Call it the “Caribbean two-step.”
The dance the U.S. Government has just pirouetted through with convicted mega-swindler Allen Stanford, repeats a familiar pattern its been using for at least 30 years. But rarely has it looked more like a lumberjack in The Nutcracker.
According to final reports of investigations by the two hand-wringing U.S. Agencies most involved—the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”)—cowboy bandit Stanford was known to have been running a Ponzi scheme as early as 1997.
Those were simpler times. Back then, scientists were still trying to clone dolly the sheep. And Allen Stanford had “only” stolen a billion dollars. By the time he was busted the figure had gone up to $7 billion.
So, who was out the big bucks? Mostly investors from Latin America: Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, most of whom are currently either suing the SEC, or thinking about it.
However jilted investors could probably make an equally good case against the DEA, because at the same time he had a Fly-Through Window open at his narco-bank laundering drug money, according to the BBC, Allen Stanford was a DEA informant.
No word yet on whether the DEA felt this might present a concern.
None of this is exactly cricket
It was February 9 2009. After unsuccessfully trying to flee the country (his credit card was refused at a Houston charter jet service), Allen Stanford was picked up by the FBI in Virginia, sitting in his girlfriend's car.
Just three days earlier (Feb. 6 2009), a second American-sponsored drug figure in the Caribbean had been arrested. When 35-year old drug pilot Michael Francis Brassington was taken down in Miami by the FBI, it marked the end of a very long run.
The tall rangy Texan and the short pudgy Guyanese pilot looked nothing alike. Yet they shared some remarkable characteristics.
Michael Brassington was a drug pilot from Guyana. Yet oddly enough he was politically very well-connected in Washington, D.C. His father had for many years been a top figure at Barclay's Bank in the Caribbean.
While Allen Stanford could do pretty much anything he wanted with his bank, financially, Michael Brassington's charter jets flew with little regard to impediments like borders. His charter jet company in Fort Lauderdale had what envious aviation observers in Florida thought was diplomatic impunity, or at least a laminated non-revocable "get out of jail free" card.
Almost daily, Brassington flew into and out of the U.S. At Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, where he often landed, U.S. Customs Agents sometimes didn’t even bother to check his plane.
Allen Stanford's "luck" with financial regulators is clearly visible in the record. So is Brassington’s. In July of 2000, he was caught co-piloting a Learjet in Orlando carrying 43 lbs of heroin; yet he suffered no ill effects.
He wasn't arrested. His name wasn't even in the papers, which is really impressive, because 43 lbs of heroin is known in the drug trade as "heavy weight."
It is a lot of heroin.
Turning a blind eye
30 years ago officials in Washington were turning what is euphemistically called a “blind eye” to the cocaine and weapons trafficking operation run by Marine Colonel Oliver North, flown on hastily-decommissioned U.S. military cargo planes by a motley crew put together by ex-CIA pilot Barry Seal. The cocaine his planes were hauling belonged to the Medellin Cartel, which fell from favor and was then brought down in 1989.
The Cali Cartel then picked up the slack, until it too was brought down a half-dozen years later. Strangely, however, these two massive “victories” in the “War on Drugs” affected neither the price hor the availability of cocaine in America, which is re-stocked onto the nation’s illicit drug shelf with Procter & Gamble-like efficiency.
“Drug trafficking is a movable feat,” stated a drug pilot who regularly flew cocaine into Mena Arkansas during the infamous contra-cocaine debacle. “There’s plenty of other places to go to avoid the glare of the spotlight when things get hot somewhere. Moving is easy.”
It's all done with smoke and mirrors.
For more than 30 years the drug trade has remained a remarkably stable industry. The effect of constant movement is achieved by constantly moving things around, to give an illusion of progress in the never-ending War on Drugs.
Time marches on, and the “Oliver Norths” become the “Allen Stanfords.”
Back when Oliver North was an active American Drug Lord, the movie of the moment was Basic Instinct and starred Sharon Stone crossing and recrossing her legs.
Today Sharon Stone is on the cover of AARP, the glossy magazine of the American Association for Retired People. (No word on whether Stone does anything scandalous or naughty in her interview with the retired people.)
But not much else has changed.
When Stanford was arrested, the first thing he did was retain Oliver North’s lawyer.
Seen in this light, when DEA Chief Administator Michele Leonhart showed up in Afghanistan last year on the arm of former American Drug Lord Oliver North, it was business as usual.
Learning to spell "philanthropist"
Sir Allen Stanford was America's 205th richest man. Somebody was getting him some good PR. One widely circulated story was that when a Catholic priest stricken with the stigmata (wounds resembling those Jesus suffered in his crucifixion) needed medical treatment in the United States, Stanford flew him on his private plane.
“His strong bond with the islands,” one paper reported, “was strengthened by an encounter with Father Gerard Critch, a local priest afflicted by stigmata, which Sir Allen believed to be the wounds of Jesus. He carries a vial of congealed fluids from the clergyman's foot.”
Stanford said he remembered touching his head to the priest’s and experiencing a “life-changing” surge that strengthened his faith in God. "That was a major personal event in my life," Stanford said. "It was truly an out-of-this-world experience, a supernatural experience."
The priest survived. Stanford lost touch with him.
NEXT: Was the timing of the two men's arrests IN fEB 2009 just A coincidence? Or something more?