“We need twenty-five thousand dollars for payroll,” Dino (name has been changed) told Peter. “If you don’t send it, none of the employees will be paid before Christmas,” he continued.

“OK, I will wire the funds tomorrow,” Mr. Ma replied.

“That will be too late,” Dino insisted. “I need to deposit cash today, or the paychecks will bounce. I will send an employee to pick it up.”

Later that day, Peter and I handed the cash to one of Dino’s young employees. I was concerned that Peter would never see that money again. Peter had invested in a food company run by Dino, who had recently arrived from Australia and joined forces with the bankrupt owner of the Pioneer Chicken restaurant chain to start a new wholesale food venture. I had become increasingly skeptical of this operation when projected sales turned into new promises of large pending orders that never materialized, and I had expressed my concerns to Mr. Ma. After they shut down their small operation in Los Angeles and moved to a large facility in Las Vegas, I became more aggressive in requesting information and documentation to support Dino’s optimistic projections. During one of our meetings when Peter left the room, Dino turned to me and said, “If you’re not more careful in what you say, you may find your legs broken.” I blew off the threat, and continued to ask hard questions after Peter returned. Dino seethed.

About a week later, the young employee called Peter and asked to meet with him confidentially. That weekend, Peter and I drove to Palm Springs and met with this scared young man. He confided that he was convinced Dino was scamming Peter. He said that their paychecks had bounced and that Dino blamed Peter for not sending money. He knew this was a lie, so he started looking into things and saw that Dino had wired Peter’s money to Australia instead of paying the employees. The warehouseman, who had a disabled son, had not been paid for nearly two months. Instead of providing his family with Christmas presents, they received an eviction notice. This young employee said that he dug further and discovered several records documenting Dino’s fraud, which he gave to us. He pleaded with us to not tell Dino he had talked to us because he was afraid of him. We assured him that we would keep his involvement confidential and would not confront Dino until we found a way that wouldn’t implicate him.

On Monday, Peter called and confronted Dino on his fraudulent use of Peter’s American Express card, something we could have found out independent of the employee’s assistance. Dino became belligerent and said that if Peter wanted war, then there would be war. After swearing at Peter, he hung up on him. Peter turned to me and said, “Book us flights to Vegas. We’re going to war.”

The next day, we set up our war room at the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas. My hotel room was converted into a mini-office with a computer and copier. In the meantime, the young employee talked with some of the past and current employees, explained what was going on, and solicited their support. The next day, I started interviewing witnesses and drafting declarations to support our case for fraud.

While I was busy preparing our legal case, Peter took a more practical approach. He had a housing development in Las Vegas, so he called the contractor who was running the development and told him why we were in town. Peter said that when you are in a war, you first take out the enemy’s transportation and communications systems. Dino was driving Peter’s new top-model Mercedes Benz, and Peter requested the contractor’s help in repossessing it. The contractor was game for some excitement and readily agreed. While Peter and the contractor drove over to the facility to repossess the car, I called the police department to let them know what we were doing so that if anyone called to report it stolen, the police would know what really happened.

The facility was a two-story building with offices on one side overlooking the large empty warehouse below. Dino always parked the car inside the warehouse, so Peter and the contractor were trying to figure out how to repossess it without Dino and the warehouseman noticing. Peter smiled and said, “I know.” He grabbed his cell phone and called the warehouseman, who was now aware that Dino had stolen his pay while his family was facing eviction at Christmastime, and told him to leave the back door to the warehouse open and take a long lunch. He gladly obliged. Peter then called Dino to distract him while Peter parked behind the warehouse. Peter told Dino that he was in San Diego at a trade show. While they engaged in a heated argument, the contractor jumped out with a set of the Mercedes’s car keys, entered the warehouse, unlocked the car, and drove off, with Peter right behind him. Once they were on the street, Peter abruptly ended the call with the same epitaph that Dino had used a couple of days earlier.

