Charles ("C.W.") Deaton, a short, raw-boned Texan who speaks with a twang and favors patterned leisure suits, hardly fits the image of the smooth international financier.
But according to testimony in a federal case here, several big investors believed his boasts of banking connections that stretched from Nassau's Bay Street to London's Threadneedle Street - and beyond. They put millions of dollars toward financing a far-out silver mining scheme on Deaton's promise that he would use their millions to get massive permanent financing for the project. And, of course, they lost it all.
Old C.W., as he is known in these parts, is a charter member of a fraternity of about 20 of the world's great con men who ply their trade in the murky off-shore financial waters. It's not a close-knit group but they do not of each other and, at times, even con each other.
The group includes Dr. Clifford Noe, "B.B.A., Ph.D, L.L.D., J.D.S., C.L.U.," whose only traceable formal education was at the Denison, Tex., public school system. Dr. Noe, whose specialty is looting banks, was described by a judge in London in 1972 as "an international swindler on the highest level." Allen Lefferdink ran an international insurance-investments combine from the deck of his yacht, Sea Wolf. Then there is Phil Wilson from St. Louis, who set up the ingenious, nefarious Bank of Sark on the Isle of Guernsey. It consisted of a maildrop and a Telex machine run by a barmaid, and in the late 1960s depositors from round the world lost fortunes to Sark. Wilson is now serving time in federal prison for another swindle.
Last month, a jury here found C.W., who is 51 years old, guilty of defrauding investors in the silver scheme. He was the last of six defendants to be found guilty in the case. His trial was delayed because C.W. had fought extradition from Dusseldorf, Germany, for eight months.
C.W., whose arrest record goes back to 1956 when he allegedly passed worthless checks, got three years for fraud in 1964. He has indictments outstanding in Ohio and Alabama, and in Miami earlier this month, C.W. was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in an alleged scheme to defraud returning. Vietnam POWs of their back pay and benefits.
What makes C.W.'s latest scam particularly intriguing is that he worked it from Castle Bank and Trust, Ltd., in Nassau, the Bahamas. Coincidentally, at about the same time that C.W. was operating out of Castle, agents of the Internal Revenue Service were in the final throes of a 10-year investigation of the bank.
Called Project Haven, the probe was aimed at proving that the off-shore bank was an illegal tax dodge for the wealthy and a money laundry for the underworld.
The story of the controversial Castle Bank investigation is well known. Briefly, in late 1972, IRS agents lured the bank's manager, 46-year-old Michael Wolstoncroft, to Miami where an undercover agent, who had befriended the banker, fixed him up with a date, who happened to be a former policewoman.
While Wolstoncroft and his date, Sybil Kennedy, were out on the town, the undercover agent, Norman Casper, entered her apartment and rifled Wolstoncroft's briefcase. In the briefcase, Casper found a list of 306 account holders in the Castle Bank, information that normally is protected from nosy U.S. investigators by Bahamaian law.
Since then, some of the more prominent names among the accounts have been leaked - Tony Curtis, Hugh Hefner, and the Pritzker family who own the Hyatt hotel chain. The IRS has probed some of the depositors, while the Justice Department has presented the government's case against some persons allegedly involved with runing the bank to grand juries in Miami, San Jose, Chicago, Reno, and Cleveland.
Estimates of the cost of Project Haven have ranged from $10 million to $20 million, and so far the results have been unimpressive. There have been few indictments, no convictions.
Chicago tax attorney Burton Kanter, who guided his clients to the Castle Bank tax haven, has been a central figure of the government's probe. Investigators believe he controls Castle, but he denies that. Kanter, who has been indicted on a single count of conspiring to impede tax collection, has attacked the government's evidence, gained in the Miami gambit against Wolstoncroft, as "tainted."
Outgoing IRS Comission Donald C. Alexander also raised questions about the tactics used by his own agents in Miami. He has been attacked from all sides for his efforts.
The scope and controversy of Project Haven did not surface until 1975 when some of the details were leaked to the press.And while it was alleged that Castle Bank was a tax dodge and perhaps something even more sinister, it was not then known that the bank was also a front for a brilliantly conceived scam.
The events leading up to C.W.'s trial here in Dallas for his role in the Castle Bank fling began, incongruously enough, with Honor America Day, Feb. 18, 1974, in Huntsville, Ala.
The event was a dream come true for K. Louis Azar, hearing aid salesman and president of the local Sertoma Club. He had convinced embattled President Richard Nixon, whose Watergate woes were then at their worst, to fly to Alabama to address the expected throng. It would be one of his last public appearances before resignation, and news photos the day after showed Nixon and Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace listening patiently as Azar had his say for America.
Not long after, Azar heard from an admirer in Dallas who thought so much of his patriotism that he was going to include him among a chosen few investors in a project guaranteed to make him rich.
The caller told Azar that his group had an option to buy smelter equipment and machinery to refine silver ore in Llano County, Texas, northwest of Austin. What they needed, the caller said, was seed money from investors in order to get a larger commitment from banking sources in New York City.
Soon Azar had a steady stream of visitors, including Davud C, McCord, a Dallas attorney who once was nearly elected district attorney; Kyle G. Bretz, who claimed to have a "secret process" to extract silver and other precious metals in commerical quantities from Llano's low-grade graphitic schist ore; and three self-described assayers who had glowing reports on the prospects for getting silver from ore. Like C.W. Deaton, all would be guilty of fraud by the court here.
Llano ore has long been a fertile ground for con men. As one FBI agent puts it: "Every con man in the book has dealt in Llano ore. They put it in barrels, send it to bonded warehouses, and banks sometimes take it for callateral."
