Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Marco contacted some of the investors whom he networked with at the internship conferences. He had a business plan to present and was looking for interested investors. After pitching his idea in one of the shared conference rooms, five out of twenty decided to invest in debt with him. Marco would be contacting homeowners who were in danger of foreclosure. His access to the MLS system was a convenient tool to find leads on homes attractive to his investment team. He specifically chose households having a considerable amount of equity and in acceptable condition for resale. The first step of the process was to conduct a meeting with the homeowner one- on-one and offer to buy their home to avoid foreclosure. Until the mortgage was satisfied, the equity belonged to Marco and his team. He would sell the house, and his team would split the profit.

His investment team would also provide short term loans to developers who were not eligible for traditional loans. There were many reasons banks denied loans to businesses. Some of the reasons for loan rejections included lack of collateral, too much debt, and lack of cash flow. Marco’s team intended to come to the rescue for a price. The balance would be due in twelve months in addition to ten percent interest and a two percent processing fee. There was a hefty penalty for early payoff of the loan. Marco earned a percentage of the monthly payments as long as there was still a debt owed. Early payoffs were discouraged by incurring a penalty. Even though the lending rate was excessive, developers found his loan offer irresistible. It was the only option available to get their money and close a deal quickly in a competitive situation or an auction. In the event that the loan defaulted, Marco’s company required the developer to use the property purchased as collateral. It was a rock- solid plan that was profitable at every possible angle.

He was pleased with his cleverness and expected to make money hand over fist before long. His business plan was irresistible, and he

was sure the others who decided not to invest would kick themselves after seeing his success. Marco planned on taking Diana out to celebrate tonight. Maybe he would rent a limo to drive them around town and give her a taste of their future life together.

Diana was halfway through her senior year when Marco surprised her with a spring break vacation that other students could only go to in their dreams. The majority of college students shared a room with as many friends as possible to spend chump change, but Marco had the money that his grandmother gave him from the fire. It was an unfair tradeoff for losing his mom. He would rather be broke and have his family together again, but that was not even a remote possibility.

Diana quizzed Marco to find out where they were going, but he would only disclose that it was a warm destination. She eventually found out when they checked in at the airport. They flew into Tampa and took a taxi to St. Pete Beach, a thirty-minute ride from the airport. Palm trees lined the streets along the way, and the sight of them instantly transported her to a tropical paradise. The hotel was oceanfront, and the beach was a two-mile stretch of white sugar sand, crystal clear aqua water, and beach bars on the Gulf coast.

Ironically Diana’s birthday was during spring break, so Marco arranged for them to spend it in paradise. As if the vacation wasn’t enough of a surprise, Marco surprised Diana with an elegant dinner at Spinners Rooftop restaurant. It was on the twelfth floor of the Grand Plaza Hotel, shaped like a tower. The view was breathtaking and offered a panoramic view of the ocean, and the restaurant slowly rotated 360 degrees. It took an hour to do a complete rotation. Dinner was delicious, and the ambiance was very romantic. They held hands when they weren’t eating and snuck in some kisses before dessert.

After dinner, they kicked off their shoes and walked hand in hand in the sand to watch the sunset. While cutting through the back of another resort, Marco and Diana were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a chess set where the painted black and white wooden pieces were four feet tall, and the chessboard was painted on the pavement. No one else was in the area, and it felt like they were in an Alice in Wonderland scene. There was no question that they had to play since the chess set seemed to be there waiting for the two of them to come along and play. They became so engrossed in the fun of the game that they missed the sunset. When they finally finished

the game and walked through the resort to the beach, they realized the sun had already set, and it was the last night of vacation. Oh well, it was totally worth it. This night was a time to remember forever, and there would be plenty of other sunsets. She loved the spontaneous moments shared with Marco.

Two months later, Diana graduated from the University of Delaware. Marco surprised her again with another trip. He had told her about the money he inherited from his grandmother and the fire. She expressed her concern and reiterated that she did not want him spending all of his money on her. Diana informed Marco that she could not accept any more gifts for that reason. He responded that the tickets were non-refundable; therefore, they would be traveling to Bermuda. It looked like he was showering her with flashy gifts; however, Marco used this vacation for an ulterior motive.

During one sightseeing day, they traveled by ferry to Hamilton’s capital city in central Bermuda. Afterward, they planned to do some souvenir shopping. The homes they saw on the way to Hamilton were gorgeous, and it was a scenic ride. Hamilton was a city where local businessmen wore a dress shirt with a tie, blazer, dress shoes, and dress socks paired with Bermuda shorts. Diana could not stop staring at them, no matter how hard she tried. It was so difficult to get used to the style of dress. The sight of them amused her, and she told Marco that the men looked like they forgot their pants and were wearing their boxers. They were both amused at the sight.

