The victims run the gamut of human emotion and impulse. The criminals are almost by definition people you’d never suspect. And the agency that stops them? The quietest, mildest-mannered, stubbornest one of all
Words tumble from Karen Hartstein’s lips—eager, sincere, a little muddled. She’s the kind of woman who prays for people when they’re sick and volunteers for Meals on Wheels and the New Life Evangelistic Center and gets into scrapes but relies on the kindness of strangers. She looks like Cher—but with a bubblier, far less droll personality—and she had no trouble convincing people to invest money in her Chesterfield travel agency in return for airline tickets, perks, packages and eventual repayment. But—oopsie—she ran out of money. The guy who flew to Europe was ... disconcerted would be a polite word ... to realize she’d given him a one-way ticket. Same for the family that flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., for what turned out to be anything but a restful vacation. One man had booked a trip for his pastor as a gift. Another had invested $30,000 with Hartstein but only told his wife about $5,000 of it—and lost it all. A woman from Hartstein’s church wound up taking out a second mortgage on her house. At least Hartstein was efficient: When people were in a panic about getting home, she said she’d fix the snafu but needed their credit-card number to do it—then used that credit card to buy other clients’ tickets. Over a five-month period she bought almost $100,000 worth of tickets that way. The first group of loans got repaid, but farther down the pyramid, the friends to whom those people introduced her wound up empty-handed. She was indicted in 2005 on 53 felony counts, charged with defrauding more than 200 people of more than $2 million.
Short, slick, humming with energy, Pete Porcelli made millions with a mail-order business and bankrolled the Tampa Bay Smokers, a fast-pitch softball team. “I’m blessed with more talent than a human being really deserves,” he said during the filming of Fast Pitch, a documentary about a sport that used to be defiantly working-class. Porcelli launched the only team on the circuit with fancy uniforms, a $500,000 budget and a mascot—a guy with a big softball head, chomping on a cigar. The film showed him tossing a ball to his toddler outside his $6 million Belleair mansion ...
Then Porcelli had some pesky problems with the Federal Trade Commission, lost some money, came up with a new plan. He set up teams of telemarketers in boiler rooms in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and India, and the telemarketers cold-called people with bad or nonexistent credit to offer them the credit card they so desperately craved for about $200. The card wasn’t pretty—no embossing, a black stripe painted on the back—but it had a pirated MasterCard or Visa logo stamped on the front. Alas, it was actually an unloaded debit card, as more than 64,000 people learned to their chagrin. Midwestern postal inspectors tackled the case, and last March Porcelli was indicted in Illinois, where he had victims in 34 of 38 counties.
Angela Smiley ran American Payroll Service in Chesterfield, acquiring a stream of West County business owners as clients through word of mouth alone. She’d grown up understanding business and enjoying prosperity; her father owned the Castelli Tuxedo chain. Now Smiley and her husband lived on Forest Club Drive and were the “it” couple at Forest Hills Country Club: wore the right clothes, drank the right drinks, sent their kids to the right schools ...
Smiley’s business responsibilities included calculating and forwarding her clients’ payroll taxes to the government—except that for at least four years, she spent the money instead. When the IRS contacted her, she lied—and failed to mention the call to her clients, which included St. Ferdinand Parish, Portabella Restaurant, Jimmy’s Café on the Park, Frontenac Automotive, Cheshire Inn and Wild Horse Fitness. “A computer glitch,” she told owners breezily if they received any IRS notices themselves. In August 2006 she was photographed at a St. Louis fundraiser, 41 and gorgeous, the white spaghetti straps of her gown gleaming.
She pleaded guilty to embezzlement (felony counts of mail fraud and failure to pay federal taxes) a month later.
The St. Louis–based division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service cracked these cases with no sexy undercover work or cool gadgets—just dogged detective work; disarmingly respectful interrogation of their suspects; and steady cooperation, uncomplicated by ego or turf wars, with other government agencies. And that’s why there will probably never be a TV show about postal inspectors.
“For whatever reason, ‘postal inspector’ just doesn’t roll off the tongue,” sighs postal inspector Dan Taylor, who does media relations for the St. Louis division. Cornelius “Corne” Huelsebusch, a retired special investigator who worked several mail-related murder cases for the agency, says, “When I first started, our agency did not want any publicity, and nobody ever said why. They actually called it the Silent Service.”
