“Where is The Florida Bar in all this?” the passerby asked her companion as they strolled alongside Government Cut in South Beach – I was sitting on a bench sunning myself as usual that Sunday, and my ears perked up at the mention of The Florida Bar, the Florida Supreme Court’s regulatory agency..
“Doing nothing,” he answered. “They go after the little guys like us, not after big firms like Greenberg, connected as they were to Governor Bush and President Bush.”
“That’s right, you got it,” she confirmed.
I was astonished to hear someone speaking of The Florida Bar, as most people have not even heard of it. In fact I had not heard of it until I read in the Miami Herald about how lawyers had set up a money laundry in Miami for fraudster Allen Stanford. I then inquired into who was responsible for disciplining unscrupulous lawyers in the State of Florida, and was referred to The Florida Bar.
“Excuse me,” I called after the passing couple. I overheard you talking about The Florida Bar. What’s up with that?”
“Yeah, Allen Stanford, the crook, see the front page, today’s Herald.”
“Finally the editors and reporters at Miami Herald have taken my email about The Florida Bar seriously!” I rejoiced to myself, and rushed over to CVS to buy a copy of the Sunday paper.
Florida Bar staff had refused to inform me whether or not any lawyers were under investigation for their role in the Stanford Fraud, or whether any of the lawyers reported as saying that the deal with the State of Florida to set up the money laundry was contrary to law had reported their wayward brethren to the Bar as required by its ethical standards. After encountering a wall of silence supported by rules of confidentiality and a record destruction policy, I dubbed The Florida Bar “The Florida Clam Bar.” Alas for the Bar that it has been the butt of jokes. It was also known as The Florida Gay Bar for the filing of a friendly brief with the Florida Supreme Court in favor of gay adoption, and also for disbarring a right-wing gay basher – yet the Court’s strong “arm” was not always called gay, as it had previously disbarred a competent attorney for having gay sex on the beach.
And the Bar is also known as The Florida Private Bar, reputedly owned by The Good Old White Boys, because it became a so-called privatized or “integrated bar” after state supreme courts looked into their vanity mirror and discovered their natural right to regulate the legal profession without interference from the People – “integrated” has nothing to do with mixing salt and pepper, but refers to the integration of all lawyers who want to practice law in the state with its supreme court’s self-regulating agency, absolutely independent of the legislative and executive branches of government.
“7 BILLION PONZI SCHEME – Stanford case puts lawyers in spotlight” screamed the October 4, 2009 headline of The Miami Herald. Moreover, “With Allen Stanford accused of a massive fraud, the actions of a Miami law firm are coming under review by a receiver representing victims, raising the question: Did their legal advice aid his empire?” Wow!
Of course the Miami law firm, vaguely identified in a previous Herald article as a “powerful” law firm, would be Greenberg Traurig, notorious for its “lobbying” activities. Now Herald reporters Michael Sallah and Rob Barry focus on The Firm, and report that it saved Allen Stanford’s bank and helped him to become a regulator of the Antiguan regulators and eliminate competing banks in Antigua under the pretext of reforming Antigua’s banking laws before Mr. Stanford began “stealing millions in one of the largest frauds in U.S. history” - 56 offshore banks were eliminated. Moreover, “With the help of Greenberg lawyers, Stanford created a money pipeline between Miami and Antigua in 1998 that became the cornerstone of the banking empire.” A vice president for Stanford’s Miami laundering operation said that the Miami office was the “locomotive” that pulled the money train.
Florida lawyer Jonathan Winer, former deputy assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, is quoted as saying that he had warned the task force investigating the matter, and he said that the whole thing was “outrageous,” that what the lawyers were doing was “unacceptable.” Apparently the reporters did not ask him whether or not he reported the obvious misconduct to the self-regulating Florida Bar investigators, and if he did do so, how the Bar disposed of his report. Nor to the best of our knowledge did the reporters ask lawyer Bowman Brown, who declined to represent Mr. Stanford because he was suspicious of him, and who told the Palm Beach Post that it was an “open secret in the banking community that the business model wasn’t right,” if he had tattled to The Florida Bar.
The Miami Herald report was made from Antigua, but most of the information in the Herald report is old news, some of it dating back ten years, stuff that can be easily retrieved via Internet search engines. Now the lawyers are not talking except to say they were just helping out and did not know anything illegal was going on.
