Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Madoff? Stanford Financial Accused of "Massive Fraud"

Company sponsors Memphis' St. Jude golf tournament

Posted By on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 4:00 AM

"The bigger they are the harder they fall," is how one Memphian characterized Stanford Financial's billionaire founder R. Allen Stanford, patron of the Stanford St. Jude golf tournament and other civic causes.

On Tuesday, FBI agents visited Stanford's Memphis office in the Crescent Center and hauled away boxes of documents. And in Dallas, the Securities Exchange Commission accused Stanford of a "massive ongoing fraud" involving the sale of some $8 billion of certificates of deposit with exceptionally high interest rates.

Stanford Financial Group has a big Memphis presence since opening an office here in 1999. Its chief financial officer is James M. Davis, a native of Baldwyn, Mississippi, about 75 miles from Memphis.

In addition to the golf tournament, which Stanford has sponsored since 2007 when it replaced FedEx as title sponsor, the company's name is on the concert hall at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Stanford is also a patron of the Memphis Brooks Museum. The Stanford Global Foundation is the company’s community investment program and is based in Memphis.

The golf tournament is a huge marketing opportunity for Stanford to showcase its various business lines to customers around the world. Davis plays in the tournament's pro-am event and Stanford hosts a lavish party. In a statement faxed to news organizations Tuesday, Kevin Krisle, executive director of the Stanford St. Jude Championship, said, "Our goals and objectives have not changed. We remain busy planning for and excited about hosting the 52nd edition of the PGA Tour event in Memphis this June."

The SEC statement reads in part: "As we allege in our complaint, Stanford and the close circle of family and friends with whom he runs his businesses perpetrated a massive fraud based on false promises and fabricated historical return data to prey on investors," said Linda Chatman Thomsen, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "We are moving quickly and decisively in this enforcement action to stop this fraudulent conduct and preserve assets for investors."

Rose Romero, regional director of the SEC's Forth Worth Regional Office, added, "We are alleging a fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world."

Stories of Stanford's personal flamboyance and large contributions have swirled for years, but they picked up steam in recent weeks after skeptical stories appeared on the Internet and then in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

On Tuesday, the Times reported that the SEC accused Stanford, Davis, and another employee with misrepresenting the safety and liquidity of uninsured certificates of deposit yielding as much as 8 percent interest. The Journal, meanwhile, reported that depositors were flocking to Stanford's offshore bank in Antigua to try to withdraw their money, only to learn that processing withdrawals could take several days.

Stanford's problems come on the heels of the Bernie Madoff scandal, in which wealthy investors around the world lost billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. The Times reported that the SEC called Stanford Financial's investment returns "improbable, if not impossible." Stanford International Bank, a division of the company, claims $8.5 billion in assets and 30,000 clients in 131 countries. Its main offices are in Houston.

The FBI in Memphis did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the investigation here.

Herenton Responds to School Suit Ruling

Posted on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Today Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ruled in favor of the Memphis City Schools in the city/MCS lawsuit.

Mayor Willie Herenton told the council this afternoon that he had a sense of urgency about the decision:

"I think this particular ruling that we received today, one of my expectations was the court would really define what governmental body had the responsibility for maintenance of effort. I'm not a lawyer but I don't think that designation has been made.

"Your administrative staff are heavily involved in making a budget for next year. I've got to now direct my staff to develop a budget that potentially would be required to absorb an additional $57 million, in addition to what we were planning to present to you.

"I know CAO Keith McGee and [finance director] Roland [McElrath] have worked with you and told you the upcoming budget is challenging. Hopefully you've looked at other municipalities, the state, the corporate sector. All of those entities are facing significant layoffs, facing significant diminution of benefits. Obviously, we've got to make some deep cuts in our budget.

"We cannot be all things to all people. ...

For more, visit Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Amish Space Heaters: Round II

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

The New York Times has the back-story in on the subject of the most controversial column Bruce VanWyngarden ever wrote: Amish Roll-N-Glow space heaters. An excerpt:

For a people who make up less than a tenth of a percent of the country's population, the Amish loom large in the American imagination as simple-living, God-fearing country folk who keep the pre-industrial past alive. We know them as farmers and skilled craftspeople, with high standards and an unfussy sensibility that they bring to the barns they raise, the baked goods they sell at greenmarkets and the quilts and furniture they produce.

