Opinion | Scott Estill:  Uncovering the scams | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Scott Estill:  Uncovering the scams

My hope for 2023 is that we Americans will finally realize the extent to which scammers, and the scams they perpetrate, control so much of our lives. The United States has historically been known as a nation receptive to fraudsters. Charles Ponzi (originator of the famous scheme) and Bernie Madoff/Enron (accounting fraud meant over 20,000 employees lost their jobs overnight when $78 billion of stock market value “disappeared”) come to mind.

Yet these frauds don’t approach the audacity of those perpetrated by the “smoothest con man who ever lived,” Victor Lustig. He was able to convince scrap metal dealers in Paris in 1925 to buy the Eiffel Tower piece by piece (it apparently was being dismantled and turned into scrap metal) for well under its actual value. Naturally, the dealers were humiliated and did not report the crime out of embarrassment. Or what about George C. Parker, a man who managed to sell the Brooklyn Bridge, along with Madison Square Garden and the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  numerous times for over 30 years before he was finally caught? Who is going to admit that they were dumb enough to fall for this (apparently successful weekly) scam? He was responsible for the saying “if you’ll believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you!”  

I bring these famous cases up because we are seeing some of the major scammers of 2022 about to get their due. Last month, health care scammer Elizabeth Holmes learned that she will be spending the next 11 years in prison for duping people concerning claims of blood-testing equipment. She was slick enough to convince former and future Presidential cabinet members Henry Kissinger, Betsy DeVoss, James Mattis and George Schultz to join the team, while the Walton family (of Walmart fame) managed to lose over $150 million investing in the venture. While these fraud victims tend to decline comment on these cons, a spokesperson for DeVos (who is married to the former CEO of Amway and was the former U.S. secretary of education under President Trump) claimed that her $100 million loss in Ms. Holmes’ company was “minor.”

Next up on the horizon will be the trials and tribulations of the crypto world. Forbes recently estimated that over $1 billion was successfully scammed in the prior year from false promises related to investments in cryptocurrencies. All-time great investor Warren Buffet has one simple rule: never invest in a business you don’t understand. Yet millions of people couldn’t begin to tell you what it really is that they have in their crypto wallets. When you buy stock in McDonalds, you don’t have to drive very far to see one of your investments, as there are more than 40,000 locations around the world and another one opening somewhere in the next five hours. Yet, rather than investing in something they may actually understand, millions instead opt for the shear speculation of what often cannot even be considered an “investment.”

Unfortunately, well over one million investors have fallen victim to a multibillion-dollar scam in the crypto realm involving Sam Bankman-Fried, or SBF as he is affectionately known. Mr. SBF, a scruffy 30-year-old son of two law professors at Stanford, has been released on a $250 million bond. He was arrested in the Bahamas and surprised his lawyers by agreeing to waive extradition and appear in the U.S. to face multiple fraud charges. Apparently, he was not happy with the aggressive rat and maggot population in his Bahamian prison cell. He may want to watch his back now that he is living in the United States.

SBF was considered to be the king of crypto before his massive hoax started to unravel. He was worth an estimated $16 billion and was compared to Mr. Buffet. His company (FTX) was lit up on the marquee outside the Miami Heat NBA stadium and his commercials featured future hall of fame athletes Tom Brady and Steph Curry. He could do no wrong. He was also a big political donor and here’s where things get interesting. In the last 18 months, he donated over $80 million, primarily to the Democratic Party. He gave so much to the Democratic Party in the recent elections that he was behind only George Soros as far as personal donations to the party. He also donated over $5 million to President Biden’s 2020 election campaign. Any chance the party plans to return any of these donations that were stolen from the FTX investors? Didn’t think so.

What seems most surprising about this is that there is little to no noise from the keepers of the right flank. Why would the Republican Party fail to take advantage of this political opportunity? The answer appears as the story continues. Apparently, SBF made similar contributions to the Republican Party, but they were “dark” according to SBF. He didn’t want to disclose the donations to candidates on the right because he apparently would lose credibility with his more liberal associates and friends. So, these donations were made illegally. Unsurprisingly, both parties are trying to sweep this under the rug and wash their hands of this dirty situation. All the while, SBF lives in his parents’ multimillion-dollar home as he winds his way through what is likely to be a lengthy court process. In the meantime, the fraud victims are out the money used to fund SBF’s lifestyle and political influence. The bankruptcy filings reveal few assets to make the victims remotely whole. And naturally, the scam continues.

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