Yet USPIS has been investigating crimes since 1830. Postal agents helped solve the last known stagecoach robbery and hunted Prohibition-era gangsters. In 1972 they proved that Clifford Irving had forged a note from Howard Hughes making Irving his exclusive biographer. In the 1980s they tracked the Unabomber; in 2000 they disrupted Landslide Productions, a child-porn network (for about 15 years USPIS was the only agency actively investigating child porn). And in 2006 postal inspectors played a key role in Operation Global Con, identifying 2.8 million fraud victims who’d lost more than $1 billion total.
With Karen Hartstein, building the case meant patching together a string of civil lawsuits and police complaints. Defense attorney Stephen Welby made a valiant effort to subtract people who “gave money out of love and compassion” from the federal prosecutor’s total of 220 victims. “She has in her nature a need to give people things that give her things,” he told the court, and Dr. Robert Heilbronner, a neuropsychologist from Chicago, reinforced the picture of a dependent, nurturing personality. But federal prosecutor Dave Rosen wasn’t buying it. “She would not be doing things like stranding people in foreign countries because she has a desire to please, is that correct?” he inquired dryly. Hartstein was convicted of numerous counts of mail and credit-card fraud.
Porcelli, meanwhile, changed his plea to guilty after watching a several-hour presentation the postal inspectors put together documenting his crimes. “This was not his own idea,” says postal inspector Adam Latham. “He is cooperating with us on another investigation.” To nail Porcelli, Latham and his colleagues combed through several hundred boxes of documents and computer evidence, hoping to show a scheme to defraud. They found scripts that opened with “In the past 12 months you have applied for a credit card and now you are eligible to receive your MasterCard,” and they found incriminating email, showing frequent changes in name, address and phone number “to keep one step ahead of the regulators, keep the heat off,” says Latham.
Smiley’s victims had more money than Porcelli’s—and lost more—and they still have to pay those unpaid taxes. Postings on the topix.com online forum for Ballwin ranged from “I dated Angela before Mike [her husband] ... whew, I dodged a bullet!” to a diatribe about privileged Chesterfield women, the polite tsk tsk (“Very unfortunate for her kids but WHAT was she thinking????”) and the ultimate blow: “Mike Smiley should be permanently banned from Forest Hills.”
During the investigation, Smiley was heard complaining bitterly about the postal inspector who kept dogging her steps. That would be Bruce Follmer, a handsome, politely hesitant, cautious guy with a crew cut, blue eyes that match his blue oxford shirt and a holster on the belt of his khakis. “The bubble started bursting when IRS notices went to the clients,” he says. Reviewing various complaints, he began to see a pattern. So he and a Chesterfield police detective showed up at Smiley’s house one evening. “Nice home,” he recalls dryly. “She was definitely charming and had manners and poise. She said it was all a mistake, and eventually she talked about how an employee of hers had actually taken the money. I said, ‘OK, that’s fine, who is it?’ and she said she couldn’t discuss it. Now, if I had an employee ruin my business, I’d be kicking and screaming and pointing my finger.”
They found the employee themselves and investigated just long enough to decide Smiley was deliberately throwing them off track. “We tell people, ‘Don’t lie to us; don’t try to steer the investigation in the wrong direction,’” Follmer says wearily. “There’s always that danger of obstruction of justice charges.” He pauses. “Maybe she thought her liability would end when she sold her business—but not with a crime, it doesn’t. You can pierce the corporate veil.”
Today there are 1,600 postal inspectors nationwide. They carry firearms and operate a National Forensic Laboratory in Dulles, Va., and any crime that involves the mail in any way can be their case—including drugs, child porn, letter bombs, terrorist plots, fraud, extortion and identity theft. More than half of the world’s mail, by volume, is U.S. mail. As for scams, the inspectors see so many, they’ve worked out a typology:
The Lovers’ Chat Room Scam: Mail-Order Marriage
“I want to come to you right now and marry you,” someone might write from Nigeria. “But I have these checks, and over here the banks are so corrupt; if I deposit it, they will keep 25 percent. Can I send a check to you, and you cash it and wire me the money?”