But the Amish have not traditionally been celebrated for their space heaters ... Read the rest at nytimes.com.

Minglewood Hall Opens in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

With a wedding reception, a Vagina Monologues performance, and a roots-rock concert, Minglewood Hall opens this week as the largest Midtown performance venue in decades.

The concert and event hall is the core piece of Minglewood Plaza, a multi-million-dollar mixed-use development of local company the DeHart Group ... Read the rest. Or check out Minglewood's website.

Celebrate Valentine's Day In the Bluff City

Posted on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Romantic candlelit dinners at home are so cliché. Get out of the house this weekend -- with or without a date.

Spend tonight getting in touch with your feminine side at the annual V-Day Stoplight Campaign's performance of The Vagina Monologues tonight at Minglewood Hall. The play costs $15 and begins at 8 p.m.

Because love and murder sometimes go hand in hand, don't miss Death Du Jour Mystery Dinner Theater’s production of Love At Last Bite! The interactive murder mystery begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday at The Spaghetti Warehouse downtown.

Spending Valentine's Day alone this year? Don’t worry. The gals from the Memphis Roller Derby will console you with their third annual "Love Hurts" anniversary party. The party starts at 9 p.m. on Saturday at Newby’s and features live music by Dead-I-On and DJs Cupcakez and Cool Ice Cream.

If your relationship has gone stale, pick up some romance tips at the Erotegy event at Café Soul on Saturday. The couples event includes a sex toy demo, a sexy dance performance, live music, and poetry reading. Erotegy begins at 9 p.m.

For a really cheap date, skip Valentine’s Day and wait for Sunday's free MLK Tribute by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Kishna Davis and the Memphis Central High School Choir will perform songs in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Though it's free, you still need a ticket, so call the symphony office at 537-2525.

For more weekend fun, check out the Flyer's searchable online listings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Performing Artifacts

The Urban Art Commission recognizes Theatre Memphis' Sculpture Garden

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Some of Memphis' heaviest metal is about to get the recognition it deserves. On Friday, February 13th, prior to the opening night performance of Cyrano DeBegerac, Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden (also known as "Dramatis Personae") will become the Bluff City's first officially designated Public Art Heritage Site.

Urban Arts Commission director John Weeden says he became aware of the need for just such a designation while creating a map of public art projects created in conjunction with the UAC.

"These Heritage pieces deserve attention," Weeden says, explaining that Dramatis Personae is a prime example of the kind of works that established a precedent for what the UAC does today. "I don't think the community is always well versed in the origins of these pieces," Weeden adds. "A perfect example is the tile mosaic in the library at Lemoyne-Owen College. An artist named Ben Shahn created it sometime in the early 1960s. Shahn is a pivotal artist in post-war America. This is a real treasure and nobody seems to know that this piece is there. And it's just one of the treasures that adds to the livability of our city."

Weeden hopes that the Heritage Site project, which is currently still in the planning and development stage, will encourage people to take notice of off-the-radar public art in their communities and neighborhoods.

There could be a lot of stuff out there that's been overlooked and we want people to let us know about it," Weeden says. "If there’s some quirky park that a neighborhood made up, I want to know about that."

Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden was commissioned in 1978 by the family of Hubert and Stella Menke and paid for in part by a grant for public art by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was installed in 1979 in conjunction with the opening of TM's new facility at the corner of Southern and Perkins. Lon Anthony, an artist known for his visual puns and whimsical images was chosen to create the pieces. At the time of the commission Anthony, who now resides in Florida, was head of the Rhodes College Art Department.

The UAC will eventually produce a map with information regarding Memphis public art heritage sites. The heritage site project will officially kick off at an invitation-only event at Theatre Memphis on Friday, February 13 at 6:30 p.m., prior to the performance of Cyrano, a sprawling romance based loosely on the life of Savinien de Cyrano, whose fictionalized likeness can be found in the garden.

