We’ve already told you about Rep. Pete Sessions’s email to Allen Stanford in the wake of charges being filed against the banker for running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. “I love you and believe in you,” wrote the GOP congressman to the alleged fraudster.
But Stanford may have had an even tighter bond with another member. After all, you have to be pretty close with someone to ask them to carry a message to Hugo Chavez on your behalf. Especially when that message is that you want the Venezuelan president to open a criminal investigation into an associate with whom you’ve fallen out. But according to McClatchy, that’s what Stanford asked Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) to do. And, say the news outlet’s sources, Meeks agreed.
McClatchy reports that in 2006, Stanford’s entire operation was put at risk, after the president of his bank in Venezuela, Gonzalo Tirado, threatened to go rogue. After being accused of stealing from the company, Tirado filed a lawsuit and publicly suggested that Stanford might be orchestrating a fraud.
In order to fix the problem, Stanford turned to a close ally in Congress: Meeks. The banker asked Meeks to go to Chavez, and urge him to pursue a criminal investigation against Tirado. Two former federal agents working for Stanford listened to the call on speakerphone. And they tell McClatchy that Meeks agreed to the request.
A month later, Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, traveled to Venezuela as part of a mission to thank Chavez and other leaders for a program that provided heating oil to Americans. A year later, Tirado was indicted in Venezuela on charges of swindling and tax-evasion.
In 2008, Meeks received over $12,000 in campaign contributions from Stanford and his employees.
Meeks is also a member of the “Caribbean Caucus”, a group of lawmakers essentially created by Stanford, which has focused on issues of interest to the Caribbean region, and has enjoyed lavish trips to the region funded by a Stanford-created non-profit. Meeks himself has gone on six such trips since 2003.
Back in February, we told you about one of those trips, which occurred in 2004. According to a report in Newsday, the Stanford-backed non-profit that officially funded the trip hoped to “ease Patriot Act restrictions on offshore banking.” Meeks told the paper that “the trip was an effort by the Inter-American Economic Council to explain the hardships the act has imposed on Caribbean banks.” In other words, Stanford used these events to try to convince lawmakers not to crack down on tax loopholes that benefit offshore banking — exactly the loopholes that allowed Stanford to operate his alleged multi-billion-dollar scam for so long.
Meeks’s office didn’t respond to McClatchy’s requests for comment. It didn’t immediately respond to ours either.