Thursday, July 19, 2007


Earlier in the year I wrote about the mystique of the American Express Centurion (blacker than black) Card and how once, a few years back, I met a Commodities Trader who boasted of having one. For those of you not in the know, Centurion cardholders number in the mere thousands world-wide--10,000 or so is the estimated 'buzz' number that is floating around the web although A.E. never goes on record one way or another on the subject. The privileges associated with 'The Card' are other wordly from a layman's perspective and the fodder for many an urban legend. One example:

'The Card arrives at your residence accompanied by a security guard who passes on to you a big black, velvet lined box with two Black Cards and a mini-computer. One Black Card is the actual Card while the other is an exclusive 'entrance pass ' to some of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The mini-computer is yours to keep to track and record all of your purchases.'

"Hmmm...perhaps," say I.

Now my wife, who has worked for the company since 1990, has never seen one herself even though her particular area of expertise is 'corporate travel.' Apparently, Centurions get from point A to point B some other way--private jets, yachts, limos, astral projection would be a few of my guesses but what do I know? I only have a Gold Card and I'm pretty sure my status numbers in the millions. Which brings me back to the Trader I met who mentioned he had one.

To recap that story; A friend of my wife's new boyfriend---wait a minute....that doesn't sound right. Regroup; My wife's friend's new boyfriend was apparently a billionaire Trader---self proclaimed, come to find out (duh)---and in the market for a house in Chicago. A very big house--not just Trader big but billionaire Trader big. He had already wasted some other Realtor's time for several weekends (there was nothing in the 'up to 5 million dollar range' that suited him as he desired his new estate rest on at least four city lots) when I burst on the scene with all my best Real Estate mojo. We had shmoozed for an hour or so at a dinner party when I suggested he double down on his price-point. I told him of a particular Vanity Builder I knew (heard of) who would assemble a city block if necessary, to build such an estate. Average price: 10 million.

I was immediately annointed his new 'go to guy in Chicago.' He soon after married my wife's friend, adopted her already once adopted child, and to put it as nicely as I was all downhill from there. When I shook his hand at the wedding I noticed the gold tone on his watch was rubbing away at the wrist band. Hmmm... Also, he was acting pretty drunk for a billionaire, I thought, but as I've mentioned often...I can be judgemental. I Googled him out of sheer curiosity--nothing. Not a strong indicator of a man with 9 zeros of supposed net worth behind his moncker. Cheap watch, drunk and no Google. Come on...even I got Google.

Nonetheless, we set the development machine into motion and the Vanity Builder, my new best friend, began to put together a deal to buy out all the owners of a particular condominium complex on one of the premier streets in Chicago. We would then knock down that structure and proceed into La La Land with the new project. "Money," we were told by my client, "was no object." Architects were brought in, designers retained and limestone from France was hunted down. And although nothing was actually put into writing (or signed) as of yet, my client decided a nice dinner was in order and thus, the moment of truth would finally arrive: my wife and I would once and forever see what a black Amex card in motion looked like. I ordered a bottle of Cristal and I don't even drink. (Read here later to see how the rest of that evening played out.)

The following Monday I set out to meet him and pick up the initial Earnest Money check. He instead, back pedalled out of the appointment over the phone and attempted to have me give him a check for $10,000 for a position on Unleaded Gas Futures. He told me he was putting the 10 million dollar house project on hold for a while and wondered if I'd be kind enough to let let all the other parties know, as well. Oh, and that we should play golf at his club sometime soon. He subsequently backed out of the whole project, packed up his new wife and child, and left the state. My new ex-best friend, the Vanity Builder, thinks I'm an idiot to this day. Whenever those months in my life come to mind, so do I. This is where the old story ends....

And the Postscript begins:

In August of the following year my ex-client left to go to a bank in another state and never returned, leaving his wife and child behind in a virtual panic. They were to close escrow on a newly constructed house the next day and he was supposedly gathering the needed additional funds from one of his private accounts. The Builder defaulted the wife at the closing table, kept the $100,000 Earnest Money (her retirement savings from before they met) and killed the deal and her credit for good. Shortly afterwards, a couple million dollars of other peoples money (mostly investors) went missing along with the remainder of his new wife's assets she had turned over to him in the early months of their short marriage. Her 80 year old parents had given him their life savings, as well. My wife's friend, along with her child, and her parents are now penniless. We haven't heard from, or of, any of them in months.

The other day on a whim, I decided to Google the Trader again. A few moments later I came across his name under the headline, Mystery of Missing Trader Solved. His badly decomposed body was discovered eight months after his disappearance, in a secluded area of a Midwest state. The article mentioned that the FBI had been searching for him all year, that possibly millions of dollars had been swindled from dozens of people, and that the one time Trader, a man with a 'tendancy to exaggerate' according to acquaintances, had apparently taken his own life leaving behind a wife and newly adopted child. One definition of exaggerate is 'to magnify beyond the limits of truth.' This whole sad scenario however, is almost magnified beyond the limits of belief.

I wanted to forward a copy of the article to the Vanity Builder but then I hesitated, examining my motives. Why? I asked myself. To save face? The Builder is a multi-multi millionaire in his own right. He couldn't care less about me or any of those mentioned above at this point. That deal is as dead as my client. Besides, all I lost was face and a couple hundred thousand dollar commission I never really expected anyway. Shame on me for spending it in my mind. The reality is, there's a woman and her child scraping out a living somewhere in the Midwest who has lost a whole lot more than face. And I should have seen it coming....

Geno Petro

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