While Diana was shopping, Marco asked if she would mind him checking out some stores on his own and meeting up in a couple of hours. He made sure that she was not upset with his suggestion before leaving her in the store. She tried to find out his reason for wanting to go off on his own, but his only explanation was that it would give them more time to look around without feeling rushed.

Diana wasn’t in a rush since she was on vacation and had no

problem staying together but finally gave in when it became crystal clear that Marco already made up his mind. They decided to meet at a local bar in two hours. At first, she felt unsettled about him leaving her to shop alone. What kind of guy leaves his girlfriend alone in a foreign country?

Marco texted Diana before the two-hour time period ended, and she was relieved to be together again. Even though she was disappointed when he left her, it paid off later when they shared an impromptu special night that they would have missed otherwise. The locals were very familiar with the city shutting down on Wednesday nights on Front Street. The Harbour Nights festive party was a stroke of unexpected luck for Marco and Diana since they were unfamiliar with local events. The town only allowed foot travel on those particular evenings, allowing people to explore the various shops, eat food, dance, and mingle.

There were no fast-food chains to be found in Bermuda. One of the locals informed Diana and Marco about the Prohibited Restaurant Act forbidding foreign fast-food chains. Diana and Marco’s opinion was that fast-food restaurants belonged in the United States since they made vacation destinations commercialized instead of exotic.

Diana and Marco were having a fun time. The streets were full of people, and there was a parade with locals dressed in vivid, colorful costumes. They held hands and watched the sunset over Hamilton Harbor. The celebratory mood was infectious, and it was the most incredible time to be in love.

Whoever said that the best plans were unplanned was very accurate.

Marco booked a room at the Reefs Resort in Southampton, Bermuda. Their suite was on the point closest to the Atlantic Ocean. He made reservations for Diana and him at the restaurant next to their hotel. The setting was picturesque and romantic and built into the cliffside overlooking the south shore of Bermuda. The hostess escorted them outdoors to the beach-side dining section. Once they were seated, Diana leaned in and whispered to Marco.

“Marco, this is gorgeous. Where else can you go for fine dining while sitting at a table with your feet in the pink sand? How did you find this place?”

“I did some research online, and many people recommended this restaurant because of the ambiance.”

“Thank you for planning this trip down to the last detail. It is perfect, and we are in paradise! The gentle breeze feels amazing, and the tiki torches add the perfect touch.”

Marco kissed her on the lips. “It flatters me to see you so happy.

Sit back and enjoy yourself because I have a sensational night planned for you. I hope you are feeling ravenous because we have a six-course meal on the way with champagne. I am certain that one of the courses will be some freshly caught seafood.”

Diana was clapping her hands, giddy with excitement, “I love you so much. You are full of surprises, and life is never dull with you around. I need you to understand that it isn’t necessary to spend money on me to be happy. I don’t need you to shower me with material things. You are everything that I need.”

Marco caressed her hand. “I appreciate your feelings, but spoiling you makes me happy. Ahh, here comes our first-course baby.”

By the time dessert arrived, their stomachs were full. They felt like they couldn’t breathe, but the desserts looked delicious. Of course, they had to order something. It wasn’t as if they could come back next week, and this was their vacation, after all. Marco reached for Diana’s hand after the waitress cleared the table.

“May I have this dance, my love?” “Well, of course. I would be honored.”

Island music was playing, and the vibe was very festive. It instantly made Diana feel euphoric.

“It is hard to move after all of the food we consumed, but I will give it my best try. This music makes me want to stay on vacation forever.”

Marco was twirling Diana. They were both laughing as he dipped her. When the music ended, Marco immediately dropped to one knee.

“Oh my God, Marco, are you okay?” Diana thought he had a cramp and fell over in pain.

“Relax, sweetheart, I am not hurt. That is unless you say no.”

Diana wore a puzzled expression on her face until Marco reached into his pocket and pulled out a velvet ring box. She was relieved to see that he wasn’t hurt. He must be fine since he was about to propose. Every girl fantasizes about her wedding and hopes that the proposal will be a memorable moment in a good way. Her special moment was happening right now, and she was so excited. He could not have chosen a better setting.

“Okay, Diana, don’t turn and look now, but we have everyone’s attention, and I mean EVERYONE. The restaurant patrons and the

people eating on the beach have stopped what they are doing and have given us their undivided attention. Wow, talk about pressure!”

