Sometimes in our life, we want something so bad, we ignore the evidence that becomes clear to us once we are out of the situation. I have had several of these instances at different points in my life. I share with you here my experience with the Con Man.
After leaving academia, I moved back to my hometown of Yelm, WA where I met my first husband at the spiritual school we were both attending. I had no idea what I was going to do for a new career. My new partner was a best-selling author on mortgage reduction strategies in Australia, and he wanted to bring concept here to the states. He asked if I wanted to help him start a business here, so I said yes. I quickly read books on business and marketing, and we started the business.
As with a lot of new businesses, it took a while to get anything off the ground. We were barely paying bills and getting by. At one point, we had only a few dollars left in the bank, and I was in tears, completely in fear about how we would be able to pay our bills.
Fast forward a couple of years, and my partner were still barely getting by financially with the company. We met a couple that were fairly new to Yelm from Las Vegas. They moved to town when they purchased an organic worm farm. The couple reminded me of the show Green Acres because the wife was constantly wearing her very expensive designer clothes, even when on the farm in the garden. She was significantly younger than her husband and very sweet. Her husband was a loud, larger than life character of Sicilian descent.
We became friends with this unlikely couple. They were fun to hang out with and had so many amazing stories about their life in Vegas. Part of the story was that Vegas Man was recovering from lung cancer and had purchased the farm to help a friend out. He told us that he had grown and sold off close to 40 businesses over the years, making him a multi-millionaire, with $65 million in the bank. He told us about being a professional handicapper for gambling, owning several companies that would give advice. Their lifestyle, wardrobe and photos from Vegas supported this story, and I had no reason to think it might be a lie.
Several months later, the couple decided to move back to Vegas as Vegas Man had a recurrence of the cancer, and they sold off the farm. We had become quite close with them, and soon after the move back to Vegas on one of our visits, Vegas Man started talking to my partner about our business. He wanted to help us out, to help us grow. He was willing to do this at first out of the kindness of his heart. That didn’t last long. After a couple of months, he decided he needed a specific salary to help us.
During this time, my partner and I were planning our wedding. The Vegas couple offered for us to have the wedding in their house, as it would be a small family gathering. My family met the couple during our wedding weekend, and my father became entranced with Vegas Man and his stories of success.
As part of being able to pay Vegas Man his salary that he requested, he had us completely restructure the company and bring on new investors. He talked my dad into investing even more money into the company than he had originally, and he had me introduce him to several local friends that might be interested in investing. He was successful at talking them all into investing, as he was so charming, charismatic, and convincing that he could make the company successful.
Once we had the injection of funds from the investors, Vegas Man took over the operations and called all the shots, making himself our business manager. Even though my husband I were the owners, we were treated like less than minimum wage sweatshop workers, getting yelled at throughout the day about how we weren’t working hard enough. He was spending our company money on things that seemed crazy, like regular trips back and forth from Vegas to Washington, demanding it had to be first class. The once seemingly gentle soul that was my friend had now turned into our tyrant.
Each day, week, and month got worse and worse with the abuse we experienced. I felt obligated to put up with it because my friends and family had invested so much of their money and trust into the business. I personally felt responsible. Because of the abuse we were receiving, my husband took it out on me even more so than before the relationship with Vegas Man.
The business was growing, but it wasn’t fun. My dad was now more involved in regular conference calls. Everything was getting worse and more intense as we were growing. My husband was buckling under the pressure and getting harder and harder to live with. I had given him an ultimatum at one point that if he crossed the line one more time I would leave him. A few months later he crossed the line.
The next morning I got Vegas Man and my dad on a conference call and told them what happened and that I couldn’t do it anymore. They were able to help me get my husband out of the house that morning, and I changed the locks. That was the beginning of the end of my marriage.
When we had restructured the company with the new investors, Vegas Man made it so that my dad and I together were majority shareholders of the company. Because of this, he was on my side in the divorce, and it got even uglier from there. There were mutual lawsuits against each other in federal court as well as lawsuits from our investors.
With the lawsuits, the company wasn’t able to continue making money. Without having company money, Vegas Man convinced my dad that he needed to pay for the corporate attorneys that we had to hire to fight the lawsuits. My dad also had to keep paying Vegas Man his salary. I had to pay my bills, so my dad also had to fund me as well - all of this to keep our company going.
Finally after several months. I told my dad and Vegas Man that we were shutting the company down. I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew if I continued, I would create an illness that would likely be a death sentence. It was time to move on. Vegas Man continued to demand money from my dad, who lost over half a million dollars to the attorneys and to Vegas man.
During the company war with the lawsuits, my husband began researching the background of Vegas Man. He found out that most of what was told to us were lies. He had never been a Navy Seal or played football for LSU. He did not own the sports handicapping companies, but rather was just one of the salesmen working for the company, which brought a lawsuit against him and other employees. He had been brought up on federal charges for mail fraud. There was tax fraud committed by him and his wife. We never did find out if the story of his “godfather” being a well-known New Orleans mafia person (implicated in the JFK assassination) was true or not. This was just the tip of the iceberg.
What started out as a friendship turned into one of the greatest lessons I have learned in this life. People show you who they really are if you pay attention. My husband, my dad, and I wanted so badly to be successful in the business that we overlooked and ignored so many red flags and bad behavior. We endured abuse. We believed what we were being told. We fell for the Con Man, Vegas Man.