2012-06-22 / Top Stories

Former Meeks Donor Sentenced To 110 Years

By Howard Schwach

Google former billionaire Allen Stanford and then click on “images” and you will find among the myriad photos of Stanford, some of our Congressman, Gregory Meeks, as well, because the two were buddies for many years and Stanford often provided free trips in exotic places and fundraising support for Meeks.

Last week, Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a $7 billion scheme in which he stole money from his investors to finance both his extravagant lifestyle in the Caribbean and, sources say, to buy several congressmen, including Meeks.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner said Stanford’s actions were among the most “egregious criminal frauds,” and investors who lost money said Stanford’s crimes were worse than those of Bernard Madoff, another Ponzi schemer.

In March, a jury convicted Stanford of 13 charges including fraud and conspiracy for selling certificates of deposit from his bank in Antigua to thousands of investors in the United States and Latin America. He had already spent some of those proceeds on yachts, girlfriends, sponsorship of a cricket tournament and other accoutrements of a high-rolling life.

He also reportedly used the money to bankroll political fundraisers, where politicians such as Meeks could mix with the monied one percent.

Stanford denied committing fraud or running a Ponzi scheme and, in a statement that went on for 40 minutes, he blamed the U.S. government for ruining a business he said had enough assets to repay its depositors. “They destroyed it and turned it to nothing,” he said.

Stanford insisted: “I am not a thief.”

Stanford has hosted a number of fundraisers for Meeks, including at least one in the Caribbean and another at the Super Bowl a few years ago, according to published reports in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Those papers and other sources say that Stanford’s tentacles sp read to the political marketplace.

According to public records, Stanford and his affiliated companies have spent more than $5 million on lobbying fees since 2000 and have supplied $2 million in campaign contributions and Caribbean trips to a number of lawmakers, often including Meeks, during the same time period.

Federal reports say that some of that money went to Meeks, a member of the House Financial Services subcommittee dealing with offshore banks. Those reports note that Meeks received an estimated $17,600 from a Stanford fundraiser held in the Virgin Islands in July of 2008.

From 2003 to 2006, Meeks and his wife traveled to the Caribbean each January on trips paid for by the Inter- American Economic Corporation, records show. That group was heavily backed and funded by Stanford.

The first trip was for “fact-finding” and subsequent trips were for a “business roundtable,” records show.

Records show that all of the trips included hotel and meal charges that were paid for the couple, often in excess of $2,000 or $3,000.

On at least one occasion, Meeks and his wife travelled on Stanford’s private jet.

Meeks was one of three Democrats who supported the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), the free trade bill among the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Insiders says that the bill greatly helped bankers such as Stanford, who, sources say, moved his business to the Caribbean in order to evade American taxes and to shield his illegal businesses from officials in this country.

Meeks has become a consummate and high-profile fundraiser, House insiders say.

He was excoriated recently for holding a Super Bowl fundraiser at the same time his colleagues in Congress were taking testimony on an auto industry bailout.

Meeks’ “Build America PAC” raised more than $1 million in 2008, much of it from financial firms that include Stanford’s, Citigroup, UPS and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, according to opensecrets.org, the website of Center for Responsive Politics.

MapLight.org, a website that “illuminates the connection between money and politics,” reported that 96 percent of Meeks’ contributions last year came from outside his district and that 83 percent came from outside New York State.

Meeks told the Wall Street Journal, “for me, I have a vested interest in the Caribbean,” noting that he is a member of the Caribbean Caucus and that he represents a district in Queens with a large population of immigrants from the islands.

“I can just say that Allen Stanford has always treated me fair and decently and above board,” Meeks added in a statement to the Journal. “I have no idea what the investigation is about, but if I was asked about Allen Stanford, I would say that he was a guy who was wealthy, but was also helping people.”

Meeks has also said locally that he travels to the Caribbean in order to increase import businesses at John F. Kennedy Airport, which is also in his district.

A year ago, Ralph Janvey, the receiver for Stanford’s assets, wrote a letter to more than 50 current and past members of Congress, asking them to hand over any contributions from Stanford, or from others charged with fraud.

Among those on the list are Congressman Meeks, former Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Charles Schumer.

Both Schumer and Clinton reportedly returned the contributions.

At the time, Meeks’ office declined to comment on whether or not he would return the requested money.

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