There are two worlds that exist in the complicated mind of Allen Stanford. One sees him on horseback at George Bush’s Texas ranch, enjoying a laugh with England players’ wives and landing at Lord’s in a helicopter to vaunt his multi-billion-dollar empire.
The other sees him repeating ‘I’m innocent’ many times a week, worshipping Kevin Pietersen and, despite serving a 110-year prison sentence, maintaining his vision of being involved in cricket once again as he enters an eighth decade.
The 72-year-old, jailed for orchestrating the second-largest investor fraud in US history which saw victims rinsed of $7billion (£5.7bn), has only given one previous interview since his 2009 incarceration.
Realities of life in jail, where Stanford spends most of his days stewing away in an 8ft by 13ft cell with only a Bible for solace, could not be more marked for a man known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
‘I was running a good ship and doing things ethically and honestly, when the US government came in and said, “You’re nothing but a damn, sorry son of a bitch stealing from widows and orphans”,’ he claims.
On Thursday, he begins a final attempt to be freed on appeal by the US Supreme Court despite a jury convicting him on 13 counts of fraud in 2012.
If he is successful, he will attempt to return to pastures that once saw him charming the ECB into signing an infamous deal for five Twenty20 internationals involving England and the West Indies. England players apparently still write to him and one West Indian star has visited him in jail.
Fraudster Allen Stanford has opened up exclusively to Sportsmail on the $20million showdown that shamed cricket
Stanford (centre, bottom row) poses with the England cricket team in 2008
Lives were irretrievably ruined, many of his victims suffer to this day, with thousands of pensioners having lost their life savings.
But somehow, Stanford sees himself as the biggest victim of all.
On the phone from his maximum-security Coleman II federal prison in Sumterville, Florida — home to former USA gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, jailed for sexually assaulting young stars, and serial killer Scott Lee Kimball, who is believed to have murdered up to 25 people — Stanford is in a positive mood. His family are on the way to visit.
Before talking about why he is where he is, he is eager to talk cricket. It is a sport none of his fellow inmates know anything about but it was the vehicle he used to give his bank a global platform.
‘Over a period of time in the Caribbean, I fell in love with the cricket. I’m not a big proponent of Test cricket,’ he tells Sportsmail in a steady Texan drawl.
‘My first exposure to it was back when (World Series Cricket founder) Kerry Packer was stirring up the pot. I was not that enamoured with something that can take five days and not get a result.
‘But when I became aware of not just the one-day 50-over matches, but the much shorter three-hour version of Twenty20, I could see its quick application to the sport that could rival the sports I grew up with — American football, basketball and baseball. And especially when you pit island against island, the rivalry that goes with that, everyone dressed up in their national colours and just the excitement — it is like a big Mardi Gras parade. We (West Indies) were the champions of the world back in the Nineties when Viv Richards and the guys were playing, then we just fell off.
Stanford created the ‘20/20 for 20’ match which pitted the Stanford Superstars, made up of West Indies players, against an England XI in Antigua in 2008
‘I had a lot of admiration for Kerry Packer. He did things his way, he was an inspiration. He dressed the guys in pink and all this. I wanted to revitalise this sport in the Caribbean where I saw these young talented guys who were not given an opportunity to develop and I thought the vehicle of T20 cricket could do it.’
Australian media tycoon Packer, whose tournaments ran between 1977 and 1979, lured the world’s best with extravagant pay and laid the blueprint for Stanford.
Stanford rebuilt a ground in Antigua in 2004 for his Stanford 20/20 tournaments, in which Caribbean islands were pitted against each other in 2006 and 2008. It was the foundation to the 2008 Stanford Super Series — featuring the Stanford Superstars, made up of West Indies players, against an England XI including Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Graeme Swann, all competing in a ‘20/20 for 20’ match.
It got its name from the $20m cash pot. The 11 players on the winning side would each take home $1m, with $2m split between management and squad players and $7m between the England and West Indies cricket boards. The likes of then ECB chairman Giles Clarke, Sir Ian Botham and Sir Viv Richards posed with the Texan on June 11, 2008 as they all grinned around a stack of notes totalling $20m (then around £10m).
