Tuesday Time-Waster: The Con Man

Today’s Tuesday Time-Waster harkens back to my journalism days. I once wrote about a few people who led a couple shady organizations that stole money from people under the guise of investments (pyramid schemes). Then, after the legal matters and press coverage died down, a couple years later I came across those same organization leaders. They were forming new corporations, and it sure looked to me that the swindling was going to start happening all over again. I ran past one of the guy’s homes (bonus of being a runner — perfect incognito disguise), confirmed that his car was the same one I’d seen on Google maps, then later that week showed up with my press badge at his office where the same car/license plate was parked. He kicked me out immediately.

Due to downsizing at my newspaper and being given the health care beat along with my courts and crime reporting, I wasn’t allowed the time to dig into the matter, so my notes did not become a newspaper investigation. That is one of a few storiesI really wanted to dig into, and which I regret not pursuing on my own, because I’m convinced people are being victimized all over again.

But I’ve rambled enough about myself and should get to today’s real matter. I happened to see an ABC News story about a guy who built up a huge veterans charity, got $100 million in donations, rubbed shoulders with the likes of former President Bush, but faked the whole thing. It turns out he was a military spy turned eccentric attorney, who had been on the lam for 25 years. As happens more often than most people realize, the initial investigation was started not by ABC News nor by the FBI — it was the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) in 2009. They spent six months trying to track down all 85 of the veterans charity’s officers, and found none of them. They went around in circles with the charity’s founder. They kept digging, and in March 2010 published a report (first partsecond part, sidebar that debunks many of the charity’s claims, an interview with a California man whose identity was stolen, political matters, etc). My nerdy self particularly loved the copies of letters from the charity’s lawyer, trying to defend the organization and blast the reporter.

Because of the newspaper’s investigation and report, Florida officials opened an official investigation. The charity kept denying that it was phony, but two months later the state ordered it to stop fundraising. Then the feds came in and seized computers and documents. The charity’s leader soon disappeared. More than a year after the newspaper’s report, a woman went to prison for five years due to her role in the scam.

In April, two years after the Times’ report, officials finally caught up to and arrested the charity’s creator in Portland, Ore. — which caught my attention because I love the city. (That’s a fun story to read, by the way.) The story is ongoing, and authorities only just finally figured out the guy’s true identity — which is why he is in the news and caught my attention. I have a feeling many more stories will come out before the case is done.

Anyway, this is a long, link-heavy post that I’m sure will appeal to 0.2 percent of my readers. But if you want to read more, check out The Times’ special investigation page on this guy.