Victims: Where was Stanford's watchdog?

JACKSON – Investors in Stanford Financial Group say that if they had known the company was in trouble, they might have been able to get their money out before it collapsed.
“We’re the ones who lost our futures,” said Louisiana veterinarian James Wade at Monday’s hearing. “We’re the ones who deserve answers.”
Wade echoed the sentiments of at least 100 former Stanford investors who crowded into the Capitol meeting room at the invitation of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. His office registers securities dealers.
The Stanford financial empire cracked when its founder and CEO, Allen Stanford, three company executives and an Antiguan regulator were indicted by a Dallas grand jury in June on multiple counts of masterminding a $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme. They are accused of promoting the sale of bogus certificates of deposit through Stanford International Bank Ltd.
Investigation called off
Testimony by securities officials revealed that the Securities amp& Exchange Commission was on Stanford’s trail for some time, and even called off a parallel investigation by the Department of Justice while the SEC refined its case.
“Innocent investors were sacrificed for the sake of an investigation,” said Mark Shapley of Ridgeland, who sold his Shapley’s restaurant in 1997 and invested in Stanford. “It all could have been prevented.”
The victims urged their public officials to help them recover their losses – often their life savings – through a federal program designed to protect investors in U.S.-based companies.
Al Pleasants of Tupelo, who owns an appraisal business, said he lost $425,000 to Stanford CDs and claimed his broker called some clients to warn them to take their money out before the company’s collapse.
“But he told me it was safe,” Pleasants said. “Needless to say, if he’d called me, I would have gotten out.”
Travis Bledsoe of Brookhaven lost his $385,000 retirement package from Georgia-Pacific in Stanford CDs.
“There are very few mornings I wake up and don’t have a cold chill over me,” Bledsoe noted. “How could this happen?”
Regulators targeted
Angela Shaw of Dallas, whose family lost $5 million, said the victims group has pooled its remaining resources to hire a Washington, D.C., law firm to go after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is charged with ensuring investment safety.
FINRA, a private corporation that acts as a self-regulatory organization, often advises the SEC and focuses on regulatory oversight of all securities firms that do business with the public.
Last week, a special FINRA committee reported that the organization and other government watchdogs ignored numerous warnings about Stanford.
Stanford assets are frozen as a receiver seeks to recover what he can. Victims are banned from suing Stanford employees without his permission.
“My broker has insurance, but I’m told I can’t sue him,” Bledsoe said. “People going to McDonald’s have more rights than Stanford victims.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal