OH, BOY! WHAT A FIGHT! THE FUR IS STILL FLYING AND YOU CAN'T TELL WHICH IS WHICH!
The next day brought new excitement in the form of a petition for an injunction filed by an attorney, for one of my investors who held one of my notes for $500. Neither he nor his claim had a leg to stand on, between the two.
I scouted for the creditor all over Boston. To settle his claim. Even if I had to give ten times what I owed him. But he could not be found. Neither could I reach his attorney. So, I told Sam Bailen, one of my several lawyers, to appear and oppose the petition.
In the meanwhile, I made arrangements to retain Dan Coakley. I needed a man of his caliber to cope with the State House crowd.
Still, my hiring of Dan Coakley was a blunder. A political blunder. Some officials had no use for Dan. Dan, a firm believer in reciprocity, had no use for them. Which made it mutual. In so far as they were concerned. But it raised hell with my peaceful progress, so far as I was concerned. It placed me, so to speak, between the devil and the deep blue sea. And it was a toss up which one was the devil.
The moment Dan stepped into the picture, some officials made up their mind to take out on me what they couldn't take out on Dan. And I became the pliant pig-skin, the football, in the game between the two teams. For which I got more kicks in the slats than any man alive. It's a wonder that I can still sit down without wincing.
What I should have done, instead of hiring Dan, was to stroll down to State Street and pick me out one of those lawyers with a Mayflower pedigree. One of those blue-ribbon Pomeranians. Or Spaniels. With an appetite like a Great Dane. Or a Saint Bernard. Then, I could have gotten away with murder. Or, with millions, rather. One of my contemporaries wasn't a sap like me. He went and hired for himself a real aristocratic counsel. It might have cost him part of his fortune. But not his liberty. Like it did me.
Anyway, blunder or no blunder, I am not sorry I hired Dan Coakley. Even if I got in Dutch with the highbrows. It was worth all I went through, to meet Dan. To have his friendship. The benefit of his advice. The most competent advice in the State of Massachusetts. Bar none. To watch his brilliant mind at work. And to fight alongside of him. Against the same outfit. The same bunch of professional buccaneers whose only title to respectability rests in the fact that they are in power. That they sit pretty. Because they are subservient to the money interests.
I put in the best part of that day straightening out that customer's business. I was still searching for him and had almost given up all hope to find him, when he walked right into my office. He was upset and indignant. He had seen his name on the bulletin board of a Boston newspaper and he didn't know what it was all about. I explained the situation to him and he claimed that he had been misled into signing that petition. I rushed up to my attorney's office and made the customer sign an affidavit. Less than an hour later, his attorney withdrew the petition.
The run was progressing satisfactorily for a run. The crowd was orderly. Checks were being issued at the rate of about 200 per hour. Brother Pride was busy listing my liabilities from the note stubs I had turned over to him. Out-of-town bank accounts were being gradually reduced and the money concentrated into the Hanover Trust. There was a reason for that. By paying my depositors with checks drawn on that Bank they would have to go there to cash them. Many might feel inclined to leave the money there and open an account, and that is just exactly what did happen. Most of the money I paid out of one pocket was re-deposited in the other. It was a case of "heads I win" and "tails you lose."
The city editor of one of the Boston newspapers was still at it; that is, still dogging my footsteps, only a little more cautiously, but no less persistently. Never letting me out of his sight and nothing less than a shower of buckshot would have discouraged him, and I was just wishing that he was a "deer" instead of being a "dear." Just then my attention was diverted by one of his confreres, the publisher of a local financial sheet.
That he, of all men, would come out and call me names was something I couldn't swallow.
Out of a clear sky he gave me more display on his sheet than he ordinarily would have given to one of his friends; the stock-exchange paper hangers, even at one hundred bucks an inch. What he didn't say about me wasn't fit to be printed, no more than what I thought about him was. And he did not spare me, only he forgot to hire a lawyer as a proof-reader, with this result that he left himself wide open and I flew at him. I sued him for $5,000,000. He had a dairy farm near-by and I attached to everything he had. I tied him up so thoroughly, that the morning after the attachment even his cows couldn't give milk.
About that time, a telegram from New York came to liven things up a bit. As if they weren't lively enough. The telegram informed me that a certain Joseph Hermann "of London and Melbourne" was on his way to Boston to confer with me on an important deal. A little later I got a phone call informing me of his arrival, and I arranged to meet him at the Parker House.
The interview was brief. He said he represented some New York and Paris capitalists. And had come to purchase, if possible, the Securities Exchange Company. His statement found me quite unreceptive. I did not believe he meant business. However, I talked things over with him. Just to see what his game was.
"Are you familiar with the conditions of the Securities Exchange Company?" I asked him.
"Only to the extent described by the newspapers," he said.
"Well, then, let me inform you," I suggested. "All of the company's assets consist of cash. Its liabilities are represented by notes. When I shall have redeemed my last note, all of the left over cash will be my own property. The company will have a fairly good supply of office furniture, fixtures, equipment and a wonderful mailing list. Are you prepared to buy that?"
"Yes," he admitted, "that's just exactly what we want."
