Stanford Group Leaves Houston High and Dry

BY Arts Desk  February 19, 2009 at 3:20 PM EST

It may be time to dust off that manuscript of the great American novel you’ve been putting off for years. Here’s a great conceit:

This week the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Texas banking billionaire R. Allen Stanford with over $8 billion in fraud, leaving depositors throughout Latin America wondering where their money is and whether they’ll get it back.

Meanwhile back in Houston, where Stanford is based, the 58-year-old banker, philanthropist and cricket-lover is leaving at least one arts group wondering whether it will continue to benefit from Stanford’s generosity.

The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that funding for an award to be given out this year by the Stanford Financial Group through the Houston Arts Alliance has been put on hold. The award, first given out in 2007, carried cash prizes of up to $25,000, and, in a bit of twisted fate, honored excellence in financial management by arts and culture groups. Past recipients included Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Mercury Baroque, an ensemble group.

“Especially in these times when, regardless of being a for-profit corporation or non-profit, we’re all looking at our bottom line,” said Jonathon Glus, CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance. “We in the arts, regardless of size, are used to having to run efficiently. So I believe there’s going to be some lessons for all of us to learn.”

Glus added that the loss of Stanford’s money will have a “serious effect” on the Houston arts community, but that because the money was an award and not a grant, arts and culture groups had not included it in their budgets. Additionally, the effect of the downturn in donations won’t likely be felt until the next fiscal year when current losses from endowments are realized.

With Stanford missing, the SEC freezing his assets and depositors from Venezuela to the Caribbean in limbo, the Houston Arts Alliance is uncertain the money will ever come through. Yet another reminder that not even the arts are immune from suspicious lending practices.

Editor’s note: Shortly after this post went up, Stanford was found in Fredericksburg, Va., and served with legal papers in the multibillion-dollar fraud case.