By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
But Rice couldn't convince himself. As he made his way to the airport to fly home, he tried to suppress his growing fears by trusting in Meyer.
"He seemed very sincere," Rice says. "You want to give people the benefit of the doubt."
MICHAEL'S RESTAURANT IN downtown Rochester emanates the kind of old-world charm that might appeal to the prestige-conscious. Just two blocks from the Mayo Clinic, the restaurant has hosted its share of visiting B-list celebrities—their photos grace the walls like endorsements.
In this swank setting in early June, Jason Meyer agreed to meet another client: Steven Michael Hooks of Woodlands, Texas. When Hooks appeared, Meyer immediately took a conciliatory tack.
"I want to make sure you're taken care of," Meyer said.
Meyer told Hooks how sorry he was for causing an inconvenience. He understood how annoying it was to have $300,000 locked up. He promised to make it up to Hooks.
Hooks, after all, had wanted to invest not in Jason Meyer, but in an Arizona apartment complex. Hooks sent his cash to Bill Watson, an attorney who handled transactions for Clarendon Development Holdings in Florida.
When Hooks traveled from Texas to Florida to pay Watson a visit, the attorney told him that he'd passed the money on to Meyer.
Hooks didn't understand—he thought the money would be safe in an escrow account. Now, he was in Rochester to collect.
As Hooks and Meyer chatted at Michael's, Meyer made out a check from his 3 Hooligans Investments account for $740,000. Hooks could cash it if Meyer didn't get him the money from the Arizona deal.
Hooks seemed placated. Satisfied, he went home to Texas and waited for payday.
R.J. RICE WAS flying again, bound for New York City. It was mid-June, weeks since his Minneapolis meeting with Meyer, and still Rice had received no payment. Not the original $370,000 promised in their deal, and definitely not the $1 million deal-sweetener for giving Meyer the two day extension.
Those days had stretched into weeks and now Rice's patience had worn thin. As his plane landed in New York he hoped—for the umpteenth time—that he wouldn't return to Michigan without his money.
But at the hotel, the scene played out much as it had in Minneapolis. Meyer made more promises that he would pay, and excuses why he couldn't just yet.
"I'm liquidating bonds," Meyer explained.
Rice boarded his flight back to Michigan with a heavy heart and a light wallet.
At the end of June, Rice flew to Minnesota, this time with backup: his wife Deidra. Cassandra Cean, a Long Island attorney, met them there. They drove from the airport straight to Rochester, where R.J. headed to a local hotel to meet Meyer for the third time.
This meeting was no more productive than the others. Meyer cried and begged R.J. not to turn him into the police.
But Deidra and Cean were already in contact with the cops.
Cean told the investigator that the Rices weren't the only investors being strung along by Meyer. She had another client in the same position.
Cean showed the cop the agreement the Rices had signed with Meyer. She pulled out receipts showing the $140,000 in wire transfers from their bank accounts to Meyer's. She explained that the International Tropical Timber Council was involved.
"Is this some kind of Ponzi scheme?" the investigator asked.
"No," Cean said. "The Rices are experienced investors."
The Rochester investigator checked Olmsted County property records and quickly came up with two hits. Meyer and his wife owned two properties in foreclosure. The investigator turned her report over the FBI.
In late 2008, six months after their Rochester meeting, Meyer finally called the Rices. He told R.J. that he felt bad about everything. He promised to pay him back.
But the money trickled in slowly, and Meyer never lived up to his promise. In mid-summer, Meyer disappeared—Rice hasn't heard from him since.
"The disturbing part is when we went for help to the authorities we didn't get any," Rice says. "We filed a report with the FBI. But nothing was ever made of it."
ON JANUARY 2, 2009, Officer Bill Verdick of the Rochester Police Department returned a call to Steven Hooks of Woodlands, Texas. Hooks had discovered that the $740,000 check Meyer had written was no good.
Hooks told Verdick his tale of woe: the botched Arizona deal that made its way through Florida and ended up with Meyer.
Meyer's phone number was on the police report filed by R.J. and Deidra Rice. Verdick hit the "on" button of his phone recorder and dialed.
Meyer answered. "I'm in Las Vegas."
The check to Hooks, Meyer said, was no good for one simple reason: Meyer had been scammed. A business associate in Vegas—one Peter L. Macari—was the real culprit. Macari had written Meyer a bad check, which caused Hooks's check to bounce too.
Macari wasn't a household name in Minnesota, but his criminal record was easy to trace. An Arizona crook, Macari had served time for felony money laundering.