Review: ‘Empire of Deception’ con man rivals Madoff, Ponzi

May 18, 2015, 10:07 AM
This book cover image released by Algonquin Books shows "Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation," by Dean Jobb. (Algonquin Books via AP)
(Algonquin Books via AP)

“Empire of Deception” (Algonquin Books), by Dean Jobb

You’ve heard of Charles Ponzi, the swindler who gave big returns to early investors using money from subsequent clients. And you’ve heard of Bernie Madoff, imprisoned for one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Leo Koretz. A new book, “Empire of Deception,” argues that Koretz belongs with Ponzi and Madoff in the con man hall of fame.

Koretz’s pyramid scheme, played out against a backdrop of crime and corruption in booming 1920s Chicago, eventually entailed millions of dollars invested in a phony agriculture and oil project on Panama’s Bayano River. Early clients were paid high interest using money from the next wave of victims, which whetted their appetite for more and stoked Koretz’s reputation.

Koretz excelled at hooking victims, increasing their eagerness by first turning them away. When investors traveled to Panama to check out the project, Koretz vanished, leaving behind stunned relatives and embarrassed clients — many of them wealthy despite their losses and reluctant to acknowledge that they’d been scammed.

Here the story gets even more entertaining. Koretz flees to New York, then to a Nova Scotia resort, where he resumes his lavish lifestyle under a false name. He’s unmasked by an incredibly mundane detail — a jacket with his real name inside.

A con man to the end, he manages to cheat the public of any sense that justice was served. He pleads guilty, avoids trial and gets a sentence that offers parole in a mere 11 months. Severely diabetic, he died in prison within two months, with some saying he induced his death through diet.

Author Dean Jobb has fun mining details of the case from the era’s sensationalistic newspapers. Readers may wish for more insight into what made Koretz tick, but there’s not a lot to go on, other than the author’s speculation that Koretz’s boyhood immigration experience might have shown “how easily a shrewd operator could relieve people of their money” as he watched ticket agents, money changers, baggage handlers and bureaucrats fleece new arrivals.

Jobb also notes that Koretz’s persuasive abilities stood out early on his high school debate team and as a champion fundraiser for any cause. Even then, Jobb noted, Koretz was good at “separating people from their money.”

Jobb’s parallel story of the prosecutor who pursues Koretz feels less compelling, but overall, this cautionary tale of 1920s greed and excess reads like it could happen today.

___

Online:

http://www.deanjobb.com/

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Entertainment Latest

motley crue...
Kevin Stone

Valley show featuring Motley Crue, Def Leppard rescheduled for 2021

The Stadium Tour, with headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, has been reset for 2021, including a date at State Farm Stadium.
2 years ago
Tucson Festival of Books...
KTAR.com

List of Arizona events canceled or postponed in response to coronavirus

Here is a list of events in Arizona that have been canceled, postponed or otherwise impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
2 years ago
Zac Brown Band...
Kevin Stone

Zac Brown Band postpones Phoenix show as coronavirus spreads

The Zac Brown Band announced it was postponing a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix this month, citing "public health concerns."
2 years ago
Justin Bieber...
Kevin Stone

Justin Bieber downsizes Valley show from stadium to Gila River Arena

Pop star Justin Bieber's Valley concert set for June 5 has been relocated from State Farm Stadium in Glendale to neighboring Gila River Arena.
2 years ago
Kevin Stone

Ozzy Osbourne cancels postponed farewell tour, including Phoenix show

Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tours 2 tour, which was scheduled to stop in Phoenix this summer, is no more because of the metal legend's health issues.
2 years ago
Rage Against the Machine...
Kevin Stone

Details released for Rage Against the Machine concert in Phoenix area

It turns out that Rage Against the Machine’s upcoming Phoenix show – which will actually be in Glendale – is part of a seven-month world tour.
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Review: ‘Empire of Deception’ con man rivals Madoff, Ponzi