You’ve seen the phony infomercial ads on TV. There is usually a wealthy-looking
guy with a Dan Rather haircut sitting in his expensive Florida backyard.
Off to his left is a palatial house, with a kidney-shape pool behind him
and an exotic 80-foot yacht at the dock to the right. Between the guy
and the pool is a Lamborghini and a big Bentley stocked with bikini-clad
women right out of Playboy magazine. "Follow the rules in my books,"
he says (the bikinis get out of the cars and start frolicking in the pool
with a beach ball), "and you, too, can have all of this." Of
course, this guy does not have the power to make anyone rich–other
than himself. Your Spectator, however, does seem to have that power.
From Five Stars to
In the beginning,
Antonio picked my wife Regina and me up at the airport in a nondescript
station wagon and put us up in one of the finest five-star hotels in his
country (wood-paneled rooms, cold air conditioning, cable TV, quality
restaurants, swimming pool–the works). At the end, about two years
later, Antonio picked us up in a Rolls Royce and put us up in a crummy
tenement that he owned (we had to clean the place up ourselves and make
the bed). My first impulse was to call a cab and bail to a real hotel,
but Regina thought it would be impolite. And so, in the name of politeness,
we suffered. What had transpired between the station wagon and the Rolls?
The Set Up
I met my "pal"
Antonio at a major boat show where he had admired a couple of our big
boats on display. Antonio owned a small company that built midrange boats
"splashed" (copied without permission) from 30-year-old designs.
His company was badly in need of rejuvenation, but Antonio always did
okay for himself, although he had never been wealthy. After dancing around
for about two years, Antonio came to my office ready to commission a breakthrough
new design. When producing designs for a volume-production boat, boat
designers usually make little or no money on the initial design but make
it up big time in royalties as boats are built over the years. Antonio
was a cool customer. Not only did he commission the design and leave a
deposit so that we could get started, but he also volunteered to pay us
royalties for six boats in advance. What a guy! Clients don’t get
much better than this.
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Part 2: The Con Job... > Page 1, 2