That was after he casually plonked his helicopter on the Home of Cricket turf. ‘Lord’s cash landing’ was the headline emblazoned on Sportsmail’s back page. ‘The English were very gracious and hospitable, even after I landed a helicopter on Lord’s!’ he chuckles. ‘Which was not my idea. We had a firm that was hired in England to promote the series. We had our ads on the black cabs and they said it would be really something if you fly this helicopter to Lord’s.
‘They came up with the idea. I agreed and said, “OK if it’s not going to get me in trouble!” It created a lot of interest.
Stanford’s helicopter lands on Lord’s turf ahead of a press conference in 2008
The Texan exits his helicopter after landing his helicopter on the Home of Cricket turf
‘Everything was a fond memory. For me, that final was, “We’re going to kick England’s butt. I have the best young players in the world and we are going to show it” and we did play with some of the proven talent like Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle and some newcomers.’
England were thrashed, and pilloried. All out for 99 and a 10-wicket defeat on the pitch, a PR shambles with accusations of greed off it. Nearly 14 years on from that winter, many will not recall the details of the match but will remember the goings-on in the stands one week earlier, involving the England players’ wives and girlfriends during the Middlesex Crusaders v Trinidad and Tobago game.
Stanford giggles and explains: ‘I had had a few drinks which people offered me. I was in a happy spirit and these young ladies were sitting together. If I had known they were the girlfriends and wives of the players — I think one was actually pregnant — there is no way I would have gone into that beehive!
‘But they said, “Come over here, we want to get a picture”. So I went over and there were three seats and four of them and me, so I said I’ll kneel down. They crowded around and said, “Here, sit on my knee”.
‘I was laughing and it was just a happy, light-hearted moment you know and I smiled at them and that was about it. It probably lasted no more than 15 to 20 seconds!
‘In hindsight, if I had known who these girls were, there’s no way I would have gone over there, just because I’m smart enough to know that would not be a good thing public-relations wise.’
Stanford is revelling in reflection. Especially when asked about leading players from that era — chiefly Pietersen. ‘Kevin Pietersen is a first-class individual,’ he beams. ‘Not only was he a tremendous athlete, I thought he was a first-class guy. Very intelligent, straight shooter, I thought the world of him. And the English team, some of the old players. Ian Botham and Viv Richards used to have a rivalry and their stories were really good. Flintoff was another great player.’
Stanford is pictured with a number of England players’ wives and girlfriends during the Middlesex Crusaders v Trinidad and Tobago game in 2008
If the feelings are reciprocal, surely some of the individuals will have stayed in touch? ‘Yes, several of the players are in contact,’ he says. ‘I don’t know if they would want me to mention their names.’
Through phone calls or letters?
‘Letters. It’s made me feel very good. I answered their questions completely honestly and forthright, and we are still communicating. Let’s just say that I’ve got several of the players that I consider to be dear and close friends. In terms of contact where we have communicated back and forth and are still communicating… it’s eight players.’
Are any of them English? ‘Well (yes), but the majority aren’t.’
It transpires to be one or two England players from that final, allegedly. One Stanford Superstars player has even visited him in jail, he claims.
He continues: ‘I’ve had a few, what I now consider solid friends, who understand what has happened and have been supportive.’
It is now time to address the victims and the $7bn.
‘The government needed a scapegoat, someone who was not so politically connected… and they got me,’ says Stanford. ‘You know — colourful, maverick, billionaire Texan living it large in the Caribbean. Thirteen years in a maximum-security prison is not the most pleasant experience. It’s an abysmal hellhole and you are also in with a group of inmates who are at the higher level of offences — violence and other things.’
The approximately 25,000 investors who lost millions may have opted for something a little stronger than ‘colourful’ or ‘maverick’. Arrested in 2009, Stanford was convicted three years later for running a $7bn Ponzi scheme after prosecutors said he sold fraudulent high-yielding certificates of deposit through his Antigua-based bank.
