Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation

Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation

Dean Jobb

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 1616205350

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

It was a time of unregulated madness. And nowhere was it madder than in Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. Enter a slick, smooth-talking, charismatic lawyer named Leo Koretz, who enticed hundreds of people to invest as much as $30 million—upward of $400 million today—in phantom timberland and nonexistent oil wells in Panama. This rip-roaring tale of greed, financial corruption, dirty politics, over-the-top and under-the-radar deceit, illicit sex, and a brilliant and wildly charming con man on the town, then on the lam, is not only a rich and detailed account of a man and an era; it’s a fascinating look at the methods of swindlers throughout history.

As Model Ts rumbled down Michigan Avenue, gang-war shootings announced Al Capone’s rise to underworld domination. As bedecked partygoers thronged to the Drake Hotel’s opulent banquet rooms, corrupt politicians held court in thriving speakeasies and the frenzy of stock market gambling was rampant. Leo Koretz was the Bernie Madoff of his day, and Dean Jobb shows us that the American dream of easy wealth is a timeless commodity.
“A rollicking tale that is one part The Sting, one part The Great Gatsby, and one part The Devil in the White City.” —Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

“Intoxicating and impressively researched, Jobb’s immorality tale provides a sobering post-Madoff reminder that those who think everything is theirs for the taking are destined to be taken.” —The New York Times Book Review 
“Captivating . . . A story that seems to be as American as it can get, and it’s told well.” —The Christian Science Monitor
 “A masterpiece of narrative set-up and vivid language . . .  Jobb vividly . . . brings the Chicago of the 1880s and ‘90s to life.” —Chicago Tribune
“This cautionary tale of 1920s greed and excess reads like it could happen today.” —The Associated Press

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his memoirs. Polachek, he wrote, invested $80,000 “in a Zionist scheme floated by the Ponzi of the time” and decided “to meet the man at the train and get his money back before the swindler got wind of the danger and tried to flee.” While Murray did not name the promoter, Polachek is listed in court documents as one of Leo’s creditors and filed a claim for $22,000. George Murray, The Madhouse on Madison Street (Chicago: Follett, 1965), 218–19, 222; List of claims filed and allowed … third and

the jeweler was struggling to stay afloat and, in a final irony, was petitioned into bankruptcy within months of the ruling, leaving creditors to swallow losses of $750,000. See “Lewy Bros., Jewelers, Fail,” New York Times, November 24, 1925. 264 What a devastating thing Author’s interview with Andrew Goodman, August 16, 2012. 265 had this look on his face Author’s interview with Bill Goodman, August 30, 2012. 265 It was a terrible thing Author’s interview with Jane Siegel, September 12, 2012.

University. Clad in white stucco, topped with a high-pitched hipped roof, and as refined and grand as its tenant, it was “one of the show places of Evanston,” according to a reporter who checked out the property. “Scornfully it turns its back on the passerby, so that the back yard, if it can be so termed, faces the street.” The mansion—“for no other word will describe it,” the newsman assured his readers—had a glass-enclosed room at the north end that captured the morning sun and framed a

were convinced it was Alice Bronson. Klarkowski was coy when reporters asked him to name the woman in the photo, but he left no doubt who she was. “She lives in a fashionable north side hotel and her husband is a well-known and wealthy business man,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to cast odium on a woman … if she will tell the whole truth, her name still may be kept secret. But if she tries to hedge—well, we are trying to run down a man who swindled those closest to him, and none can stand in

his new friend’s real name, either. WHILE CHICAGO POLICE AND federal agents chased down leads across the country, Leo Koretz was lying low in New York, getting used to his new name, and growing the beard as a disguise. After checking out of the St. Regis on the afternoon of December 6, he had rented a furnished apartment nearby at 4 East Forty-Eighth Street, a five-story building only a few steps from Fifth Avenue in a desirable and expensive neighborhood. The rent, $300 a month, was what he had

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