Democratic lobbyist and former Texas Lieutenant Gov. Ben Barnes has been slapped with a $5 million lawsuit over lobbying and consulting services he provided to R. Allen Stanford, the indicted financier accused of running a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
The suit was filed on Mar. 15 by Ralph Janvey, the receiver appointed by the court to recoup the investors’ losses. It alleges that Barnes raked in millions doing consulting and lobbying work for Stanford’s fraudulent investment empire since 2005. Stanford is accused of bilking tens of thousands of investors out of nearly $8 billion, in one of the largest phony investment schemes of all time.
Barnes’s attorney, Jay Madrid, said that the lawsuit was baseless because his client was unaware that Stanford’s businesses were illegitimate at the time the services were provided. “This lawsuit is without merit and creates a dangerous precedent for service providers in all fields,” said Madrid in a written statement. “This is particularly true of those who deal in good faith with entities that have all the characteristics of legitimate enterprises but who after-the-fact become subject to receiverships, bankruptcies or similar business failings.”
But the lawyer for the court-appointed receiver said that that argument does not absolve Barnes of responsibility. “In a fraudulent transfer action, lack of knowledge of the fraud is not a defense,” attorney Kevin Sadler told the NLPC over email. He said that Barnes must prove that he was both unaware of the fraud and that the services he provided to Stanford were equivalent in value to the fees he collected.
“Barnes will not be able to establish the affirmative defense of objective good faith and reasonably equivalent value. His services left creditors of the Stanford entities with nothing of value,” wrote Sadler.
The lawsuit alleges that in many cases Barnes’s company “performed services [for Stanford] that simply furthered the Ponzi scheme.” This work reportedly included consulting Stanford on how to reduce his personal federal income taxes through the Virgin Islands tax incentive laws and providing investment advice. The lawsuit also says that marketing work done by Barnes for Stanford’s businesses “had the unfortunate effect of attracting new victims to [Stanford’s] fraudulent investment scheme.”
Barnes, a heavy-hitter in Democratic political circles, is no stranger to financial scandals. While serving as Texas Lt. Gov. the early 1970s, allegations that Barnes and other state politicians accepted bribes for political favors surfaced in an incident known as the Sharpstown scandal. Barnes was never charged, but the episode helped contribute to his exit from career politics.
Now a successful lobbyist, Barnes is still very much involved in the political arena. Last September, he hosted a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at his home in Austin, TX. Barnes and his wife have given $249,800 in political contributions in 2010, with 100 percent of those contributions going toward Democratic candidates, according to Open Secrets.
Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.