Wed09172014

News

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council last week approved the installation of two new directional signs on Foothill Expressway pointing motorists to the Woodland Plaza Shopping District.

The Los Altos City Council voted unanimou...

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Schools

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Edsel Clark, new Los Altos School District assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, above, facilitates a junior high mathematics curriculum meeting last week.

Edsel Clark, Ed.D., new assistant superintend...

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Community

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China


From IncredibleTravelPhotos.com
Jacque Kae’s “Mischievous” is one of the many photographs on display at Foothill College this month.

Photographs of the land and culture of Huangshan and Zhangjiajie, China, are on exhibit through Sept. 26 at t...

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Sports

Spartans shine in opener

Spartans shine in opener


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View High’s Frank Kapp snares a touchdown pass from quarterback Owen Mountford in Friday’s win.

Leading by a point at halftime, the Mountain View High football team outscored visiting Del Mar 20-0 the rest of...

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Comment

A look ahead to the Nov. 4 election: Editorial

Election season is upon us. In Los Altos, we have three major local races ahead – two seats on the Los Altos City Council, and three seats each on the Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District boards of tr...

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Special Sections

Renovation complete,  Villa Siena looks to future

Renovation complete, Villa Siena looks to future


Above and Below Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier; Left Photo Courtesy of Villa Siena
Villa Siena in Mountain View recently underwent a $35 million face-lift. The five-year project expanded their senior living community’s space and ability to serv...

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Business

Transitioning from postage to pets

Transitioning from postage to pets


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A new Pet Food Express store is scheduled to open at the Blossom Valley Shopping Center this month.

A site that previously existed to meet postal service needs will soon have an entirely different purpose – serving pe...

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Books

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights


A good story about aliens is always great fun to read – after all, it’s only by attempting to understand the human race from another perspective that we can see ourselves more objectively.

But readers who might be tempted to dismiss ye...

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People

JERALD (JERRY) NELSON CHRISTIANSEN

JERALD (JERRY) NELSON CHRISTIANSEN

Resident of San Jose and Los Altos, California

July 21, 1931 to August 4, 2014

Born in Arimo, Idaho, to Jerald Emmett and Rebecca Henderson Nelson Christiansen. Raised in Davis and Riverside, California, with summers in Downey, Idaho, and in Loga...

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Travel

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska


Sandy Powell/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident and bird photographer Sandy Powell recently visited Homer, Alaska, to photograph Sandhill cranes, below. While there, Powell also encountered moose, left.

Los Altos resident Sandy Powell, a...

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Stepping Out

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos


Courtesy of Los
The cast of Los Altos Stage Company’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” includes, from left, Mylissa Malley as Lin, Vanessa Alvarez as Betty, and Christina Bolognini as Pickles. Altos Stage Company

Los Altos Stage Company...

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Spiritual Life

9/11 survivor Michael Hingson finds purpose

Imagine walking down 78 flights of stairs – 1,463 individual steps. You are in imminent danger as you walk, unsure whether you can make it out of the building before it collapses or explodes. Struggling for each breath, you smell the heavy sten...

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Magazine

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living


Courtesy of Spectrum Interior Design
In place of a more traditional fireplace, this modern living room features a linear-flame firebox that emits heat while offering a sculpturelike design element.

After traveling the world and visiting a host...

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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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