Pyramid Scheme

Men boasting CIA and FBI ties met in Newport Beach to convince a mysterious billionaire to buy into a secret economy, and nothing was what it seemed

But Tarpinski would never be allowed to learn precisely how the profits were made, except that the group had "privileges" with Treasury officials based in Philadelphia, as well as inside the upper ranks of the CIA, Federal Reserve, World Bank and FBI.

"There's a curtain that will be drawn across this transaction, and you, frankly, will not be on the other side," Martin told Tarpinski. "So, basically, what goes on in that box—even though you don't know what it is—it's not going to bite you."

If they wanted to assure Tarpinski that his money was safe—that it was almost impossible to lose a penny—they also wanted him to know he was lucky. They told him they didn't want to offend him, but his billion-dollar investment was relatively small. They said their prior "70 to 80" operations involved more than "$1 trillion" and had left them with "$600 billion" and accumulating another "$500 million a week."

Jesse Lenz
John Brent Leiske
John Brent Leiske

No fool, Tarpinski played his card: "Why do you even need me?"

Martin responded, "You're the fresh money!"

A more-cautious Leiske added, "Because we cannot use our own funds. . . . You work like a spark plug, where you allow us to get our notes created. . . . You've given us permission to use our own funds."

Martin then advised the billionaire that rules governing these secret transactions forbade the group from putting its own funds back into circulation. The group claimed it made so much money so quickly that an infusion of those funds into the "retail economy" would cause massive inflation.

"Regulators don't like that," Martin said solemnly.

Tarpinski accepted the explanation.

* * *

FBI Special Agent George Steuer appreciates a good story just as much as anybody else. But Steuer hasn't hidden his intentions to influence Hollywood films and television shows. In 2007, he helped conduct an unusual government workshop at the Federal Building in Westwood: "Crime Essentials for Writers."

The workshop was designed to address a problem that has long flustered the FBI: its portrayal in fiction as bumbling or corrupt. Such concerns originated with legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's determination that agents must be cast as heroes. Hoover spied on Hollywood studios to ensure they complied.

The agency's sensitivity extends to modern times. In 2006, for example, the FBI participated in the development of 649 films and TV shows. Steuer even grabbed a gig as consultant to the 2008 law-enforcement thriller Untraceable.

The agent knows thrillers firsthand. From August 2005 to April 2007, he got assigned to a secret, Southern California-based, law-enforcement task force created to expose financial shysters targeting wealthy Americans. Prosecutors at the DOJ in Washington, D.C., and at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Santa Ana directed the project, code-named "Collateral Monte." Fellow FBI Special Agent Norman D. Embry joined Steuer. Earlier in his career, Embry won accolades for posing as an employee at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to expose thefts by baggage handlers.

In their California operation, Steuer and Embry went deep undercover with false identities.

Steuer became investor George T. Tarpinski.

Embry became his assistant, Will Edwards.

They established a dummy corporation, New MarMesa. They laid bait by publishing a Jan. 25, 2006, advertisement seeking high-end investment opportunities with little or no risk. Then they waited.

About 13 days later, Pundt—the ex-federal agent—and another man contacted "Tarpinksi" and "Edwards" and vouched for the secret investment program. According to a transcript of the phone call, Pundt claimed he'd been involved in the operation for "nearly four years." He stressed that only select individuals were allowed to participate, adding that someone would "have to be a complete idiot" to lose money.

But first, said Pundt, Tarpinski's identity and net worth would have to be verified by Chelak, whom he said "works directly with the CIA."

* * *

After four hours of face-to-face discussions with "Tarpinski" and "Edwards," Leiske and his colleagues had grown noticeably impatient, according to audio and video surveillance of the meetings that haven't yet been made public but have been exclusively reviewed by the Weekly. They wanted Tarpinski to sign the contracts and put the $1 billion into the new account. An unconvinced Tarpinski insisted on more assurances, especially about risk and taxes.

"There will never ever, ever, ever be a legal, direct, dotted-line nexus between your funds and the monies that's [sic] deposited in the profit accounts," said Martin. "That's deliberate."

Everyone in the group assured Tarpinski that he would never lose control of the $1 billion.

Said Leiske, "We have it in your control."

Added Martin, "Nobody can put their hands on it."

"The 1 billion would never come out of [your] account," said Leiske.

"This is a monetary world where the Central Bank of the United States is actually using your funds to manage the creation of money," said Martin.

Then Leiske described how Tarpinski transferring the $1 billion from his Bank of America account in LA to the foreign account was like moving the money from "your right pocket to your left."

Chelak rarely spoke, but he felt the need to note, "There's a lot of people who say that they can do things, and what happens is they take your money. And basically, what [Leiske] was covering there was they want you to move money into their accounts. I've heard a lot of horror stories."

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