The Overpayment Scam: Bookkeeping the Easy Way
A St. Louis sculptor sold a $300 piece through his online gallery to “newlyweds” in England. It was just perfect for their new house, they told him, and the wife (ostensibly) sent a check for $3,000 with instructions to keep his $300 and wire the rest back. She said her husband was an international art dealer, and he’d received this check from one of his clients. The check, of course, was bad—but by the time the bank knew that, the money had already been deducted from the sculptor’s account.
The Roommate Scam: Sympathy for the Stranger
“Someone had an apartment listed online,” Taylor says, “and the victim got a phone call from a foreign-exchange student in England saying the place was perfect, she’d send a deposit and the first six months’ rent, please hold the check until she arrived. Two months later she called back in a panic: Her mother was in the hospital after a car accident, and they would not treat her. ‘Could you just take half that check and wire it back to me?’ she wrote. ‘I still want the apartment.’”
The Reshipping Scam: Work at Home and Go to Jail
Donna, who wants her last name withheld, lives in Belleville, Ill. She had been out of work for a couple of months when CareerBuilder.com sent her the perfect job: An international businessman needed someone to work at home, reshipping electronics items for him, $24 a box. She carefully filled out the application and emailed it back. Then the boxes started arriving. “He said he had a warehouse, and it was full, so he needed extra people to help mail things,” she recalls. “I did think it was a little strange: It would have another person’s name on it—the police later told me it was the person whose credit card he’d stolen—and my address.” He also sent prepaid shipping labels (paid for, of course, with a stolen credit card) for various destinations in Lithuania.
She mailed the boxes for two weeks, and then early one morning, the UPS guy knocked on the door with another package. Her employer hadn’t notified her that one was coming, so she refused delivery. “After he went away I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder if I should have taken that?’” she says. “And about 10 minutes later the police came and asked why we hadn’t accepted it.”
Why the sleight of cardboard? Because members of the Russian mafia or other fraud rings are using stolen credit cards to make online purchases. “Anything that can be resold is fair game,” Taylor says, “and electronics are easiest to fence. Shippers began to be suspicious of orders from certain countries, like Belarus, and wouldn’t fill the order.” (Other commonly blacklisted countries include Nigeria, Romania, Pakistan and Indonesia.) Undeterred, the scammers found middlemen, often innocent, to receive and forward the goods.
Donna says she’d never heard of these reshipping scams, although she knew to be cautious of online work-at-home schemes larded with promises like “You won’t have to wait,” “Exciting,” “You will never be rejected,” “Start earning money immediately,” “Instantly profitable,” “You can count on it,” and “A few weeks is all it takes.” One such site draws credibility from a U.S. Postal Service logo, surrounded by an irregular grayish border that’s a clear hint it’s been cut and pasted.
The one cliché postal inspectors never tire of repeating? “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
The biggest scam out there right now, in terms of sheer volume, is the fake foreign lottery, which nets at least $120 million from hopeful players every year. When they figure out they’ve been had, most are too mortified even to report it. A Florissant woman in her sixties who was living on disability payments tried to cash the counterfeit lottery check, and the Florissant police arrested her. A woman in St. Peters lost $200,000 and mortgaged her home and car, sending 70 payments to the scammer over three months. “He would say, ‘OK, we are having a check come by courier tomorrow,’” Taylor says, “and nobody would come, and he would call the next day and say, ‘Why didn’t you answer your door?’ Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Our courier had to travel back to Canada; you owe us $4,000 in travel fees.’ Or ‘We are going to our second-place winner. If you still want your winnings, send us $3,000.’”
Marguerita Harmon of Cahokia, Ill., fell for a foreign lottery, too, when she was going through a divorce. “I needed some money,” she confesses, “and I thought, ‘Maybe if I enter enough sweepstakes, I can win one.’ Once you start responding, a lot come in—letters from Las Vegas, from Canada, even some from China. After responding to 25 or so, I received a letter [this one from Canada] saying I had won.” Whooping, she called her mother and brothers and then proceeded to follow the letter’s instructions: “In order to—what did they say?—pay for the duty, I had to go to the bank, cash the check they’d sent and wire the money to this particular place.”
