First Bank, as it was known, eventually rented space on the second floor of a run-down, whitewashed building on Young Street in the capital city of St. George’s, a quaint town of 7,500 where colorful colonial buildings are set on the edge of a blue lagoon. Ziegler and his staff began working the phones from the bank’s offices, first by calling people in the United States and Canada who’d previously invested in Fidelity International, to let them know about new Grenadian investment opportunities. These included the Super NEWPP fund (for “No Early Withdrawal of Principal Permitted”), which required a minimum $1 million deposit and on which the investor would earn 250 percent at the end of a five-year term.
Newsletters. Direct solicitation. Word of mouth. Internet. First Bank employees went into overdrive.
By April 1998, the money started to pour in, and First Bank’s employee roster eventually swelled to some 50 people, including many locals who answered phones and did the bank’s clerical work. Ziegler also had installed a board of directors, among them Rita Regale, a former grocery-store manager he’d met in Hawaii. Though she never went to college, Regale served as First Bank’s chief financial officer and was charged with signing all of the bank’s certificates of deposit and managing the database of investor names. Ziegler’s longtime associate Douglas Ferguson, who managed a dry-cleaning business in Oregon, headed up the International Deposit Indemnity Corporation (IDIC), which was modeled after the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and which Ziegler used as a tool to boost investor confidence. (In fact, IDIC, a business name registered on the island of Nevis, was nothing more than a fax machine set up in a lawyer’s office on the island of Dominica.) Robert Skirving, a former Amway salesman from Portland, was put in charge of creating new schemes to bilk investors. And Laurent Barnabe, who in 1995 pleaded guilty to selling unregistered securities in Canada, acted as chief operating officer; his task was to develop First Bank’s seminars and glossy marketing materials and create dozens of fraudulent funds and sub-banks that made clients’ money extremely difficult to track.
Newsletters. Direct solicitation. Word of mouth. Internet. First Bank employees went into overdrive. They set up fake businesses like the Offshore Educational Institute, where investors could learn about the advantages of offshore investing. They established a program called Granite Registry Services, through which people would make deposits via “international business corporations”—a way of making the money more difficult to trace. They hired a network of salesmen who worked for the bank’s “Asset Research and Development Association,” and who would get a cut out of every investment procured. They tried their hand at pyramid schemes with the Given in Freedom Trust program, and cross-marketed their fraudulent programs with other fraudulent offshore businesses. They even created a fake stock exchange—the World Investors Stock Exchange, or WISE—where people could purchase stocks in offshore companies guaranteed and backed by First Bank.
Of course, much of the money collected ultimately ended up in numerous bank accounts that afforded the First Bank “board of directors” a very good life. Regale bought three Mercedes-Benz sedans; paid $300,000 toward a $570,000, seven-month rental of a beach house in Naples, Florida; and took at least three Lear jet trips between there and Grenada, at $30,000 per flight. Barnabe paid $350,000 for a 2000 Carver 350 Mariner yacht that he named Offshore Funs. Skirving used a $183,000 check from an investor to make a partial down payment on a $1.3 million home in Clackamas. They bought tanning beds and jewelry and went on gambling sprees.
Barnabe even persuaded Grenadian authorities to launch an “Economic Citizenship Program,” in which, for $250,000 paid to the government coffers, anyone could receive a Grenadian passport. Ziegler bought one and also gave himself a dapper new name: Van A. Brink. For Ziegler, it was a smart investment, as having two names and as many as three passports made it easier for him to travel abroad to make his pitch and hand out literature that read, “It’s that simple. Buy low. Sell high.” Ziegler often read the line aloud to his audience, so people knew exactly what they were getting into.