"All right, then," I said. "We will not bother to figure out the furniture, fixtures and equipment. I will throw all of that in, for good measure. But we must agree upon the price you shall pay me for the mailing list and the good will."
"We shall leave it to you to name your figure," he stated. "We shall endeavor to meet your terms."
He acted too blamed optimistic to sound convincing. I had a feeling he was bluffing. So, I decided to name an exorbitant figure. Which would have forced him to show his hand.
"I want ten million dollars," I told him.
"It is a large sum," he commented, "but we are prepared to produce it. Personally, I accept your figure. However, I must return to New York to consult with my associates. We will all be here the day after tomorrow to discuss the details. Will it be convenient for you to meet us on that day at the Copley Plaza between 9 and 10 A.M.?
"Yes, I'll be there," I agreed. "But please remember that my price is for cash on delivery. Subject to increase, if you cause me to lose my time unnecessarily."
At the appointed date, we met again. We discussed the matter for almost two hours. By then I had learned that they were fully supplied for funds. There was even a rumor current that they were backed by one of the largest banking houses in America. A rumor which I was never able to verify. But I had grown suspicious of their purpose. So, I altered my terms.
"I do not know what you propose to do with my company," I told them. "I assume that you want to use it to further some enterprise of your own. I could turn it over to you and give you a free hand. Without worrying what may happen afterwards. But I feel morally obligated toward my investors and the public to protect them against dangerous investment. So, I will sell out only to persons who will not use the company for illegitimate purposes. I don't know any of you gentlemen. Even if I did, I would not assume the responsibility of endorsing you. Therefore, I will sell to you on the condition that you will give me an executive position in your company. I don't want any salary. I ask for no share of the profits. All I want is the most ample opportunity of keeping a check on what you are doing. After I shall have satisfied myself in that respect, I will withdraw."
"We are willing to agree to that," Hermann said for himself and the others.
Regardless of the obstacles I created, I simply couldn't discourage those men. However, they were not ready to close the deal that day. And suggested a new conference.
"I don't see any necessity for further conferences," I stated. "You know my terms. Have a regular contract drawn up by your attorneys and bring it to me for my signature. We can close the deal in fifteen minutes. I cannot see you again until you are ready to close the deal When you are, you shall exhibit to me a certified check before I even consent to talk to you. I am too busy right now to spend any more time in this sort of conference."
The Hermann's visits could have been my salvation. If I had had sense enough to take advantage of them. Without developing a conscience. Which was never appreciated either then or since. But my mind was running along the wrong channels at that time. I had more life preservers thrown at me than a ship-wreck.
Yet, I was so wrapped up in those crazy notions of mine that I never so much as reached for one.
I felt so sure of myself that I never looked ahead further than my nose. Big and little politicians were trailing me right along. And I didn't have to go looking for overtures. They were being made right to me.
For instance, one morning a couple of politicians called at my residence before breakfast. One of them was a representative of a New York newspaper. I received him in the sun-parlor in my pajamas.
"Mr. Ponzi, here are our credentials," said he, handing me some letters which showed his connection with the Republican National Committee. "We are sent by one of its leaders and the National Committee of the Republican Party to solicit your contribution to the campaign. We have been told of your success and liberality and have taken the liberty to hope that you will contribute."
"You may have come to the right church," I replied to him, "but I believe you have stepped into the wrong pew."
"Why?" he asked. "You certainly appreciate the fact that Senator Harding will be the next President of the United States?"
"Perhaps," I remarked. "Unless Cox beats him to it."
"Not a chance," he said. "The Democrats are due for defeat."
"Well, how much do you expect from me?" I inquired.
"Anything you care to give," he answered. "In your position, you would hardly contribute less than a thousand dollars, I believe."
"Is that all you want?" I asked. "Why, a thousand dollars is no money at all. I thought you said I was liberal."
"Of course," he said. "You can give as much as you like and we can assure you that the more you will give us the more we shall be pleased."
"If I were to follow my inclinations I would contribute considerably more than a thousand dollars," I told him.
"We are glad to hear it?" he acknowledged, "How much will you say?"
"How much will I say?" I repeated after him. "I will say a cool million, in round figures."
"A million dollars?" he asked with amazement.
"Yes," I confirmed. "A whole million dollars, gentlemen,â€¦ to hang the whole Republican Party!"
"Evidently your language indicates that you have some grievances against our party," said he.
"Grievances? That's no word for it!" I told him. "While you are here soliciting my contribution, look at what they are doing to ruin me. They are all Republicans. Wouldn't I be a sap to contribute to their political success while they are actually conspiring against me?"
"We didn't know that," he apologized.
"Inform yourselves, then," I suggested, "Go and tell your friends to lay off. And then come and talk to me about contributions. But not before."
"We will see what we can do," he said. "Will you make an appointment to see us later?"
"I will not make an appointment now," I told him, "But you can have a talk with Judge Leveroni. If you reach a satisfactory arrangement, I will accept his recommendations."
Once more I had turned the cold shoulder on the team. The winning team. In some way or another, I always managed to place my bets on the wrong horse. For a gambler, I certainly was a corker!