How Justin Timberlake and Al Green Saved the Grammys

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 4:00 AM

After close to three decades of Grammys duty, Ken Ehrlich is a hard man to rattle. But on Sunday, the executive producer had a few choppy hours where he faced the biggest show-day crisis in the history of "music's biggest night." There's been plenty of rumors and speculation about the incident that led Chris Brown and Rihanna to cancel their respective performances at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, but for Ehrlich the only priority Sunday was filling chunks of suddenly empty airtime on an international broadcast that is planned down to the second ...

Read the story from LATimes.com.

Jay Reatard, MGMT Design T-Shirts for Playboy

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Since 2007, Playboy magazine has run an annual feature/promotion called "Rock the Rabbit," in which prominent musicians design T-shirts inspired by the publication's "rabbit" logo.

This year, Memphis' own Jay Reatard and MGMT (with Andrew VanWyngarden of Memphis) are among those selected to create a shirt--which will sold on the magazine's website with the proceeds going to charity.

For more, check out Pitchfork.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

City Council Attorney Rebuts Commercial Appeal Article

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade says members should not take any action against Mayor Willie Herenton because the mayor has done nothing wrong.

In a letter dated February 6th to City Council chairman Myron Lowery, Wade rebuts a January article in The Commercial Appeal about the mayor's option on the downtown Greyhound bus station. The newspaper reported that Herenton made $91,000 when he sold the option.

A federal grand jury has been questioning former City Council members and associates of the mayor including special assistant Pete Aviotti and developer Elvin Moon.

Wade's nine-page letter examines the news article and city and Memphis Area Transit Authority records regarding Greyhound's downtown facility and a new intermodal facility near the airport. "The MATA intermodal facility was part of MATA's master plan for the extension of its light-rail system," Wade says. "This transaction had nothing to do with the Greyhound facility. As far as we know, the mayor did not have an option to purchase the Airways and Brooks Road property, which was the subject of the council’s resolution. As we have previously shown, any relationship between the downtown Greyhound facility and the MATA intermodal facility is speculative at best and probably non-existent."

The letter concludes: "It is our opinion that no action on the part of the council is required based on the "facts" identified in the (reporter Mark) Perrusquia article or in the fact in the city's and MATA's documents, because there was no violation of city ordinance, state law, oath of office, or the current or prior ethics ordinance."

Wade also takes issue with The Commercial Appeal referring to Herenton as "the mayor" when, Wade argues, Herenton was acting in an official capacity as a private citizen.

--John Branston

Monday, February 9, 2009

Memphis at the Grammies: Al Green, B.B. King, Justin Timberlake, MGMT

Posted By on Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 4:00 AM

At Sunday night's Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Memphis soul icon Al Green won two awards (Best Performance by a Duo or Group; Best Traditional R&B); B.B. King took home another (Best Traditional Blues Album); and a song by the duo MGMT (with former Memphian Andrew VanWyngarden) won Best Remixed Recording.

Memphis' Justin Timberlake joined Green onstage for a version of Green's classic "Let's Stay Together." In his introduction, Timberlake recalled first meeting Green at the "general store," (now known as the Shelby Forest General Store).

French DJs Justice remixed MGMT's "Electric Feel," which you can hear by clicking on Flyer Radio below.

Neil Diamond was named Musicares Person of the Year. Other award winners included Coldplay, L'il Wayne, Duffy, Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, and Adele. For a complete list of winners, photos, etc., go to the Grammy website.

District Attorney and MPD Close Four Drug Houses

Posted on Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Broken pieces of sheet rock and rusty nails litter the floor inside the derelict shotgun shack at 2387 Park Avenue in Orange Mound. There's not a piece of furniture in sight.

The abandoned home, which sits next door to the Orange Mound Development Corporation, served as a crack house until it was boarded up over the weekend in a joint effort by District Attorney Bill Gibbons' office and the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush operation.