Marco nervously cleared his throat. “You know, this feels like I am on the Bachelor show with tiki torches, a tropical setting, and our private audience.”

He paused a second before going for it. “Okay, here goes everything. Diana, as you know, my life has been far from easy. I grew up without my mother and sister, which was the toughest and saddest time of my life. Then I met you. You bring sunshine into my world that was dark in the past. I know that no one else will ever hold my heart the way you do, and you bring me pleasure. You are my soulmate, and I cannot imagine a life without you. When all of my dreams come true, you are the woman who needs to be by my side. Will you give me the pleasure of marrying me?”

Diana knelt in the sand, facing Marco, and held his face with both of her hands. Tears were running down her face. She kissed him tenderly and passionately. “Yes, yes, I will marry you as long as you promise never to leave me. Getting married is your second chance for a happy life. I promise to be the person you desire and fill the empty void in your heart. I have always loved you and always will.”

Everyone who was watching the romantic proposal stood up to applaud and show their appreciation. The spectators witnessed a lovely and heartfelt moment.

Marco woke up the last morning of vacation and looked over at his beautiful fiancée. She was sleeping very peacefully and looked like an angel. His proposal went better than expected, and he was so relieved it was behind him. The stress of planning the ultimate wedding proposal was nerve-racking. Marco tended to put more pressure on himself than necessary because he was a stickler when it came to attention to detail. Anything less than perfect was unacceptable. Diana deserved the best of everything as far as he was concerned.

After she savored her big moment and the excitement began to wear off, Diana finally had a chance to admire her new ring. It was a one-carat sparkler, and she admired it at every possible opportunity. Diana told Marco that his proposal caught her completely by surprise. He proclaimed his love for her in front of so many people, and it exceeded any expectations that she could have imagined for a proposal. Diana showered him with hugs and kisses and told him how much she loved the ring he chose for her. Wearing it made her feel remarkable and confident. She also said that she looked forward to marrying her best friend.

Marco was very pleased that the woman lying beside him would be his future wife. She made him very fortunate, and he knew that life with her would never be boring. Diana filled a void that had been there since the day his home burnt to the ground. There were no secrets between them besides his plans to form a side business, which would be illegal. He trusted his new fiancée with his life, but could not risk telling her, for fear of losing her. Her disappointment in him would be too difficult to bear. He waited way too long to find the perfect mate and was not about to lose her.

Marco convinced himself that hiding his secret from her was the only chance to live the type of life he yearned for them. Marco justified his deceit since it was only a short time frame out of a lifetime of marriage. He was confident that everything would work out the way it should in the end. Once Marco made a bundle of money,

his illegal activities would be a thing of the past, and there would never be a need to look back again. He would live out his days with the woman of his dreams who would share in his good fortune.

Diana’s investigative journalism career was not going to happen overnight. Most things in life did not happen quickly. It was necessary to climb up the corporate ladder, but she would not start from rock bottom. She covered local news, and her most recent articles featured water ice as a refreshing summer treat, local restaurant openings, the area’s best cheesesteaks, and small-town festivals.

Although the subject matter wasn’t overly challenging, she made connections with the community and met people every day. It was the best part of the job. The topics she covered were light-hearted, so she was dealing with cheerful individuals. Most news was negative, so it was rewarding to report positive and uplifting stories.

Once she made a name for herself and gained some experience, Diana’s assignments included articles about local poverty, unemployment, and robberies. The newspaper’s editor gave her tight deadlines and was quite impatient. Regardless of the subject matter, the finished column needed to be informative and accurate while using proper grammar. Checking sources was the cardinal rule, no matter how short the deadline. Her job was certainly not a nine-to- five job and frequently revolved around deadlines that could not be negotiated. Diana was ambitious and very passionate about her work. By nature, she was inquisitive and found the need to get to the bottom of something if it needed figuring out. Her ability to be systematic and well organized served her well. Her finished articles exhibited her resourcefulness.

Diana continued to enjoy investigative journalism’s challenges, so she accepted her first freelance assignment when the timing was right. Marco encouraged her to follow her dreams without the pressure of worrying about money. His business was doing well, so he jumped at the opportunity to support her. Marco was very generous and loved Diana unconditionally. She was going to need every ounce of his love and emotional support as she took a chance in a new venture.

