In Las Vegas, Barnabe gave seminars to potential offshore investors and worked on a new bank that would issue “gold-backed” CDs. And from Uganda, Ziegler continued to push the Restoration Project. “They never met a scam they didn’t like,” says Fay, noting that revictimizing people is a hallmark of the con man. “They prey on the victim who thinks, ‘Oh gee, if I just send X amount of dollars, all will be well, I’ll get my money back, I won’t have to suffer either this financial loss or this huge humiliation…. ’ We sent out thousands of questionnaires to people, trying to locate as many [victims] as we could.” Only a couple of hundred came back.
Eventually, Fay had enough evidence to bring money-laundering charges against the First Bank group. On January 6, 2004, FBI agents arrested Skirving and Barnabe outside Las Vegas, and Regale in Naples, Florida. Ferguson, however, had moved into Ziegler’s compound in Uganda, where they had started another plea for funds called “Staying Alive Money,” or SAM. The US Department of State revoked the men’s American passports; Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, issued a fugitive alert.
On May 28, 2004, five FBI agents waited at Entebbe International Airport as Ugandan police encircled Ziegler’s estate. When the police crashed through the door, one of Ziegler’s bodyguards pulled a gun; the police shot and killed him before apprehending Ziegler and Ferguson. The men were flown in handcuffs to Johannesburg and then to the United States, where they eventually joined Regale, Barnabe, and Skirving in the Multnomah County Inverness Jail. They spent between three months and a year there, pending trial.
Three years after their arrests, on August 27, 2007, in US District Court in Portland, the First Bank crew were finally sentenced for their financial crimes. Barnabe was sentenced on charges of selling unregistered securities; he’s now serving six years in the California City Correctional Institution. The others were sentenced on charges of money laundering. Ferguson received four years, four months, which he is serving in the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon; Skirving’s there, too, serving eight years, one month; and Regale is serving her 18 months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Coleman, Florida.
Ziegler, however, served no time. On December 10, 2005, he died of a massive heart attack at his former brother-in-law’s house, while awaiting trial.
?Ferguson declined a face-to-face interview for this article, but he wrote a brief letter about First Bank from prison, indicating that his involvement is “more a case of being in the wrong place, etc.” When contacted, Barnabe declined to be quoted. His daughter, however, defended her father in an e-mail. “I believe there are some individuals that are accountable to this tragic situation, but know that my father was used as a ‘scapegoat’ in this case. I can tell you he is a man of integrity…. ”
Shortly before Ziegler’s death, he wrote his version of events, a letter that now appears on a message board of the OffshoreAlert website. In it, Ziegler paints himself as the hero of the First Bank story, which he likens to an espionage thriller. He claims that he was forced to leave Grenada in order to locate a vault in which to store the 870 kilograms of gold the bank still owns, as well as $300 million in pre-1935 US currency. He describes plans to broker peace accords among African tribal kings and to build a new bank in Uganda, one that will certainly require razor wire, armor-plated walls, and electronic surveillance, because now he is the target of an assassination plot. In order to save First Bank, he had to jet around the world—to Japan and South Africa and Cuba—an odyssey that has “fully become a surrealistic nightmare that would have done Rod Sterling [of ‘The Twilight Zone’] more than proud.” But soldier on he does—in order to recoup all of his investors’ losses, in order to build an even better bank. He assures people that he has a lock on another $21 billion in financing.
In an episode of the CNBC series American Greed that aired earlier this year, Ziegler can be seen in a grainy video from First Bank’s heyday, flashing a gap-toothed grin at his audience. “What you’re involved in is a banking concept that has absolutely that many people with big banking credentials and previous experience,” he says—“that” meaning the zero he makes with his thumb and forefinger.
It is perhaps the one time that Ziegler was telling the truth.