He is said to have used investors’ money to make risky investments and fund a lavish lifestyle over a 20-year period, built on the backs of teachers, nurses, and firefighters in states such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas. That included six marquee jets, a 112ft sports yacht and numerous mansions and offices in 16 countries.
In a Ponzi scheme, a company attracts investors with the promise of big returns but instead of using their money in a legitimate transaction, channels it into returns for earlier investors. But mention Ponzi scheme or victims and a blast of outrage reverberates down the phone.
‘Are you kidding me? You are making me very angry right now!’ the former billionaire bellows. ‘I did not do one thing wrong, nor did I create any scheme to defraud anybody. I am working as hard as I can to get this conviction thrown out so everybody who lost a dime in Stanford International Bank is paid back in full because they are not going to get it with the receivership that has been in place for 13 years.
‘You tell me: if it was a damn Ponzi scheme, how was it after 13 years they keep selling assets? And they keep paying attorneys and other professionals billions of dollars every year to do nothing but manage something that supposedly broke?
Stanford is surrounded by officials and former cricket stars as they pose in front of a box containing $20million
‘Where’s all this money coming from? There were 240 bank accounts that my companies maintain worldwide — the receiver got only 26 of them.’
He continues: ‘The ones (victims) who have contacted me, I’ve written back to them and said, “I’m doing everything I can to get out of this situation and when I do, you will get paid in full, we will make this right”.’
How about offering an apology to the victims?
‘If you did not do something and someone said, “You did do something that was a really, really terrible thing”, would you apologise to them? Would you say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do it?”
‘I can only tell you that I was very close to victory in court. Right now I have a case in the Supreme Court of the United States. They are taking the conference on the June 23. And this case is going to show once and for all the wrong that was done. I’ll absolutely be a billionaire once again.’
Conversation moves on to another controversial outsider trying to shake up sport: LIV Golf. First, Stanford likens Saudi money with Nike and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
‘The criticism is that the Saudis are not very good with their human rights,’ he says. ‘All I know is that the NBA, and Nike, are tied in as tight as you can get with China. And we know what China’s record has been on human rights — it has not been very good. I think the Saudi investment in sport is very interesting.’
He stretches out the word ‘very’ with laughter interspersed. His tone further livens up when asked about the new golf series. ‘I think for a tournament that nobody even heard of, and the prize money on offer, it is pretty, pretty astounding,’ he exudes.
‘The players they have been able to sign up, like Phil Mickelson, and people said they are a bunch of damn opportunists — why do you think they are playing?
The American poses with Stanford Superstars following their victory over England XI at the end of the Stanford 20/20 Super Series match in Antigua
Chris Gayle (left) of the Superstars is awarded a cheque of $20million by Stanford in 2008
‘They are going out there to play golf to make money and that’s what it’s all about for them, and I think the PGA has never had a competitor. What you see is a similarity (to Stanford 20/20) in that it is going to shake up golf like nothing has shaken golf up in recent times. I think the PGA are shaking in their boots right now.’
We are more than an hour into the interview and his family are now waiting in the visiting area.
But as ever, Stanford wants the final say. He concludes: ‘What I did (for cricket), like Kerry Packer, was different. It was flamboyant, maverick, and I was putting the money where my mouth was. I had the platform, the television, I built it all several years before I was ready to launch it. That caused people to think about cricket in a different way as a game. I have no doubt that I did create more of an interest in T20 cricket.
‘The match was a great match, and the value of cricket has been proven. I’ve been keeping up with the financial posture of cricket — India added two new teams to the IPL and they were required to pay close to a billion dollars for each team.’
And, should his appeal succeed, he still is not ruling out an incredible return to cricket.
‘I am very surprised someone hasn’t taken what I still believe is a vision for T20 that still hasn’t been fulfilled,’ he adds. ‘And that fulfilment to me is in the Caribbean where you have this unique platform of what I built in Antigua. It was truly one of a kind.’