On a sultry Saturday morning in 1967, a young Miami Beach lawyer named Norman S. Klein was sitting in his office when a vacationing engineering professor from Washington wearing a baggy suit and scuffed shoes walked in and asked him to draw up papers creating a corporation.
The professor, who said his name was Paul Arthur Crafton and that he was an inventor, made an instant impression.
"The guy was so brilliant he was scary," Klein recalls.
During the next five years Klein and his partners put in hundreds of hours of free legal work and raised $35,000 for Crafton, convinced that the fantastic-sounding inventions Crafton described would some day make him rich. "You hear about these guys who get 3,000 shares of Xerox in the beginning," said Klein. "That's what I thought we had."
Klein was not alone in his faith. In the course of a 13-year quest to market his inventions, Crafton became involved with a host of busi-
This story was reported and written by Washington Post staff writers Sandra G. Boodman, Margaret Engel and Nancy Lewis. nessmen and investors. Some were relatives and their friends, but others were prominent Washington figures like former CIA operative and arms dealer Edwin P. Wilson, former Ohio Republican representative Donald (Buz) Lukens and lobbyist Michael D. Gill, who served as a deputy chairman of the 1980 Reagan inauguration.
For all of these people, however, the result was always the same: disappointment. None of Crafton's inventions was ever commercially marketed; none of the nearly three dozen corporations he is known to have established from Maryland to the Bahamas apparently ever became a success.
Yet the story of Crafton as inventor and entrepreneur provides one more piece in the complex puzzle of a man described by a Pennsylvania prosecutor as a "true chameleon of identities."
The 59-year-old George Washington University professor first attracted attention when he was arrested March 21 and it became known that he held teaching jobs at three universities under different names. Prosecutors later said that he used more than 34 aliases at different times and stated in court that he was engaged in a complicated web of international financial dealings.
Crafton, who is scheduled to appear Tuesday in Pennsylvania for a preliminary hearing on some of the 27 counts of forgery, tampering with public records and other charges he faces there, has refused to discuss his past. According to corporate records and interviews with nearly two dozen former associates, however, he was most active as an entrepreneur from 1969 to 1974, but continued his efforts as recently as three years ago.
Many of those who knew him during those years say he rarely talked about himself, his past or the full-time professorship he held at GWU. To those associates, like many others who met him in later years, adding up all the parts in Crafton's life proved impossible.
"I knew one Paul Crafton," said Gill, who regarded Crafton as a cross between Thomas Edison and the prototypical absent-minded professor. "I didn't know the others."
Crafton was born Paul Arthur Cohen in New York City, the middle child and second son of European immigrants who settled in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. Days after his graduation from the City College of New York in 1944, where he majored in mechanical engineering and was at the top of his class, Crafton came to Washington where he joined the Naval Research Lab in Southwest Washington.
Crafton joined the GWU faculty in 1956, the year he received a top-secret security clearance at the lab. He held both full-time jobs until his retirement from the lab in 1969, two years after he met Klein, who never knew about his Navy job.
Although he had an academic background, Crafton sought practical applications for his ideas. In 1967, the year he walked into Klein's Miami Beach office, he established his own laboratory on the second floor of an Oxon Hill office building. Visitors remember it was festooned with cables, transformers and other hallmarks of a working lab.
"It was not particularly sophisticated by any means," said Joseph Remz, assistant to the chairman of the Ohio-based American Electric Power Co., who visited the lab in the early 1970s. "He was doing preliminary work and sometimes a guy with relatively modest resources can come up with a good system. We were interested, but Crafton just never followed through."
From 1966 to 1976, Crafton obtained patents on seven inventions, but his efforts were focused on selling three devices: a hotel lock system similar to that currently used by major hotel chains, a credit card verification system similar to that used in automatic bank teller machines and a remote-control device to read utility meters and automatically adjust power loads from a central computer.