So far as is known, nobody has produced an ounce of silver from Llano ore, but federal authorities in Dallas claim that, over the past 10 years or so, investors have lost about $40 million to con men promising riches in Llano.
Between 1969 and 1974, a long list of banks made handsome loans to con men, taking worthless Llano ore as collateral. For example, Hambro American Bank in New York was taken for $600,000, Newark Essex Bank in New Jersey for $45,000, First National Bank of Boston for $210,000, and First Pennsylvania Bank of Philadelphia for $260,000, to name a few.
What McCord and his associates wanted from Azar was $25,000 of front money to restore a plant in Llano that has gone bust six years earlier. Actually, all it was was a rock crusher that had once turned in Llano's rocky topography into road fill.
Investors had seen demonstrations of how the "secret process" produced silver from the ore. But what they did not know, according to court testimony, is that the con men had planted the beads of silver before the show began.
"I didn't pay attention to the Llano deal," recalls Azar who was in Dallas to testify against Deaton, "until I learned that Aetna Insurance Co. was guaranteeing a $5 million loan."
Azar traveled to New York to meet with the promoters, and he learned from them that U.S. Steel Credit Co. was extremely interested in the project. But while he was there, things started going wrong: The sad-faced promoters told him one day that U.S. Steel and Aetna had backed out. (In fact, they had never been involved.)
By then, Azar has been convinced he would make a fortune from the Llano process, so he was delighted when one of the promoters said they had been in touch with an international financier in Nassau who was interested in the plan. Off they flew to the Bahamas to meet C.W. Deaton at his Castle Bank and Trust Offices.
"Deaton was living at the Shearton B.C. hotel, and there was a long line of people from all over the world waiting to see him," recalls Azar. Among these looking for financing was a group from London who wanted to start a Disneyland-type resort called "Merry Old England." Azar said they put up $250,000 for a loan, and he learned later that they lost it all.
Azar said he went to Wolstoncroft, the manager of Castle Bank, to check on Deaton and was reassured by him. Moreover, Deaton told Azar he had $120 million on deposit in Castle ready to invest.
C.W. was unimpressed by the size of the Llano venture, however. If Azar could come up with $500,000 in front money, C.W. said his own company, International Surety and Casualty Co. of Grand Cayman, would issue a performance guarantee bond on a loan commitment of $10 million.
At C.W.'s trial, financial statements for International Surety and Casualty were introduced that showed its assets grew astronomically from $47 million in April 1974 to $713.6 million in August 1974. These figures were certified by Randy Blanton & Associates, Dallas.
But when federal investigators found Blanton, they learned that he was not an accountant, that it took him 35 minutes to prepare International Surety's books, and that C.W. did not pay him for the effort. "He offered me a $2,000 check," Blanton told the investigators, "but I didn't accept it because I knew it wasn't any good."
The deal was that Azar and other lenders would get double their front money back once the financing was arranged. Azar returned to Huntsville and convinced seven friends to put up $390,000. Azar himself borrowed $125,000 to invest. Most of the money was sent from a bank in Huntsville to Castle Bank's account with Irving Trust Bank in New York City.
Azar and his fellow investors got their American Casualty and Surety bond, stamped with an official-looking U.S. seal and emblazoned with a red ribbon. It simply meant it was notarized by the consul at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, and Azar would learn later that Deaton sent stacks of such documents to the embassy for the impressive notarization.
Azar and his group were not the only investors in the Llano project. There were investors from California, Indiana and Texas, among other places, and the assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas, Jay Ethington, who successfully prosecuted all of the defendants, traced $3.25 million of investors' money.
One Texas investor, Joseph Lemley, of San Angelo, who initially put up $100,000, is described by Ethington as a "weather-beaten, authentic Texas rancher." He began to worry when months passed and he heard nothing more about the Llano project.
With two ranch hands in tow, Lemley traveled to Chicago to visit the lawyer who first sold him on the investment. According to federal officials who interviewed Lemley, he reportedly asked the attorney if he had ever eatedn "calf fries." They are the testicles of baby steers, he said, a deliacy in San Angelo. With the ranch hands displaying their pen knifes, Lemley reportedly told the lawyer: "If I don't get my $100,000 back, we're going to have calf fries right here."
The startled attorney told the rancher that he did not have the money, that C.W. Deaton down at the Castle Bank in Nassau had it. Lemley and his ranch hands flew to Nassau where, according to federal officials, he conferred with C.W. and ended up investing another $125,000 - which made his totla loss $225,000.
In November 1974, when C.W. got the $510,000 from the Alabama group, he moved to new lavishly decorated offices next door to Castle Trust. Immediately, two "loans" totaling $60,000 were made to McCord. The money was McCord's share of the $510,000, trial testimony showed.
C.W. stayed on in Nassau for several months, doing business through Castle Trust and collecting front money from wishful investors in such diverse ventures as sugar futures and light-weight concrete.
Kanter, the Chicago tax lawyer, claims that Wolstoncroft forced C.W. out of the bank once he learned the truth about him, but federal prosecutor Jay Ethington says, "That's outrageous. Nobody from Castle ever cooperated with us."
C.W., for his part, said he left the Bahamas when a government official demanded $500,000 in exchange for work papers.
C.W. is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday. He could get 105 years in prison; the other defendants were sentenced to 15 to 20 years.
Azar has campaigned tirelessly to get back the $510,000. He has hired a prominent Bahamian attorney and has filed suit in Nassau against Castle. So far, he says he has paid out $8,000 in legal fees and has not even gotten a trial date. He is also pushing Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.) to begin yet another investigation of Castle Trust.
Castle Trust is still being managed by Wolstoncroft, a British citizen. He has been indicted in the United States both for the Deaton trial and by various Project Haven grand juries, so he has remained offshore beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.