Her first assignment included a tremendous amount of stress. Influential people would be outraged when she investigated the allegations against them. A high-ranking city official was accused of sexual harassment by various past and present female employees. This article was going to make or break her career. The women’s allegations were substantial, and Diana needed to proceed with caution. False and reckless accusations would destroy an individual’s reputation and career without significant evidence. The last thing she needed was a libel suit for defamation of character. Regardless of the outcome, the assignment was one she needed to pursue. Her primary concern was to serve the community while making it a better place to live. It was Diana’s duty and responsibility to inform the public of the truth.

If there were a secret to be discovered, Diana would unveil it through her vigorous fact-finding and research. An influential city official was not allowed to abuse power for his personal gain. If she found out otherwise, then she would put an end to it. The initial documents she accessed gave her enough background information needed to piece a story together. The complaints filed by employees and former employees provided Diana with enough details to probe deeper. After examining the City’s employee handbook, it became clear that a supervisor could not use sex as a condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions. Under no circumstances should a supervisor create a hostile work environment due to an employee rejecting sexual advances. Sexual favoritism was also part of sexual harassment and occurred when employment opportunities arose due to the employee submitting to sexual advances. The court denied Diana a copy of the documents since they were closed to the public. Fortunately, she found a loophole since the accusers signed authorizations for her to access the records from their attorneys.

Diana’s editor for the freelance article clarified that this assignment was a top priority. In other words, she would be working long,

exhausting hours until publishing the article. Time was of the essence so that the newspaper didn’t get scooped by a competitor. She was willing to do whatever was needed to get the job done and was always open to a challenge. Hard work did not chase her away, and the public official’s intimidation ploy would not work on her. If anything, it had the opposite effect on her.

During her interviews with each of the women involved, one of them revealed her affair with the married official spanning many years. When it became evident to her that he had no intention of leaving his wife, she decided to end the fling. The only reason she stayed with him for so long was that she was under the impression that they had a future together. She refused to be anyone’s side piece, and her lover’s response was to reward her with immediate dismissal. He denied another woman’s promotions in retaliation for rejecting his sexual advances. As a result, she was afraid to come forward to report him because she didn’t think anyone would take her word over his. The general public would conclude that she was a fame chaser who was making up stories for attention.

Diana’s job was to listen to all of the accusations without bias or persuasion. The safer the person felt, the more they would feel comfortable to reveal. Sexual harassment was a touchy subject, especially in this case. Which story would the public be more apt to believe, the woman who claimed sexual harassment or the man who swears he would never touch a female employee? There were other allegations; however, that proved to be false. These women were looking for the limelight even if it never happened. It was difficult for Diana to believe that someone would bring attention to themselves at any cost. The City official was trying to use his influential position to prove his credibility and innocence. The public was going to make their own decision without the involvement of the court. Who was telling the truth? He held more authority than his victims. Was he using his power to get away with sexual harassment? Were the victims trying to gain instant fame at the cost of the accused?

Sexual harassment cases were tough to prove, and the public tended to side with the accused. Diana wanted to ensure the dignity and respect of the victims. She pulled the human resources records. The woman who rejected her supervisor’s advances resulted in permanent dismissal. It was a case of wrongful discharge. Her records showed no documented work issues. Her most recent performance review had no negative remarks. It was evident that the termination action was personal and not professional. Her record was outstanding.

The employee who carried on an affair for years began with welcome sexual advances. When the relationship ended, he tried to coerce her into continuing by using intimidation and then firing her when she refused to comply. Again, there were no blemishes on her record, and performance reviews were nothing less than exemplary. Diana marched directly to the source for an impromptu interview, and in no uncertain terms, the man said there was no comment. The man himself opened the door and gave some unfriendly advice to drop the article or else. It was undoubtedly a warning or possibly a threat that would not change the outcome. Diana pulled out her recorder and told him that his last words spoken were enough of a comment. She was pleased that she waited to hit the stop button since he was screaming that he would have her job just like the other two whores he fired.

His interview was no longer necessary. The “No Comment,” along with the recorded threats, put the final nail in his coffin. Diana had all of the facts needed to write her article and was simply offering him the courtesy of a response. She found evidence to support both of the women’s allegations. Facts were checked and rechecked before presenting the finished article to her editor. The editor was extremely pleased with Diana’s work and sent it to be published. He usually was a man of little compliments but was impressed by her in-depth research, which exposed the truth to the public. The next day, the City forced the so-called powerful official to resign. He was far from Diana’s biggest fan, and she could care less. It was gratifying to help

the harassed women who did nothing wrong to warrant their termination. The outcome of their decisions was not their fault. It was of the utmost urgency to stop the boss, who was asserting his dominance inappropriately.

