/ 25 April 2009

Stanford’s inner sanctum had bar, bathroom exit

If Texas billionaire Allen Stanford ever wanted to make a low-profile departure from the inner sanctum within his lavish Houston headquarters, there was a private exit through his personal bathroom.

Lawyers for the court-appointed receiver overseeing Stanford’s corporate empire gave Reuters a tour of the Houston headquarters of Stanford Financial Group, a mass of marble and mahogany that once boasted a five-star dining room, movie theatre, professional kitchen and wine bar.

Every part of the building is grandiose, which speaks to the larger-than-life image Stanford created as a jet-setting financier, sports promoter and philanthropist.

But the richness of his first-floor labyrinth of personal rooms, accessible only with a magnetic card, speaks volumes about how he lived.

A huge mahogany sculpture of an eagle, Stanford’s corporate symbol, stands watch at the entrance to the private suite.

Nearby, a white stone bears the message: ”HARD WORK, CLEAR VISION, VALUE for the CLIENT”. The main security desk is a few feet away.

”Only a couple of people had cards that would get them through that door,” an attorney working for receiver Ralph Janvey said, sliding the key-card across the magnetic detector box.

A large atrium with white columns, massive mahogany double doors and a bronze of Stanford’s corporate insignia embedded in an inlaid floor lead to his private office.

With another swipe of the card, the lawyer, who declined to be named, opens the double doors to Stanford’s office.

The room is massive.

At first, it is hard to see Stanford’s belongings behind stacks of legal boxes that Janvey’s staff has crammed into the office.

Mahogany covers the walls. There is a boardroom table, a sea of Oriental rugs, a large bar off to one side.

Stanford’s desk is situated in a corner of the cavernous space beside floor-to-ceiling windows that look onto a manicured lawn, flowering bushes and palm tree, perhaps in deference to his affinity for the Caribbean and the islands of Antigua and St Croix, where he had a home and property.

Stanford frequently visited those islands before the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged him, two aides and three of his companies with an $8-billion fraud involving certificates of deposit issued by his Antigua bank.

In an interview on Monday at the law offices of Houston criminal attorney Dick DeGuerin, Stanford denied any improper behavior and asserted that his companies were well-run until the SEC ”disemboweled” them in February.

From the look of his desk, Stanford might have just stepped away for a moment. Lawyers have left it as he left it.

Relatively uncluttered, the desk is appointed with an old-fashioned Rolodex for contacts, a pen-holder, and tape dispenser. Water in a bottle stagnates.

A coffee-table bears a book titled The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, a CD of music from Cirque du Soleil’s show O, and a DVD of a $1-million-per-player cricket tournament Stanford sponsored. The desk faces a built-in saltwater tank once filled with exotic fish.

US marshals raided this office on February 17, and Janvey’s staff is treating it as a kind of crime scene — cautioning people not to leave fingerprints. It is easy to just gawk because of the grandeur of the place.

Among several framed certificates hung on a wall is one with the gold seal of Antigua and Barbuda pronouncing Stanford Knight Commander, which allowed him to use the title Sir Allen Stanford, and a letter on White House stationery dated January 25 2006, signed by then-president George Bush.

Then on to the bathroom — a chamber of black granite and mahogany, with a gigantic mirror and granite countertop, flanked with shelves of fluffy white towels and toiletries, including a bottle of ”Brilliant Brunette” shampoo.

On the sink is a copy of the book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge, and a Father’s Day card signed by one of Stanford’s sons.

In a separate room for a black commode, a rack holds a magazine from Christie’s auction house, a copy of Forbes and an issue of Islands. The walk-in shower is huge.

A closet contains a fold-up massage table and a box containing four custom-made suits from Martinez Custom Clothier in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, still in their plastic wrapping.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the bathroom is a nondescript door to the left of the shower. This was Stanford’s separate entrance and exit off the parking deck, where he could arrive and depart in privacy. – Reuters