Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Diana continued to conduct more interviews through Debbie’s leads. The list continued to grow because each interview produced more leads, which meant more interviews. All of the investors had similar stories to tell. Sadly, the scammer preyed on each person’s greed by promising sizable returns, which equaled a considerable amount of money. The new investors used a referral code to share with others online. These newcomers were persuaded to invest with the encouragement of their loved ones. In each case, an individual Bitcoin wallet was downloaded once an initial investment was made. The app was great because individuals watched their investment grow with one click. They were baited hook, line, and sinker. The app seemed completely legitimate since it was downloadable from the Apple store or the Google Play store. Money was the root of all evil. The chance of making more money became an addiction that was too difficult to resist. It was a rare chance to find someone who could not use more cash than they had on any given day.

Each investor agreed to wait at least ninety days to receive a significant dividend payment in the form of cash. The people who successfully referred and obtained new investors received a discount on the new Bitcoins. Both parties made investments. The new people invested because they had proof of a success story from someone they knew personally. The original investor devoted more money to the cause to take advantage of the discount.

The worst part about the hoax was that the guy possessed so much credibility that these foolish people still held onto a dream, which was a false promise that their money would grow tremendously. Diana was the only one who came to the conclusion that this guy was a no-good lying Son of a Bitch. Whoever was

behind this hustle was skilled. He was gaining their trust, manipulating them, and continuing the relationship in hopes of getting more money from these poor souls. So far, no one was willing to drop a name. Diana wasn’t sure if this was due to the investors’ relationship with this man or if they were afraid that their money would magically disappear if they betrayed him. She knew it was a man since all of the investors referred to him as “he” when they spoke about their experience. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Instead of firing questions at each person, she simply let them tell their own story about their experience.

The last man Diana interviewed had invested his entire savings and retirement fund. He was nearly in tears as he told her, “I lost my entire life. There is no way for me to recover from this catastrophe. I have no money and no future.”

Diana found it challenging to continue the interview since she felt so much empathy for his predicament. Although she was mentally tough, emotionally, she wore her heart on her sleeve. It was much more than a story to her. She chose this profession due to her compassion for people and her desire to help and protect them by exposing criminals.

Each interview became an increasingly difficult burden to convince these poor individuals that their lives would be alright. She would be lying to them by making promises that she could not keep. These investors were virtually turning over their life savings to an imposter. Diana couldn’t wait to get home so that she could destress and cuddle up to a nice bottle of wine.

Brad called Marco promptly the following day.

Marco picked up. “Hey, Brad. I just wanted to say thanks for giving me more time. There is no need to worry or look over my shoulder. I have always been good to you.”

“What the hell are you talking about, God Dammit?! I just called to say that I completed the online information that you emailed to me. I clicked on the link and entered all of my account information so that you could complete the transfer. My problem is that my wallet app is showing a zero balance for Bitcoin and cash! My cash should have increased. What have you done with my money?”

“Slow down and let me answer you. First of all, I have no clue what you are saying right now. What email are you referencing? I did not and would never send you an email with a link asking for personal information. Before you jump to conclusions, give me a moment. I am going to put you on hold so that I can bring up your account information on my computer.” Marco put him on hold as Brad began to yell on the other end.

Marco couldn’t help laughing out loud like a maniac while Brad was impatiently holding the line. It was quite comical, especially because he was such a pain in the ass. He was getting exactly what he deserved. Marco let him wait a few minutes before returning to the line in his most melancholy, no-nonsense voice to add to the drama. “Brad, I don’t know the best way to break the news to you, so I am just going to tell you straight up. Your money is gone forever. It seems that you fell prey to what is known as a phishing scam. When you clicked on the link, it took you to a site mimicking an official site. You gave a stranger your account information, and they stole it. I was afraid that was the case when you told me about the email that I didn’t send.”

“What?!! You have to give me my money. It is rightfully mine.”

“I understand what you are saying, but it is already gone. There is nothing that I can do at this point. Whatever personal information you entered yesterday allowed a scammer to wipe out your account. I cannot give you money that no longer exists.”

“You better believe that I will get to the bottom of this somehow. I know that you are somehow responsible for making my money disappear, and I swear that you will pay for this if it is the last thing that I do!”

“Brad, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and ignore the threat you just made concerning my safety. I understand why you are so upset and not thinking clearly. I would be pissed off if someone stole my money. I am sure you don’t want to hear this right now, but you should never have opened that link. Instead of wrongly accusing me of stealing your money, you need to take a good long look in the mirror. You alone are responsible for voluntarily giving your money to someone else. I wish you the best of luck in tracking down whoever did this to you.”

Brad screamed, “This is complete bullshit, and you know it. I will eventually prove that you created this entire scheme. You had no intention of ever giving me my money. Creating a lame excuse is your way out. You can rest assured that I will bring you down before I take my last breath on this earth.”