The Park Avenue house was one of three houses (the others are located at 2340 Douglass and 321 East McLemore) and one apartment building (1205 Azalia) targeted in Operation Street Sweep XXI. At the Park location, two men, one of whom is a known member of the Crips gang, were arrested for using the abandoned home to sell crack to undercover officers on six occasions. Officers also purchased crack and heroin at the other properties.

Gibbons filed a nuisance petition to close the three houses and evict the tenants in the apartment complex on Azalia last week.

Since Blue Crush began, 155 houses and six businesses have been boarded up or closed down under nuisance petitions.

"Drug dealers are the parasites of our community," said Gibbons at a press conference in front of the Park Avenue property on Monday. "The message ought to be clear to the drug dealers. We're coming after you."

by Bianca Phillips

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Memphis" (the musical) Garners Good Reviews in Seattle

Posted By on Sat, Feb 7, 2009 at 4:00 AM

There's more than rainy days and reflections of Hendrix and Cobain in Seattle these days. With Memphis: The Birth of Rock and Roll, the Emerald City presents the Bluff City (with all its bruises and glory) on stage. Here's a review (written by the sister of Memphis magazine's Frank Murtaugh).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cash on Cash

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

431,232,142

431,232,142

That's the number Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash has burned into his brain -- 431,232,142 -- the one he recites from memory like Hurley, Lost's unlucky lottery winner.

"That's the figure the state expects and I haven't heard anything different," Cash says.

Cash has to submit his legal budget to the state October 1, 2009, but so far he's about $100 million short.

For years, the district has been funded by the county, local sales tax, and the city. But last year, the city cut the $66 million slated to go to the district, leaving the school system with a funding nightmare on its hands.

Under the "maintenance of effort" clause, the school system must be locally funded at the same level as the previous year. The cut sparked a lawsuit -- still unresolved -- about who exactly should make up the shortfall. The city argues that the money should come from the required local funder, the county.

But right now, Cash is looking for a solution to next year. The school system expects to be out of money August 1st.

"What can we do while we solve all the arguments? And there's a lot of arguments out there. If it's the city, the county, it doesn't matter to me," Cash says. "We just need this amount."

For more, visit Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog.

Take the Plunge and Celebrate the Ox This Weekend

Posted on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

In years past, Polar Bear Plungers have ignored icy-cold temperatures to take the annual dip into the Mississippi River. But this year's participants lucked out with temps expected in the high 60s tomorrow. Folks will face slightly warmer waters as they plunge to raise funds for the Special Olympics. Join them or just watch while you nosh on chili from the event's chili cook-off tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Mud Island River Park.

Welcome the Year of Ox with a trip to the Orpheum on Sunday for the Chinese Spectacular Show. This elaborate costumed affair pays homage to Chinese history and culture through traditional dance and music. The show begins at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Don’t waste your Friday night at another bar. Support your local coffeehouse instead. The Damn the Man, Support the Edge benefit, hosted by the Rozelle Artist Guild, features live music by Valerie June, Grace Askew, and Travis Cantrell, as well as an interactive paint-by-numbers mural. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Edge Coffeehouse in Midtown's Crosstown district.

If you spend on all your dough on mocha lattes tonight, never fear. You won't need any money for Saturday's free admission day at the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The country's only art museum dedicated to metal work celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and they're letting folks in for free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

Memphis may be the home of the blues, but there are plenty of talented blues musicians across the world. The best of the best will be performing in Beale Street clubs and bars this weekend as they vie for the world championship title from the International Blues Challenge. Wander down the historic strip for a taste of blues from as far away as Israel and Australia. The challenge runs through Saturday night.

For more weekend fun, check out the Flyer's searchable online calendar:

Remembering Natalee Holloway

Mother of missing student carries message of personal safety to students in Memphis.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

On Thursday evening, more than 300 people filled the gymnasium at Rossville Christian Academy to hear Beth Holloway talk about her daughter, Natalee, who vanished on the night of May 30, 2005, during a school outing to the Caribbean island of Aruba.

