Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hey, it's not happening to ME for a change.

Pull up a chair, kids. Uncle Joke has a tale to tell.

You may recall the Odyssey-like journey I'm on as I attempt the biggest comeback since Lazarus, to once again return to the ranks of the 1%, so that poorly groomed, benighted semi-socialists may don Guy Fawkes (?) masks and hurl vile abuse in my direction for no logically discernible reason.

One of the problems one encounters in the comeback trail, at least in the realm of commerce, is that, at least in the initial phases, one can't be exceedingly choosy in what one accepts/declines. As someone preternaturally choosy, this is a grating fact of life. One puts down one's head, sets one's jaw and plows ahead.

Here is one such example.

Early on last summer, a contact of one of my associates suggested a project for us to take on. A brief synopsis was given and, even though I don't have the luxury of being overly picky, I strongly suggested we pass on this one as not a single aspect thereof passed my olfactory apparatus successfully. But I, manfully shouldering the lifelong Curse of Cassandra, was overruled. So we took on the engagement.

And the wheels fell off the wagon from the very start.

One of the things about which there is no discussion is that every client, without exception, has to pay a (relatively) small, reasonable, "upfront" for the time it takes our team of accountants, lawyers, etc. to review documentation, etc. The real money is in taking an equity participation in the success of the project, but in order to get moving, the client has to pay for the hours spent in our making sure all is Kosher before we can proceed to engage our contacts, investors, etc.

Well, this guy -- we'll call him Caliph Stein -- would not. Period.

The problem, he said, was that the Elbonians, under whose auspices this certain-to-be-trillion-dollar-project came to be, would simply not hear of such a mad, foolish thing. I, personally, was ready to sod off that very nanosecond, but the contact of my associate, prevailed upon my associate and then prevailed upon Caliph to pony up the retainer which he did, grudgingly (and, allegedly) from "his personal funds."

So we began the work.

Many things that had set our radars ablip, were now giving us the full Chief-Inspector-Dreyfus-twitch. I cannot go into all the details for obvious reasons, but the project hinged around a product that would revolutionize the XYZ industry with a 15% improvement in efficiency and commensurate decreases in maintenance costs and environmental impact. Yet nobody had seen, and more importantly, nobody was offering to show, the bloody product. In fact, my meek request for a sample was met with the sort of glare one gives a morally bankrupt teenager who has just showcased an IQ well below "mean normal."

Why this guy, ostensibly with an exclusive deal to market this revolutionary product of the Elbonians, wasn't, y'know, actually marketing this revolutionary product of the Elbonians, was something of a mystery. He was designing a commodities trading bureaus, leveraging my associate's contact's contacts to establish covenants with local and federal authorities, etc.

He produced a flourish of authentic-looking PDFs of signed letters and agreements with multiple overseas entities (public and private) but was not able to provide the original contract via which the Elbonians that gave him all those alleged commercial rights.

His business plan was, as Arlo Guthrie might've noted, a series of pictures with circles and arrows on the back explaining what each one was. Not much in the way of narrative. When called on something his response was
a) "You're not paying attention."
or
b) "You misunderstand me." Then he'd provide additional documentation that had zero to do with the previous documentation.

Among which were a series of derivative investments that were, in the very best conceivable scenario, an Unholy Cluster$#@& And Goat Rodeo.

One day we met at the office he was leasing, his assistant, a young lady I'd guesstimate to be in her late 20s was there helping, the daughter of a friend who wanted him to provide her with professional, real-world training. He seemed rather dismissive of her. Remember that.

As usual, his demeanor was condescending, arrogant and astonishingly devoid of even the merest chemical trace of "people skills." As per our agreement, we were supposed to review his documentation and offer advice and counsel on how to modify it to suit presentation to potential equity participants, strategic partners, etc. Because I have that kind of luck, only I was able to attend the meeting wherein I had to defend the professional conclusions -- with which I agreed, BTW -- of the other two associates.

This, of course, led to a two-hour harange on his part on JUST THE FIRST POINT.

I then went back, spoke to the other two, and drafted the report we were contractually required to provide. Associate 1, the guy whose friend and contact had brought us the case, suggested that we forward an advance copy to said contact, that he may see where we were going with this. We did. Contact Guy immediately asked for a meeting.

