NARCO-POLITIK: Allen Stanford, American Drug Lord – By Daniel Hopsicker (Flashback)

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“…”Sir” Allen (the title was bought) is an excellent example of a curiously under-publicized species: the American Drug Lord. (The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration claims the species doesn’t even exist; it may be they have their own reasons)”:

(Allen Stanford, American Drug Lord – By Daniel Hopsicker)

Missing from coverage of the conviction two weeks ago of Texas “financier” Allen Stanford for running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme was any mention of Stanford’s long-time role as an authentic—if no longer certified—American Drug Lord.

“Sir” Allen (the title was bought) is an excellent example of a curiously under-publicized species: the American Drug Lord. (The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration claims the species doesn’t even exist; it may be they have their own reasons.)

To most observers in the Caribbean, however, Stanford’s narco-bank was as visible a manifestation of the global drug trade as a homemade semi-submersible submarine, or a convoy of SUV’s snaking through Sinaloa’s Sierra Madre Mountains.

Banks like his immodestly-named Stanford International Bank on the island of Antigua, where financial regulators are apparently even more easily-corrupted than their counterparts in the U.S., are as essential to global drug trafficking as fleets of late-model, preferably American-registered luxury jets.

“Every island has one,” one veteran Caribbean observer told us from Kingston Jamaica, referring to Stanford’s bank. “The days are mostly gone when you could walk in and lay out three suitcases of cash and get a penthouse condo on Miami Beach.”

“You can’t spend money you haven’t first deposited in a bank these days.”

It’s the little things

Conspicuously missing at Stanford’s trial were answers to questions widely being asked,  especially in the Caribbean, where many lost their life savings, about Stanford’s relationship with the CIA.

Was Stanford’s bank in Antigua just the latest in a long line of money-laundering banks—like Castle Bank, Nugan Hand, and Wachovia—used to move money around by the CIA and organized crime?

One telling detail: when Stanford’s fellow Ponzi All-Star Art Nadel (of Huffman Aviation in Venice Florida fame) went on the lam, he lit out for Slidell, Louisiana, the legendary site of Carlos Marcello’s hunting lodge just outside New Orleans.

After Stanford went on the lam he was found in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just over the hill from “The Farm,” the training facility of one of the U.S. Government’s most famous three-letter agencies at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico.

White kid gloves only, please

The kid-glove treatment accorded two of Stanford’s accomplices is another clue to Stanford’s provenance. Without their help, say observers, Stanford’s operation would have been shut down as much as a decade earlier.

Both were high-level U.S. Federal Agency employees, one in the DEA, the other in the SEC, America’s Securities Exchange Commission, charged with preventing  financial fraud.

Neither Agency has exactly covered itself in glory in living memory.

In the $3 trillion financial heist in 2008, the SEC, unfortunately, got there a little late…

And in the now 40-year old War on Drugs, the DEA cannot be said to be “shock and awe-ing” the global drug trade into anything like submission.

In the aftermath of Stanford’s arrest, the two former high-level Federal employees fared pretty well. One, deeply and criminally implicated by numerous sources, paid just a $50,000 fine, and never even faced criminal charges.

And when the second one did face criminal charges, a miracle occurred.

The ‘Immaculate Acquittal’

It’s morning in Miami.  Tuesday the 10th of February, 2010.  Inside the Federal Courthouse downtown something extremely rare is about to take place: a miracle, at least the closest thing to a miracle veteran court-watchers have seen in a long time.

It comes at the end of the trial of Thomas Raffanello, Allen Stanford’s Chief of  Security, and the long-time chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Miami office. Before joining Stanford, Raffanello led investigations against Manuel Noriega and the Medellin Cartel.

There has long been speculation about Stanford’s connections with the world of “los narcos.”  But Raffanello is the one verifiable link between Allen Stanford and the global drug trade.

Raffanello, accused of illegally shredding documents at Stanford Financial Group after Stanford’s arrest, was taken to a Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom in shackles, facing charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and destroying records.

But he had committed no crime, his lawyers said in a court filing. He was simply ‘taking out the garbage.’
On the morning of February 10, 2010, Raffanello sat in court awaiting the jury’s verdict as the jury asked for clarification on one of the charges. Then, after they retired to continue their deliberations, Judge Richard Goldberg ordered the charges dismissed.

Lawyers called the ruling extremely rare, almost unprecedented. “Something smells here,” said one courtroom observer afterwards.

It was the Immaculate Acquittal.