They’d photocopied her entry form; she recognized her signature. “Everything looked so legitimate,” she says. “Then I was supposed to wait for further instructions. I believe they ended up sending another check, saying the first amount had been incorrect. The total was almost $7,000.” Both checks bounced, and the bank closed her account. “Oh my God,” she thought, “what’s going to happen to me?” She was staying with her mother at the time, and her daughters were 4 and 10. “I never said a word to them about it, but they kept saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ I had to get medicine for anxiety and panic attacks.”
After talking to Latham at the postal inspectors’ office, Harmon called the number the lottery gave her, pretending she didn’t realize it was a scam. “Emotionally it was hard,” she admits, “but I wanted them to get busted, so I focused on the anger. Then they had the audacity to send me a third check!”
She eventually had to file bankruptcy; she can’t get a checking account for at least five years, has no automatic deposit option, has to buy money orders to pay her bills. She begged to help set the scammers up, but Latham told her it’s too difficult when they’re in another country. “Canada’s just a hotbed of fraudulent activity—lottery and credit-card scams,” he explains. “The laws involving fraud are looser. Criminals there dread being indicted in the U.S.”
Nor can postal inspectors do much about the legions of eBay scams: products never sent; clumsy imitations of Nike, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, any high-end name brand. Taylor dangles a pink vinyl purse from one finger. “This lady thought she was getting an original leather Gucci for $28,” he says, spinning the purse to show the “Gucci Made in Italy” stamped on the back and then holding it open to show a “Made in China” tag. “Are you going to get federal prosecution for $28? No, but we piece things together, review complaints and try to find trends.”
hen USPIS kicked off a huge initiative last year, working with global law enforcement officers in Nigeria, postal inspector Don Washington ignored the first call for volunteers; he knew nothing about Nigeria. But the agency needed African-American agents who could blend into a Nigerian crowd, so after the second request, Washington found himself on a plane, his suitcase bulging with the canned meat and vegetables that military service had taught him to bring overseas.
The next morning he made his way through a sea of people flowing around half-built buildings, abandoned because there’s more corruption than money in the current Nigerian economy. He would spend the next six months at the Nigerian post office and various U.S. shipping services, screening packages for a series of possible clues that would indicate counterfeit checks or other fraudulent financial documents.
The U.S. embassy provided armored vehicles with bulletproof windows, and at times Washington’s team had to avoid a group of “area boys” said to have enough firepower to sustain a 40-minute gunfight. The rest of Washington’s team got sick; he forged ahead, cranking open his canned meals. “We found fake financial documents in every type of package you can imagine,” he says. “Big, small, in the back of picture frames, inside shoes [he peeled the soles off]. It costs a lot of money to ship something from Nigeria to the U.S. If you are shipping a $2 pair of flip-flops, that doesn’t make sense.
“Here we need a search warrant; they didn’t need that,” he adds. “In Nigeria alone we found over $20 million, around the world
$2.1 billion [most in counterfeit checks destined for U.S. victims]. There were lots of fraudulent U.S. dollar bills, too. There’s an everyone-for-themselves mentality over there. They couldn’t believe people in the U.S. would even accept personal checks. They don’t do that; they don’t trust each other.”
Back in St. Louis, Washington started opening a backlog of personal email and found a note from someone in Nigeria. He was selling paintings in the United States and wanted someone to negotiate the checks, take a portion and send him the money ...
No matter how firmly the inspectors nail one of these scams to the wall, it morphs into a new creature and slides out of the frame. And the Nigerian scammers may have the last word yet: They’ve made their latest emails look like they were sent by the United States Postal Inspection Service.
Why do well-educated, wary Americans fall for scams?
William Watzman is 59, lives in Marina Del Rey, Calif., and is, by his own assessment, “a risk-averse type guy.” He heard about Karen Hartstein from a friend he trusted, a successful businessman. “I checked out her credentials, and people recommended her,” he says, adding that her offer seemed quite reasonable. Airlines have tickets they need to get rid of, so she was buying them in bulk and reselling them, and she needed investors for cash flow.
“She could offer whatever she wanted to offer,” he adds ruefully, “because she didn’t come through.” He says she showed him an itinerary for his trip to an Australian tennis tournament, “first class, all the right trimmings.” But no money behind it.
He first became suspicious when he asked for documentation and “it was all done on the fly. Misspelled words, things scratched out.” Payments weren’t coming; excuses were. Still, he gave her more money. “You buy into it because you want to,” he says. “I thought maybe I could throw some of this off, sell my buddies discounted tickets and go places with them, maybe make a few shekels on the side.” That—and he liked her. “She has the necessary charm,” he says. “You can’t bottle it. It’s Bill Clinton in a dress.