Marco and Diana shared a cup of coffee in the morning. They decided to drink it on the balcony. “Good morning, stranger,” she smiled as she leaned over and kissed him.

“Right back at you, baby.”

“Is there any possibility of me talking you back into bed?” She offered him her best seductive smile.

“Oh, you have no idea how I wish I could take you up on your generous offer. I would love nothing more than to take complete advantage of you. It would be much more enjoyable than the prospective client meeting I have to attend this morning. I promise to take you up on your proposition as soon as my schedule is free.”

“It’s okay, I understand. Do you have time for some breakfast before you go?”

Marco finished his coffee and stood up. “I’m afraid that I need to get going. I will barely make it in time as it is. Sorry Babe, I promise to make it up to you. Thank you for understanding.”

Diana unwillingly kissed him goodbye. “No worries. Have a nice day.”

“I will try my best, but I will be thinking of you and the chance I passed up.” Marco kissed her back and quickly pulled away before temptation got the best of him.

Diana was well aware that he wouldn’t take the bait of bed or breakfast since he had a seminar booked on his calendar but wanted to be certain. She was running out of time and needed to get dressed to attend the conference. It was imperative to slip in unnoticed after his arrival to see exactly what was going on and if he was hiding something from her.

She dressed casually and put on a wig so that Marco would not recognize her if he did happen to look her way at the event. It was crucial to blend in and not draw attention to herself.

Luckily when she arrived, there were others who hadn’t gone into the ballroom yet. There were still a few minutes remaining for registration and check-in. Diana filled out the required papers and used a different name and address outside of the city. The agenda was for a real estate investing seminar. She entered the ballroom and grabbed a seat toward the back so that she could easily slip out. A gentleman began speaking to signify the start of the seminar, and she instantly realized that the man’s voice belonged to Marco.

He caught her off guard since she was under the impression that Marco was attending a seminar. Diana sat through most of the presentation. There was nothing out of the ordinary going on, and she immediately felt guilty for spying on him. His voice brought her back to reality, “How about the lady in the back? What can I do for you?”

The audience turned their heads, and his eyes locked on hers. Her heart was in her throat, and she could not find her voice. Thankfully, the woman next to her answered by asking a question. Diana’s breathing went back to normal after nearly having heart failure. She almost blew her cover. It was time for her to slip out the back since nothing suspicious was going on here. Her guilt kicked in full force.

What business did she have attending this seminar, and what gave her the right to follow him and snoop around in his personal belongings? A nagging voice in her head was persistently cautioning her that this could be the seminar the others were talking about in the interviews. Diana shut the voice down for the time being. It wouldn’t be wise to hang around until the crowd thinned out for fear of being recognized. It was a chance that she could not afford to take at this time.

Marco was away for the weekend, so Diana decided to spend some quality time with her parents. She rarely had time to visit since her job demanded so much of her time. Her parents were incredibly understanding, which she appreciated. Not everyone understood the pressures of a career in journalism. She was always under deadline.

Diana was elated to have a rare three-day weekend off. She desperately needed the relaxation and the comforts of home with her mom and dad. It wasn’t often that Diana had enough free time to do whatever she wanted. She spent the first day shopping with her mother at the Valley Forge Mall. It was hard to remember the last time she was able to shop in person. The majority of the time, she shopped online for convenience. The mall was an elegant shopper’s paradise with stores to satisfy varying budgets and styles. Diana and her mother shopped at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and Bloomingdales.

They were like two giggly teenagers picking out and trying on clothes while having a private fashion show. When they had their fill of retail therapy, her mother surprised her with a gorgeous room at the nearby Valley Forge Casino Resort. The package included a heavenly massage. They felt like they died and went to heaven with an hour-long massage, which melted away all of the stress and anxiety. Afterward, they pampered themselves with a pedicure. It was a treatment fit for a queen. Kait wanted to spoil her daughter as it was much deserved. After all, she was a young woman who needed to indulge once in a while instead of letting life fly past her.

After they were fully relaxed and rejuvenated, they ate at the Revolution Chop House. For starters, they ate calamari, followed by the most delicious French onion soup. They both feasted on a succulent New York strip steak topped with crab meat. Their stomachs had no room for dessert, but they could not pass up the tiramisu.

They finished the night at the casino with cocktails. Kait loved to play slots, so Diana did the same so that they could have fun together. By the time they returned to their room, both women were

thoroughly exhausted yet happy. It was such a sensational day since she had a great time with her mother. It was refreshing to revel in some much-needed mother-daughter bonding. They ate a quick continental breakfast in the morning so that they could get back to the house and spend some time with Drew.

Drew and Diana spent the day outdoors hiking at the park. When they arrived home, Kait ordered takeout pizza, and they watched television together. Kait went to bed around 10 p.m., and Diana took a moment to talk to her father. She sensed that something about her father was off all day. She knew him well enough to know that something was bothering him. He was very reserved and withdrawn for a guy who was usually very upbeat, witty, and fun to be around.

