Le Beacon Presse, a Seattle publishing company, seemed like a classic business success story. Between 1980 and 1984, its sales reportedly grew from $15 million to $666 million, a performance good enough for 35th place on Inc. Magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in America.

There is only one problem: the company does not exist. Editors of the Boston-based magazine late last week found out that Le Beacon is a figment of the imagination of Keith Gormezano, a 30-year Seattle apartment manager who apparently has made a career out of hoodwinking people.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which broke the story, Gormezano has had himself and his company listed in business guides published by Standard & Poor's and Dunn & Bradstreet. "He's even in 'Who's Who in Black America' and he isn't black," said Graham Fysh, the paper's business editor.

The other "paper" companies created by Gormezano included Gormezano Reference Publications, PR Advertising and Design, Effective Advertising and Le Beacon Small Press Library.

Inc.'s editors said the hoax was a first for them.

The Post-Intelligencer got on to the story when a researcher from Forbes Magazine called to see if Gormezano belonged on their list of the 400 richest men in America. "They asked what we knew about him," said Fysh. "We had to say, 'Nothing.' "

In several interviews with a reporter, Gormezano stuck to his story, saying he was just a publicity-shy business tycoon. After the reporter presented him with evidence, he spilled the beans.

"For a long time I thought it was just a lark," Gormezano said. "Then I found it started to affect me in other ways. You get so used to doing it, it's hard to stop."

Gormezano got his dummy companies on lists by filling out forms and making up phony documents. Gormezano's actions would be considered criminal if he obtained any money using the false pretenses. But he said he returned any money ever sent him by people who wanted to order books.

The five-year game cost him about $900 for a business phone, business cards and other expenses.

Gormezano said he learned something from his experience: "In this country, we accept too many things as fact. Everybody wants to be successful. Creating a fictitious company is one way to do it."