ethics panel said it appeared to be a gift. Meeks paid back the money in 2010, but only after federal investigators questioned Ahmad about it.
Like Stanford, Ahmad’s businesses were long dogged by allegations of scandal, including predatory lending and forged documentation. State authorities launched five probes into his real-estate operations between 2006 and 2008.
Ahmad, who is currently out on $2.5 million bail and prohibited from traveling to his native Guyana, faces up to 30 years in prison. The government has said that additional charges or more defendants are likely in his case.
Kings of Queens
Texas billionaire in jail awaiting trial on charges he ran an $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Accused of selling certificates of deposit promising improbably high interest rates. Big-time political donor, whose nonprofit Inter-American Economic Council hosted Caribbean junkets for members of Congress, including Meeks. Held a 2008 St. Croix fund-raiser for Meeks.
Congressman Gregory Meeks
An eight-term Democratic congressman representing Queens, Meeks is the subject of a House ethics probe for accepting a $40,000 payment from Queens businessman Edul Ahmad in 2007. Also under federal investigation for his role in a Queens charity. Arranged for Ahmad to meet banker Allen Stanford, for whom Meeks did favors, including personally lobbying Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Queens real-estate broker and catering hall owner indicted on charges of mortgage fraud. Accused of falsifying $50 million in loan applications. Currently out on $2.5 million bail. Denied permission by the feds to travel to his native Guyana. Longtime friend of Meeks. Sought introduction Stanford through Meeks.