“Judges always wait for the jury to finish deliberations. If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, case closed. If they find him guilty, the judge has the power to over turn the conviction. But in that case the judge proclaims, ‘Judgment notwithstanding the verdict.’”

“We witnessed a miracle,” said one of Raffanello’s defense attorneys, Janice Burton Sharpstein.

It’s a small world, after all

Sharpstein is married to Richard Sharpstein,  a Miami attorney who represented one of the trigger men in the assassination of  Barry Seal in Baton Rouge Louisiana in 1986.

We interviewed him while researching “Barry & the Boys.” But the story he told us speaks volumes about the world of Allen Stanford.

“Why was Barry Seal murdered?” we asked.

“Seal had been irate when the IRS seized all his property,” Sharstein related. “The IRS man said to Seal, ‘You owe us $30 million for the money you made drug smuggling.”

“Hey, I work for you,” was Seal’s reply. “We both work for the same people.”

“You don’t work for us,” the IRS agent replied. “We’re the IRS.”

“Then Unglesby (Seal’s attorney) watched as Seal place a call to (then-Vice President)  George Bush,” Sharpstein stated.

“He heard Barry say, ‘If you don’t get these assholes off my back I’m going to blow the whistle on the Contra scheme.”

“What Unglesby says is, ‘That’s why he’s dead.’
Allen Stanford isn’t dead. But he pissed somebody off bad enough to make him wish he were.



‘Narco-Banker’, The Allen Stanford Story – By Daniel Hopsicker

With his recent conviction on 13 counts of money laundering—ensuring that a man who once lived in a $57 million mansion with a moat will be doing his entertaining behind bars for a very long time—the Allen Stanford scandal would seem to be all but over.

But Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scandal is ending before the most important question about the scandal has even been asked…

How did a gym owner filing bankruptcy in Texas happen to wake up a year later owning an offshore bank?

In 1982, Allen Stanford was the bankrupt owner of a bankrupt chain of athletic clubs in Waco Texas. In his personal bankruptcy filing he listed $13.6 million in debt against less than $200,000 in assets.

Paul Holt,  a businessman in Waco Texas, watched as Stanford’s sketchy business career was getting underway. “I knew about Stanford’s failed health club in Waco, Texas, because that’s where I live, and I was there when it happened,” Holt told Vanity Fair in 2010.

“Then one day I go online and out of the corner of my eye I see this headline: ‘Allen Stanford, Caribbean Banking King, in $8 billion Scandal.’”

“And I’m going, whoa! How does somebody go from bankrupting a Total Fitness Center to becoming a knight in the Caribbean?”

Whoa, indeed.

State-Sponsored Crime: Effective, Simple, Safe

Allen Stanford’s startling transition from bankrupt Texas grifter to star money launderer is a vivid snapshot which authorities don’t want anyone examining too closely… a Polaroid capturing the collapse of the rule of law in the United States of America during the Iran Contra-inspired cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s.

According to news accounts, the government’s tepid response to Allen Stanford’s continuing criminal enterprise began in the late 1990’s.

Not so. Stanford was fingered as a criminal as far back as 1989, when George Bush the Elder was in the White House, “Back to the Future II” was in theaters, and tanks were rolling through Tienanmen Square.

So the real villains in the scandal of Allen Stanford and his $8 billion Ponzi scheme are the people who prevented his prosecution for two full decades. And many of them have yet to be publicly named, let alone punished.

The Stanford scandal produced the usual tepid admissions of wrongdoing by government Agencies charged with guarding America from crooks and grifters.  Many saw criminal negligence in the government’s inaction.

The SEC knew all about Stanford’s criminal fraud back in 1996, for example, a full decade before taking even baby steps to end it.

This disclosure prompted some public handwringing, but not much else. And the results of the official investigations into Stanford’s big score were less than inconclusive…

In a civil proceeding, one former SEC administrator paid a $50,000 fine for crimes that would send an ordinary citizen to jail for a decade.

And the longtime head of the DEA in Miami—a Stanford “security” officials caught red-handed after Stanford’s indictment in an orgy of file-shredding that would have done Oliver North and Fawn Hall proud—was acquitted in an extraordinary extrajudicial move by a Federal judge who snatched the case from the hands of a jury deliberating a verdict.

In such cases, one wonders: why bother with the expense of a trial? Tea Party advocates should have been outraged.  But perhaps they were all on vacation.

Get out of jail passes all around!

A little history lesson offers some big clues.

The Caribbean island of Montserrat was ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus in 1493. A volcanic eruption in 2003 rendered the island all but uninhabitable.

Somewhere in between those two dates came Allen Stanford, who opened a bank on the island in 1985. It was his first.

