Treasures of alleged Ponzi schemer Stanford auctioned

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 04, 2011 5:43 PM
Treasures of alleged Ponzi schemer Stanford auctioned

By Deborah Quinn Hensel

HOUSTON (Reuters) - While Texas financier Allen Stanford awaits trial on charges of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, hordes of buyers waited on Saturday at a sweltering warehouse for an auction of his possessions.

People lined up around the northeast Houston warehouse for a chance to bid on items like a $55,000 Baccarat crystal eagle -- a symbol prominent in Stanford's company logo -- and an arsenal of guns and rifles, including 30 Glock semi-automatic pistols still in their original packaging.

"I got pretty excited over the wine," said Eric Worstell, one of three brothers who make up the third generation of auctioneers in the 57-year-old Seth Worstell Auction Company which won a bid to liquidate Stanford's property.

More than 1,000 bottles of wine, champagne and other spirits were part of the treasure trove of items on the auction block that included art, antiques, silver, crystal, and china, much of which appeared unused.

Worstell said the company expected to collect at least $250,000 in the six-hour auction, which included a Chevrolet Suburban and a Ford Taurus. After the auction house gets its cut, the balance will go to a court-appointed receiver.

Stanford was arrested in June 2009 and charged with mail and wire fraud in connection with a $7 billion scheme linked to certificates of deposit issued by his Antigua-based banking company.

Authorities have said the one-time billionaire used proceeds in part to fund other ventures and a lavish lifestyle that included several yachts and private jets, and homes around the world, most of which have been liquidated by the receiver.

Stanford, 61, has denied any wrongdoing and remains incarcerated without bail in a federal detention facility.

Artwork at the auction house varied widely in value, from a bronze sculpture to posters with motivational messages about pride and attitude.

A pallet of 34 laptop bags were heaped on a table across from marble-based lamps, Chinese dragons and two-foot-tall cut-glass vases.

Coffee mugs with the company logo were boxed up near five tables of embossed leather books, including a 134-volume set of Civil War records, medical and legal texts, and novels by William Faulkner and Jules Verne.

The gun collection appeared to be a big draw for many who paid the $100 registration fee, including engineer Isaac Fox.

"I've never been to an auction before, so I was kind of curious," he said. "This one has a little notoriety about it."

Fox's friend, Brent Aronson, was also interested in the guns, but was eyeing the piles of computer equipment -- much of it still in the box -- and a chair for his wife.

Trina Fowlkes, who works in the financial industry, said she showed up mostly for the spectacle, but was not greatly impressed.

"He supposedly had so many fabulous things, but this is mostly office furniture," Fowlkes said. "If we don't pass out from the heat, we'll stick around."

An assortment of burled and carved wood antique furniture stood side-by-side with office cubicle components in the 20,000-square-foot warehouse where industrial fans provided the only relief from temperatures in the mid-90s.

IT coordinator Steve Shapiro said he came out to look for a bargain to add to his crystal collection, but the Stanford connection offered no extra cachet.

"I'm certainly not paying any more than its actual value just because it was his," Shapiro said. "If it had belonged to Jackie Kennedy Onassis maybe."

(Editing by David Bailey)