Diana loved her job, but even more, when justice prevailed. It was usually a thankless career with long, inflexible hours and limited resources. There was no such thing as a regular income. Her income for freelancing was per article, so there were no guarantees. Marco was alright with the arrangement and rarely complained. He wanted to take care of Diana and felt that she needed to follow her dreams so that she didn’t harbor any resentment. It was nice to have a supportive fiancé who believed in her. Diana’s parents were supportive but did not understand her career in freelance reporting.

They treated it as a dead-end job with no future. In their opinion, she needed to get a salaried position with a steady income. She knew they were acting out of love and only wanted the best possible life for her. They were protective because they wanted their daughter to have a regular job with ordinary hours. Her career choice was far from typical. She was always at the mercy of her assignment.

It was difficult to explain why, but Diana loved her profession.

Sometimes it was challenging to find the balance between her work life and personal life. Her career was exciting and fulfilling, and at the end of the day, it was rewarding to help others through the secrets she unveiled during her research. Although she worked excessive hours, Diana made a point of spending a small chunk of time with Marco every day. They always made time for a date on the weekend. Both of their careers were too demanding, yet it was a necessary investment for their future. They were young, so it was essential to be conscientious and establish a good reputation. There would be enough time down the road to slow down to relax and enjoy life. They lived by a work hard now and play harder later motto. As long as life did not cheat them, the future held luxuries that both of them deserved.

Diana and Marco made a consistent effort to communicate, so there would be no anger or spitefulness toward each other.

Sometimes it only took a small reminder to realize they were neglectful by giving all of their effort to their work and not saving enough time for the relationship. Work was such a high priority for both of them, and at times, it was challenging not to feel hurt or neglected. Since they decided to put equal emphasis on their careers, it was essential to work out social calendars, time spent together, and house chores. It was simple at first, but it was a constant effort to intertwine their work and personal lives.

Marco was successful in his business ventures so far; however, buying homes and lending money to developers wasn’t bringing in money fast enough. He had bills to pay and shared his profits with five other investment partners. Like many other college graduates, his delusions of grandeur were unrealistic. He thought that he was special for attending college, and unrealistically expected to be rewarded appropriately. There was a big difference between the starting salary amount he envisioned and the meager amount he brought home. The lifestyle he desired for himself and Diana would require a small fortune, and it was non-negotiable.

Marco was unprepared for the amount of time it took to resell the home once he purchased the mortgage at a discounted rate.

Sometimes extensive repairs needed to be done before scheduling a home inspector. If further repairs were necessary, it was at Marco’s expense. Sometimes the owners took the appliances, which left him with more expenditures. Once the repairs were satisfied, an appraiser needed to value the property, determining Marco’s profit once he put the house on the market.

He saw dollar signs when he first began his business venture.

There was a lot of money to be earned, and the market was perfect for selling homes. Unfortunately, he didn’t anticipate the time needed in between buying the mortgage and selling the property. There was no sense of urgency when dealing with mortgage companies, contractors, appraisers, or anyone else involved since it was an investment property instead of a traditional sale. He intended to make big money fast, but Marco realized he was fighting an uphill battle once reality hit. His only option to make his dreams come true was to discover a Plan B to fund his dream.

After months of brainstorming, Marco recalled an elaborate scheme involving three Wall Street bank executives working at prominent banks in the financial sector. They successfully skimmed billions of dollars from cities and towns throughout the United States. Their secret was bribing auctioneers to hold fake municipal bond

auctions. Instead of the municipalities receiving competitive bids, the three banks divided and shared the business to lend money. One bank would give money for a medical center, the second a school, the third a recreation center, etc. None of the municipalities ever suspected they were -cheated since the scammers skimmed only a small percentage of the winning bids. The bank executives made a fortune in their cunning well-orchestrated plan.

The bankers assumed the role of gangsters in their quest to steal money from cities and towns. They used the money to fund their lavish lifestyle. Likewise, the mafia moved in a different direction to get caught up in the garbage business and fixed contract bids as illustrated in the Soprano’s. Mobsters monopolized the public garbage contracts then raised the price across the board. The best part about it was that the garbage business was legal and was a great place to launder money. It was a much more profitable business venture than using physical violence to collect debts. Loan- sharking had proved to be very unpredictable in the past and not as profitable. Minimizing physical violence was much more attractive since money disappeared instead of bodies. The bottom line in both examples was how important it was to find a new way of conducting illegal business through legal means. It was brilliant, and no one could be any of the wiser!

