Fool's Gold

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

After two nights at a motel where the management's idea of security was to have a guy stand near the entrance undoing a suspended chain for oncoming cars, Reeder had concluded that in this nameless city, "no one altos."

He was thinking about that when he got in his fight with Kenneth. He'd asked the Nigerian whether he would answer some of my questions about the gold mines. He agreed.

In his room, Kenneth sat slumped in an old, cushioned chair. Since seeing some photos I'd snapped of him the previous day, he had barely spoken to me.

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.

"I will not go into detail about how many mines there are," he said, looking away disdainfully.

I told him that his reticence made him look suspicious.

"Suspicious?" he countered. "I have projects to protect. I have no use to publicize a project that's in development."

Reeder came into the room and said that he was beginning to see why people had problems with Kenneth. The gathering turned tense; the heat, the charmless motel, the diarrhea merely compounded things. Yet Kenneth stood firm: He had no interest in speaking with a reporter.

This isn't what Reeder wanted me to see. "I'm outta here!" he said, and slammed the door behind him.

Later, I found Reeder in his room, shoving clothes into his suitcase. Amidst this unfolding crisis, David passed by, shaking his head. "There's a lot of gray in this ol' life. I used to think it was just black and white."

Reeder left the room, paid the hotel, then returned to David and me, calmer this time.

"She asked the right questions and nailed him in the coffin," Reeder said of me. "Thank God before I was in it."

David looked at Reeder. "I don't have any more faith in him than..." He stopped himself. "This isn't a cut against you..."

"If you say what I think you're about to say, then you've just insulted the hell out of me," said Reeder. "You were about to say that you don't have any more faith in him than you have in me, and don't tell me I'm lying."

David stammered: "When both of you..."

"In God's name," said Reeder, his voice rising. "Tell the truth. Is that what you were going to say?"

"I can't..."

Reeder cut him off: "Say yes or no."

"You've done a lot of things," said David, "but I don't know if you're good at mining."

Reeder looked at David in wounded silence. "How about operating Cornerstone?" he said.

"I don't know," said David, sounding far less supportive of Reeder than he had just a few hours ago. "You got shut down."

"After seven years," Reeder said defiantly.

"Well," said David, "something happened, somewhere."

We got the hell out of town the next morning, after Reeder's wife persuaded her husband to wait till daybreak. As Gary and I crossed the border, we stopped off at a motel for breakfast.

Reeder grew melancholy over his eggs and salsa. Sometimes, he said, he feels bad for all the stuff he's put his wife through: the topless dancer incident, the seizure of the business. Not two weeks ago, she told him that her heart is still broken, but she's trying to move on. Reeder seemed depressed, defeated. He keeps trying to be the messiah, he said, and he keeps failing.

"I sometimes wish God would just take her," he said, "so I could end it all."

Two or three days later, Reeder had regained his optimism. He had also had a change of heart about Kenneth. Seated in his National Times office in Fort Worth, he told me that he was wrong to chide Kenneth for not wanting to speak with me. He then said he just had another car wreck, and like his previous one, the government was behind it. The car's in the back, he said, and he wanted the Observer to de-bug it. Soon, Sandra came in. We talked some about her past, and she started crying when she related how she found Christ 20 years ago. Reeder looked at her, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Later that day, he called me at home and said he was surprised at my lack of emotion when Sandra was crying. "Did that not affect you?" he asked.

Hal Degenhardt, head of the SEC's regional office in downtown Fort Worth, doesn't shed a tear for Gary Reeder.

He's seen the likes of Reeder before, the seemingly religious-minded salesman who worms his way into the hearts of a naive public, one all too willing to believe promises of wealth. He calls it "affinity fraud."

"Fraudsters are not dull people," he says. "Unfortunately, you have to be a little bit of a skeptic in this world."

Ron Sanders of Helena, Montana, admits he fell for Reeder's song and dance. The 52-year-old Sanders and his wife heard about Cornerstone through a friend, one who spoke glowingly of the profit checks he was receiving every few weeks. At the time, Sanders was working for a women's fitness-clothing franchise, and he wanted a way to retire young.

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