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News

Electrical shutdown scheduled today, tomorrow

PG&E is installing new electrical service to the 400 Main St. development project today, which will require the temporary interruption of electric services to several businesses located on First, Main and State streets in downtown Los Altos. PG&a...

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Schools

Community support pays dividends

Community support pays dividends


As a recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine revealed, getting low-income students into college is not enough to close the achievement/income gap. The percentage of low-income students entering college who actually earn a degree lags far ...

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Community

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos resident and World War II vet Earl Pampeyan is preparing for an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., next month.

Los Altos resident Earl Pampeyan is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., next month to vis...

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Sports

Making a splash

Making a splash


Courtesy of Clarke Weatherspoon
Stanford Water Polo Club’s under-14 boys team earned the bronze medal at the Junior Olympics. Front row, from left: Corey Tanis, Larsen Weigle, Nathan Puentes, Walker Seymour, Alan Viollier and Jayden Kunwar. B...

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Comment

Whom can you trust?: Haugh About That?

Waving my pink poodle skirt with all the fervor of a matador preparing to tease a raging bull, I blinked my 20-year-old eyes and gave a come-hither look to indicate, “I’m ready!” Little did I know that the blind trust I had in this ...

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Special Sections

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Dr. Ronesh Sinha, a physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, promotes healthful living among the South Asian population. His new book, “The South Asian Health Solution,” includes nutritious recipes.

When you think o...

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Business

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Upuia Ahkiong is slated to open Kua Body Studios next month at 106 First St. Ahkiong is sharing space with Evolve Classical Pilates.

A massage therapist with ties to Google Inc. is slated to open a new – and shared...

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Books

"Jack London" chronicles author's adventurous life


Much has been written about American author Jack London, primarily known for his early-20th-century Western adventure novels, including the classics “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild.”

In Earle Labor’s biography of the literary icon, “Jac...

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People

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

Born June 2, 1935, died peacefully on August 11, at home in Mountain View, surrounded by his family. He died of complications of Parkinson’s Disease after a courageous 15-year battle.

Tim was the beloved husband of 55 years to his college sweethea...

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Travel

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site


Photo Eren GÖknar/ Special to the Town Crier
The amphitheater in Turkey’s ancient city of Pergamon, now known as Bergama, overlooks the Bakirçay River valley, left. The city’s ruins also include the Temple of Trajan.

It was 90 F during t...

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Stepping Out

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week


Kevin Berne/Special to the Town Crier
Three strangers – “Chutes & Ladders” (Anthony J. Haney, left), Odessa (Zilah Mendoza, center) and “Orangutan” (Anna Ishida, right) – come together in an online support group in TheatreWorks’ regional premie...

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Spiritual Life

Spiritual Briefs

Meditation group meets at Foothills Congregational

A Weekly Meditation Practice group meets 7-8:15 a.m. Tuesdays at Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos.

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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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