The Oxford Graduate Who Hadn't, Sent The Check That Didn't Get There, For The Investment That Wasn't

July 2, 2014

What if the guy graduated from the prestigious university that he said he had? What if the investment he was touting was what he said it was? What if the profits that he referenced had actually occurred? What if the promised check in the mail had been written or even put in the mail? What if a much of a which of a wind gives the truth to summer's lie?

Blow King To Beggar

Steven Wessel may have seemed a king with a financial empire. Wes Wessels may have also come off as a regal chap with Wall Street savvy. Who were these two folks?  Ahhh . . .now you're rushing me and ruining a raconteur's opportunity to spin a yarn.

For those of you with the impatient gene in your DNA, here's the Executive Summary: On June 25, 2014, Steven Wessel a/k/a Wes Wessels, was arrested and charged in a criminal Complaint with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. Reduced to its basics, the Complaint alleges that during 2013 to 2014, Wessel defrauded one investor out of $200,000 and another out of $550,000 - and about $251,000 of that second investment were used, a la Ponzi, to pay off the first investor. If convicted, Wessel faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years on each of the charges and maximum fines of $5 million and $250,000 (or twice the gross gain/loss from the offense, on the securities and wire counts respectively. 

NOTE: A Complaint merely contains allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt.

Blow Friend To Fiend

Ahhh . . . but there is so much more texture and nuance to this case that I urge you all to take the time and read the riveting and oddly entertaining Complaint , which I have linked in full-text format.  I mean, geez, consider this wonderful quote from Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

As charged, Steven Wessel was much less an investment adviser than a serial liar. He allegedly lied in telling one investor that his funds would be invested in securities, and then lied in soliciting money from a second investor to pay back the first.

Them thar's fightin' words!  I mean, geez, ya got yer crooks and fraudsters but, whoa, now we're talkin' a "serial liar." I don't know about you but I was shocked, shocked I say!, to learn that folks involved in the financial services industry would lie . . . and not just once but apparently many times.  Thankfully, we have massive numbers of politicians of unimpeachable integrity to counterbalance all that fakery.  

Side Bar:  I just wanted to throw this out there as a provocative thought-piece. Assuming that Tony the Tiger or Crackle (formerly of the trio of Snap, Crackle and Pop, and now rumored to be in a retirement home in Burbank, CA) told a lie, would they be cereal liars?  Did you know that L.C. Leprechaun, the pitchman for Lucky Charms cereal, posted a 3000% return for the past decade on gold futures in his Pot O' Gold Hedge Fund?

And now back to our regular programming.

It's not that the Wessel Complaint is anything to joke about; it is not. The thing about this Complaint is that it sets forth a pattern of misconduct that, by now, has become all too familiar.  Accordingly, it makes you pause and ask whether anyone is doing any due diligence when it comes to checking out the background of scam artists such as Wessel, and whether anyone is doing any due diligence to confirm the bona fides of the investment vehicle that victims are so willing paying to drive.  Consider some of the allegations in the Complaint and tell me if it doesn't make you shake your head in disgust and bemusement:

WESSEL claims to have received a doctorate degree from the University of Oxford in 1983 and a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland. However, neither the University of Oxford nor the University of Maryland has any record of WESSEL's attendance or graduation.

From Page 3 of the Complaint

In or about June 2013, WESSEL solicited Investor A to invest $200,000 in Steeplechase USA. WESSEL told Investor A that Steeplechase USA had a minimum investment threshold of $1,000,000, but that he (WESSEL) would make an exception and accept an initial $200,000 from Investor A.

From Page 4 of the Complaint

Blow Soon To Never

Then there is that wonderful odyssey involving Investor A's September 2013 request for the return of his investment and profits, which he thought had blossomed to nearly $250,000. Instead of the prompt return of his moolah, Investor A encounters delays. Excuses. Explanations.  In time, Investor A is told by Steeplechase that he will be cashed out on December 29, 2013.  A date which comes and goes without anything showing up in the mailbox.

You know how it goes from there. Wessel backpedals. He stalls. He wrings his hands in mock empathy. And as the histrionics pile up, the calendar fades from 2013 to 2014. The ever-patient Investor A receives more fanciful updates. The check is coming. Slowly. It's just about around the corner. But. However. Unfortunately. Here's how it's set forth in the Complaint:

On or about December 31, 2013, at approximately 10:29 a.m., WESSEL replied to Investor A's email and promised that his/her investment and earnings would be returned the same day.
. . .

On or about January 2, 2014, Investor A received an email that purported to be from Accountant 1 and replied to WESSELS's email described in paragraph 8(n). The email stated that Steeplechase USA receives "the disbursement from our two trading accounts, Dominick and Dominck and Schwab . . . and then divide as appropriate and cut the checks."

9. Based upon a review of documents provided by Dominick & Dominick, a financial services firm based in New York ("Dominick & Dominick"), and Charles Schwab, a brokerage and banking firm, I have learned tht neither Dominick & Dominick nor Charles Schwab have any accounts associated with Steeplechase USA, Windsor Capital, or STEVEN WESSEL, a/k/a "Wes Wessels," the defendant.
. . .

On or about April 16, 2014, WESSEL told Investor A that he (WESSEL) had "signed all the checks" and that Investor A should expect "a little more" than $249,000. WESSEL further told Investor A that his/her investment and earnings would be returned via the "U.S. Post Office." 

Seriously, read USA v. Wessel (14 MAG 1419, June 23, 2014)

To end on an upbeat, classy, poetic note, let's give credit to the poet e. e. cummings and his poem "what if a much of a which of a wind":

what if a much of a which of a wind 
gives the truth to summer's lie; 
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun 
and yanks immortal stars awry? 
Blow king to beggar and queen to seam 
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time) 
--when skies are hanged and oceans drowned, 
the single secret will still be man

what if a keen of a lean wind flays 
screaming hills with sleet and snow: 
strangles valleys by ropes of thing 
and stifles forests in white ago? 
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind 
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind) 
--whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees, 
it's they shall cry hello to the spring

what if a dawn of a doom of a dream 
bites this universe in two, 
peels forever out of his grave 
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you? 
Blow soon to never and never to twice 
(blow life to isn't: blow death to was) 
--all nothing's only our hugest home; 
the most who die, the more we live.