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Investors file second class action against law firm for alleged role in Stanford Ponzi scheme

By Jessica Karmasek | May 6, 2016

DALLAS (Legal Newsline) - Last week, victims of Robert Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme filed another class action lawsuit against the law firm that, they allege, helped the former chairman and CEO conceal the fraudulent scheme from government regulators.

The named plaintiffs, Sandra Dorrell and Phillip A. Wilkinson, both Texas residents, filed their complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, April 28.

The defendants include Proskauer Rose LLP, an international law firm that is headquartered in New York City and has 13 offices worldwide, and Thomas V. Sjoblom. Sjoblom was a partner at Proskauer from 2006 to 2009.

“All of the Plaintiffs and members of the putative class invested in the Stanford Financial Ponzi scheme by purchasing SIBL (Stanford International Bank Ltd.) CDs or placing their money in other investment accounts with SIBL,” the investors explained in their 96-page complaint. “Over the years that Plaintiffs and the members of the putative class purchased and maintained investments in SIBL, Plaintiffs and the members of the putative class were repeatedly and uniformly told, either directly by their Stanford Financial FAs or via Stanford Financial promotional materials, that, inter alia: (1) an investment in SIBL was safer than investing in U.S. banks because SIBL did not make loans but instead held its funds in a safe and highly liquid portfolio; (2) Stanford Financial was a U.S.-based business regulated by the U.S. Government; and (3) that an investment in SIBL was completely safe and secure because it was guaranteed and insured by Lloyd’s, was thoroughly regulated, was audited by an ‘outside’ audit firm and subjected to regular, ‘stringent’ risk management examinations.

“All of this was false.”

The investors argue that Proskauer and Sjoblom, a former longtime U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer, provided “substantial assistance” to Stanford Financial, including Stanford himself, and made it possible for Stanford Financial to effectuate the sale of the SIBL CDs to the plaintiffs.

“Defendants, acting with intent to deceive or with reckless disregard for the truth or the law, materially and substantially aided Stanford Financial, SGC, SFIS, and SIBL and their principals in the sale of uncovered securities (the SIBL CDs) through the use of untrue representations or materially misleading omissions, and also aided and abetted the fraudulent practices of registered investment advisers in violation of the Texas Securities Act,” they wrote.

The lawsuit claims actual damages in the amount of $5 billion.

The complaint was filed less than two months after a similar lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit tossed the previous lawsuit, filed by named plaintiff Samuel Troice, on the doctrine of attorney immunity. The lawsuit never reached class certification stage.

Because it was never certified, the investors in the new proposed class action argue they are not barred from filing their lawsuit.

“While the decision by the Fifth Circuit dismissed the three named Troice plaintiffs’ individual claims, it had no res judicata effect on claims of unnamed class members since the putative class had not been certified,” the plaintiffs wrote in their filing last week. “It merely disqualified the three named Troice plaintiffs from continuing to serve as class representatives.”

Stanford became the subject of several fraud investigations in early 2009. In February 2009, he and three of his companies were charged by the SEC with “orchestrating a fraudulent, multi-billion dollar investment scheme” centering on an $8 billion certificates of deposits program.

“We are alleging a fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world,” Rose Romero, regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office, said at the time.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation later raided Stanford’s offices in Houston, Memphis and Tupelo, Miss. Soon after, the SEC amended its complaint to describe the alleged fraud as a “massive Ponzi scheme.”

Stanford, a former bankrupt gym owner from Mexia, Texas, voluntarily surrendered to authorities in June 2009. He currently is serving a 110-year sentence in a Florida prison.

As the investors explain in the instant lawsuit, the gist of Stanford’s fraud was “quite simple.”

Stanford Financial sold SIBL CDs through a marketing campaign designed to trick investors into believing they were purchasing safe, secure, insured and highly liquid CDs, which were purportedly regulated in the United States because SGC was a U.S. licensed broker/dealer and Stanford’s headquarters was based in Houston.

At the same time, SIBL was purportedly based in Antigua but controlled and directed from the United States.

“Stanford maintained a veil of secrecy over SIBL’s purported investment portfolio and its use of CD investors’ money,” the investors wrote in their complaint. “Thus, Stanford Financial went to great lengths to keep prying eyes, particularly regulatory eyes, away from SIBL’s purported operations and assets.

“SIBL was actually insolvent (i.e., its liabilities exceeded the fair value of its assets) from at least 1999 and yet it continued selling CDs to the bitter end.”

The plaintiffs contend their case is one of “fraud created the market” and fraud on the regulators because Stanford’s fraud could not have existed or flourished were it not for the fraud Stanford committed on regulators around the world and the fraud Stanford committed by misleading investors and omitting to disclose material information to investors.

“The Class Plaintiffs and the Class relied on the integrity of the market in deciding to invest in the SIBL CDs,” they wrote.

“Many of the investors who are class members have amounts invested which are too small to justify the cost and expense of individual litigation and can only be assisted by a class action mechanism.”

Proskauer said in a statement that the new complaint is “nothing more than a copycat” of the Troice complaint, “which was so obviously baseless that the Fifth Circuit dismissed it with prejudice last month, only 10 days after oral argument.”

“This lawsuit is a transparent attempt to circumvent that ruling, and Proskauer will promptly move to dismiss it as well,” the firm said.

The investors are represented by Edward C. Snyder and Jesse R. Castillo of San Antonio law firm Castillo Snyder PC, Douglas J. Buncher of Dallas-based Neligan Foley LLP, and David N. Kitner, Judith R. Blakeway and Merritt Clements of Strasburger & Price LLP, headquartered in Dallas.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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Proskauer Rose LLP U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

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