By Ray Schultz
Late one Thursday night when I was about to nod out, the phone rang and a blaring voice said, “Scoop! How are ya?” It was my old nemesis Mo Moss.
“Why, Mo, how nice to hear from you,” I said, lying through my teeth.
“You’ve got to come down for a visit,” he said, knowing full well that I would never be caught in Tampa, alive or dead.
“Hey, listen to this,” he said. “I taught my Alexa to talk dirty.” He put his phone next to the device, and the female voice came out with a stream of profanity that would have shamed Winston Churchill’s parrot.
“Mo, What can I do for you tonight?’ I asked.
“I need you to talk to Yale. He’s having a rough time.”
“What am I, his uncle?” I asked, reluctant to get involved with Mo’s son Yale in good times, let alone bad.
“That’s some attitude after all I’ve done for you,” Mo said.
I tried to recall anything Mo had done for me, but rather than argue about it, I finally agreed to talk to Yale.
I had barely gotten a few hours sleep when the phone rang again. It was Yale.
“Meet me at 9,” he commanded, then gave me an address in the West 40s.
The address turned out to be a Starbucks. There was Yale, unshaven and dressed in none-too-clean sweat clothes.
Yale demanded coffee, so I bought tall coffees for the two of us, and a chocolate chip cookie that we shared, for 4.98.
“What’s the problem, Yale? Your dad says you’re having trouble.”
“Not really,” he said. “I have a proposition for you.”
Now I realized I was being set up by father and son. What was the scam this time?
It was an enterprise called CharityBits. People could donate bitcoin to charities in small amounts while investing in bitcoin in larger amounts. When the payoff came, a certain tiny percentage also went to the charities. Yale was the front man for some unnamed blockchain genius in Silicon Valley.
“Where do I come in?” I asked, hearing the clank of prison doors.
“You put in $500 now, and you’ll be a millionaire by the end of this year and a billionaire by the end of the next.”
“I’m not carrying that much cash right now.”
“Go a bank machine. And I need you to write ad copy.”
“Yeah, real storytelling. Tell them how people got rich overnight with bitcoin and also helped the poor. Make it up.”
He handed me a list of deserving institutions, including the community college in Connecticut where Mo, mostly as a tax dodge, had endowed the Hy Moss Chair of Marketing in honor of his crooked late father. Yale had spent a troubled semester there before dropping out.
“Yale, I’m not sure I’m up to this.”
He punched me in the arm—hard. “I don’t want to hear that,” he said. Then he added, “You’ll be the front man.”
I should have resisted, but instead I went home and wrote some copy. It wasn’t hard. I could well imagine being a billionaire. With every big lottery jackpot, I went through detailed exercises of deciding where to live, what to buy and how much to give each friend and relative, although I never was gullible enough to actually buy a ticket.
What I was dumb enough to do was to pull the $500 together the next day and give it to Yale. He demanded lunch, so we went into a Shake Shack, where I bought two burgers and fries for $18.85. Now I was an investor.
A couple of weeks passed. Yale called me and said that my $500 had turned into $17,600. “Can I cash out now?” I asked.
“How could you even think of it?” he said. “That money is feeding retired professors.”
A week later, I had over $100,000 on account, and a week after that $1,200,000. Yale, of course, had $15,000,000. Then, thanks to infusions from the West Coast, we were both up in the ten figures. Yale rented a whole floor at WeWork, I bought an airplane, and we celebrated over porterhouse steaks in Wolfgang’s. One of the Winkelvoss twins stopped by to say hello (Yale didn’t introduce me). I paid with my new black card —the bill was $1,532.
Then the bottom fell out. Our paper holdings vanished within 45 minutes one Monday, and a criminal probe was started—not a dime had gone to any charities, and investors were bilked. The whole record was right there in blockchain.
Yale was evicted from WeWork, and the two of us were cuffed and marched into court, facing 20 years apiece. Mo’s high-priced lawyer came up from Miami to represent Yale, bur I had to make do with Erwin Forrest, a gravel-voiced landlord-tenant hack and fixer who had done collection work for Mo.
Yale’s lawyer got into an immediate confrontation with the judge, who said, “Will you shut up? When the State of New York needs your advice on criminal law, we’ll ask for it.” Declaring that Yale was a flight risk, he ordered that he be held in Riker’s Island for Thanksgiving weekend in lieu of $500,000 bond. Yale was sobbing, and I was whimpering. I was about to get on my knees and tell the judge I had let down my family and my God, then offer to cooperate against Yale.
Instead, Erwin went over to a clerk sitting in the well, who seemed to know him, pointed to me and said something. The clerk got up and gave the judge something to sign. Erwin then came back and told me all charges were dismissed. I had to surrender two front-row seats I had for Hamilton.
Erwin handed me a bill for $200, his usual fee for eviction cases—and he wouldn’t accept bitcoin.
I watched as Yale was led away in chains. Mo flew in that night, put his house up as security and got his son freed. He wasn’t happy–he used the same expressions as his potty-mouthed Alexa. The next day, with Erwin’s help, Yale turned state’s evidence against the genius in California, and was released for time served.
Although we were both financially ruined for life, Yale and I celebrated our freedom with Mo and Erwin over Cantonese food in a place in Chinatown, two blocks from the courthouse. It cost $46 for all of us. I paid in cash.