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
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.
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.”
TOMORROW: ALLEN STANFORD II: WACKENHUT, STIGMATA, & THE NATURE OF CRICKET