Wednesday, January 5, 2011


If you have a few minutes today, you absolutely must read Ken Whitehouse’s story on fraudster/Ponzi schemer/aspiring Tennessee Republican politician Jeff Cassman. Cassman's fraud is considered "small potatoes" compared to, say, Bernie Madoff: he defrauded far fewer people and took much less money. But his victims were not nameless, faceless people. They were his friends and family, members of his church congregation and the like. In short: the people who trusted him the most. There surely has to be a special place in hell for people who will abuse someone's trust this way.

The article is called Banana Republican because as the law began closing in on Cassman and his web of lies (including the fib that he holds a Master’s in Theology from a Connecticut seminary), he and his family of 10 children skedaddled to Antigua, Guatemala. There Cassman lived under various assumed names and set up shop seeking out investors for his various schemes.

Guatemalan authorities arrested Cassman in October and he was brought home to face the music. He's since pled guilty and now awaits sentencing. It’s an absolutely unbelievable story, in part because I don’t remember a ton of coverage in the local media about the case and also because it's an absolute freaking miracle the guy was apprehended to begin with.

Writes Whitehouse:
How could a family that large disappear? The answer is simple: It’s easy to hide when no one is looking for you.

In 2008, when the Cassman family went missing, there was only one federal agent on the case. It wasn’t an agent from the FBI, SEC or treasury department. It was a member of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and he was about to be transferred out of the region. Over the past few years, postal agents have been integral parts of the teams that apprehended Ponzi schemers like Park, Grigg and Stokes, to name a few.

Well, good on the U.S. Postal Service! I can't believe this snake almost slithered away.

The guy is obviously a sociopath. And while he ran for Tennessee’s State House, twice, as a “family values” conservative, his actions show him to be anything but. Above and beyond the illegal activity, look how he treated his family while they were in Guatemala:

While Cassman was cataloguing his adventures online, his wife and kids were living in a squalid home where the children slept on tile floors. In 2009, his wife gave birth to their 10th child (she is currently expecting their 11th). In a letter to his in-laws, which they shared with The City Paper, Cassman’s children wrote that his then-14-year-old son delivered the baby and that Cassman couldn’t be reached because he was in church.

Cassman was actually at a bar smoking cigars, drinking and playing chess, his main activities most days. Writing about his children on “Our kids go outside only under our supervision, during the morning hours when local kids are most likely to be in school, with a guard dog we don’t feed until after play time, and we always have one person scanning the surrounding area for threats.”

While Cassman tried to put on the front that he was a devoted father, others have a different opinion. first reported in February 2010 that a friend of the family had witnessed Cassman punishing his son by pouring hot sauce down his throat after a disagreement. The person who saw that incident confirmed it to The City Paper, calling Cassman a “psychopath.”

This is a story that deserves to get some attention on 60 Minutes or Dateline NBC. Aboslutely amazing.