Published June 20, 2012
There was a moment when Angela Shaw finally came face-to-face with R. Allen Stanford.
She was one of only two victims who testified last week at a sentencing hearing for the convicted Ponzi schemer.
A 110-year sentence brought at least some relief. Shaw's family lost about $4.5 million -- proceeds from the sale of a manufacturing business that the family built in Dallas -- but her wounds go even deeper as the volunteer director of the Stanford Victim's Coalition.
Shaw said she gets hundreds of emails and phone calls a day, absorbing the ceaseless pains of others. Many of the victims she hears from are elderly and dying without the comfort of their savings. Many are confused. Some can't fill out forms. They have no one else to turn to but Shaw.
"They are some sad, pathetic people," Shaw said, "and I mean that in the most affectionate way. Their lives are destroyed."
Recovering lost funds remains a horribly slow process for Stanford victims who thought they had purchased relatively safe certificates of deposits from a bank. The Securities and Exchange Commission has sued the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, demanding it pay Stanford claims. SIPC has argued that while parts of the Stanford empire are covered by SIPC, the Antiguan bank that issued his dubious CDs isn't. Meantime, liquidators hired by the island nation have sued the U.S. Department of Justice attempting to assert their own control on Stanford's frozen funds.
Shaw, nearly 40 years old, immerses herself in Byzantine battles almost every day. "I've given up my life to do it," she said. "I've have to do it. If I gave up, I would compromise who I am."
There are moments, though, when it beats her down. "Is it foolish?" she asked. "Is it wasted time? I don't know. … I'm not having any fun."
Finally, though, the man who did this to her life was right before her, swiveling around in his chair at the defense table after his sentence was delivered.
"He was trying to make eye-contact with his family to tell them it's going to be okay," Shaw recalled. "I decided I'm just going to stare at him until he looks at me. … He must have felt me glaring at him. … At one point he half-way smiled me. I thought, why is he smiling at me?"
He came within feet of her. "He said, "I'm so, so sorry." He said it in such a sincere way. Immediately, his eyes teared up. They were real tears.
"I said, "Thank you for saying that." "He shook his head and said, "It shouldn't have happened, and I'm really sorry." "And I said, "I really appreciate you saying that.'"
Shaw said she was taken aback. Stanford had seemed so unaffected during the hearing. Clearly, stewing in his own Karma, Stanford could have let it rest there. Shaw said she would have been at peace with that.
"Then he said, "But your government did this." He was basically saying, "I'm sorry someone else stole your money.'"
A courtroom officer ordered Shaw to stand back.
Stanford "was still talking to me as they were taking him away: "You've got to sue your government! You've got to sue your government!"
It was in keeping with his rambling testimony asserting that his international banking empire collapsed only because of some meddling regulators. When they pull his bones from a prison cell one day, I imagine they will cry out these same words.
"Some people are born manipulators," said Shaw.
Shaw sometimes feels Stanford's crime has cast her in the role of Erin Brockovich without the glory of a Hollywood movie. I wondered what kept her from screaming obscenities at Stanford, or ripping out his larynx with her fingernails.
"I'm just not a violent person," she explained. "I'm a yoga teacher."
Somehow, to Shaw, the second-greatest Ponzi schemer behind Bernie Madoff remains an abstraction -- a caricature of greed and executive self-dealing to the point of theft.
"He's just a concept to me," she said. "He's not even a real person in my mind. He's like a Ken doll. He kind looks like a Ken doll -- a little bit. … And he's not the one who stole my family's money."
Stanford recruited some of the best financial planners and investment advisers he could find. Those professionals, in turn, pedaled his products to their hapless clients.
"They slowly liquidated real holdings to feed the Ponzi scheme," Shaw said. "And the person who did this to my family is still selling securities with no disclosure to future investors."
These little fish face ongoing civil litigation, but with the Big Kahuna in the net, they appear to be otherwise swimming away. Shaw said regulators tell her they continue investigating.
"I'm so appalled by all these injustices," she said. "Maybe I was naive, but I've seen the inner workings of our government and it's not pretty."
It isn't supposed to end this way. Shaw will fight to make sure it doesn't -- even if it takes her many more years.
"I have to believe that good ultimately prevails," she said. "Thank God, I'm stubborn. I may not be violent, but I am stubborn."
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)