People who are following the Stanford Scandal already knew that licensed Florida attorney Patrick O’ Brien, the former Miami Customs chief known for his major drug crackdowns, was a Greenberg Traurig lawyer assisting Mr. Stanford in Antigua. And former Greenberg Traurig lawyer Carlos Loumiet’s name has been in the news, not only in regards to the Stanford affair but for his auditing role in respect to the Hamilton Bank Fraud – the civil charges against him in that case were dropped by the Comptroller on a technicality. We also knew some time ago that Greenberg Traurig lawyer Yolanda Suarez left The Firm to become Mr. Stanford’s legal counsel and reportedly his “chief of staff.”
We knew from Internet postings that a former F.B.I agent was involved with Mr. Stanford. But now the Herald has identified him as Lloyd Harrell, who is quoted as saying that Stanford regulatory agency’s seizure of Antigua’s files on secret banks under cover of darkness one night was of no benefit to Mr. Stanford, and that Mr. Stanford should be given credit for his regulatory prowess – yet at the same time Mr. Stanford was allegedly having his own bank’s records falsified.
And we knew that an unnamed DEA agent was somehow involved. A recent Herald report has identified him as non-lawyer who became Mr. Stanford’s security chief, and who has been charged with obstruction for instructing a housekeeper to shred documents located in Mr. Stanford’s Ft. Lauderdale bunker – his Miami lawyer Kendall Coffey should be able to get him off rather easily if it is true that the security chief was merely having the cleaner clean up the basement, and that some of the trash was hardcopy records also stored on a computer somewhere.
What we do not see in the latest Miami Herald report is information confirming or denying the widespread rumor that Mr. Stanford was cooperating with a federal investigation into the activities of a notorious Mexican drug dealer, and that the SEC was therefore overlooking his Ponzi-scheme.
Reference is made again to the blood-brother ritual involving Mr. Stanford and Antiguan bank regulator Leroy King, who allegedly sealed an oath in 2003 by, according to the Herald, “cutting their fingers” and exchanging blood, leaving us to speculate as to whether the ritual was proper, for the blood-brother ritual is said by some to be ineffective unless the palms of both hands are cut for a handshake exchanging blood. Curiously, an August 29, 2009 New York Times reports the “brotherhood ceremony” involved “cutting their wrists and mixing their blood.” We hope the fact-checkers at the prestigious papers will check out the bloodletting tale, said to be originally told by Mr. Stanford’s CFO in a written plea agreement, and let us know how it was done and how it should be done – we believe the proper ritual may be of American Indian or Native American origin, but we are not so sure since the palefaces allegedly put them up to scalping, which was said to be an Indian custom. In any event, Mr. King, a former Bank of America official and a dual U.S.-Antigua citizen, is fighting extradition.
Carlos Loumiet, believed to be the legal mastermind in the Stanford affair, moved from Greenberg Traurig to Hunton & Williams in 2001, whereupon Mr. Stanford took his business to that firm. Now the court receiver and federal agents are pressing Mr. Stanford’s lawyers for information, and the attorneys are unwilling to provide details of Mr. Stanford’s offshore activities. And a review of the lawyers’ activities all the way back to the 1990s may be conducted by the receiver. The latter information we did not know.
Again, the new Miami Herald report is mostly old hat, a rehashing of reports going back a decade, but the more times the story is told the better, for people might wake up and smell the pot burning. It appears that nobody is willing to talk, to confess and blow the whistle on the lawyers. But at least the fourth branch of government has fearlessly pointed a finger at the lawyers. If only one of them would come forth and say, “Hey, look, the world is not a rose garden, and this is how it really works. First of all, let’s not talk about ethics. Whatever is legal is ethical. Our job in this kind of situation is to legalize crimes for those who pay us well, and that is exactly what we set out to do when Allen engaged us to….” Such confessions were obtained by the muckrakers of old – what is wrong with our muckrakers today?
Wait a minute! “Where is The Florida Bar in all this?” Good question! There is nary a mention of the Florida Supreme Court’s self-regulating “arm” in the entire Miami Herald report, or in any previous reports for that matter, although the reporters and managing editor have been referred to the Bar, as the entity that is supposed to regulate attorneys, on numerous occasions. The law profession is the most powerful profession in the nation, hence Florida’s integrated bar is the most potent regulatory organization in the state. But its potency is underutilized.
