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History Book Discussion

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Empire of Deception.jpg

Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated a Nation

by Dean Jobb

The first chapter of Jobb’s comprehensively researched and enthralling account of the life, times and crimes of Leo Koretz begins in June 1922 at Chicago’s posh Drake Hotel. An elegant banquet celebrates “Oil King” Koretz, the “New Rockefeller” whose Bayano Syndicate, a timber business turned oil empire, has made many of his friends and associates filthy rich. 

The ultimate irony of Koretz’s career is that he was performing the Ponzi maneuver — misusing contributions from new investors to pay dividends to earlier ones — before Charles Ponzi himself. As Jobb notes, it could have been called the Koretz scheme, except that Ponzi got caught first. While Ponzi’s scheme fell apart within a single year (1920), Koretz’s persisted for nearly two decades.

This audacious story also features secret love nests and affairs with many women; multiple identities, rough disguises and a stint of hiding in plain sight; an international manhunt, a fateful knock at the door and a gripping court drama. Even when he lands in prison, his plotting’s not done; an “escape plan” is still ahead. Washington Post, June 19, 2015

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