“My friend who introduced us had a female business associate who said, ‘This woman is scamming you,’” Watzman adds ruefully. “We’re men, we knew better. Not anymore! I will not discount women’s intuition ever again.”
In some cases, the scammer’s greed meets its match: One young woman, lured into a remailing scheme, said to herself, “Hey, I’ll just keep all these DVD players.” She got arrested, too. A local victim of a Nigerian scam decided to recoup losses by defrauding a few people himself. But more victims are innocent and just plain lonely, engaged by an online flirtation or a telemarketer willing to chat for an hour—about the weather, the victim’s arthritis, her husband’s recent heart attack—before the scheme is even mentioned.
Many international scammers have shifted their target from the money-hungry to kind (if naïve) souls and bleeding-heart idealists, and postal inspectors say those are the hardest cases to stomach, because the scammers are as cruel as they are clever. One local victim was taken by a purported UNICEF aid worker. Another, a woman in South County, was chatting online with a man she believed was a missionary, and after a month she got an urgent email saying he’d just been thrown into prison. “I don’t have any money,” she replied, and he said that was OK; he’d send her money orders, and she could cash them and wire him the money. “She ended up cashing $20,000 in counterfeit money orders,” Taylor says. “There’s a Western Union in prison? She owes her bank $20,000 now. They came up with payments of $100 a month, but the bank will never see all their money, and that $100 a month is devastating to her. I’ve been to her house, and she’s someone for whom every single penny has a purpose.”
Then there are the scams you’d be nuts not to fall for. Robert Haines called up potential victims and said he was a police officer, had someone in custody for using their identity and wanted their information to make a police report. He is now in federal custody for the fourth time, says Tom Kerns, a postal inspector with the identity-theft task force. “When we arrested him the first time, he was in St. Louis County Jail using the jail’s phones and using homeless people as mules, so they’d be hard to track down.”
Identity theft’s a rapidly mutating creature, feeding on the bits of data that fall to the ground as information flies back and forth at supersonic speed. “We used to use a lot of C.I.s [confidential informants] and make purchases,” Kerns says, describing the early days of the local task force, which formed in 1999. “A lot of times they would sell a kit: a book of checks, ID, birth certificate, Social Security card. Back then there was always a ring of people, not just one suspect.”
Today the task force is tracking more lone thieves and doing less undercover work with middlemen. Tom Brady, a task force member who’s a special agent with the Social Security Administration, says the big change is technology: “You can make false IDs that look identical to the real thing, even re-encode the strip on the back of a counterfeit card.”
“Social engineers, that’s what they are,” chimes in John Bush, a task force member from the Secret Service. “They are able to do technology, plus they can talk to people at banks, et cetera. We’ve had transvestites [who can cover their tracks by switching genders]; we’ve had doctors, lawyers, coppers, prostitutes, state legislators.”
Those are just the perps. The victims could be anybody reading these words.
Cybercrime may have changed the shape of the classic con, but the essentials of a trick, scam or swindle stay the same. Postal inspector Tripp Brinkley, who works in global security and international liaison in D.C., recently researched mail-fraud history. “Lotteries were such a huge problem in the 1800s, any mail related to a lottery was banned,” he says. “The counterfeit checks that are flooding the market now? The Green Goods Swindle of the 1880s.” Nigerian email scams—enlisting the mark to retrieve stolen money—are modern variants of the Spanish Prisoner Scam. Romance and marriage scams? Hugely popular in the frontier era. The victim would send money for his newfound love’s train ticket, and of course she’d never come.
The Spanish Onion Seed Scam used “19th-century hyperlinking”: Newspaper ads promised $3 worth of said seeds to editors of smaller newspapers if they ran the same ad, and postmasters were offered a similar reward to spread the word. Then there was Brinkley’s personal favorite, Boyd’s Battery, an antique bit of quackery that released a light current of electricity and claimed to cure gout, neuralgia, dyspepsia, lumbago and even loss of manhood. “Although it did have a disclaimer that complete loss of manhood required two Boyd’s Batteries,” Brinkley adds. He was amused to see a company called Q-Ray make similar claims for its ionized bracelet (“Tiger Woods wore one”) and get ordered by a federal district court in Chicago to turn over $22.5 million in profits and pay up to $87 million in refunds.
