Fool's Gold

Our intrepid correspondent follows a scheming ex-con to Mexico in search of treasure. They find bupkus.

SOMEWHERE IN THE STATE OF SONORA, MEXICO--As night falls, Gary Reeder rips through his motel room, hurriedly stuffing clothes into a small suitcase. After three days in this hellhole of a town somewhere in Mexico's Sonoran Desert, Reeder looks frantic. Crazed. Downright scared. "I'm leaving tonight," he says, spotting me at his open door.

With or without me, he's outta here. And it's not because of his diarrhea. It's not because of this fleabag motel, where my room features claustrophobic low ceilings, cold showers, and a bloodstained sheet.

No, he's frantic because he knows I've seen and heard too much. He's scared because he no longer trusts his partner in this wild gold-mining scheme, a mysterious Nigerian man named Kenneth Azuka. He's leaving because he's going to cut him out of the deal, and he doesn't know what Kenneth will do to us.

Here's Gary Reeder. He's a thoughtful kind of guy. He thinks a lot about God and money.
Peter Calvin
Here's Gary Reeder. He's a thoughtful kind of guy. He thinks a lot about God and money.

"How fast can you get ready?" Reeder asks, charitably saying that he won't abandon me here, not if I'm packed in the next few minutes.

When I arrived here two days ago with Reeder, Kenneth, and a pair of would-be investors in this squalid city of 100,000, Reeder insisted that I not reveal where I was, ever. He pulled out a legal document requiring me to keep secret the location of these supposed gold mines, which, he said, would yield fantastically lucrative treasure worth tens of billions of dollars. I was told that I couldn't see the mines, not until I signed that paper. I tried to avoid it, even offered to go blindfolded. But now that I've signed it, now that I've seen two mine shafts, both of which appear to be abandoned, dusty relics, I am allowed to reveal only this: We're in Mexico, somewhere in the state of Sonora. And Reeder--a dreamer, a salesman, a six-time felon--is losing it.

One of the investors stops by the door, sees what's going on, tries to convince Reeder not to bail.

"I don't need him," says Reeder, referring to Kenneth, the man with the malevolent stare who has supposedly lined up concessions to seven Mexican gold mines. "He needs me. He's impossible."

"Well, that makes two of you," says the investor, a short, stocky man of 46 who will allow himself to be identified only as David from Oklahoma.

Reeder's not about to lash out at David; he needs his money and his confidence to keep other potential investors in line. Plus, he's not through fuming over Kenneth. Either the Nigerian is a "government snitch," or he's just messing with me on his own, Reeder says.

In this moment of weakness, Reeder suddenly spills his guts, admits that Kenneth has the rights to only one mine. "You can buy them on every corner," says Reeder. "He can stop me from getting across the border."

"He wouldn't do that," David says.

"Bullshit," shouts Reeder, and storms out the door.

It was greed that brought us this far.

Greed, and a paper-thin veneer of altruism, the latter of which 54-year-old Gary Reeder emphasized to me when I first met the aspiring tycoon in early September.

Reeder had called the Dallas Observer, saying that the media, in particular the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and KXAS-Channel 5, had wronged him, that they were nothing more than mouthpieces for the U.S. government. He said he wanted to set the record straight about his past.

When he came to the Observer's office, this graying, mustached man wore an immaculate suit and tie, which was offset by a brace worn around his neck because of a recent car wreck. He carried in his hand something that looked like a football. It was, he explained, a watering device for plants that his new business partner, a Nigerian, had introduced him to.

Reeder said that the Securities and Exchange Commission had gotten his business all wrong when it accused him last year of running an illegal pyramid scheme and bilking hundreds of investors around the country of $11.7 million during an 11-month span. The U.S. government chose Thanksgiving eve of 1999 to seize Reeder's numerous companies and cars and bank accounts, as well as gold, silver, and platinum coins and $25,000 worth of tacky artwork, some of which had adorned Reeder's Fort Worth home.

With his ringed fingers, Reeder, smelling wonderfully clean and fragrant, pulled out a pen and scribbled on a sheet some amateur physics about "water and potential energy." In a like manner, he said, he had been selling $300 gold coins for $10,000, then using the remaining money to fund his 27 businesses, creating potential energy. That energy, he said, could ultimately free the world of poverty. Not to mention make Reeder and his investors obscenely rich.

He then wrote out the numbers "666." The government, he said, was just that: the Beast, the biblical Antichrist. If ever there was a pyramid scheme, he said, in which old investors are paid with the money obtained from ever-multiplying layers of new investors, just look at the government's idea of Social Security.

He had a point.

Reeder's plan to create wealth, however, was different. What is 666 when it's flipped upside down? he asked, and wrote the answer himself: 999. Then he adorned the circle in each "9" with a smiley face.

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