Fool's Gold

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

Get it?

With his neck brace on, and with scars on his forehead from the screws that had been drilled into his skull to keep his broken neck stationary, Reeder looked vulnerable, even sweet. He seemed like a gentle soul, a true believer. Here was a man who spoke worshipfully about his wife, who he said had worn out several Bibles just by reading them so much, and who writes letters to Jesus. "I know that sounds crazy," he said, humbly, softly, and, in turns, spoke ruefully about how the government had wronged not just him, but hundreds of investors, who'd recovered only 48 percent of their investment money after the seizure.

Was Reeder a genius, a mystic, an idiot, a con man? I couldn't tell. Nor did I have any inkling then about the extent of his criminal record.

It's Friday night at the House of Reeder, Gary's church-like gathering in his apartment. These people, who are mostly Cornerstone investors, pray for Gary's pain. He was in a terrible car wreck in June and broke his neck. He suspects the government was trying to kill him.
Peter Calvin
It's Friday night at the House of Reeder, Gary's church-like gathering in his apartment. These people, who are mostly Cornerstone investors, pray for Gary's pain. He was in a terrible car wreck in June and broke his neck. He suspects the government was trying to kill him.
There's lot of gold in them thar hills, or so Gary tells me. We're somewhere in the Sonoran Desert.
There's lot of gold in them thar hills, or so Gary tells me. We're somewhere in the Sonoran Desert.

Reeder soon saw me as a sympathetic soul, an "Old Covenant heroine," he would say later, after learning that I'm a Jew. In our next talk, he confided that he "just never seemed to fit in anywhere. I wanted to be the Messiah," he said, "but I knew that I was worthless." After all of his life's misfortunes--two failed marriages, more than a decade in prison, six or seven suicide attempts--he wanted to be somebody.

He wanted to save the world.

Soon I learned he was planning a last-minute trip to Mexico to inspect some gold mines. This venture was supposed to be his chance to redeem himself after all the ignominy following the federal raid. Now, Reeder said that he was on to something wholly legitimate (not that he wasn't before), that his partner had concessions to seven mines, that all that was needed to start the project was a mere $2 million.

I asked him why this trip was planned so quickly. "So no one would have time to prepare some defensive move against me," he said later, "the SEC, FBI, IRS." And he agreed to let me accompany him.

In the days ahead, I would learn a lot more about Gary Reeder's strange quest for redemption. And if this was the Messiah, I concluded, I'd better hold my ticket to the glory train.


For old time's sake, Reeder wants to hear it again.

"Hey Bill," he says, driving along the Arizona highway into Mexico with his three companions, "do that impersonation from Treasure of Sierra Madre."

Bill, a 70-year-old retired businessman from North Dallas--bald and a John Glenn look-alike--heartily obliges. "Badges?" he says, affecting a chintzy Mexican accent, "we don't need no stinkin' badges."

Reeder loves that routine, reminding him of the old movie: a weathered Walter Huston roughing it out in the desert for buried treasure. Even with the neck brace he's wearing, Reeder bobs up and down, flashing his horse teeth, convulsing with laughter behind the wheel of his silver Ford truck.

With the bright orange moon and silhouetted mountains far off, Reeder isn't tired, just eager to begin anew.

The U.S. government, he says, is the corruptor of all things innocent. Wen Ho Lee, Waco, JFK. Need he say more to prove that the red, white, and blue flag conceals a land scattered with victims?

"This whole country's a joke," says Reeder in his Southern, nasal twang. "America," he sighs, "the richest country in the world that has more poverty than anywhere else on the planet."

The poor and disenfranchised aside, the government sure hasn't helped Reeder's bank account any, having seized nearly everything he owned: the $330,000 home he and his wife shared, the six Corvettes. Even his golf clubs.

A year after that ill-fated raid, Reeder--the son of a Bible salesman who grew up in Weatherford, just west of Fort Worth--is shaken but not defeated, largely because the government is taking its sweet time in bringing criminal charges against him.

By now the SEC's civil suit against him has been settled, and his company, Cornerstone, is dead, on paper anyway. But in the capitalist candyland of America, Reeder is still feeding his appetite with some new, equally questionable businesses. He has a strange Web site, OperationJericho.com, which he is fashioning as an online newspaper, calling it the National Times. As its "Editor and Chief," Reeder cuts right to the chase, accusing the SEC of "perjury, spoliation of evidence, theft, and attempted murder." He claims he has sold 200 subscriptions at an exorbitant $398 apiece.

Reeder has new names for his business, but he's still selling the same old Cornerstone dreams: Stick with me, and I'll make you filthy rich.

With Cornerstone, those promises proved too good to be true. Reeder's bookkeeper stated in a sworn affidavit that Reeder had no real business operations and that investors were being paid with money from new investors. The government agreed and accused Reeder of falsely representing to investors that their funds were used in Cornerstone's various profit-generating activities. In sum, they said, Cornerstone was nothing but a pyramid, or Ponzi, scheme.

A year later, Reeder is asserting that Cornerstone was "one pure deal," as upright as Christ, that Reeder himself was a good Samaritan doing his best to fulfill his clients' caviar wishes and champagne dreams.

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