Turk File

Turk File - March 2009

by Leslie Turk

State Rep. Fred Mills: No involvement with Stanford

State Rep. Fred Mills, president of Farmers-Merchants Bank & Trust, says he has no business relationship with Stanford Group Co. A few years ago, Fred’s brother Henry J. “Hank” Mills helped launch the River Ranch office of Stanford, an affiliate of Antigua-based Stanford International Bank now under federal investigation for fraud. Fred says any introductions he made for his brother in town were purely social, and that his bank had absolutely no connection with Stanford.

“We’re under FDIC and OFI regulatory constraints that prohibit any situation whatsoever not contractually approved by the regulators,” says Fred, whose Breaux Bridge-based bank recently opened a branch in Lafayette. “We would never do that, and we’re not allowed to do it. In fact, I was very conscious not to co-mingle any of those relationships. I was very cautious not to even have the appearance of that.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Stanford with fraud in connection with $8.5 billion in so-called CDs that promised unrealistically high interest rates and is also investigating the historical performance of $1.2 billion in mutual funds. Based in Houston, Stanford Group Co. moved into Louisiana in 1996, opening its first satellite office in Baton Rouge.

In 2007, Stanford claimed to manage nearly $2 billion in assets from its two Louisiana offices and up to $50 billion company wide. Hank Mills, prevented from commenting due to a federal gag order related to the investigation, joined Stanford as a vice president/financial adviser in Baton Rouge in 1997 and subsequently helped establish the Lafayette branch. “I don’t think [Hank] had any suspicions [of fraud],” says Fred. “He’d been with them for so long.” The state rep adds that his brother attempted to contact any investors whose accounts he managed prior to the gag order. “I think as soon as the regulators allow [public] comment, he would love to do that.” — Nathan Stubbs

River Ranch invests $18.5 million in new apartments

Construction has certainly slowed in Lafayette, but it’s by no means come to a screeching halt. River Ranch is confident enough in the strength of the local economy to follow through with its plans to spend $16 million on an apartment complex behind Fresh Market and Pippin McGee. The site is along River Ranch and Settlers Trace boulevards. The complex is not only the largest commercial project of the year, but the $13.9 million permit value also ranks No. 7 among all new commercial construction jobs since May 1999, according to Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Jeff Larcade of the planning, zoning and codes department. Include the value of the land, and the total investment jumps to about $18.5 million, says developer Robert Daigle.

The complex, called Main Street Annex, is Phase II of the traditional neighborhood’s Main Street development, which houses a mix of retail and living spaces, including restaurants like Another Broken Egg and Zoe’s. The annex includes 143 apartments — one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging in price from $800 to $1,500 a month. It’ll have 11,200 square feet of retail, which will front the boulevard behind Fresh Market.

River Ranch’s partner on the project is the same New Orleans group that helped it co-develop The Crescent and the first Main Street apartment complex, both of which boast occupancy levels in the 95-97 percent range, according to Daigle. The Crescent has 158 units and Main Street 265. And while there has been much speculation about lenders’ unwillingness to finance construction, especially apartments and hotels, during this uncertain economic climate, Daigle says financing was not a problem. The group stuck with the same Birmingham, Ala., company, Capmark Finance, for both interim and permanent financing because the company offers “very aggressive rates and terms,” Daigle says.

Frayard, Capell, Ahrens named top advisers by Barron’s

It’s difficult to stay confident in these times of economic uncertainty, but it sure helps to know a handful of the nation’s top financial advisers are right here in our back yard. Lafayette’s Bill Capell, Rick Frayard and G. Andrew Ahrens have earned a spot on Barron’s list of the country’s 1,000 top financial advisers. Capell and Frayard are with UBS Financial Services, and Ahrens’ company is Ahrens Investment Partners. Only five advisers in Louisiana made the cut — making three from Lafayette all the more impressive.

The Top 1,000 Advisers was a Barron’s cover story: “It’s make or break time for the country’s best and brightest financial advisers,” the story reads. “Fresh from a year in which every asset class posted large losses, and diversification aggravated those declines instead of mitigating them, financial advisers at big Wall Street houses, banks and other firms are trying to repair the damage to investor psychology — and to their own confidence in markets.”

River Ranch gets Zeus and Subway COMBO

Alexander the Great may have attempted to conquer the world by force, but Nidal Balbeisi is busy doing it with food. The Lafayette restaurateur started his trademark restaurant, Zeus, on Pinhook Road in 2001. Now he’s opened his sixth Zeus location on Camellia Boulevard in River Ranch. This Zeus, however, has an extra thunderbolt or two.

First off, Balbeisi bought a Subway franchise. So the restaurant is two-in-one: gyros for the adventurous, foot-longs for an All-American appetite. The River Ranch incarnation is a Zeus Express, Lebanese fast food, with comparable prices to Subway — nothing over $10 — and the Zeus execution can match the Subway assembly line in speed.

What’s new to both restaurants is breakfast. Zeus is offering four freshly made omelets — bacon, sausage and potato, cheese, and veggie, each folded into a flat pita wrap that is lightly toasted. The crisp pita makes the omelets into finger food, possible for a fast get-away, although the veggie is so stuffed with grilled onions and peppers that you’ll need a beach towel to preserve your white shirt if you’re trying to drive and chow down. On the Subway side, omelet sandwiches come in combos like western and cheese, double bacon and cheese and chipolte steak and cheese, encased in flatbread, sub loaves, or on a biscuit. — Mary Tutwiler