Paul Brinkman’s October 9, 2009 report in South Florida Business Report exposed errors in The Florida Bar’s statistical program that led the Bar to overestimate sanctions against attorneys. Now Bar officials are “trying to figure out why the number of attorney discipline cases dropped in the past 12 months, even as complaints about attorney involvement in mortgage fraud and housing-related fraud have sky rocketed.” Nary is a mention made of the Allen Stanford fraud, although Bernie Madoff is named in the article. Nor are statistics disclosed on how many inquiries and complaints are made for which no files are opened at all hence go uninvestigated. And we would like to see that statistics on the cases that are closed by counsel on the basis of a lack of probable cause – those files are not publicly listed by the Bar and are destroyed one year after closure. Of course lawyers licensed by the Florida Supreme Court’s regulatory arm are least inclined to publicly bite the hand that licenses and regulates them: Leave it to a law professor, Bob Jarvis, to judiciously say that the Bar statistics are troubling because “We want to know if the Bar is being a good steward of the dues we pay.” The other lawyers interviewed said they believe it is.
But to return to McClatchy’s prize-wining Miami Herald, perhaps the editors and reporters believe The Florida Bar is a useless dead end, and one of little interest to the uninformed public, anyway. If that be true, maybe they are right.
October 15, 2009
October 15, 2009
To: Melissa Mara
From: David Arthur Walters
Re: FYI - excerpt of article to be published next week:
".... Not only did Ms. Mara decline in writing to provide public records appertaining to the Miami Mirror's general request for any available records appertaining to the Stanford Fraud absent references to particular attorneys, she has not responded at all to our August 31 request for any available records involving inquiries or complaints about the Greenberg Traurig firm for the years 1998, 1999, and 2008 and 2009, so we can see whether or not the attorneys who have said they knew the agreement to set up a Florida laundering operation for Allen Stanford was contrary to law brought the matter to the attention of The Florida Bar. Of course if no files were opened or if files were closed without disciplinary action, there would be no record because that information is, according to Bar sources, routinely destroyed.... Our request, directed to another member of the Bar staff, for a reference to the specific Florida Supreme Court records retention and destruction schedule, mentioned in the Court's administrative rules, a schedule that may in writing authorize the destruction of those files the Bar staff declines to look into at all or dismisses as lacking probable cause for disciplinary action, was likewise not responded to...."
From: David Arthur Walters
To: Melissa Mara
Aug 31, 2009 at 12:51 PM
Subject: GREENBERG TRAURIG & THE STANFORD FRAUD
Dear Melissa Mara, What do you have on the Greenberg Traurig firm for the years 1998, 1999, and 2008 and 2009? Thanks! David Arthur Walters
August 27, 2009
THE FLORIDA BAR
Re: The Stanford Fraud
Dear Melissa Mara:
Thank you very much for your prompt response to my public records request.
Please excuse me for being spoiled by Google. Given The Florida Bar’s relatively high grade for transparency in comparison to other state bars, I imagined that one could simply enter “Allen Stanford” in your local search engine and pull up any files related to that search term. And, since the Stanford Fraud is such a hot public topic at present, I presumed that staff is well aware of any incoming complaints and could easily identify which lawyers if any are the subjects of those complaints. I even envisioned that a thick file on the subject was found on Bar counsel's desk, copied and sent along to me.
So much for my wildest dreams – I shall provide a very short list of names in the near future.
David Arthur Walters
Encl. The Stanford Fraud & The Florida Bar
August 24, 2009
David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach, Fl 33139
Re: Allen Stanford
Dear Mr. Walters
The Florida Bar has received your public records request dated August 20, 2009 regarding “any and all inquiries and complaints regarding the conduct of private practitioners and State of Florida attorneys in any way related to the allegedly fraudulent activities of Allen Stanford and his agents, representatives, and sundry entities.” Please be advised that Allen Stanford is not a member of The Florida Bar and therefore not within our jurisdiction. I have further determined that he is not listed as a complainant in any files that have closed within the past 12 months.
Your letter also reference that Mr. Stanford is represented by attorneys. If you would like our office to check whether those attorneys have any complaints, please provide the full name of those attorneys and we will check their records.
If you have any questions, please email me at mmara.flabar.org.
August 20, 2009
THE FLORIDA BAR
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300
Public Record Request in Re Allen Stanford and the Florida Bar
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This is a public request for records pursuant to Title I, Section 24 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, and Rule 1-14 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.
Please provide me with uncertified photocopies of any document received or made in respect to any and all inquiries and complaints regarding the conduct of private practitioners and State of Florida attorneys in any way related to the allegedly fraudulent activities of Allen Stanford and his agents, representatives, and sundry entities.
