Tuesday, February 15, 2005

We don't generally cover non violent crime on these electronic pages, but I just came across a new book that just floored me. Don't let the title, GOD WANTS YOU TO ROLL, throw you. It's got nothing to do with religion. What it has to do with is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated in American history. And it started right here in Los Angeles. Compton, to be exact.

Written by JOHN PHILLIPS III, GWYTR tells the tale of two friends from Compton, ROBERT GOMEZ and JAMES NICHOLS, both still in their teens when they got the idea for the scame. By cunning and force of personality, they managed to convince thousands of victims that GOMEZ had inherited a vast fortune worth $411 million. Part of that inheritance was in the form of cars that ostensibly belonged to GOMEZ's adopted father, a devout Christian.

The way GOMEZ told his tale to church groups was that the hundreds of cars in the collection were earmarked by his late adopted father for Christians, church-going folks who believed in Jesus and miracles. The cars were tied up in probate but victims were told they could sign up, for a fee ranging from $1000 to $10,000, to reserve a car and to cover the shipping and registration expenses. The cars ranged from beaters to Maseratis and Bentleys.

To make a long story short, Gomez and Nichols took in over $21 million over a few years for cars that never existed.

If this story wasn't absolutely true, nobody would believe it as a work of fiction. It's impossible to imagine that thousands of otherwise smart, legitimate and sometimes even dubious people could be so sucked in by a story supported by nothing more than "legal" forms purchased for $1.99 from Staples. This is an amazing read. A real page-turner as they say. I was up until 3:00 AM.

Unlike most of the criminals we discuss in inthehat, Gomez and Nichols weren't hooked up with any neighborhood. They were independents. And they never used a gun, knife or a fist to collect the kind of money that big,violent criminal enterprises can only dream about. And they never spilled a drop of a victim's blood. The most powerful weapons thesse two scam artists used were the victims' faith and, frankly, their greed. You know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true. Apparently, none of the victims paid any attention to that old saw.

Ultimately, Gomez and Nichols caught 20-year sentences for the fraud but the ride that landed them in prison is worth reading about. Frankly, the kind of money generated by drug dealing, murder and extortion pales in comparison to the kind of money that can be made by using your head. We wouldn't be surprised if this book isn't already on some film producer's desk waiting for a production deal from a studio. It'll make an awesome movie. Another CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.


Anonymous said...

Amazing, Wally. As a "Church-Going" Christian myself, I remember a couple of years ago, at church some individuals, whom I had never met before approach me about cars and something in regards to an inheritance of vehicles that were being sold between 500-3000 dollars max.

Although noone that I know of from my church paid them any money (Thank God), they never came back after a week's worth or so of trying to get payments in the form of "Church Donations" for a surplus of vehicles.

I gotta thank you for posting about that book as I'm sure our neighboring churches may have been victimized by these people.



Wally said...

Bir Serg, that's the million buck question. Every day people risk a lot more time for much smaller returns. It's the question of the ages.

Anonymous said...

In response to Wally ...
There is a movie deal on this book. New Line Cinema bought the film rights. Nick Cannon will star (as well as exec. produce) and Don D. Scott will write the comedy as well as produce. It will be a sort of "Catch Me If You Can" with Andy Cohen also producing. The author John Phillips III will become a consultant on the film project. The Hollywood Reporter announced it.