CHAPTER XX1

LADIES STOP "RUNS" WITH LUX, BUT MR. PONZI STOPS ONE WITH A MILLION DOLLARS

Things were happening fast and thick in my office. I didn't have a minute to myself from 9 A.M. till 5 P.M. And life was one surprise after another. Some pleasant, some unpleasant, but most of them amusing, because I have a sense of humor and still have. I have lost everything, but that.

One morning, as I was going through my mail, a caller was announced—a member of the Massachusetts Senate. I had him come in.

"I am the spokesman for a group of friends," he opened up. "We have gotten together and subscribed a large sum for the purpose of buying one-half interest in your business."

"But I have no intention of even selling an eighth of an interest," I informed him.

"We anticipated that," he stated, "and for that reason I am authorized to offer you one million dollars. We are ready to deposit the amount, in evidence of our good faith and agree that it be paid over to you after you have disclosed the secrets of your enterprise."

"My dear senator," I told him, "your figures do not stagger me at all. Your little million pales into insignificance before my weekly receipts of twice that amount. Besides, what could prevent you from learning my secrets and using them to your own advantage without paying for it?"

"Our own honor and respectability," he replied. "We are all men of the highest character."

"I don't dispute that at all," I assured him. "On the other hand, experience has taught me not to gamble on people's character. I am sorry, senator, but your little million cannot buy anything around here. It is not even attractive as a loan. Good day, senator."

As he went out, a police inspector from headquarters came in. He said he had received a complaint from a Mrs. Campbell.

"What's the nature of her complaint?" I asked him.

"She claims," he replied, "that you induced her to invest some money with you and her friends told her she would lose it. She wants her money back."

"Legally, she cannot force me to redeem my note before maturity," I told the inspector. "And there is nothing you can do about it. But since it has always been my policy to refund money to dissatisfied investors, tell her to come down and get hers."

"Will you give it to her?" he inquired.

"Of course, I will," I assured him, and he left.

He came back with Mrs. Campbell a little later. He handed me the note and I instructed my secretary to give her a check. When she saw that she was going to get her money, Mrs. Campbell changed her mind.

"Mr. Ponzi," she said, "I am awfully sorry I did you an injustice, but my friends led me to it. I want to leave the money with you until maturity."

"What?" interrupted the inspector. "After making all that fuss and putting me to all that trouble, you don't want your money now? You may do as you like, but I am through handling your case." He started to leave but I asked him to stay.

"Please remain until this thing is closed," I urged him. Then turning to Mrs. Campbell, I said:

"I am sorry, but now you must take your money. I do not want it. I do not care to have as investors persons who have no confidence in me. Go back to your friends, show them your money and thank them for the services they have rendered to you. Good day, madam."

"Mr. Ponzi," said the inspector shaking hands with me, "I am sorry for any inconvenience my call may have caused you. I have witnessed how you do business, and from now on, if any person comes to me with a complaint against you I'll show them that I know how to handle it."

"I am glad you came," I told him. "It was no trouble at all. What you saw me doing for Mrs. Campbell, I am always ready to do for all my investors." But I was hoping and praying that I might not be called upon to do it, because I couldn't have gone all the way around.

However, if Mrs. Campbell was nervy, the Chief of Police of a small Massachusetts town was not shy either. He had more gall than a brass monkey. He came to my office one day and said that he wanted to invest. He told me that he had no money.

"Well, what do you want to invest then?" I asked him. "Your badge?"

"No," he said, "I thought I would give you my note for $500. You could discount it at your bank."

"Fine business," I exclaimed. "And you expect me to use my bank credit for you whether you have the money or not, and pay you 50% for it besides?"

"Well, it wouldn't cost you anything," he argued back, "and it is the same for you whether you get your money from me or from the bank."

"Listen, Chief," I told him. "I won't argue with you because I can put my time to better advantage, but it strikes me funny that you should come here and take me for a sucker so I am inclined to do just what you ask. Here, sign this note for $500 and I will give you ours."

A few days later, some woman reporter, a regular hell cat, stormed my private office and started raving about some friend of hers that I had swindled. "What are you talking about anyway," I asked him, or, pardon me, her. "You know well enough," she replied. "You took $500 away from the Chief of Police all right, and I came here to tell you that if you don't make immediate restitution, I will expose you." "Who is this Chief of Police," I inquired. "I don't seem to recollect the name." "He is the Chief of Police," mentioning the name of a small Massachusetts town, she said, and I couldn't help laughing. "So, you claim that I have swindled him, do you?" I asked her. "Yes," she admitted, "I know that you took his money." "Well, let me tell you something, since you are so smart," I told her. "Your friend borrowed from the hand that fed him, from me, the money that he invested."

"I don't believe it," she said.

"I don't give a darn whether you do or not," I assured her, working up a temper. "But here is his note. As to you, since you are so mightily fresh, get out of this office. And stay out."

"Remember, you are speaking to a lady," she warned.

"A person who behaves like you do, is no lady," I told her. "Get out or I'll have you put out. Then, go ahead and expose me as you please."

