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News

Obama visits Los Altos area

Obama visits Los Altos area

President Obama made a fundraising stop today at a private residence in Los Altos Hills, an appearance that spurred traffic disruptions, helicopters scouting overhead and protesters. In the wake of his visit, unknown persons, apparently no fans of ...

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Schools

MVLA rolls out laptop integration this fall

MVLA rolls out laptop integration this fall


Town Crier File Photo
Starting in the fall, daily use of laptops in the classroom will be standard operating procedure for students at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools as the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District launches a pil...

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Community

Generations blend behind the scenes at 'Wizard of Oz'

Generations blend behind the scenes at 'Wizard of Oz'


Altos Youth Theatre and Los Altos Stage Company rehearse a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.” ELIZA RIDGEWAY/ TOWN CRIER

A massive troupe of young people and grownups gathered in Los Altos this summer to stage the latest iteration of a childhood sta...

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Sports

Football in July

Football in July


Town Crier file photo
Mountain View High’s Anthony Avery is among the nine local players slated to play in tonight’s Silicon Valley Youth Classic.

Tonight’s 40th annual Silicon Valley Youth Classic – also known as the Charlie...

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Comment

Pools should be included: Editorial

Los Altos residents should be receiving calls this week from city representatives conducting a survey to determine priorities for a revamped Hillview Community Center.

Notice that we did not say “civic center” – chastened by a lack of public support...

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Special Sections

Looking for life without lows, local diabetic tests artificial pancreas

Looking for life without lows, local diabetic tests artificial pancreas


Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Dr. Trang Ly, left, reviews blood sugar readings on a smartphone with Los Altos resident Tia Geri, right, and fellow participant Noa Simon during a closed-loop artificial pancreas study for Type 1 diabetics.
...

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Business

Palo Alto law firm coming to 400 Main

Palo Alto law firm coming to 400 Main


Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Longtime Palo Alto law firm Thoits, Love, Hershberger & McClean plans to open an office at 400 Main St. in Los Altos after construction is complete in November.

A longtime Palo Alto law firm plans to expand into L...

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Books

"Frozen in Time" chronicles harrowing WWII rescue attempts


Many readers can’t resist a true-life adventure story, especially those that shine a spotlight on people who exhibit supreme courage in the face of adversity and end up surviving – or not – against the odds.

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People

RICHARD PATRICK BRENNAN

RICHARD PATRICK BRENNAN

Resident of Palo Alto

Richard Patrick Brennan, journalist, editor, author, adventurer, died at his Palo Alto home on July 4, 2014 at age 92. He led a full life, professionally and personally. He was born and raised in San Francisco, joined the Arm...

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Travel

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway


Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe offers fall getaway packages that include spa treatments and yoga classes.

Fall in North Lake Tahoe boasts crisp mornings and opportunities to spend quality time in the mountains. Specially ...

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Stepping Out

PYT stages 'Shrek'

PYT stages 'Shrek'


Lyn Healy/Spotlight Moments Photography
Dana Cullinane plays Fiona in Peninsula Youth Theatre’s “Shrek The Musical.”

Peninsula Youth Theatre presents “Shrek The Musical” Saturday through Aug. 3 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts...

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Spiritual Life

Foothills Congregational: 100 years and counting

Foothills Congregational: 100 years and counting


Courtesy of Carolyn Barnes
The newly built Los Altos church in 1914 featured a bell tower and an arched front window. Both continue as elements of the building as it stands today.

Foothills Congregational Church – the oldest church building ...

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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Seeking answers, local investors remain uncertain whom to trust

Bearing canes and worn leather briefcases, local seniors were among those filing into a San Jose courtroom Friday to watch the Los Altos man they’d entrusted with their savings argue his innocence.

The Securities and Exchange Commission alleges that the investors are victims of a Ponzi-like scheme. But some don’t want to believe they’ve all been hoodwinked. If the government is right, they’ve lost their dream of 7.5 percent annual returns, and a good chunk of their initial investment.

Mark Feathers, founder of the Los Altos-based Small Business Capital Corp., continues to maintain that the investments were safe, performing and could still be salvaged.

Some of those who sank money into SB Capital were seasoned investors, but many were financially inexperienced local residents looking to invest relatively small nest eggs. They faced the question: Do you trust the funds manager who paid you steady returns throughout the recession, or the court-appointed receiver delivering bad news?