Stanford’s bank was chartered by a fraudster from Beverly Hills named Jerome Schneider, author of an early entry in the booming field of helping the parasitic rich avoid paying  taxes. It was called “Hiding Your Money.”

Schneider also hosted “offshore wealth summits” in places like Cancun, attended by congressmen and other public figures, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Schneider set up about 800 offshore banks in 15 years, and was a  “thorn in the side of federal banking authorities and the Internal Revenue Service for years,” according to the LA Times.

But if he was a thorn in their side, you couldn’t tell. They never did anything about him. Nothing.

To anyone who has felt the full force of the government come down over unpaid parking tickets or a minor moving violation, this must seem strange.

What such people need to understand is that selective prosecution is not the exception in the U.S. It’s the rule.

Chase, Morgan, Stanford, DuPont

Frequently, the names of Schneider-chartered banks were similar to those of well-known domestic banks, with words like “Chase” or “Morgan” in their titles.

Schneider must have seen Stanford, already an inveterate liar, as manna from the gods. Soon he was boasting of his family ties with the founder of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Leland Stanford, a tie the University has taken pains to refute.

Schneider’s most famous client before Stanford was a fraudster from La Jolla, a city which, given its small size turns out fraudsters with astonishing regularity, was a man named J David Dominelli.

Dominelli’s claim to fame, oddly enough, is that before Allen Stanford, Bernie Madoff and Art Nadel came along, he was America’s biggest Ponzi All-Star. When he went down, so did a number of Republican politicians in San Diego  like Roger Hedgecock, the city’s long-time mayor.

When the scandal grew too big to ignore, the island of Montserrat shut down most of the phony banks. One oft-cited closure featured the prestigious-sounding Zurich Overseas Bank, which operated out of a tavern in the island’s capital, Plymouth.

“Almost every bank in Montserrat was operated illegally,” says David Marchant, editor of OffshoreAlert, a newsletter covering offshore banking.

“The fact that Stanford had a banking license in Montserrat is all you needed to know about his credibility. It wasn’t like most of the banks were good and you had a few bad eggs. The only reason you opened a bank in Montserrat was to commit fraud.”

Allen Stanford, lucky fellow, emerged unscathed, if not unnoticed. He moved his bank to Antigua, then a British Crown Colony.

They didn’t call them the go-go 80’s for nothing

So, just what was going on in 1985 that made starting an American-owned no-questions-asked bank in the Caribbean such a sure thing?

The answer is obvious to everyone… except American authorities, who never asked the question… save for a few brave souls, quickly hounded out of the government or moved to jobs watering plants in the office.

But someone from Scotland Yard was apparently paying attention,  detective Paul Marston, who in 1989 targeted Stanford’s bank, which had already grown into one of the Caribbean’s largest.

Where were all Stanford’s deposits coming from? Marston didn’t have to wonder long to find the answer.  Colombian drug money was flooding into banks across the region, and there were persistent rumors that this was the source of Stanford’s growth.

Marston called in an expert from the U.S. Government’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. “The O.C.C. guy went down there, stood across from the Stanford office for maybe several hours, came back and said, ‘Yep, that’s a money-laundering operation,’” recalled an agent involved in the operation.

“So Marston goes, ‘How can you tell from just standing across the street?’ And the guy goes, ‘I’m telling you, it is.’

“Then, a little later, we got fairly detailed intelligence that they were indeed laundering for major Colombian drug traffickers.”

“We own it. You can always count on Florida”

Montserrat authorities finally revoked Stanford’s license, in May 1991.

This cut no ice with banking officials in Florida, however. Despite objections from the state’s chief banking counsel, Florida regulators allowed Stanford to open a Miami office and transfer significant amounts of money outside the US… with no government oversight.

This is one of countless pieces of damning evidence, clues, absolute indications, sure signs, telltale tip-offs, unmistakable signs, and, yes, smoking guns illustrating Allen Stanford’s favored position as an officially-sanctioned drug money launderer.

As, in other words, an American Drug Lord.

Anyone wanting to know why the US Government is roundly despised in so many places around the world need look no further:

Christopher Sandrolini, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Barbados, recently lectured a meeting of Caribbean heads of state in Barbados on how they could become crime-busters—just  like us!— if only they tried hard enough.

“The Stanford case should serve as a warning to small societies in the Caribbean,” he said. “Given the region’s vulnerability to crrminals, Caribbean nation’s cannot afford to relax their vigilance and laws.”

Hear hear.


Allen Stanford & ‘The Caribbean Two-Step’






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