Sun04192015

News

Car breaks through glass door, closes Trader Joe’s for the day

Car breaks through glass door, closes Trader Joe’s for the day

Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Trader Joe's employees survey the damage after a car smashed through the glass doorway earlier today.

Trader Joe’s on Homestead Road is closed for the remainder of the day (April 17) after a car barreled through the glas...

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Schools

Pinewood student writes book about living with autism

Pinewood student writes book about living with autism


Traci Newell/Town Crier
Pinewood School senior Georgia Lyon wrote and illustrated “How to Be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl” in 2013.

Although first published under a pseudonym, Pinewood School student Georgia Lyon is stepping out to ...

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Community

Sale offers opportunity to 'discover' jewels, fight cancer

Sale offers opportunity to 'discover' jewels, fight cancer

Volunteers and staff at the American Cancer Society's Discovery Shop in downtown Los Altos urge shoppers to "Be A Gem, Buy A Jewel" during the shop's special sale this Friday (April 17) and Saturday (April 18).

The sale is an opportunity to find Mot...

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Comment

Editorial: Let's assume not to presume

Two recent downtown Los Altos stories offer lessons in the drawbacks of jumping to conclusions.

A few months back, the Town Crier published an article on Ladera Autoworks on First Street closing its doors. That part was true, but the reason was not....

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Special Sections

Fitness focus: No holds barred for Los Altos sisters

Fitness focus: No holds barred for Los Altos sisters


Photos Courtesy of Barre 3
Gillian Brotherson, kneeling at left, guides studio instructors through a workout at barre3 Los Altos.

Health is all about balance. That’s what two Los Altos natives learned as they navigated work, motherhood and welln...

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Business

Steinway gallery brings pianos, musicians to downtown Los Altos

Steinway gallery brings pianos, musicians to downtown Los Altos


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Chrissy Huang, manager of Steinway Piano Gallery in Los Altos, showcases Steinway & Sons’ signature instruments. The gallery plans to host concerts with performers tickling the ivories.

A new downtown Los Altos bus...

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Books

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff


The idea that there may have a female pope at one time in history has generated much speculation throughout the centuries. “Pope Joan” (Crown, 1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross, does not answer the question; rather, the author has created a detai...

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People

GREG STAHLER

GREG STAHLER

Greg Stahler died unexpecdly in his home in Belmont on March 26, 2015. (He was born in Mountain View on June 23, 1972). He will really be missed by three beautiful young children, Haley 7, Hannah 5, and Tyler 3, and his wife Kathryn. He will also b...

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Travel

Cuba libre: Local residents join mad rush of travelers

Cuba libre: Local residents join mad rush of travelers


Natalie Elefant/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident Natalie Elefant noted the vibrant street performances as a traveler in Cuba.

The U.S. restored diplomatic relations with Cuba late last year, enabling Americans to import $100 worth of cig...

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Stepping Out

'Those Darn Squirrels' invading Mountain View

'Those Darn Squirrels' invading Mountain View


Courtesy of Lyn Flaim Healy/ Spotlight Moments Photography
Noelle Merino stars in Peninsula Youth Theatre’s “Those Darn Squirrels.”

The Peninsula Youth Theatre’s world premiere adaptation of “Those Darn Squirrels” is scheduled Friday and Saturda...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm


/Town Crier It’s not all cute and cuddly for teens participating in the eight-week Animal Husbandry Apprenticeship program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Mia Mosing of Palo Alto, left, and Sophia Jackson of Los Altos clean the pigpens – one of...

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Inside Mountain View

Home for disabled youth yields greener pastures

Home for disabled youth yields greener pastures


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Green Pastures staff member JP Mercada, below right, helps Tommy, who lives at the group home, sort through papers and organize his room.

Tucked in the corner of a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Mountain View, Green Pastur...

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Seeking answers, local investors remain uncertain whom to trust (2)


Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo SB Capital advertised an “easy to grasp,” “Wall Street-free” opportunity in the Town Crier.

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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