When Dino and his wife entered the warehouse to drive home at the end of the day, he was shocked. He called the warehouseman over and said, “My car is gone.”

The worker looked around and calmly said, “Yep. You’re right.”

Dino fumed as he stomped up the stairs to his office to report that his car was stolen. He became even more incensed when the police officer informed him that the car was not stolen but repossessed by its rightful owner. Dino demanded to know who had called in this report to the police. He slammed the phone down when he heard “Grant Hallstrom.” Dino turned to the warehouseman and screamed, “I want them dead, dead, dead! I want Peter and Grant dead, and I want it done tonight!” Dino knew that the warehouseman had been a bodyguard and had connections with the underworld who could do such things. Dino told him to call his connections and that he would pay to have the job done. Then Dino insisted that the man drive him and his wife home.

Afterward, the warehouseman met with the young employee and the contractor and told them what had happened. Soon they were all crammed into my hotel room. The warehouseman looked at me and said, “I’m supposed to kill you right now.”

There was nervous laughter when I dropped my head and said, “Here’s a good shot for you.” After the warehouseman related the events of the day, I said that this had gone way beyond a fraud case, and we needed to inform the police.

When we all walked up to the counter at the Las Vegas Metro Police station, the officer on call looked at us and deprecatingly asked, “OK, what club were you in?”

I said, “This is something more serious than that. The owner of a business just asked this employee to arrange for someone to murder Mr. Ma and me tonight.”

The officer’s countenance changed, and after asking a few short questions to establish that we were serious, he said, “Don’t say anything else. Just wait right here, and we will have someone help you.” Moments later, we were escorted upstairs and separated into different rooms, where we were each interviewed. When our stories all matched, they brought us back together and told Peter and me to not worry because they had already called the local authorities where we lived, and they would have someone monitoring our homes that night to ensure that our families were safe.

The commanding officer did not wear a uniform, and he informed us that he was in charge of the undercover operations for the police department. He asked the warehouseman if he was willing to cooperate with them and wear a wire. He said he would. The officer then told him to call Dino and tell him that he was unable to make any connections that evening but that he would let him know of any progress in the morning. He then asked Peter, the warehouseman, and me to go to a specific local diner and order breakfast at six-thirty in the morning. A couple of undercover officers would meet us there. We informed the officer that we had arranged for some employees to use their keys to remove the computer equipment Peter owned from the office that night―furthering our plan to disable the enemy’s communications. The officer smiled and said that would be fine as long as we had the paid invoices, and they used their keys and didn’t break and enter.

The next morning, Peter, the warehouseman, and I sat in an isolated booth at the café eating our breakfast when a gnarly, large, bearded man with tattoos entered the restaurant and walked around, paying us no attention until he slipped into our booth as he walked by. He explained that he was an undercover cop and that his partner would join us shortly. He asked if the warehouseman was still willing to wear a wire, and he confirmed that he was. After a few minutes of conversation, the undercover officer’s large cell phone rang. He answered and said, “Yes, the coast is clear.”

Moments later, we were joined by another undercover officer, as ominous as the first. They explained the plan for the warehouseman to tell Dino that he had made contact with his sources, and they wanted to meet with Dino to ensure it wasn’t a set-up and to make the arrangements, then try to arrange a meeting with them. They asked if Dino was armed, and the warehouseman said, “Yes, he always carries a .45 pistol tucked into his back belt and puts it behind his seat while driving.”

“Thanks for the information,” they said as they left Peter and me at our table.

The police officer we spoke with the night before and his partner listened to Dino rant and rave as they followed the warehouseman’s car after he picked up Dino and his wife. Soon, the officer’s swanky new bright-red sport car was tailgating them as the officers debated whether they should pull them over and arrest Dino right then and there because they feared for the warehouseman’s safety based on Dino’s irate language toward the warehouseman for allowing his car to be repossessed.

