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On an overcast March day, Rosemary Mazor is saying goodbye to friends at the Stanford Financial Group in the Galleria area. This week, the doors are open for employees who didn't get time to gather their belongings before federal agents raided the building February 17.
Mazor had already collected her things, but she is in the area for a job interview so decided to come by anyway. She figured she would walk through the doors one more time, no matter how strange it felt. One last time through the lobby, up the elegant staircases and past all the proud Stanford eagles carved into the limestone and mahogany and marble.
Charles Hazlett, a top Miami investment broker, aired his fears about the company in 2003.
The last time she was here, she didn't get to capture one last snapshot of this place she had come to consider a second home. It's kind of hard to get an image for posterity when you and the rest of your four-person team are being escorted out of the building by armed U.S. marshals.
"I look at it as a promising career that could have been," the 48-year-old Brooklyn native says. In three years, she worked her way up from receptionist to a management training specialist. She had even met the company's founder, Allen Stanford, who might possibly be the only Caribbean Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order ever to be accused of a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
When Mazor met Stanford, in the building's posh Eagle Room dining hall, she was blown away by the fact that he knew she was fresh from New York City and that she had two daughters. He had taken the time to find out about her life. The room could fit about 45 people, but it was just Stanford, an assistant and Mazor. She remembers being so excited that she had to tell her husband all about it as soon as she got home. Like other employees, Mazor had been fed the Stanford story, which was the tale of a humble yet scrappy family from Nowhere, Texas, who knew the value of hard work and who turned a few bucks into a fortune. Mazor loved that ethic, the family feel, the bonds she made almost immediately. It's what made her come in every day, getting up at 4:30 a.m. so her husband could drive her in their one car from their Cypress home to a bus stop on West Little York, which she rode for about 30 minutes to the Galleria.
She says none of her friends at work ever suspected anything about this man who spent so much time in Antigua, or how he came to be so cozy with the nation's government.
"We never questioned it," Mazor says. "We stood in awe of it."
Stanford seemed "like a good old boy — a nice, honorable man," Mazor recalls. "But there was a mystique about him that was told throughout the company. The mystique was: Don't mess with him."
Some sort of mystique must have kicked into high gear on February 17, when Mazor first heard the helicopters. She thought maybe they were news choppers swarming over a car accident. She opened the shade and looked up, but she wasn't able to make out any writing on the helicopters. Ever polite, she waved. When she turned back to her computer, she noticed the mass e-mail from human resources: Everyone was to meet in the 15th-floor lobby. That was her floor.
When she hit the lobby, she saw the marshals standing to the side, guns at their hips.
A man everyone would later come to know as the company's receiver, a Dallas lawyer named Ralph Janvey, walked partway up the staircase to better address the crowd. The company's now in receivership, he told them. Everyone looked at each other, dumbfounded. Mazor could only think of one thing: What the hell is going on? They were told to return to their offices, grab their things and sit tight.
There was one marshal for each person on Mazor's team, so when it was time to leave, there were ten of them crammed into the elevator, with the employees having no idea what was going on. Mazor felt like a criminal. She looked over at her boss, who looked back at her, and she figured he knew she felt the urge to open her mouth. To Mazor, it came down to this: Try to break the ice, or burst into tears.
So she spoke up: "Anyone hear any good jokes lately?"
Everyone in the elevator started laughing. It would be a while before Mazor would be able to smile again.
Florida-based investment broker Charles Hazlett worked for Stanford for nine months inside the towering Miami Center on Biscayne Boulevard. Hazlett had more than 15 years experience managing portfolios for investors in Latin America and the Caribbean when he jumped ship from Prudential Securities to an up-and-coming firm in downtown Miami, lured by up to $400,000 in bonuses, a $180,000 salary and a plush waterfront office.
The firm was unlike any other place he has ever worked. At weekly staff meetings, there was more talk about offshore banking deposits than the fluctuations of the stock market. In fact, at Stanford Group Company, hardly anyone talked about Wall Street.