My day's work was a succession of such incidents. The complaints were few and far between. Practically unknown, in fact. And never justified. But whether justified or not, an investor was never permitted to leave with a grievance for the sake of a few hundred dollars. That's why I lasted as long as I did. If a single complaint had gotten into the courts, it might have wrecked the whole structure.

One day, for instance, a bank messenger came in with five notes of the Securities Exchange Company for $150 each. He presented them for payment to one of the clerks. The clerk brought them to me. Hooked at the notes. They were forgeries. I knew how they had gone out of my office. And who had put them into circulation. I could have refused to pay them. But I didn't. I gave the bank messenger $750 and took the notes. It was better for me to lose the money than to lead a bank to believe I was defaulting on my payments. Or let the bank know the reason why. There would have been an arrest made. A conviction obtained. But I might have had to take the witness stand and submit to cross-examination. And I certainly wanted everything but that.

Besides investors, all sorts of people wanted to see me. Donation solicitors, for instance. They were thicker than mosquitoes down in New Jersey. And I was fairly liberal with them. Provided they represented some worthy cause. I never hesitated to contribute to labor or soldiers' organizations. But I never gave a dime to build homes for disabled cats. Nor to any stiff-necked reformer. Nor to the anti-saloon league. Although I would've gladly paid some of these "reformers" one-way fare to China, if I could have found a way to keep them there.

Among the donation solicitors, I had one from Ohio. He had come all the way from Marion. But on a wild goose chase. He had picked out a bad day. When I was extremely busy. And it was his hard luck if he wasn't able to see me. Maybe, mine too. But in those days §50,000 would have gone a long way with the Ohio gang of political buccaneers.

At any rate, what's the use of crying over spilled milk? A clerk came into my private office and handed me a card. I glanced at it. Somebody, whose name I don't remember, from Marion, Ohio.

"Who is he and what does he want?" I asked the clerk.

"I don't know him," the clerk replied. "He said he came from Marion, Ohio, to see you on an important matter."

"Tell him I am sorry," I directed the clerk, "but I am too busy to see anyone."

"The gentleman says it is very important that he should see you," the clerk informed me.

"I don't give a darn how important it is," I exploded. "I am not going to see him." "Miss Meli," I said turning to my secretary, "you go and see him and tell him to state his business to you. That's the best I can do for him."

Miss Meli, after a short conversation with that man, came back to the office greatly impressed.

"He insists on seeing you personally," she said.

"There can be no such thing as insisting with me," I said. "When I say I won't see him, that settles it. Now, I wouldn't see him even if he was the Czar of Russia."

"But he told me that he was the special messenger of Senator Harding," urged Miss Meli, "and that he was sent by him on a confidential mission."

"Is that so?" I retorted. "Well, tell him I should worry about Senator Harding. I won't see him. I can't be bothered even by a Senator. There are ninety six of them and I cannot create a bad precedent."

Perhaps I was a little too fresh that day. But who would have thought Senator Harding would have become President of the United States? It would have been like betting on a long shot at Rockingham or Narragansett. Still, it would have been a good bet. I might, with a little diplomacy have got in right with the new administration. And, perhaps earned the privilege of bidding against Sinclair for the lease of the Tea Pot Oil Dome.

If I was fresh that day, I had cause to be. I had been told something was brewing over at the court house. And not malt either. Nor hops.

But the sort of brew that spells trouble. I was on pins and needles. I wanted to know what it was. To know it ahead. When the Ohio man came, I was waiting for a newspaperman who knew the ins and outs of Pemberton Square.

As soon as he came, we went over together to the court house. We made contacts. Obtained the information. And an hour's reprieve. For which I paid with a thousand dollar bill. A real bargain! Because, without that reprieve, the Securities Exchange Company would have met with a premature death.

The whole thing was a million dollar suit brought by an ex-furniture dealer. He was claiming to have bought one-half interest in the Securities Exchange Company through the $200 loan he had made to me several months before. The suit was not worrying me. But the writ of attachment that went with it, did. Because it covered enough bank deposits to cripple me. In fact, it took in almost $4,000,000 of the Cosmopolitan Trust Company, $700,000 in the Tremont Trust Company, $49,000 in the Merchants National Bank of Boston, $10,000 in the First State Bank and about $200,000 in the Hanover Trust Company.

The reprieve enabled me to call at most of the banks and juggle things so that only a small part of the funds remained subject to the attachment. I did not bother with the two smaller deposits. But I salvaged three fourths of my account in the Tremont Trust and 90% of the one in the Hanover Trust. At the Cosmopolitan I was told that it was too late. I didn't stop to argue over it. I had to get back to my office before the news of the attachment came out in the papers and prepare myself to cope with the "run" which was sure to follow.

With $3,000,000 in cash in Boston and $3,000,000 more outside of Boston, I faced the music. It lasted a couple of days. In those two days, I refunded about a million dollars. And saved thereby $500,000 in interest, which I would have had to pay at the maturity of those notes. Forty-eight hours were enough to restore confidence. And the million dollars came back again. In less time than it had taken to pay it out.