After they arrived at the office and saw that all of their computers were missing, Dino exploded. His wife calmed him down and convinced him that Peter was too strong of an adversary to kill. So Dino told the warehouseman his new plan was to go after the weak link, me. He wanted the hitmen to kidnap and torture me until I told them where the car was and then kill me. Then they were to steal the car back and drop my body off where the car was to send a message to Peter not to *&^%#$ with him. He wrote down my description, the type of car I drove, and the usual time I arrived at Peter’s office so the warehouseman could pass this along to the henchmen. Dino then asked the warehouseman to call his contacts to arrange the hit. The warehouseman thought quick and said, “I shouldn’t call from here. What if the phones are bugged?”

“You’re right. Call from a pay phone.”

The warehouseman walked around the corner where the police had congregated. Again, they asked about any weapons, and the warehouseman told them about the .45 pistol in the upper desk drawer, the functional .22 derringer in his belt buckle, the dagger strapped to his calf, the compound bow and arrows in his office next to a baseball bat. (Months earlier, I had noticed the bat in his office and commented, “I didn’t know they played baseball in Australia.” His response was a sneer.) The police entered through a side door, briskly walked up the stairs, burst into the office, and arrested Dino.

About three months later, Peter and I entered the courtroom for Dino’s arraignment. I was surprise by how noisy the courtroom was, completely unlike the courtrooms in the civil courts. I later found out that many criminal attorneys meet their clients for the first time in the courtroom, sometimes because they have been behind bars. In nearly all cases, this is when the attorneys discuss their cases and possible plea bargains. The din in the courtroom was unaffected by the judge taking the bench and proceeding with the court’s calendar, calling one case after another as the accused entered their pleas: that is, until the judge read these charges: “Two counts of solicitation of murder, one count of solicitation of kidnapping and torture.” After a few gasps, you couldn’t even hear anyone breathing. “How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your honor.”

After a lengthy dialogue in which the judge made sure that Dino knew what he was doing, they set the date for Dino’s sentencing. Dino’s wife had posted bail, so Dino was free to go until he was sentenced. As we walked out of the courthouse, I told Peter that I wanted to talk with Dino to see if he would cooperate in our legal action to recover some of the money and to find out the extent of Dino’s partner’s involvement. Peter went ahead while I waited for Dino. Once he stepped outside, I approached him and ask him to have lunch with me so we could talk. I figured I was as safe as I ever would be because if anything happened to me under these circumstances, Dino knew he would be in prison a lot longer. He was obstinate as I solicited his cooperation over lunch. He said that jail was really not that bad because he’d had time to devise a great new scheme to defraud others innocent people. He refused to share any information unless I first agreed to pay him $5,000, without any indication of what he would tell us. Of course, I refused. After the meal, he said that he was broke and asked if I could give him some money. Partially out of charity, but also to keep the door open, I gave him $100 as we parted. The next day, he and his wife flew to Sicily.

I later found out that Dino was wanted for questioning regarding several crimes in Australia and that he had blown up a small bridge to escape while fleeing police. His only prior record in the US was for drafting a fake court order and having an employee impersonate a lawyer when they both went to a company while the owner was in the hospital and claimed that the court had ordered them to return the equipment they had recently repossessed from Dino. Dino hired actors to fill an empty office and pretend they were a hustling and bustling business when he brought investors over to look at an investment opportunity he was pitching. But the best story to show the unabashed ingenuity of his criminal mind was how his wife raised the money for his bail. She went to various rent-to-own businesses and rented the most expensive furniture and fixtures possible―grand pianos, art work, expensive refrigerators and freezers, sofas, et cetera, then sold them and kept renting more furniture until she had accumulated enough for the bail.

I never heard from Dino again, but he bragged in jail that if it wasn’t for Grant Hallstrom, he could have taken Mr. Ma for $2 million.

Even though I had previously experienced the adverse effect of others people’s greed several times, and we watch violence on TV all the time, it was still shocking to realize that someone I personally interacted with actually tried to have me killed. Greed truly does corrupt.

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