dontravis.com blog post #330
|Artist: Maria Fanning|
I’m constantly getting surprised by the blog world. I’ve told you of 3,000+ page-view hits from Israel and 1,500 hits from Russia and 1000+ hits from Brazil. Last month, I got almost 4,000 hits from Hong Kong, and on the twenty-fifth of this month, 4,480 hits from Israel again. I’ve tried to analyze the key words from the posts that generated such interest and cannot find a pattern. Maybe someone can explain it to me.
In January of this year, I gave you a look at the opening of my sixth book in the BJ Vinson mystery series called THE VOXLIGHTNER SCANDAL. I now have a cover for the novel and should have a publication date soon. In order to show off the book cover, I am compelled to share more of the novel with you. The excerpt below opens Chapter 2. The characters “on stage” are BJ Vinson and Lt. Gene Enriquez of the Albuquerque Police Department.
I managed to pry Gene away from APD headquarters to have lunch the next day at the Courthouse Café. As usual he was rushed until I prevailed upon him to sit back and take a deep breath.
“Okay. Now what?” he demanded.
“Now eat a lunch without gulping it down and take time to smell the roses.”
“Grease,” he grumped. “BJ, all I smell in here is grease.”
I knew exactly what was riding his back. “They still pressing you to move up?”
He nodded and snorted simultaneously. “Yeah. I’m not gonna accept it.”
“Are you thinking of yourself, or are you thinking of Glenda and the kids?”
He bristled. “I make a decent living. Take care of them okay.”
“Face it, Gene, you’re already an administrator. When was the last time you went out and worked a case?”
“That case we worked together last year. What did you call it?”
“Abaddon’s Locusts.” I eyed my former APD partner. “You’re avoiding the issue. What are your options. You turn down a promotion, you slam a lid on your career. You’ve got in your twenty, so you can put in your papers. Or you can accept what they’re offering and continue to build on what you have.”
He scratched his chin before dry washing his face. “What the hell would I do if I retired? Go crazy, that’s what I’d do. Six months tops.”
“Charlie and I talked it over. You can join us. Vinson, Weeks and Enriquez. How does that sound?”
"It’s there if you want it, but personally, I think you’re too much of a cop to be happy outside the department.”
“I hear you and Paul met with Roy Guerra on the Belhaven thing.”
“Yep. Have you called it yet?”
“Homicide. Autopsy showed he was hit in the head with a blunt object before he caught fire. No smoke in his lungs. He was dead before he lit up.”
“Will you have any heartburn if Paul and I work with Guerra?”
“Naw. He’s new to his shield and can use the help.”
“Do I read anything into the fact he doesn’t have a partner?”
“Roy’s a quart in a pint pot. He’s going to turn out to be a good detective. We’ll get him a seasoned partner as soon as I find a good match.”
“He and Paul both believe Belhaven’s killing ties into his promise to reveal the killer in the Voxlightner debacle.”
“What’s your take?” he asked.
“Things point in that direction, but I try to keep an open mind. Refresh my memory. Wasn’t Everett Kent murdered while looking into the scandal because his law partner Zachary Greystone was involved in incorporating the venture?”
“Not only did Greystone handle the paperwork incorporating the company, he was promoting it big time,” Gene said. “Had a hand in setting up the list of initial investors.”
“How was Kent killed?” I asked.
“Shot to death in his office on the fourth floor of the Central New Mexico Bank Building. Working late alone in the office.”
“Must have been someone he trusted if he admitted his killer after hours. When was this?”
Gene stretched to ease his back. “End of February or beginning of March 2004.”
“Not long before Voxlightner and Stabler took a powder,” I noted.
While munching on tacos, we reconstructed as much of the old scandal as we could recall. In the remembering it was dry, boring stuff, but when bits and pieces had screamed headlines in successive editions of the Albuquerque Journal like some Hollywood serial, the scandalous affair gripped all of New Mexico and half of Arizona in its thrall.
The whole thing began when a Nevada mining engineer named Dr. Walther Stabler claimed copper tailings just across the Arizona border in the Morenci district contained gold. Marshal Voxlightner’s son Barron hauled a ton of dirt to the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology for a series of fire assays. The tests consistently showed commercial amounts of gold and silver. Especially appealing was the fact the material did not have to be extracted from the ground because the ore was pre-mined copper tailings.
The mine owners realized the dumps possibly contained commercially valuable trace minerals, but they also faced local pressure to get rid of some five million tons—and growing—of ugly piles of dirt. Therefore they were willing to sell the material for $1.00 a ton, the cost of removal and transportation to be borne by the purchaser.
