By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
When he was running an insurance-fraud scheme out of his North Dallas office, Jeffrey H. Reynolds III would sometimes pass himself off as the Secretary of Commerce for a fictional country called the Dominion of Melchizedek.
After pleading guilty on one fraud count, the 32-year-old Reynolds was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in the federal pen, and ordered to pay back almost a half-million dollars in premiums that he collected for bogus insurance policies.
With the sentence, Reynolds becomes the latest emissary of the fictional country to be headed for jail.
Created in 1990 by a convicted California swindler with some imagination, the Dominion of Melchizedek is a fake country which is claimed to exist on an uninhabited island southwest of Tahiti. Since its contrivance, Melchizedek has become a swindler's paradise.
A May 2 Dallas Observer cover story, "Scam without a country," detailed how con men the world over have used phony bank charters, insurance-company charters, and securities "issued" by the fake island nation to pass themselves off as legitimate businessmen. Melchizedekian scams have surfaced in Dallas, Hong Kong, London, Arizona, Utah, California, and Washington, D.C.
Jeffrey Reynolds used Melchizedek as the home base for an insurance company that sold nearly $47 million worth of policies. Prosecutors say Reynolds' company never had any assets with which to pay potential claims, and that Reynolds pocketed almost one-half million dollars in premiums. In January, a federal grand jury indicted Reynolds on 20 fraud counts.
In April, Reynolds pleaded guilty to one count each of wire and mail fraud, and the other 18 counts were dismissed. Federal prosecutors then dismissed the mail-fraud count on a technicality, and Reynolds faced a single count when he appeared last week before Sanders for sentencing.
With Reynolds standing quietly by, federal public defender Mick Mickelsen and Assistant U.S. Attorney Floyd Clardy engaged in a skirmish over how to accurately measure the magnitude of Reynolds' crime.
At issue was just how much money Reynolds "intended" to bilk people out of. Mickelsen, angling for a lighter sentence, argued that his client only meant to defraud customers out of the half-million dollars he collected in premiums. Clardy, wishing Reynolds the longest prison stay possible, argued that the true measure of his crime was nearly $47 million--the purported value of the fake insurance policies issued by Reynolds' company.
Sanders sided with Clardy, and hit Reynolds with a 54-month prison term, just three months shy of the maximum. After release from prison, Reynolds will be under a probation officer's supervision for three years.
Although he is now set to report to prison July 25, Reynolds may still forestall his jail time. Sanders is considering a request from Mickelsen that Reynolds be allowed to remain free while appealing his case.
Reynolds had no comment after his sentencing.
Sanders also ordered Reynolds to pay back $475,802 in premiums he collected. Noting Reynolds' meager finances, Sanders instructed him to pay $268 a month to the court. At that rate, Melchizedek's former secretary of commerce will clear his debt in about 150 years.