|Mysterious new member of Davis $100,000 club|
|Body Text||Who is R. Allen Stanford? He says he shares roots with the family of Leland Stanford Jr., though no one at the prestigious Palo Alto university knows him. He is a Houston banker, a naturalized citizen of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and a major player in that island's offshore banking community.|
He is also a friend of Gov. Gray Davis. Well, maybe friend is an exaggeration. But he is friendly enough to have given $100,000 last month to the governor's re-election campaign, one of the largest single contributions to Davis this year.
Stanford also donated $2.5 million to one of the personal projects of California's first lady, Sharon Davis - the restoration of the former Leland Stanford mansion in downtown Sacramento.
By all accounts, Stanford is a shrewd businessman who knows that courting powerful politicians can be good for your bottom line. So it's logical to assume he has a stake in California and its governor. But what? His company, the Stanford Financial Group, filed a statement announcing its intention to do business here in 1996, according to the secretary of state's office. Since then, there's been no sign of activity. But then, that was before Antigua got hot.
Officially known as Antigua and Barbuda, the twin-island nation is part of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean. A former British colony, Antigua is home to about 70,000 people, mostly descendents of slaves brought from western Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The country has been governed almost continuously for 50 years by the family of V.C. Bird, which has had a reputation as a corrupt regime. Involved in repeated family financial scandals, the Bird dynasty gave shelter to fugitive American financier Robert Vesco and was implicated in arms deals with the apartheid regime of South Africa and the Medillin drug cartel in Colombia, according to a 1999 report by Douglas Payne for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Lester Bird succeeded his father as prime minister in 1994, and Stanford has been a strong supporter and close adviser. According to Payne, Stanford is probably "the most influential money man in the country." He is chairman and owner of the largest of about 40 offshore banks and head of the domestic Bank of Antigua.
Stanford has never been implicated in any criminal wrongdoing. But after Stanford, at Bird's direction, led a 1998 effort to overhaul Antigua's banking laws, the U.S. government complained that new secrecy rules made the country a haven for drug-money laundering. Stanford's presence on the six-member regulatory authority, the United States said, was a conflict of interest.
Stanford later stepped down from the board and set a precedent by voluntarily handing over $3 million in deposits at his bank that U.S. authorities said were part of the cocaine fortune of a deceased Mexican drug lord. He remains tight with Bird. He was thought to be a key supporter of the prime minister's 1999 re-election campaign; two days before the election, Stanford pulled an article critical of Bird from a newspaper he publishes, the only pro-government paper on the island.
Now one of Stanford's companies is building a bank, hotel, shopping center and a cricket Hall of Fame on land next to the island's only airport, and when the prime minister recently announced plans to privatize the airport's management, news reports suggested Stanford was the leading candidate to get the contract.
Which brings us to California. Stanford first surfaced here in July with his $2.5 million contribution to the renovation of the Sacramento mansion. A press release from the state Parks and Recreation Department, which manages the site, said Stanford "traces his family heritage to the family of Leland Stanford." But Charles Ansbach, the mansion foundation's executive director, said Stanford never provided details of the link, and archivists at the university say they do not believe he is descended from any of the Stanfords who came west from New York in the mid-1800s.
Stanford didn't return telephone calls inquiring about his interests here, but he told Ansbach that he was preparing to expand his business to California. Ansbach said he had been pursuing a donation from Stanford since a mutual associate introduced them five years ago.
"He said, 'We are thinking of doing business in California, opening offices there, and this would be a good time for us to come out and look at the project'," Ansbach said.
Garry South, the governor's top political adviser, said Stanford "has met the governor and talked to the governor several times." But South, as is his policy, wouldn't disclose the nature of the meetings, the subjects discussed or their timing.
It is, of course, lore among Capitol lobbyists that to secure a personal appearance from the governor, a political donor or fund-raiser must collect at least $100,000. That number supposedly applies whether the event includes 100 insurance agents, 50 doctors, 10 energy companies or a single naturalized Antiguan offshore banker.
Stanford isn't talking about why he's decided to invest that kind of money in Davis. For now, he's leaving it to our imaginations. If anybody out there knows, do tell.
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The Bee's Daniel Weintraub can be reached at (916) 321-1914 or at