The 18-year-old girl's disappearance sparked a media frenzy, and Beth Holloway began her talk by showing video clips of Barbara Walters, Geraldo Rivera, Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace, and even Dr. Phil. Walters began her news segment in typically dramatic fashion, calling the case "every parent's worse nightmare: A daughter goes away on holiday and never returns."

And this is essentially what happened to Natalee Holloway. Surrounded by ads for Collierville Screen Print, the Bank of Fayette County, Wilson Furniture, and Zellner Equipment, and facing a banner painted, "Go Lady Wolves!", Holloway began her talk in the school gymnasium by bluntly stating what she believed happened to her daughter in Aruba three years ago: "Natalee was kidnapped, raped, and killed. She went there to have fun, but she ran into others who had a different agenda."

According to police investigations, Natalie was last seen in the company of three young men on the evening of May 30th. More than 100 members of her school group were supposed to return to her hometown of Mountain Brook, Alabama, the following morning, but the young woman didn't show up. That morning, says Holloway, "I got the call every parent would dread -- one that would change my life forever."

She and her husband immediately flew to Aruba, and a quick glance at her daughter's hotel room, showing her clothes neatly packed and her passport on the bed, told her, "It was more than just intuition. I was certain that something was terribly wrong."

One problem was that the chief suspect, 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot, was the son of a prominent judge on the island. According to Holloway, he told "more than a dozen" different accounts of what he did with the missing girl that evening, though insisting that he later dropped her off at her hotel and never saw her again.

The police claimed they didn't have enough evidence to arrest the young man, or two others also seen with Natalee that evening, "so we were left to search on our own," Holloway said, by putting up "KIDNAPPED" posters with her daughter's picture, and pleading for tips and information. "It was such a paradox," she said, "to see such natural beauty [on the island] and yet experience such horror at the same time."

She and her family investigated every tip they could, including bizarre tales that Natalee had been kidnapped and sold into prostitution or was being held prisoner in one of the many island crack-houses that the police pretended didn't exist. "The hidden underbelly of the island had been exposed," she said, "and it wasn't pretty."

After four days without sleeping, eating, or even bathing, Holloway told the Rossville audience that she finally asked a cab driver to take her to a chapel.

"I had descended to the lowest place a human spirit could fall, but I knew Natalee wouldn't want me to give up," she said. "My faith in God was my only hope, and I needed to pray harder -- to get someplace where God could hear me."

She was taken to a beach on the island where someone had erected a row of crosses, and it was here, she said, "that a complete peace blanketed me. I know Natalee is with God. He wrapped his loving arms around her and helped her get through whatever ordeal she went through that night."

Holloway said she believes she knows what happened. She said that Joran van der Sloot finally confessed to killing her daughter: "He gave her a shot of rum, and that produced a seizure. He then got friends to help him dump her body in the sea. We'll never know if she was alive or not when that happened."

The case, however, is still considered unsolved because -- confession or not -- she said the Aruban police don't want to pursue it.

"There is nothing I can do to get justice for Natalee," said her mother, "because they just don't do things [in other countries] the way we do here."

So now Holloway is speaking to groups like those who gathered at Rossville Christian Academy.

"The best way to honor Natalee," she explained, "is by talking with students about personal safety. It's not a safe world -- not on Internet chat rooms, and not on island vacations. So don't get yourself into situations where you can't defend yourself."

Holloway recently founded an organization called TravelEd, to teach personal safety to students and young men and women who travel abroad. That effort has taken her to school campuses in 23 states. She offered many tips, from being aware of your surroundings to forming a "safety circle" with friends, and noted, "You can never feel too confident or too safe. My daughter let her guard down for just a moment, and in that moment she vanished."

Holloway concluded her hour-long talk with a video tribute to her daughter, then sat at a table in the gym and autographed more than 100 copies of her book, Loving Natalee. Everyone in the audience also picked up commemorative bookmarks and bracelets woven by Natalee's friends, the colored strands representing "faith, hope, and love."

"People often ask what keeps me going," Holloway said. "The human spirit can withstand a lot -- more than I ever thought possible. And I talked to Natalee and I pledged never to give up. Never."

--Michael Finger

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