Marco was interested in opening a legal business in Delaware to begin his illegal activity. During his memorable summer spent in Dewey Beach, Marco’s boss, Carmen, explained the ins and outs and advantages of owning a company in the state. Carmen loved doing business in Delaware for the location as well as the tax perks. Purchases were not subject to sales tax, and there was no corporate state tax, even if the business operated outside of the state. Marco recently researched on his own and found out that Delaware treated holding companies as a tax shelter. Instead of paying income tax, the corporations paid a franchise tax that was relatively lower than the corporate tax for a typical business. Forming a corporation did not require naming corporate officers in Delaware. The state did not tax

investments, gains, personal property tax, and real estate taxes were minimal. He would have a home office in Delaware and a branch office in Philadelphia.

The two offices for the illegal operations would be for Marco’s private use only. Clients would be met outside of the office and would only be able to call him or meet with him in a public location of his choice. He didn’t change his mind concerning Diana. The less she knew, the better. It was a perfect arrangement.

Marco devised a brilliant game plan to become a very wealthy man with the slimmest chance of getting caught. He was intelligent enough to know that everyone gets apprehended eventually. By the time anyone realized that someone scammed them, Marco planned to be long gone, living his best life in Bermuda. It was fine to be greedy as long as he knew when to stop. It was similar to the concept of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game show. Most of the contestants became so money hungry that they could not accept a small amount of money and give up the tiniest chance of winning the million dollars. The odds stacked against them, yet they still believed they could beat them. Sadly, they are surprised when they walk away with nothing but their hurt pride. If they possessed an ounce of intelligence, they would realize that winning a minimal amount of cash is still much more substantial than the amount of money they had before the show. There is no other reason to want it all, other than selfishness. Marco knew when to walk away. As a matter of fact, he intended to run far, far away. No one had to tell him twice.

A lot of thought and groundwork went into launching his elaborate illegal business scheme. His new venture began by offering real estate investment seminars that were advertised outside of the city and would rake in $250 per person. They were by invitation only, and interested parties needed to complete an online registration so that Marco could examine the names and eliminate individuals, if they lived in the city or if he knew them. The registration would also include financial questions for each participant so that Marco could

get an idea of some prospective targets before the event. During various parts of the seminar, he would call on some of the people he chose online as a volunteer to participate and serve as a preliminary interview. He sent confirmations via email to the individuals expected to attend, and everyone else would receive an email apologizing that the event was full.

The seminar would actually be more of an audition to find the right people for his illegal business. At the conclusion of the seminar, he would target an individual from the audience whom he deemed a good possibility and ask him to hang around for a private conversation. Marco felt more secure choosing someone outside of the area since there was a greater chance of not recognizing him.

This arrangement was crucial for more reasons than one.

First of all, Delaware didn’t require owner information, so he used a company name with an alias for his seminars and illegal business. It was his best option to avoid anyone tracing his true identity.

Secondly, it was essential to reduce the risk of being recognized in the city where he lived, especially since he was using an assumed name. It wasn’t unusual for someone to do business under a different name, but it would be wise not to raise unwanted suspicion.

Marco had fun when it came time to work on a pitch to convince his targets to let him take advantage of them while appearing genuine. He did his homework and knew that it was essential to look the part by dressing up yet not talking down to the individual. Marco’s success would speak for itself in the seminars that he held. He needed to dangle a trick and make it look like a treat. After all, people always wanted to know what was in it for them. He knew that he was investing in the particular individuals that he chose to make his venture successful. Part of the process was to convince them that he would help them reach their dreams by turning them into a reality. As much as he hated sitting there and listening to their personal sob stories, it was a critical step needed in order for them to understand the possibilities and how he could help them. If they found

themselves stuck in financial limbo, then he would be the key to get them moving in the right direction. The business needed to look legitimate and not the least bit sketchy, which would require gullible candidates.

During the seminar, Marco looked for someone who engaged with him and showed a great deal of enthusiasm to become involved with investing. The individual’s desired characteristics were eagerness, greediness, impulsiveness, and a hunger to have money right away. There was a specific type Marco looked for as a perfect candidate. In addition to being money-hungry, the individual carried a lot of debt and was naive enough to think Marco was doing him a favor.

Someone with a lot of debt would be looking for the quickest way out. Their hunger would help them jump at the opportunity he was offering, and if they believed Marco was helping them out, they would want to return the favor by giving him business.