Who are these scammers? Greedy bastards, mainly. Postal inspectors are too polite to say “bastard,” of course—but good old-fashioned greed’s the only motive they see. Shrinks, though, complicate matters: Neuropsychologist Heilbronner testified that Karen Hartstein had “the most severe case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that I’ve seen in an adult,” not to mention a dependent personality that left her so afraid of losing contact and affection that she’d go to any extreme to preserve a relationship. “It’s in all honesty a terrible combination to have,” he told the court.
At the end of the trial, asked if there was anything she wanted to say, Hartstein told the judge brightly, “I think I’ve developed an incredible—incredible work ethic just from working on this case for 12 hours a day.” She insisted that she hadn’t meant to hurt anyone. “I was just so desperate to pay everything back,” she said. The judge looked at her incredulously. “You caused over $2 million in damage to people who did nothing more than try to help you out,” he reminded her.
And somebody like Porcelli? “He liked his old lifestyle,” Latham says simply. “He even drove a Mercedes to one of his meetings with us. He’s always looking out for something else to get him back up. And he could charm you with his words. He was very personable.”
Beyond greed and the requisite charm, though, there’s no type at all. Tina Winston, a Belleville, Ill., mother who had never lived in New Orleans, claimed her two daughters had died in Hurricane Katrina’s floods and proceeded to collect about $4,000 in FEMA benefits.
Then there was Alvoy Wright, a member of what the postal inspectors were stunned to learn was a group of gangs originating in New York, composed of gay black identity thieves who used their illegal gains to bankroll fabulous parties, formal gay balls and pageants. The gangs entered an almost fraternal world; there was the House of Kahn, the House of Revlon, the House of Montana. “To be a member you have to own X amount of Montana clothing,” Kerns says. Bush leans back and stretches. “Kerns, you own a bunch of that, don’t you?”
Kerns ignores him. “Alvoy would meet with his probation officer in Atlanta, then fly to St. Louis, meet with a couple of guys here, have birth certificates made up for each of them, get state IDs, go to the bank and open an account.” They’d make their own checks and mail them to colleagues in another state, who would in turn write them checks from their fraudulent accounts. The checks danced ahead of the banks like floats leading a Thanksgiving Day parade.
And for contrast, there’s the eminently respectable middle-aged Robert Conner, a former Bank of America vice president, who was convicted in November of masterminding a $1.2 million bank and credit-card fraud scheme. Conner conspired with 16 people—including former State Rep. John L. Bowman (who resigned in January after pleading guilty to bribing a bank official), a former Pine Lawn police officer and a Wentzville physician. Conner let them submit false applications for Bank of America lines of credit, and in return, they paid him a kickback of $2,500 to $5,000. Found guilty on 36 federal counts, he awaited sentencing as we went to press—and the feds were eyeing his 2006 Hummer H2 and 2006 GMC Yukon for forfeiture.
Angela Smiley was convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from client accounts and sentenced to three years. Then the U.S. attorney learned she’d been hiding assets, so the judge doubled her sentence. She is currently appealing.
Karen Hartstein appealed her sentence and restitution order last fall. She says she doesn’t belong in this story. “They are making me out to be this big scammer, but my life just spun out of control. I had seven days to pay this $25,000 loan, and I panicked, and I just started asking people for money, but I offered way too much back, and it turned into a three-ring circus. To say I purposely gave someone a one-way ticket is ludicrous. Sometimes I could only afford to fund it one way, but then I’d call them. I’d say, ‘I can’t get you home, ’cause I don’t have the money, but if you can help me, I’ll get you home.’ I was always going to pay everybody back.”
And so she will; her appeal failed. She’s responsible for $2 million in restitution as soon as she completes her 10-year prison sentence.
When Pete Porcelli finishes serving his 13-year sentence, he’ll begin paying $12 million in restitution to the 64,000 people across the country who bought what he promised them was a credit card. “He was very contrite in our meetings and before the judge,” Latham says. “In one of his motions he argued that nobody lost their life savings.” Latham waits a beat. “Of course, a lot of these people didn’t have savings.”