Pat and I spent the past winter as guests of our youngest daughter at her home in Lake County, Florida. In adjacent Sumter County, just a few miles down the road from us, a major prison is located in the town of Coleman.
It was here that Robert Allen Stanford spent the past winter as a guest of the US Federal government, as he began to serve a 110 year sentence for operating a Ponzi scheme which cost his investors over 7 billion dollars.
Stanford was born and raised in Texas, but as a young man he relocated to the Caribbean where he founded the Stanford Financial Group, which became the vehicle for his criminality. Stanford’s modus operandi was similar to that of the more notorious Bernie Madoff. Both men paid their investors such impossibly high rates of return on investment, year in year out, that anyone with half a brain should have smelled something fishy from the outset.
Stanford’s Caribbean odyssey began on island of Montserrat, where he opened a bank in 1985. Following a regulatory crackdown there, he swiftly moved his operations to the nearby island of Antigua where he was very popular with the authorities for over twenty years.
Queen Elizabeth II is still the head of state in Antigua and is sovereign of the Order of the Nation which, on the recommendation of local politicians, grants an Antiguan version of a Knighthood. Through such a recommendation, Stanford eventually became ”Sir Allen”. This Knighthood was revoked when his misdeeds came to light.
Leaving aside his alleged bribery and money laundering activities, Stanford’s popularity sprang from something very unusual, namely he was a Texan who loved cricket and understood the game. He was very generous in his sponsorship of international cricket on Antigua and even had his own cricket ground on the island, known as Sticky Wicket Stadium.
Stanford was shrewd enough to realize that the way to the heart of an Antiguan is cricket, which is treated by the islanders almost as a religion. The main cricket ground on the island is the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, which was built in 2008 at a cost of $60 million. Most of that money came in the form of a grant from the Chinese government, which had doubtless learned from Allen Stanford’s activities that generosity to cricket is the way to gain influence on Antigua.
I visited Antigua for the first time in late March 2013 and below there is a photograph of me demonstrating a cricket shot with the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in the background. It would look more credible, if only I could have been holding a cricket bat at the time.
View Bob at bat in Antigua Cricket Stadium in a larger map
In early March, this stadium was the site of a test match (an international match) between the West Indies and Zimbabwe. The West Indian team is drawn from all of the formerly British Caribbean, not just Antigua. I wish that I could have arrived on the island two or three weeks earlier and attended the match. Nevertheless, I much enjoyed my visit, because the climate was perfect and the local people were delightful.
The island has attractive hills and beaches. The sea was the bluest that I have ever seen anywhere in the world. It was a startling turquoise.
Now for the criticism! The road system is awful. All the roads on the island are potholed and narrow. They meander and intersect. Worst of all, street names and directional signs are in short supply. What few signs that do exist are colored green and are mostly faded to the point of illegibility. At the bottom of these signs, one can just make out that they were provided by The Stanford Financial Group. Perhaps if Sir Allen’s sojourn on the island had not been so rudely interrupted, sign maintenance would have been better.
My daughter Anna and I were staying at the Halcyon Cove, a hotel on Dickenson Bay, on the northern coast of the island. We decided to visit English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard on the southern tip on the island, a journey of about 12 miles in a straight line. Our journey took a lot of time and was anything but straight. Anna must be given all the credit for the fact that we even arrived at our destination at all, since my contribution was limited to reminding her to drive on the left. The photograph below shows us there shortly after our arrival.
A gigantic yacht was moored in the harbor. It must have required a large crew to operate it. Whose boat was it? I asked all the locals but none of them knew. It must have belonged to a Russian oligarch skilled at preserving his anonymity.
The harbor itself is well protected from the ocean, so much so that British ships in the harbor would survive undamaged, when ships outside the harbor were being destroyed by hurricanes.
Admiral Nelson made it his headquarters in the West Indies from 1784 to 1787. When dying in 1805 from wounds suffered in the Battle of Trafalgar, fought in the stormy Atlantic with winter approaching, how the admiral must have yearned for the warmth and tranquility of English Harbor, Antigua.