Klein said Crafton's technical wizardry, self-confidence and seemingly limitless capacity for work inspired confidence among the Florida lawyers and investors.
"I just had tremendous faith in him," said Klein, who said he still vividly remembers the time Crafton demonstrated two of his inventions for security systems in his office. "I told my friends and law partners , 'Look, this guy is the next Edwin Land,' " Klein recalls, referring to the inventor of the multibillion-dollar Polaroid process whose early work was done in a basement laboratory in Boston.
The partners would sometimes get discouraged or disillusioned, Klein recalls, but "Paul never did. He always seemed to have another guy on the horizon, another deal in the works. He had this tremendous self-confidence." We all liked Crafton tremendously and we didn't want to abandon him," recalls James A. Horland, a Miami lawyer and former partner of Klein's who worked closely with Crafton for more than two years. "It's the classic American gamble: you pay your money and you take your chances and you chase the dream."
Of all Crafton's dreams, the one that seemed most promising was the remote control meter reader, a device major utility companies have sought for years to perfect.
"The prize at the end of the rainbow is a big, big pot of money," said Carl Anderson, president of a New Hampshire firm that negotiated unsuccessfully with Crafton for more than a year over the meter reading system. "No one could afford to overlook" Crafton's claims that he had patented a process that could solve the problem.
Those promises sounded good to Philip Peters, a retired Philadelphia businessman whose family invested $20,000 in several companies established by Crafton. Peters said he bought the stock at the urging of a neighbor who was related to Crafton's brother-in-law, a door-to-door dress salesman.
"I was told that Paul had something good going and would I like to buy some stock, so, like a dope, I go out and buy it, and then when my father and sister found out they wanted some, too," Peters said. "I could wallpaper my house with those stock certificates."
Peters was a frequent visitor to the lab. "I must have driven down there 20 times," he recalled. "We'd go down for the day, look at what Crafton was doing and how he'd improved the system, have lunch and then Crafton would say he needed more money."
Crafton poured nearly $50,000 of his own money into Constellation Corp., the company to which he devoted most of his marketing efforts in the early 1970s. As with virtually every company Crafton founded, he and his wife Sonia Marie were listed as corporate officers.
One of Crafton's Washington patent lawyers, Robert J. Seas Jr., called the hotel lock "the most pioneering invention that I have ever been privileged to work on," but not everyone who saw the Oxon Hill lab or inspected Crafton's inventions was impressed. Other businessmen say several of Crafton's patents closely resemble those held by major corporations.
One potential investor in the hotel lock, Jack Hellman, president of New York's Temco Industries, said he had the device analyzed by a security professional who decided it "looked good, but wasn't foolproof."
William Blair of the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the utility industry, said Crafton's meter-reading patent was "very close to several others" held by General Electric, Westinghouse and other industry giants.
To raise the kind of risky venutre capital necessary to finance his inventions, Crafton turned to a series of finders he hoped would open important doors in exchange for cash or stock in his companies.
"Paul always said his problem was that he couldn't get to the right people and that people in the big corporations just weren't interested," recalled Bruce Schwartz, Klein's law partner.
To rectify that, Schwartz introduced Crafton to Gill, a nephew of the late President Eisenhower. Gill, in turn, introduced him to Lukens, a former congressman and Ohio state senator who tried without success to interest investors. "It was like a miniature California," Lukens recalled. "All these people running around talking about millions, but no money."
While Gill and Lukens were trying to find investors and contracts, Crafton was negotiating with Wilson, then a high-ranking CIA official who also owned a Washington security firm and was later convicted of selling arms to Libya. On May 20, l971, Wilson signed an agreement for exclusive rights to sell the hotel lock abroad through his firm, Consultants International.
At the same time Crafton was meeting with Glenn Robinette, who describes himself as a former CIA agent. Robinette, a Washington security consultant, said he called the CIA on Crafton's behalf trying to sell the lock. Robinette said that his 18 months of frequent meetings with Crafton were unproductive. Crafton later told two former business partners he had dealings with the Pentagon and the CIA.
