Sal Lazzara needed some new office furniture. Thanks to a flamboyant financier's downfall, he found a matching set with an infamous pedigree.
For $1,500, the Boca Raton restaurateur bought a maroon leather chair, a cherry-wood desk and a credenza — all once owned by Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford, whom the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused of running a massive Ponzi scheme.
Lazzara discovered his new furnishings at AMC Liquidators — "Value in Volume" is their slogan — a South Florida company that hauled out 25 truckloads of luxury office goods from the disgraced businessman's Miami offices last week and put them on the market.
Stanford had adorned four floors in a downtown high-rise with Oriental rugs, regal marble-topped tables and leather couches. He had bronze eagles (the symbol of his company, Stanford Financial Group) and blown-up photos of Palm Beach County polo grounds that he sponsored.
From the looks of things, Stanford — or his decorator — favored dark wood, maroon leather and heavy gold picture frames. Tufted sofas, wingchairs and delicately carved occasional tables predominated. Think Queen Anne-meets-Donald Trump.
There's even a tapestry depicting Louis XIV, France's legendary 17th Century "sun king."
"The quality of this stuff is just really nice," said Lazzara, standing in the AMC showroom and patting the nearly new desk. He thinks he saved 70 percent off of retail. "I got a steal," he said.
Valued at $2 million, the bounty for sale in Fort Lauderdale was only a small part of Stanford's lavish lifestyle. In 2008, he was named the world's 605th richest person by Forbes magazine, with an estimated worth of $2 billion.
Court documents revealed details like $100 million in private jets, $100,000 weekly yacht rentals, and, in his Houston headquarters, a professional kitchen. Stanford also used the title "Sir" in 2006 after being knighted by the leaders of Antigua & Barbuda.
In his heyday, Stanford was a dominant figure in his adopted island homeland and also held considerable influence in Washington, where his campaign donations, mostly to Democrats, reached a peak as efforts to strengthen financial regulations died in the Senate.
In February, U.S. federal regulators sued Stanford, alleging that he committed fraud. He is accused of promising clients unrealistic returns on $8 billion in certificates of deposit and other financial fraud through an offshore bank in Antigua.
In March, a federal judge said the government could go after at least $226.6 million in back taxes, penalties and interest.
Stanford denies the SEC's allegations, and he has not been charged with any crimes. The chief investment officer of Stanford's parent company, Laura Pendergest-Holt, faces criminal charges of obstructing the SEC's investigation by lying about her knowledge of the firm's activities and omitting key details. Her attorney has said she was "set up" by Stanford.
Don Goldberg, a spokesman for Stanford's attorneys, said Stanford and his lawyers are "concerned" about the liquidation of the offices nationwide.
"It's part and parcel of an overly hasty effort to liquidate a viable business," Goldberg said.
But a federal judge in Dallas has named a receiver to liquidate the company, and the contents of Stanford offices are being sold.
That's where AMC Liquidators of Fort Lauderdale comes in.
Michael Grimme is the owner of AMC. His business specializes in emptying hotels, offices and stores of unwanted furnishings and then reselling them. Business is up in recent years due to bankruptcies and downsizing. AMC is among many companies that have flourished during the downturn because even the wealthy have fallen on hard times. Repossessors take back yachts, planes and luxury cars, and even pawn shops have seen a rise in rick folks selling items.
"Everything here has a story," Grimme said, sweeping his hand toward one of Stanford's treasures — the tapestry of King Louis XIV — and toward a $99 blue leather chair from the Lowes Hotel in Miami Beach.
Grimme said the Stanford case reminded him of other Wall Street scandals and losses, including New York financier Bernie Madoff, who pleaded guilty in March to charges his investment advisory operation was a multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme.
"A lot of my friends were targeted in the Madoff scheme, and I've lost a lot of money in my accounts, too," he said. "We were very well aware of who we were buying this inventory from. You could say, maybe it's payback time."