The confusion, anger and lingering hope aired outside the courtroom last week demonstrated intriguing loyalty to a man, Feathers, accused of dissipating others’ money while lining his own pockets.

Seeking answers

One couple attended the hearing wondering how to plan, on a fixed income, for frozen investment funds and uncertain losses. They had written the court saying that without access to the principal and interest of the $50,000 they invested with Feathers, they were relying on Social Security and “needed the funds badly” for basic living expenses. The husband, an 88-year-old Los Gatos resident, asked that the Town Crier not reveal his name, as did every investor interviewed. He said watching his remaining savings account tick down filled him with worry, and joked wistfully about finding a job.

The couple found Feathers’ company through an ad in the San Jose Mercury News. SB Capital, which had also advertised in the Los Altos Town Crier, teased an investment opportunity that was “easy to grasp” and “Wall Street-free.”

SB Capital staff included fixtures from the Los Altos banking scene with deep roots in the area. Feathers developed relationships through personal and sometimes fanciful events, including an annual investor dinner he and his wife once hosted in period costume.

“You invest with someone you like, after you meet them,” the wife of the Los Gatos investor told the Town Crier.

Striking courtroom scene

Clutching a worn, green paper folder thick with documents, Feathers sat alone at the front of the courtroom last week, flanked by six representatives of his opposition. As he delivered lengthy explanations of where he believed the SEC had gone wrong, some of his alleged victims laughed along with his jokes and flashed thumbs-up gestures of encouragement.

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila denied the majority of Feathers’ motions and took pains to explain to Feathers and onlookers in the courtroom why he was ruling as he did.

The hearing addressed Feathers’ efforts to dismiss the case, discredit the SEC and gain access to $30,000 for six months of living expenses from his frozen assets. He was granted the money but otherwise didn’t prevail.

Feathers referenced letters of support sent to the judge. Davila explained that he couldn’t read any of the approximately 75 letters received regarding the case because they would constitute ex parte communication. Judges are expected to refrain from interacting with third parties in a case, which means investors don’t have much say in the proceedings.

Feathers has written prolifically to investors since the SEC seized his company in June 2012, making dramatic arguments about the SEC’s alleged overstepping, misleading and persecutory actions.

Over the weekend, he wrote another missive sprinkled with dire analysis of the SEC’s intervention and excerpts from court documents, claiming that “YOU ARE NOW AN UNWILLING PARTICIPANT IN A FULL-ON GOVERNMENT SCANDAL” and urged investors to write to local elected officials. Feathers, who describes himself as waging a “David and Goliath” battle for his innocence, wrote to investors that “If SEC wins, you lose.”

The SEC shuttered Los Altos-based SB Capital ostensibly to protect two groups of people: those who had already invested, whose money was allegedly being fraudulently depleted; and those who were considering an investment but had not yet committed their money.

The court receiver managing the seized funds claims that of the $46 million invested, approximately $12 million was “dissipated” through Ponzi-like activities.

The phrase “Ponzi-like” refers to the practice of taking more and more investor money to pay false “returns” to existing investors. In the case of Charles Ponzi, whose scheme first inspired the moniker, no legitimate business underlay the transfers of money.

Use of the phrase caused audible reactions of distress and disgust from some onlookers in the courtroom last week. Some of Feathers’ investors continue to question how a company could be labeled “Ponzi-like” when it maintained a portfolio of more than 60 performing investments. Some wondered if the SEC fully understood the specialty investments SB Capital made in partnership with the Small Business Administration.

The court receiver’s reports provide financial analyses that purport to assess those operations fairly. The SEC maintains that although SB Capital did carry out its stated business purpose – issuing loans using investor money – Feathers’ business spent more money than it generated, meaning that over time investor money was lost.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

When the hearing recessed, a crowd of investors gathered in the hallway outside Davila’s courtroom, peppering the SEC’s lead prosecutor, John Bulgozdy, with questions that ranged from plaintive to indignant.

Investors already locked into SB Capital stand to lose no matter how the court rules. If Feathers committed the alleged fraud, their money has been at least partially lost. But even if he is innocent, the receiver dismantling the company has still only salvaged a fraction of the money invested, and has drastically changed the way the business operates.

The millions of dollars that remain locked in SB Capital-related accounts may start to change hands by late summer. Investors and creditors must submit claims to the receiver by May 10.

How much of the $42 million in investments may ultimately survive remains unknown, but based on the preliminary forensic accounting, investors like the Los Gatos couple may expect to recover 50 to 75 percent of their money.

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