After a month of positive assays—some of which were performed on samples selected by prospective investors at random from the seemingly unending piles of dirt—Marshall Voxlightner, the retired oilman with a solid reputation—put in $250,000 seed money and agreed to lend his family name to the project. His son promptly incorporated the Voxlightner Precious Metals Recovery Corporation and put his team together. He and his group matched the old man’s $250,000, and the venture was off and running.
“How far did they get with the actual project?” I asked.
“After the initial offering sold out, they bought all five million tons of copper tailings,” Gene said. “At the same time a couple of guys—Greystone and Pillsner, if I remember right—were working on permits for the mill to be located down in the Socorro area.”
“Pillsner? I forgot Wick was involved.” Hardwick Pillsner, a local businessman, made his living—and a pile of money—as a promoter. He’d facilitated the buying and selling of various local businesses. Putting together the Voxlightner operation would have been right up his alley. “Was he an officer?” I asked.
“He’s the one who introduced Stabler to Voxlightner. Helped put it all together. But he wasn’t even a board member. He had a policy against taking a hand in operating anything he helped form. He just took a stock position for his efforts in this one, I understand,” Gene said.
“So Wick lost potential, not money.”
“He’d disagree. He considers time as money.”
“Can’t argue with the logic,” I said. “My time is all I have to sell. How much was the initial offering?”
As Gene looked at me through tired brown eyes, it occurred to me why we worked so well together. What he couldn’t remember, I could. And our memories stretched back a long way. “What happened to the tailings after the company folded?”
He assumed a thoughtful look. “As I recall the Greystone firm attempted to get the company’s money back and were met with a suit to remove the dumps as agreed under the sales contract. Greystone eventually settled for getting back something like a quarter for every dollar.”
“So the investors recovered a million and a quarter of their money. Funny. I don’t recall shareholders getting anything back.”
“The recovery was used to pay off other obligations of the corporation under bankruptcy proceedings. Investors got nothing.” Gene glanced my way. “Did you lose a bundle?”
“A bundle to me at the time. I was an APD cop, remember?”
“With a few mil in the bank.”
“I never touched any of the trust money. The VPMR investment just ruined me personally for a couple of years.”
Over the dregs of our meal we continued to reconstruct the scandal… the crime, really. In early 2004 VPMR’s problems came to light when board members expressed concern over the rapid rate of heavy expenditures. Money was flowing like oil from one of Marshall Voxlightner’s gushers, and red flags began to wave. The trucking company moving ore from Arizona halted work because of nonpayment. The School of Mines lab wasn’t paid for the last batch of assays. Wick Pillsner complained of unpaid rent for the building he rented the corporation on East Lomas.
Kent Everett dealt the nastiest blow when he filched some of the copper tailing material and took it to an independent lab for assay. Traces of gold and silver and even platinum showed up, but not in commercial quantities. He then filed suit in District court—as a stockholder—for a complete accounting by an independent arbitrator. Within a week, he was shot in the back of the head in his office.
But the damage was done. An investigation was under way and couldn’t be stopped. Then Barron Voxlightner and Dr. Walther Stabler vanished without a trace. They were last seen huddling together over a conference table in corporate headquarters on a Monday night in March 2004. The next day the Journal’s headline screamed something over $40,000,000 of the company funds were missing. Some was traced to the payment of phony accounts, some to bank transfers overseas and a series of cash withdrawals. In retrospect suspicious activity reports should have been filed by the bank, but the principals backing the company were highly respected men with proven business acumen. No such reports were filed.
The FBI moved quickly after the disappearances, arresting company COO John Hightower, and casting suspicion over the other officers and members of the company’s board of directors. Eventually Hightower was revealed as a dupe and never prosecuted. His responsibilities were for operations not finances. Doubtless he was lax in the performance of his duties but not criminally so. His reputation in shreds, he moved out of state, no doubt carefully watched by the feds wherever he went.
After the disappearances, authorities concentrated on the search for Voxlightner and Stabler. The locals pursued the murderer of Everett Kent with just about as much success as with the rest of the mess. Despite a massive manhunt for the missing men, the investigation went nowhere. The courts took over the dissolution of the bankrupt corporation, and eventually things died out. To the best of our recollection the whole thing from start to finish lasted just over six months—from early September 2003 to mid-March 2004. Just like that, some $50,000,000 had been sucked out of the fragile economy of New Mexico.
I know this was a little long, but I hope you stuck with me to this point. I also hope you found it interesting.
Abaddon’s Locusts, the fifth in the BJ Vinson mystery series, received several positive reviews. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy. If you do, please post a review of the book on Amazon. Each one helps… as do letters to the publisher.
My mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it.
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See you next week.
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