By 1972, after Crafton had exhausted attempts to acquire major American backers, he turned, at Gill's suggestion, to Canada. Gill introduced him to Graham Wilkie, a millionaire Vancouver oil and gas entrepreneur who was dazzled by the possibilities of the remote meter reader.
Although his eight-year association with Canadian businessmen seems to have been the most promising for Crafton, it, too, ended in failure.
Wilkie collected a group of western Canadian investors who agreed to put up about $4 million to finance a test project in Airdrie, a small town of 4,000 north of Calgary.
"Paul came here a lot and we had all sorts of meetings with the top people in the government including cabinet ministers," Wilkie recalled. But, Wilkie said, the day after a financing agreement expired, Crafton abruptly withdrew from the project. "We had spent close to $100,000 in research and attorneys fees and travel and this threw us into a very embarrassing situation with the government," Wilkie recalled.
Wilkie said he later learned Crafton had struck a deal with a Montreal-based group of investors that included the giant Canadian utility, Hydro Quebec.
In return for the sale of the Canadian patent rights to his inventions, Crafton received more than $100,000, according to Donald K. Bunker, a lawyer who headed the Montreal group.
At first, Bunker and other Canadian investors say they thought Crafton was, in Bunker's words, "a typical inventor, a little eccentric and difficult." But Crafton's increasingly evasive behavior, his repeated demands for an additional $75,000 in cash before he would reveal the process by which the meter system worked and his unwillingness to produce the necessary engineering drawings aroused the concern of his partners, according to several of those involved.
His Montreal associates say the problem seemed to worsen in the mid 1970s, about the time Crafton was ousted as chairman of the engineering administration department at GWU after his colleagues complained of frequent absences. During that period Crafton also began taking annual trips to Europe with his daughter for expensive medical treatment in Britain and Switzerland.
"Dealing with him was like trying to nail a custard pie to a wall," said Bunker. "He would fly in and we'd have all these people assembled for a meeting and Paul would announce, 'Well, I can only stay an hour,' and then he'd spend the time looking at his watch. It got so Crafton's name would come up and people would want to spray you with Raid.
"One day I put it to him and said, 'Frankly, Paul, I want to know where the money $100,000 went,' and he told me the story of his daughter and how he had to take her to Europe for operations."
Crafton's association with Hydro-Quebec and Bunker's group unraveled in 1980 after a Hydro-Quebec executive, Robert Foisy, frustrated after eight years of delays in beginning a test of Crafton's utility patent, summoned the inventor to a Montreal meeting for a demonstration.
"He came empty handed and said he couldn't get the equipment through customs," Foisy recalled, "but when I asked who had stopped him and said I could take care of any customs problems, he just launched into a beautiful sales pitch which I'd heard several times before." Foisy angrily canceled the deal several weeks later.
The collapse of the the Hydro-Quebec deal apparently marked the end of Crafton's active attempts to sell his inventions. In 1978, authorities say, he began concocting multiple identities to secure college teaching jobs in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Former associates like Klein find it hard to reconcile their memories of a rumpled professor who seemed to care only about his work and his family with the man prosecutors have contended used the identities of an Idaho doctor and a New Zealand member of Parliament and dated women he met through classified ads.
"When you're young you have self-confidence and a feeling that things are going to work out, but sometimes the world has a way of kicking you in the teeth," Klein said. "You realize you're getting older and you're not going to be successful. Maybe that's what happened to Paul, why he turned to teaching: that was the one thing he knew he could do to make money."
Neverthless, Crafton apparently still retains the entrepreneurial spirit that fueled his earlier fruitless business deals. Since the arrest that catapulted him to national notice, Crafton has received a dozen inquiries from book publishers, agents and Hollywood producers interested in his story. An agent at the William Morris Agency in New York is handling all inquiries.