In the interim, I started doing a bit of forensic work. The website for the Elbonian company was created by none other than Mr. Caliph Stein and, not on the date the Elbonian Company was allegedly founded, but 2009. Several of the other affiliated entities likewise. The addresses for all were P.O. Boxes registered to Mr. Caliph Stein. The Elbonian National Chamber of Commerce had never heard of that company nor any of the principals thereof. The principals of Caliph's company were legit and impressive, but not a one of them had ever so much sold $1 in the XYZ industry.

We mentioned all of this to Contact Guy and we said, openly, that our concern had now become solely for his professional reputation. Being associated with Caliph was begging for an epic nightmare. (It turns out that this guy was already burned, badly, by Caliph Stein and didn't speak to him for nearly a decade. Then, of course, his son fell in love and married Caliph's daughter. We call this the triumph of hope over experience.) But, with a naiveté uncharacteristic of a man of such ripe years, he insisted that all of this must have a logical explanation.

I mentioned that my first -- hardly the only -- worry about the project was that Caliph hadn't bothered to try selling the Magic Elbonian Product and that when I suggested so, he looked at me as if I were a particularly unintelligent Stalinist who'd just befouled himself on the priceless Persian rug. Then he proceeded to explain the lunacy of my suggestion...never mind that my first client was/is in that field and I have decades more experience in the XYZ industry than Caliph does. (Translation: Caliph Stein had ZERO idea how the XYZ industry works and, unfortunately for him, I do.)

 Contact Guy then suggested I make a case, in writing, for my approach.

Associate 1 agreed and thus I re-re-redrafted my marketing plan and resubmitted it, pointedly refuting as "incorrect" (ahem) all of Caliph's objections. (The only thing that ever resulted from ever mentioning ANYTHING to Caliph was that he needed $X million in capital before anything could be done. Odd, that.)

Caliph then contacted me by phone (weird) just as I was going off on my Scary New Year's Eve Trip of Near Icy Death. He called to say "yes...BUT" to my proposed marketing methodology and that he'd send additional documentation. I explained to him I'd be in the land that radio waves forgot and wouldn't be able to do much until I got back home. And we hung up.

When I get back after unsuccessfully attempting to drive off the icy roads of the Appalachians, I get a call from Associate 1, that he was with Contact Guy, who was upset that I hadn't gotten back to Caliph in a timely manner. I explained I was a mile above sea level where communication is impossible and that I had let Caliph know that. In fact, my email's "away message" said so plainly. But, because I am scandalously polite, I re-sent my message to Caliph and his group figuring that, given the scarcity of Wi-Fi, etc. the message may not have gotten through EVEN THOUGH I WARNED HIM OF SAME.

Caliph's reply was typical. My counter reply was that I had been away from all means of communication and this sort of thing happens. His counter-counter reply was, essentially, "Don't give me that! This is not how business works!" but in his usual...er...idiom. I chose not to reply, as I also chose not to pursue trying to even work with him on the marketing aspects. Caliph Stein be buggered and, if it came to that, I'd explain this to Associate 1 in a ringing baritone.

Associate 1 also was aggrieved (and surprised, because nobody ever believes me) at his tack and said to finalize the report and we'd send it as is.

At this point (last night) we got a HUGE email from a certain young lady detailing ALL of the sordid business and personal practices of Mr. Caliph Q. Stein. Bank statements, contact information, PDFs of contracts, forgeries (!) and fraud (!!) in pellucid detail. Fifteen zip files. FIFTEEN. If I were to print them all out, it'd be a genocide of trees. I cannot describe how all-encompassing and detailed this email was AND how exhaustive were the means to verify all this. Bank officers, brokers, CPAs, attorneys, board members, etc., etc., Pages and pages of people I could contact to corroborate her allegations.

Oh, and the young lady was Caliph's friend's daughter whom he was "training" and was also, er, "taking advantage" of her under a "shower of lies and threats" and once she stopped "yielding to his base, carnal desires" she got her salary cut. Finally, she'd had enough and spilled all, gravely upset that Mr. Caliph Q. Stein kept "hiding behind God and the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Next week should be very, very interesting.

Posted by JMG at 10:37 AM

3 Comments

  • Anonymous Frogdancer posted at 3:28 PM, January 17, 2013  
    Where do you find these people???
  • Blogger JMG posted at 8:37 PM, January 17, 2013  
    Hey, this loon found ME.
  • Blogger judi posted at 9:12 AM, February 06, 2013  
    Always trust your gut.
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