Of particular interest to me is any record relative to the negotiations between State of Florida officials and Mr. Stanford’s attorneys that resulted in the official approval of the purportedly unlawful foreign trust scheme that allowed the Stanford operation to bilk billions of dollars out of investors. According to investigative reporters, the “powerful” (i.e. politically connected) firm of Greenberg Traurig negotiated the deal with the State of Florida after other attorneys, such as Bowman Brown, had been approached and refused the assignment. The deal was apparently sealed on the basis of the 1998 official legal advice of state employee David Burgess, a non-lawyer, apparently under the supervision of state banking authority Art Simon, a lawyer, who himself was reportedly advised by counsel not to approve of the deal but did so anyway.
Please provide me with an estimate of the cost of providing the records, for my approval and payment of the estimated cost in advance of the shipping of the records.
David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
THE STANFORD FRAUD & THE FLORIDA BAR
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
One thing has become increasingly clear as a result of the Miami Herald’s ongoing investigation into the Stanford Fraud: Allen Stanford would not have succeeded in bilking investors out of billions of dollars without the collaboration of certain members of the Florida bar working under the auspices of the State of Florida and Florida’s “powerful” i.e. “politically connected” law firm of Greenberg Traurig. What the Texas interests could not get done in Texas was more than gladly performed in Florida.
The agreement between Mr. Stanford and the State of Florida that established a unique, heretofore unheard of foreign trust to launder money in Miami was so outrageous from the legal standpoint that several knowledgeable attorneys were left aghast by the alleged brazen evasion of the law and breach of ethics by their colleagues. The trust was called a Miami “bank” in order to obtain deposits from trusting Latin American investors. Bags of funds were shipped from Miami to Antigua as related documents were shredded. Regulators stood by, not noticing any “red flags” because they had been hogtied.
The investigators are trying to follow the money as we speak. If they are able to get to the bottom of the fraud despite the fraudster’s erasure of the money trail under the noses of regulators, we may see the prosecution of the lawyers who instantiated the scheme. Even if they are able to use their powerful connections and legal skills to wiggle out of criminal liability, they may be held to account by their profession, or rather by the Supreme Court of Florida which oversees it. The Supreme Court of Florida has a powerful organ, named The Florida Bar, responsible for the licensing and disciplining of attorneys at law and for the prosecution of the unauthorized practice of law.
The Florida Bar is an “integrated” or mandatory bar. Florida attorneys must be members of the Bar in order to practice law in the state. An integrated bar, inasmuch as it is an agency of the presumably impartial judiciary, is purportedly untainted by the politics of the legislative and executive branches of government.
Some time ago, in the Thirties, state supreme courts became concerned with the black eye the legal profession had gotten for the misconduct of its meaner members. In response to the mounting attacks on the legal profession’s integrity, and citing the opinions of courts, the courts discovered that courts have always had an innate or inherent power, by virtue of their very existence, to license and regulate lawyers, who were essentially their own officers i.e. officers of the court, and that any involvement of the other branches in regulating the legal profession was merely a courtesy extended to them by the judiciary. Roughly half of the states wound up with integrated bars, whereby all lawyers were integrated into one system and forced to pay dues – their main objection has not been the disciplinary function, since permanent disbarments have been relatively few in number, but rather the political or representative behavior of their integrated bars.
The Florida Constitution was eventually amended to give absolute power over the regulation of officers of the court to the Florida Supreme Court, although such an amendment was supposedly unnecessary inasmuch as the Court naturally had that right at birth, when it was originally constituted. In cases of disbarment, the Florida Supreme Court is, for all intents and purposes, judge, jury, and prosecutor, since The Florida Bar, which prosecutes and hears cases, is just an “arm” of the Court that makes the ultimate decision.
The Florida Bar may permanently disbar attorneys for unethical conduct and incompetence even if no criminal conduct has been proven. Lawyers must adhere to a stringent code of ethics or risk losing their license to practice or having it suspended. That code requires them to report the unethical behavior of their peers to The Florida Bar.
Wherefore we may wonder if any of the attorneys who have been quoted as saying they suspected that the arrangement between Allen Stanford and the State of Florida was unethical or unlawful actually filed inquiries or complaints with The Florida Bar. If they did so over a year ago, and if The Florida Bar staff declined to take action, there would apparently be no record at The Florida Bar, because its judicious policy mandates the purging of such records after a year. Still, ethical attorneys may want to file reports of unethical and/or unlawful behavior now, and the victims of the Stanford Fraud, besides suing everyone involved, may want to file complaints with The Florida Bar – information may be obtained at www.floridabar.org.
Important Note: The author is not an attorney and his opinions never constitute legal advice. Contact a competent and ethical licensed attorney for legal advice.