Thursday, December 27, 2001. 9:00 A.M.
“It’s Julien Geisinger calling, Miss King. Can we talk?”
“You can say anything you want, Julien. Secrecy is no longer important to me.”
“I’m not sure I understand that, but be that as it may, I called to inform you that we have completed the distribution of the funds in your account, all in accordance with your signed direction. After deducting our expenses, the balance was zero, and the account was closed. Would you like me to tell you the amount each estate received?”
“No thank you. I’ve already done the math.”
“Splendid. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, but thank you for your prompt attention to my request...Have you heard from Wilhelm Lentz?”
“I’m very sorry,” Kerri said.
New York. Thursday, December 27, 2001. 2:00 P.M.
Kerri opened a heavy glass door and entered the lobby of the Internal Revenue Service building on Broadway. She marched to the counter and announced to a young female receptionist that her name was Kerri King, and that she had an appointment with Agent Niel Johnstone. The receptionist called Johnstone’s office, and within thirty seconds she was greeted by a short plump balding man in his late forties. He wore a dark blue suit that appeared to be government issue, an ugly green tie, and way out of style black tasseled loafers. Flakes of dandruff decorated his shoulders.
“Hello, Miss King. I’m Niel Johnstone. It’s an honor to meet someone as famous as you,” he said with a practiced smile. “Please follow me,” he said, then led Kerri to his large but austere office at the end of a long corridor on the ground floor. He pointed to a silvered canister on a small table beside his desk. “Please help yourself to a coffee, then we can chat.”
Kerri poured coffee into a white styrene cup, then sat on one of the two hardwood chairs in front of Johnstone’s desk.
Johnstone lowered himself into his comfortable black leather upholstered chair, then again smiled at his visitor. “You mentioned in our telephone conversation that you wished to make a declaration. Am I correct?”
Kerri nodded. “I’m about to do something that I should have done a very long time ago. Before I do that, I should ask you how much time you’re prepared to give me.”
“My time is yours. Take as much time as you need.”
“The reason I asked is because I’m going to tell you about a fairly large amount of money. There is a lengthy story attached to that money.” Kerri took a deep breath, then stared into Johnstone’s grey eyes. She prodded herself to continue, no matter what the consequences were. “Until this week, I had four hundred and eighty-seven million dollars in a private account in a Swiss bank. The name of the bank is Liechtensteinische Comco. It’s in Geneva.”
Johnstone frowned as he wrote feverishly on his pad of legal sized paper. “You said you had money in a Swiss account until this week. What did you do with it?”
Kerri took another deep breath. “I gave it all away.”
Johnstone stopped writing an raised his eyebrows. “You did what?”
“I arranged, with the help of my lawyer and Julien Geisinger, the bank’s president, to distribute all of the funds to the estates of the three hundred and thirty-eight Iacardi employees who were killed in the World Trade Center on September eleventh. I did it because I wanted to help the survivors. I knew they needed the money, and I was fortunate enough to be in a position to provide it.”
“I’m beginning to see why you need time,” Johnstone said. “It isn’t often someone comes into this office to tell us about giving away nearly a half a billion dollars. I’m sure you have an explanation.”
“I assumed you’d want to know where I got the money.”
“That was going to be my first question.”
“I’m going to start at the beginning. It’s a very long story. Let me know if it’s too long...If you did a computer search using the keywords: Jim Servito, John Hill, and gasoline tax evasion, you would understand the origin of the money. Jim Servito, a U.S. draft dodger who became a Canadian citizen, accumulated three hundred and twenty-five million dollars by evading tax on gasoline he sold in Canada and the Untied States. John Hill was head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the I.R.S. during the years Servito stole the money.”
Johnstone turned to his computer and keyed in the words and names Kerri suggested. “You’re right. It’s here, and it’s a huge file,” he said. Minutes passed in silence as he continued to read. “It says Servito was killed in Caracas, Venezuela by his wife. Do you know how that happened?”
“Here’s a short answer...Servito hid his money in the Cayman Island branch of The Banco International Venezolano. Alfred Schnieder, the bank’s manager in Caracas, managed it. Servito left Canada in nineteen seventy-nine, and took his son, Phillip with him. Karen, Servito’s wife and Phillip’s mother, followed him to Caracas, killed him, and returned her son to Canada. The reason I know all this is because Servito’s wife went to Caracas with a man named Mike King, my father. While they were in Caracas, and subsequent to Servito’s death, Phillip led his mother and my father to Alfred Schnieder and Servito’s money.”
“So they really did find it. This text says it was never found.”
“They found it and they kept it. My father told me they kept it because the Feds had put both him and Karen Servito in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. He said the Feds eventually apologized for any inconvenience their actions might have caused them, but that wasn’t nearly enough. Karen and my father never forgave them. My father said the Feds’ only interest was recovering the money, and they didn’t care who they hurt in the process. Dad and Karen were damned mad and they weren’t going to take it anymore. They went to war with the Feds, and they survived. They had Alfred Schnieder set up a trust for them, and he continued to manage the money until he retired a year later. He turned the trust’s management over to a man named Louis Visconti, a broker in New York. You might want to do a search on Visconti. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of information on him.” Kerri paused while Johnstone tapped ‘Louis Visconti’ on his keyboard.
