Allen Stanford, the once high-flying Texas billionaire with a Caribbean knighthood and a penchant for publicity and cricket, has been brought down to earth with a thud as he faces criminal charges.
The founder and chairman of Stanford Group once credited his grandfather with giving him the inspiration to dream and an unwavering desire to build a business that is second to none. Since February, that business has all but evaporated.
On Friday, the brash 59-year-old mustachioed financier was indicted on fraud, conspiracy and obstruction charges after surrendering to the FBI, four months after regulators accused him and three of his companies of a massive ongoing fraud.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says Stanford and two fellow executives fraudulently sold $8 billion in high-yield certificates of deposit issued by Stanford International Bank Ltd in Antigua.
In what may be a preview of his defense, Stanford asserted in an April interview with Reuters that his companies were well-run until the government seized them in February. Asked why the SEC singled him out, he replied: I don't know.
Maybe post-Madoff they needed to make somebody the scapegoat. Hell if I know, he said.
Many burned investors, including thousands across the United States and Latin America, have clamored for criminal charges, accusing Stanford of being from the same mold as Bernard Madoff, who admitted in March to orchestrating the biggest financial swindle in Wall Street history.
Friday's indictment and the SEC's revelations of Stanford's empire -- stretching from the Caribbean island of Antigua to Houston, Miami, Caracas and Europe -- complete the picture of a finance king who somehow lost his Midas touch along the way.
A fifth-generation Texan, Stanford made his first fortune in Houston, snapping up distressed real estate in the early 1980s before inheriting the insurance and real-estate company his grandfather founded in 1932. Forbes put his personal wealth at $2.2 billion last year and his list of wealth-management clients included professional golfer Vijay Singh.
'FUN BEING A BILLIONAIRE'
A generous patron of several sports, he lived lavishly with a fleet of private jets, expensive yachts and opulent Georgian-style headquarters atop a hill in the twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, where he was by far its largest private employer and investor.
With dual U.S. and Antiguan-Barbudan citizenship, Stanford has homes sprinkled across the region -- from Antigua to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Miami. Those residences and other assets have been frozen by court order since February.
Knighted in 2006 in Antigua -- he was known by many islanders simply as Sir Allen -- he was an ardent cricket enthusiast whose financial muscle helped rehabilitate West Indian cricket.
But he often walked a fine line between his critics and admirers, provoking uproar and scorn with a $1 million-per-player Twenty20 tournament that was widely ridiculed in the British media last year.
Months before the tournament, he landed a gold-plated helicopter at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, often called the home of British cricket, and unveiled a case packed with $20 million in cash. British media were merciless, calling the Texan gaudy and an affront to English sensibilities.
His Stanford Superstars side of West Indian cricketers became instant millionaires after beating England's team at his Stanford Cricket Ground in Antigua. But his image suffered when he was captured on camera with a British player's wife on his knee. And even before the match the England and Wales Cricket Board intimated they would review ties with him.
Before the scandal surfaced, Stanford credited his success in part to avoiding investments in subprime mortgages that snowballed into a global financial crisis.
Asked by CNBC television in September if it was fun being a billionaire, he smiled and replied: Yes, yes, yes. I have to say it is fun being a billionaire. But it's hard work.
Back in the United States, he stirred controversy by claiming family ties to Leland Stanford, who founded Stanford University in the 1890s. The university says there is no genealogical connection between the two and sued Stanford Group in October for infringing on its trademark.
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Anna Driver in Houston, editing by Vicki Allen)