I fled Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1995, my home for the previous 25 years. A love affair gone horribly bad, a dysfunctional work environment and job stress, and friends moving south. I descended into depression and set a goal to get out of Alaska before the snow. I accepted a job in Carson City, Nevada, sight unseen after a phone interview, and packed my bags.
Ex-Alaskans best pal Barbara and husband Howard accompanied me to Carson City from Sacramento, their new home. Three adults and three dogs. Their Willie and Wanda, and my dog Hanna. U.S. Route 50 is one of my favorite roads, east from Sacramento entering the Sierra Nevada foothills and four-lane divided highway, becomes a narrow two-lane road. Reaching Echo Summit at 7,382 feet begins the steep descent into South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is beautiful and surrounded by tall trees. The fake TV set where the 60’s drama Bonanza is now a tourist destination on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.
I still remember the panic attack I experienced when crossing the tree-line as we descended into the Carson Valley. Leaving the beauty of Ponderosa Pines and experiencing the desert devoid of trees. It took me several years to appreciate the geography of the high desert.
The move to Carson City was my effort to reinvent myself. I was determined to be someone else — Happy. The 300 days of sunshine reported by the internet, was the promise of rising each morning to sunlight.
In Anchorage, the summers are to short regardless of the 23-hour day light. The winter is far too long. The sun comes up after 10 a.m. and begins setting by 3 p.m. I had been popping Prozac like they were M&Ms.
Carson City is a sunny place, but a very small town. My closest friend Barbara was 100 miles away. I had taken a huge pay cut and knew no-one; however, I believe in redemption through change.
1995 was before the dominance of Social Media, Match.com, Facebook, OkCupid and the rest. I placed a single’s ad in the Reno Gazette Journal personals. John Firestone replied. He seemed like a nice guy, drove a BMW, took me to the best Reno restaurants, and enjoyed talking politics. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any “chemistry” on my part, but John didn’t seem to mind.
He like to travel, fish and play golf. We never did any of those things together. He said the women he met in Reno were dumb and he enjoyed our conversations on current affairs, etc. One night at our favorite Reno restaurant with a panoramic view, I tried to pay half of the check. Explaining to John, I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship so thought we should dine as friends and split the check. John laughed and said, absolutely not! He told me flatly, he would be having great sex with a casino cocktail waitress, before I opened my door in Carson City, a 45-minute drive south from Reno.
I knew John played poker frequenting Reno casinos. John told me flatly he had been ‘seeing’ a waitress who he described as, “her stomach was so tight you could bounce a quarter on it”. I have to admit it was one of the best put-downs I have ever experienced. I liked him for his honesty. Smart men will date stupid women, but smart woman would never date a stupid man.
John and I continued to go to dinner, the movies, and attend concerts, no strings attached. I left Carson City in 1999 moving to Washington, D.C., and as a going away gift for all the dinners and concerts, I gave John a fly fishing rod. I returned to Nevada for work and pleasure in the coming years. John and I would get together for a great meal and conversation. He would never let me pay, even half.
John would also call me periodically ‘just to catch-up’. I was certain he had me on his calendar, as a reminder to call. In the fall of 2002, I was in Cedar Rapids Iowa working the mid-term Congressional election, John called me out of the blue. My privilege in life has been to work for labor unions and do campaign politics every two years. In 2002 I was assigned to Iowa. John called just to say hello and talk politics. I remember the call, because I was lost, trying to find an address in Cedar Rapids before there was GPS or Google maps. I pulled over and we talked as we had done regularly.
When I returned to my Washington, D.C. office in November, there was a voice message from a FBI Agent. The agent was asking that I return her call, which I did. She asked me about Jonathan. Jonathan who? Turns out John Firestone was not Jonathan or John. His real name was Barry Richard Hunt, and he had been running a Ponzi scheme, bilking many people out of millions of dollars. John had disappeared and he was on the FBI wanted list. The FBI got my name from his phone records.
The agent asked if John had ever tried to get me to invest, guaranteeing 15% – 20% return. I had to laugh. Sure, I think he might have mentioned something, but I didn’t have any money lying around. I had taken the job in Nevada for half the salary I was making in Alaska. And, my friends can tell you I have never been good with money.
The FBI agent had come to my office and we talked for over an hour. Mostly because I was fascinated to meet a woman G-man. She explained what John, aka Barry, had done. I told her I might have given him money, if I had any. But the best thing about not having extra cash is you won’t lose it. I did not have any sympathy for people who had “invested”. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So why am I writing about John Firestone, now? The other night during a great thunder-storm while channel surfing on Hulu, I watched Season 1, Episode 1 of American Greed. I love crime dramas. And, there was Barry Richard Hunt, my Jonathan Firestone! He had fled Reno in 2003 and was found by the FBI in 2005 plea bargained 6 years in Federal prison and agreed to $2.5 million in restitution. John was the first episode in the first season of American Greed ten years ago titled, “Hook, Line and Sucker”. I felt really special watching having known the guy.
John was my true-life criminal. We all have heard of scams, send money, etc. Thankfully, I have never fallen for a con-man. It helps I never have had money lying around to invest or be swindled from. I still hold “my John Firestone” in best regard. He was a friend to me.