Johnstone nodded as he read. “Yup, we’ve got a big file on Visconti.” He looked up at Kerri. “Before you go on, tell me about your father. How did he know Karen Servito?’
“They met and fell in love with each other while my father was at the University of Toronto. Circumstances caused them to drift apart, but they never stopped loving each other. After Jim Servito died, they got married and stayed married to this day. They were, and still are very much in love with each other...That’s all very interesting, but it’s off topic. I want you to follow the money. That’s why I’m here.”
“Okay, so back to Louis Visconti.”
“Louis did a great job of managing the money until the crash of eighty-seven. He lost a half a billion of the trust’s value on Black Tuesday. Then he tried to make it all back in a hurry by shorting crude oil in a big way. I know this because he did the shorts through Iacardi & Sons, my employer. That’s how I got involved. In fact, I got so involved I had an affair with Visconti. I didn’t see it when I fell in love with him, but he was corrupt to the core of his existence. The money would have stayed hidden forever, but three things happened to change everything: Phillip Servito decided he wanted his father’s money, my father decided he wanted to give the money to charity, and Louis Visconti, with Alfred Schnieder’s help, stole the money and flew to Monaco with it.”
“Stop,” Johnston said, raising his left hand while still scribbling. “I have so many questions, I don’t know where to start.”
“I promise I’ll answer them all, but I still want you to follow the money. Please remember. It’s why I’m here.”
Johnstone tightened his lips and conceded with a wave of both hands. “Sorry. Go on.”
“By the time Louis had decided to disappear to Europe, I was aware of his plan to steal the money in the trust, and his plan to murder Phillip, so I decided to stay with him and try to recover the money. I knew Louis really wanted me to go to Monaco with him, so I insisted that we sign reciprocal wills before we left...I’ll shorten the story by telling you that Louis died in Monaco, and I inherited all of the money that was left in the trust.”
“How much money was there, and how did Louis die?”
“There was a hundred and sixty-six million left, and I killed Louis,” Kerri replied, causing Johnstone’s eyes to bulge and his mouth to open. She was desperately trying to condense her story, cleanse herself of the burden of the secret with which she had lived for far too long, and most importantly, neutralize Jeffery Wheeler’s blackmail threat. To her horror, the more she said, the more incriminating her story became.
Johnstone moved forward to edge of his chair. Her story was like none he had ever heard, and he had heard some beauties. “You killed him! Why did you do that?” he asked.
“He told me he paid to have Phillip murdered, strangled Alfred Schnieder to death in front of me, then raped me, and threatened to murder me after he was finished. I killed him to save my life... I was cleared of any charges. The Monaco police agreed that it was self defense... At the end of the day, I gave the money to Miles Dennis, a trader with Iacardi in New York, and asked him to manage it for me. He managed to more than triple its value in the past ten years. Neither my father not I wanted one dime of that money. We still don’t. We agreed that we didn’t earn it, and that it was tainted. Then came nine-eleven. That single event affected me more deeply than you can imagine. I still can’t get it out of my mind. Maybe I never will, but I saw it as an opportunity to do something useful with that money. So I did.”
Johnstone extended a smirk in Kerri’s direction. He was excited. He had a coup, a windfall. His compassion, however, dueled with his ambition. He had to weigh the benefits of being the point man in a gigantic, nine digit tax case against cutting some slack for a woman who had voluntarily stepped forward and bared her soul. “I assume you’re referring to the four hundred and eighty-seven million,” he said.
“I am. It’s divided into three hundred and thirty-eight parts and it’s on its way to the United States... I know I’ve probably broken the law, but I’m prepared to accept the consequences. I could have enjoyed a pretty good life with that money, but I didn’t. I used it to make a difference in a lot of lives. I hope you’ll take that into consideration.”
Johnstone stared at his notes, avoiding eye contact with Kerri. “In the period of time that you’ve been in possession of that money, did you ever notify the I.R.S. of its existence?”
“Did you ever pay tax on the capital gains you have realized?”
Johnstone finally made eye contact with his visitor. “This is a very unique case. In all the years I’ve been with the I.R.S. I don’t think I’ve seen one like it. There are numerous questions that still need to be answered. Of course we’ll need to complete a full review before we talk to you again. In that connection, I suggest you arrange legal representation. Is there anything further you would like to say at this time?”
“Yes. In your professional opinion, what’s going to happen to me?”
“Based on the information you’ve given me, there appears to be a substantial tax liability in this case. In addition, the fact that you have deliberately hidden your money and failed to make any declaration to the I.R.S. for a period of ten years could result in substantial penalties. Mitigating in your favor is the fact that you have voluntarily stepped forward. The I.R.S. might be disposed to spare you from criminal prosecution.”