By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Shortly after establishing his country in 1990, Vinedresser placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal offering charters from an unidentified, tax-free sovereignty, according to a 1991 Forbes article. For fees ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, Vinedresser would provide packets of paperwork that would seem to have value only for nefarious ends.
Dallas con artist Jeffrey H. Reynolds III bought into the scheme early, his later indictment indicates. Starting in the early 1990s, Reynolds began selling insurance underwritten by a company he supposedly controlled. The company, California Pacific Bankers and Insurance Ltd., was chartered in Melchizedek. Reynolds' claim that his company had more than $450 million in assets had been "verified" by an auditing company that, believe it or not, was also chartered in Melchizedek.
But it would be several years before Reynolds was finally indicted for his scheme. In the meantime, commerce borne of the fledgling nation began percolating all over the place. And the Melchizedekians proved to be an inventive lot.
In 1991, Vinedresser himself teamed up with a partner and began trying to sell stock in a company that claimed to own 10 percent of the world's oceans. The company, Currentsea, boasted that its ocean holdings were worth more than a trillion dollars--and announced it would start reaping the sea's bounty by imposing a fee on companies pumping oil from beneath the ocean floor. The company, according to Forbes, issued its own currency through the Banco de Asia, one of Melchizedek's fictitious banks. After Forbes exposed the company's outrageous behavior, the Securities and Exchange Commission shut down trading of the company's stock.
But about the same time, Vinedresser and the Banco de Asia were surfacing at the very seat of the U.S. government, in Washington D.C. A mini-scandal erupted for the always-beleaguered D.C. government in early 1991 when it became known that the city's Corporations Division allowed Vinedresser to incorporate four shell banks to do business in the district. They included Banco de Asia, Express Bank, Traveler's Bank, and Prudential Bank. All were set up by Vinedresser and were subsidiaries of a company headquartered in Melchizedek, according to 1991 stories published in the Washington Business Journal. The banks supposedly tried to raise money by using fake Melchizedekian securities as collateral for millions of dollars in loans from real banks. The scheme was apparently shut down before it got far.
One of the fake banks' officials was a man from Phoenix named Steve Peterson, also coincidentally an ambassador for Melchizedek. Peterson, a lifelong swindler, was establishing his own fake companies in Arizona, sometimes using a firm chartered by the dominion. Peterson, who pleaded guilty to fraud and theft charges in Arizona three years ago, recently fled the state while on parole and is wanted by authorities.
In 1991, Melchizedekian banking also sought to establish a foothold in Indiana. An outfit called Asia Pacific Bank Ltd. applied for, and received, permission from the Indiana Secretary of State's office to do business there. The bank was, of course, chartered in Melchizedek. It attracted little attention, because it apparently did not do anything for several years. It was ultimately thrown out of the state in 1994, although the bank had no identifiable customers and no complaints had been filed against it.
Yet another emissary of Melchizedekian banking surfaced in Hong Kong in the summer of 1995. Gerhard Bacher, a 22-year-old Austrian, began making the rounds of Hong Kong banks claiming to be a "crown prince" of Melchizedek. He gave his name as Prince Gerald-Dennis Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein, according to the South China Morning Post, and managed to open two accounts in legitimate Hong Kong banks, one of them by using a check drawn on a Melchizedek bank for $318,890. Bacher was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison.
While Hong Kong authorities were tracking Bacher, Scotland Yard was looking into an outbreak of Melchizedekian banking in England. In 1995, a group calling itself Inner Sanctum began offering astronomical returns on high-yield investments. Money received from customers was supposedly to be deposited in accounts at Swiss Investment Bankers. The bank was chartered in Melchizedek. The Inner Sanctum was barred from doing further business.
About the same time, according to The Times of London, another English company began offering bank charters for sale, saying they were from a foreign country, which promised that buyers could own the banks and would face no taxes and be promised total anonymity. The banks all had official-sounding names like Wales Bank & Trust and the Geneva Merchant Bank. Where they were chartered? Melchizedek, of course.
But the worldwide outbreaks of Melchizedekian finance were mere brush fires compared to what was going on in California, where a scheme unfolded that ultimately earned Jeffrey H. Reynolds III of Dallas a 20-count indictment on federal fraud charges.
At the tender age of 25, Jeffrey Reynolds was dubbed "your quintessential confidence man" by Forbes magazine. That was six years back, when Reynolds had been indicted in Dallas for writing $11,000 in bad checks and was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible stock fraud. Reynolds was running an investment company from Houston and claimed to have a personal net worth of $300 million.
Reynolds, his later indictment indicates, apparently was one of the early opportunists who latched onto the idea of a fake country and saw its possibilities. He bought a packet of credentials in 1990, according to Forbes, and set about becoming a model citizen--not only making Melchizedek his home country, but styling himself as the country's secretary of commerce.