The first target in Marco’s scheme was Brad. His appearance suggested that he may have been a football running back who took one too many hits. He reminded Marco of the former Philadelphia Eagle John Runyan with regard to looks. Throughout the seminar, Brad hung onto every word that Marco spoke as if it were gospel.

After the workshop, Marco massaged Brad’s ego by telling him how he stood out from the crowd as a very educated and intelligent man. He followed up the compliment by putting his arm around Brad and asking him if he was passionate about making money. The amount of money was a significant increase in a short period. If the response was yes, as it was 99.9% of the time, Marco took his new friend to an elegant restaurant to explain his plan in further detail privately. And just like that, he had Brad’s interest and attention hook, line, and sinker. The best targets possessed huge egos that needed feeding. They also valued materialistic objects and were extremely confident. Indecisive individuals were to be avoided at any cost since they were too cautious and would never give Marco the time of day. Besides, they were high maintenance, which was one red flag to avoid. If they

showed any interest, it would not be worth it with the endless questions that would undoubtedly follow.

Before Brad had time to change his mind, the two of them were sitting at a private table in the corner of a flashy restaurant. The meal’s location was critical since Marco wanted Brad to observe the other successful diners without a chance of interruption while holding his attention for the ultimate swindling. Brad was the first Bitcoin victim, and Marco wanted to take the opportunity to show Brad how wealthy people lived and share vital information with him so that he could experience the same good fortune. It was essential to persuade him by appealing to his ego by letting him know that he stood out from the crowd because he was unique. The praise continued with Marco confiding that Brad possessed a rare quality that he saw in himself. Besides, Marco would love the chance to mentor him personally so that he could guarantee Brad the best opportunity to make a bundle of money and live a prosperous life.

This grand scheme was presented to Brad as a once in a lifetime deal in which he was personally chosen.

Marco leaned in closer as if sharing a special secret for Brad’s ears only. “Listen, you seem like an intelligent guy and should recognize a gold mine when you see it. I honestly only offer this arrangement to my closest friends, but I am willing to make an exception for you. I want you to be part of my special inner circle. God did not bless the folks who attended today’s seminar with the mentality or the brains to handle something of this capacity. Since you obviously do, I have something extraordinary for you to invest in today.”

Brad is listening so intently that he is waiting in anticipation for what Marco will say next and can barely wait for him to continue. He is captivated by the opportunity that is playing out right in front of him. The suspense is killing him so much that he is almost drooling until Marco speaks again.

“Here’s the deal. There is a digital currency referred to as Bitcoin.

It is the wave of the future and completely cuts out financial institutions. The concept is crucial because it allows you to control your own money instead of involving a third party or a bank. You will be able to make purchases digitally from a personalized digital wallet. As your investment manager, I would purchase the Bitcoin on an exchange and then place it into your digital wallet, where you can watch your money grow any time you choose to open the app. Your personal information will always be at your fingertips. If you decide that you want your money, you just say the word, and I can exchange the Bitcoin for U.S. currency. You will double your money in no time, but you need to make a decision to act now.

Since time is of the essence, you will not be able to go home and sleep on it. If you do, then you will risk missing the one shot to change your life forever. I can guarantee you a twenty-five percent return on investment. If you are skeptical, I will call my friend immediately to confirm everything I have just told you. He invested last month and is making a windfall profit. Ten thousand dollars should be enough for your initial investment. You will want to spend plenty more once you see the proceeds with your own eyes. What do you say, man, are you ready to roll the dice and see what happens?”

Marco had his phone open, making it look like he was actually going to call someone. He had to act convincingly even though there was no friend, and he never intended to call anyone. In any event, the phone call was for show and not necessary. Brad was all in and fully committed to the cause. Marco could not be any happier. It was so easy it was like taking candy from a baby.

After his first successful attempt in deception, Marco repeated the process nine more times until he secured ten investors. He became more comfortable with the art of trickery due to the caliber of his performance. A total of $100,000 fell into his lap with minimal effort. It was regrettable that he had no intention of paying back his new friends if, in fact, he had a conscience. By the time the group realized that they were double-crossed, he would vanish like a figment of their imagination. Marco controlled the digital wallets that his clients downloaded to their cell phones. The balances in their accounts would multiply since they were fictional like a fairytale. He expected to throw them some real cash in regular increments to keep their interest piqued. They would receive checks once a quarter for returns on investment along with referral money for family and friends.