It was time to find out what was going on. “Dad, what’s wrong?

Something is on your mind. You haven’t been yourself all day.”

His eyes met hers, and he did his best to shrug her off. “No, sweetheart, I am just tired. Everything is fine.”

“Daddy, that might work on a stranger, but you are talking to your persistent daughter.”

“Sorry, honey, I had no idea it was so obvious. Please don’t worry your pretty little head about me. I will be okay. This weekend is about you.”

“No, Daddy. Start talking because I am not about to let it go until you give in. I am a big girl and can handle whatever you have to say. Are you and mom okay?”

He chuckled. “Yes, honey, your mother and I are better than okay.

She is my one and only, and our marriage could not be better.”

“Well, I have to say that is a relief. So, what is going on then?

Please don’t make me keep asking.”

“I honestly prefer not to get into it. We are supposed to be having a good time.”

“Dad!!!”

“You are supposed to be off from your job this weekend, and here you are using your investigative reporter skills on me. Since you are a stubborn mule and refuse to give up, I have no choice but to tell you. Don’t say that I didn’t try and warn you.”

Diana reassured him. “Dad, I promise that I can handle whatever you are about to say.”

“I hope you are ready for what you are about to hear. Marco asked me to invest some money in some once in a lifetime deal. He said that I would see a return of twenty-five percent or more.”

“Oh daddy, please tell me you didn’t.”

“I wish I could. Marco is very knowledgeable and persuasive, and I trusted his judgment. He was absolutely right. The returns were excellent. He downloaded an app on my phone, and I watched my money grow every day with my own eyes.”

The nagging voice in Diana’s head was screaming; I told you so. “Why would he ask you to invest?”

“As it turns out, I invested even more money, and that was growing just as fast.”

“Please tell me that is all you invested.”

“If I did, I would be lying. Your mother and I decided to invest my pension since the market was doing so well. The whole experience was exhilarating. We were going to have millions of dollars.”

“Dad, you should have told me from the beginning. You and mom don’t need millions of dollars. You live comfortably already.”

“I hate to admit that we became addicted to making a quick buck.

Your mother and I were a little apprehensive after investing my pension. We went too far, and it was too risky for our comfort, so I asked Marco to pull out the money months ago.”

“Thank God, Dad. Am I right to assume that he gave you the money?”

Drew cleared his throat before continuing. “Well, he talked me into keeping it there for another month. By doing so, I would receive a bonus. There was no reason for me to doubt him. He was persuasive and never let me down in the past.”

“I cannot believe the audacity that he would try and take advantage of his fiancée’s father.”

“After the thirty days had been met, I kindly but firmly asked him to reinvest my money into a specific fund that your mother and I agreed on. Marco tried to prolong my request once again, but I demanded that he do as I asked. He finally agreed after it was obvious that the runaround would not work this time.”

Diana was fuming. “Wait until I get my hands on him. I will make him wish that he didn’t take advantage of you!”

“I honestly have some doubts, sweetheart. So far, I have only seen $20,000 out of the $700,000 pension that I gave him plus

$300,000 in profit. He is supposed to transfer the remaining funds the day after the wedding. I can’t tell you how distressed I am since it is my life savings. Marco continues to stall, and I have a feeling that something is wrong. I am trying my hardest to give him the benefit of

the doubt, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to trust him personally with his lack of business ethics.”

Diana was livid. How dare Marco target her family! “Dad, if you don’t mind, let me see the app on your phone.”

He opened the app, and she examined it. At first glance, it looked official. It showed the initial investment, additional investment, growth, and returns. The wallet looked very similar to a 401k website, except there was no ability to transfer money. For her, that was a giant red flag. It was a routine transaction to be able to perform in banking and investment apps. The wallet was the same format as the one that Debbie and other investors showed her. For the life of her, Diana could not grasp what was happening. All of the clues were leading her to one person.

She was in complete and utter denial. After attending Marco’s seminar, she second-guessed herself and felt very guilty for trying to dig up dirt on him. Now she finds out that her poor father was being taken advantage of for some unknown reason. Was it possible that Marco was the person she was looking for in her current assignment? Was he the person responsible for causing the folks she interviewed and her father so much pain and anxiety? It did not seem possible that the man she loved and gave her heart to was capable of being part of this elaborate scheme. Would he be heartless enough to involve his fiancée’s family? It didn’t seem probable because she was ignoring the truth and only focusing on Marco’s good qualities. She needed to take her blinders off and stop pushing her own feelings aside. He was hurting her family members now.

“Dad, I am going to call Marco right now. We will settle this once and for all.”

Her father was emphatically shaking his head. “No, honey. If for some reason, there is a chance of getting my money back, you will

make the situation far worse. For now, I need you to agree to keep this conversation between us. Do some investigative work on your own, but please, do not let him know you suspect anything. It will destroy your relationship if I am wrong. Plus, I would love to give my future son in law the benefit of the doubt.”

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