I Was a Bitcoin Billionaire

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 robotic 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.”

“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 admit to the judge that 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 $300, 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.

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

By Ray Schultz

I should have known better than to get involved with Mo Moss. A few years ago, trying to do him a favor, I hired his troubled son Yale as an editorial intern. He spent the summer texting his girlfriends, and in the fall, I had to tell him there was no job for him.

Mo called me right up. “You’re dead in this industry!” he said. “If you ever show up at a conference, I’ll bring you down!”

I’d heard that several times from Mo, as had many other people. Thus, Mo was the last person I expected to receive a Silver Apple Award, but he got one last year, probably due to a clerical error.

There he was, well-tanned from sunning himself in his new home in Tampa, his pony tail now silver. We greeted each other warmly, and his wife Wendy gave me a peck on the cheek. You couldn’t help but feel good for the old crook.

In his acceptance speech, though, Mo launched into a bitter tirade about how he should have gotten the award years ago. “For what I’ve done, I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said.

A dreadful pall descended over the event, and even the excellent wine failed to relieve it. A day or two later, Yale Moss called and demanded to see me. I wanted nothing to do with Yale (or with Mo), but my judgment failed me, and I visited him at the new Data Shack.

As you may recall, the old Data Shack was in a Quonset hut on the side of the Ridgewood, Queens subway yards. It has since been torn down for a condominium, and Yale now works in a desk-share place in Williamsburg.

His corner of it seems to be a small sliver of a long conference table, but it’s all he needs to sell Mo’s old Proclivities Database, an out-of-date list of bulimics, alcoholics, opioid abusers, and Mlllennials who have moved back in with their parents.

We sat down on a pair of couches, and drank hot chocolate laced with hot shots of caffeine. Yale, dressed in a knit hat, a Bernie Sanders sweatshirt and shorts, said, “I’ve never liked you. But here’s the deal. We need you to help get my dad into the DMA Hall of Fame.”

I thought about that for a minute, my head reeling from the caffeine. Obviously, this was going to be a pro bono project.

“Yale, that’s not so easily done,” I said. “It’s not like the Silver Apples–even the greatest direct marketers sometimes don’t get in until after they’re dead.”

“Are you saying my dad isn’t a great direct marketer?” He glared at me in a threatening way. (He’s a full foot taller than Mo).

“Not at all, Yale. All I’m saying is that it will be tough to do even for someone with Mo’s, uh, accomplishments.”

“Spread a little money around,” he answered. “Let me know what your expenses are.”

I’d never heard of anyone buying their way into the Hall, and I sure wasn’t going to lay out my own cash, assuming I even had any.  But I figured I could at least fill out the application, so I Googled Mo to get some material, and came up with the following:

1984: Federal Trade Commission vs. Data Shack, Data Hut, Wendy Moss Lifestyles, Mo Moss, Moe Moss, Wendy Moss, et al. Re: False Advertising

1988: Supreme Court of New York: Uni-Mail Lists vs. the Data Hut, Illegal List Conversion

1988: Supreme Court of New York: Prescott Lists vs. The Data Shack; theft of mailing lists

1988: U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, R.L. Polk vs. The List Hut; List Abuse, theft of property

1994: NY Attorney General vs. List Hut, Wendy Moss Lifestyles; commercial fraud; $350,000 settlement

1994, U.S. Bankruptcy Court: Moss Equities d/b/a/ The Data Hut, the Data, Shack, Wendy Moss Lifestyles. Chapter 13. Assets: $8,750, Debits: $1.75 million

1994: DM News: “Moss Bankrupt; List Managers Burned”

1998, U.S. Attorney General vs. Data Shack, Mo Moss, Hy Moss, Wendell Moss; John Doe, civil issue; misrepresentation; consent decree

2004—U.S. District Court, Middle District Florida, InfoGroup vs. The Data Shack; nonpayment $85,009

2004, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District Florida, Moss Properties, d/b/a/ the Data Hut, the Data Shack, Chapter 11. Assets: $300, Debits: $85,009

2008: Tampa, Hillsborough Circuit Court, John and Brenda Stevens vs. Mo and Wendy Moss, illegal construction

What a record: About the only “positive” reference was a Chief Marketer article titled, “Big Data, the Big Lie: Why You Need the Proclivities Database,” that I had ghosted for Mo.

I filled out the application as best I could, wondering when I became an unpaid employee of the Data Shack. Then I waited for the Hall of Fame entrants to be announced. Mo didn’t even make the long list.

Yale called me. “You’re dead in this industry!” he said. “If you ever show up at a conference, I’ll bring you down!”

Thanks, Yale. Strangely, there were no hard feelings in Tampa: At Christmas, Mo sent me a large tin of caramel popcorn. We’ll try again next year.