Receiving a small sum of money that they could hold in their hands would satisfy his clients enough to deter them from wanting their initial investment and fake money back. The goal was to use their greed against them to entice them to invest even more money than the initial investment. Eventually, every one of them would believe they were set for life with a million dollars, give or take, in their digital wallets. Marco was a magician using illusion to his advantage so that his investors would see whatever he wanted to show them. He was a genius!

Marco knew that it was necessary to reinvest some of his newly earned cash back into his business to entice new investors. He set up a fancy soiree at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia for his first ten investors, along with any family and friends who had an interest in investing. The event was hugely successful, enough for him to make the gala part of his business plan to tempt new investors. It was easily the best $20,000 he had ever spent.

The spectacular black-tie affair served only the most exquisite food and featured live entertainment, courtesy of his new investors’ hard-earned cash. The turnout was impressive, with fifty people in attendance. The vibe was celebratory, and the champagne was flowing as quickly as the conversation. Everyone savored a sit-down

dinner of golden mushroom soup, herb-crusted jumbo sea scallops, buffalo mozzarella salad with toasted pine nuts, and limoncello sorbet to cleanse the palate. The entree was a delicious peppercorn crusted New York strip steak served with farro spinach risotto, horseradish puffs, and finished off with cinnamon beignets with chocolate dip.

Each person walked out of the fancy party with a full belly and a feeling of satisfaction. Marco distributed swag bags filled with goodies for all. There were Apple air pods, a Michael Kors wristlet, a succulent desk plant, a YETI mug, and an Amazon gift card. The door prize was a much sought after LG 55-inch 4K HDR Smart OLED TV. The price tag was $1,500, and this particular television used organic light with self-illuminating pixels.

Before giving away the door prize, Marco asked his ten investors to stand while the rest of the individuals offered up a round of applause. He announced that becoming a millionaire for these ten individuals was more of a reality than a dream. All of them deserved recognition because they were smart enough to take a chance on a profitable opportunity and would reap the monetary benefits.

The crowd was applauding and cheering. As Marco looked into the audience, he saw dollar signs instead of eyes. He purposely exposed tonight’s guests to the lifestyle of the wealthy. Marble fireplaces and contemporary tables with plush chairs adorned the dining room. The lighting was exquisite with diamond cut crystal spiral tiered chandeliers. It gave the illusion of a waterfall and was beautiful. This was how the other half lived, and it made the group feel honored that they decided to attend. HIs ten investors were experiencing a taste of how it felt to encounter financial freedom. Life was full of possibilities since the future looked promising. The original investors were chatting with prospective investors. There was a sense of empowerment in the room, and no one wanted to miss out on the moment. Life was full of endless possibilities with money.

Marco asked for a show of hands to see who was interested in making some easy money. A group of family and friends threw their

hands up in the air, enthusiastically agreeing to invest. Each one of them promised to have the funds to Marco within twenty-four hours. Half of the original investors had a taste of money and hungered for much more. They decided to invest additional funds to secure their promising future. Marco was giddy with delight and had to control himself from jumping up and down like a little kid. Never in his wildest dreams could he have anticipated how easy it would be to convince a bunch of naive individuals to throw away their hard-earned money on the chance of becoming rich. His decision to host this gala proved to be very profitable for his business. Tonight, was an example of how he needed to spend a little money to gain a small fortune.

As the night drew to a close, it was time to choose the big winner for the door prize. When Marco announced the winning ticket, Brad stood up to collect his prize. He was extremely pleased with his good fortune. Good for Brad, Marco thought smugly to himself. Brad winning had nothing to do with good luck and everything to do with Marco orchestrating the outcome. It was all one big performance with a bunch of puppets.

Marco continued the cycle of real estate seminars and fancy dinners but only offered one workshop instead of a series. He didn’t want the investment scheme to spin out of his control. He needed to proceed with caution to make sure he didn’t spend all of the money. It was essential to reserve a portion of cash in the event that someone who was just signed was overly skeptical and needed to cash out. If any of the participants called Marco to withdraw money, he would do everything in his power to persuade them to rollover promised payments by offering higher investment returns. Marco made it a point to explain to all of the investors that their investment should be treated as a retirement fund. The longer it remained untouched, the more money would accumulate to ensure an exceptionally healthy retirement.

Marco’s legitimate business was thriving, and he continued to bail people out of financial ruin by assuming their debt. He profited from

selling the houses and earned the broker fee, commission, and equity from the homes. The cost of living at the Fishtown apartments was increasing rapidly with the addition of the Piazza, allowing him to raise the rents. The area was becoming an incredibly attractive place to live. His first investment was proving to be a remarkably wise choice, and Drew was genuinely impressed.

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