In 1986 — only a years into our marriage — Sam and I met another young couple and soon became fast friends. We went to the same church, had all attended the same university, and were about the same age. We had many common interests including business startups, family, music, etc. The four of us got together regularly at each other’s homes, in the park, or at events.
Even after we moved to Florida, we kept in contact and got together every time we were back in town to visit family. We ended up with six kids and they with five and we enjoyed their company immensely. We shared birthdays and baby blessings and many special events.
In spite of his intelligence and charm, Jeff had a long series of sad business misfortunes. He would be just about on the edge of breaking to the next level, when something would happen. An ethical problem would come up, making it impossible for him to continue with the venture in good conscience, a business associate would turn on him, or something else that kept him from the success he hoped for.
Still, he kept his sprits up. He always looked the part and was constantly making contacts. He had a wardrobe and gym equipment that took multiple large rooms wherever they lived and he made sure his appearance screamed “success!”
In 1998, our LonTalk router business was booming. We had multiple employees and had just moved to a bigger office space to accommodate the load. We were thinking about the future and how to possibly go public at some point and Jeff had mentioned on a few occasions that he knew an efficient way to go about this process.
One day Sam called him and they discussed it further. It was decided that Jeff would fly out to Florida, stay in our home, and work with Sam on the preliminary details.
To make a long story not as long, Jeff tried to scam us. Having been friends for years — at least in our minds — we tried to give him the benefit of the doubt as suspicious incidents occurred. But it became more and more difficult to ignore his lack of professionalism and lack of documentation.
- He — a guy who had claimed years of consulting work in finance — had no method for billing clients and when I insisted on an invoice for record-keeping purposes, he billed me for an accounting package. And he billed me for the time to send an invoice.
- I sent an email requesting an outline of what he had done on our projects. He started the response with “Hey, Ginger Baby.”
- He billed us for another software package with regards to the stock issue. Sam asked for the software (since we were paying for it) and he couldn’t produce it. He also could not produce a receipt or any proof of purchase. When pressed, he brushed it off saying, “No problem. I’ll cover it.”
- One day when Sam was out and I was mopping the floor at our home, he commented on what a great body I had.
- He kept referring to himself as an employee and/or office of the company. I kept reminding him that he was neither, but an hourly consultant.
- When he sent the invoice, he asked for an immediate ban wire — even though the agreed terms were net 30. I reiterated that the agreed terms were payment in 30 days and he suggested that he should be paid like “any other employee” —even though employment had never been discussed. I reminded him that he was a consultant and would be paid as one. Sam asked him if he was in financial difficulty and needed the money sooner. He assured us that was not the case.
- He went to our business bank, spoke to a teller (representing himself as having some kind of permanent relationship with us), and arranged to have money wired to him. We still had to sign the papers — and refused to do so — but he put extreme pressure to treat him as a special case, while refusing to give any explanation.
Sam and I felt completely uncomfortable working with him. He made grand, sweeping statements, but could never show us any proof of anything.
In the end, I wrote him an email explaining how problematic the whole ordeal was, we paid for his trip expenses and that week of time, as promised, and haven’t spoken to him since. (Although I have spoken to his wife many times over the years.)
Within the next few years, Jeff married another woman — without divorcing (or telling) his existing family — and bilked people out of about $41 million dollars. He’s now serving a ten-year sentence for running a Ponzi scheme. (And, eventually, his real wife divorced him.)
‘Show me’ connotates a pragmatic stubbornness, a no-nonsense approach to living, and a devotion to simple common sense.
The fact that we demanded proof from Jeff — even though we considered him a dear friend — saved us from losing much more than a week’s pay.
The moral of the story: fact check, demand proof, and trust your gut more than other people, even friends.
The other moral of the story: when dealing with others, show proof and documentation of your claims, keep everything above board and as transparent as possible.
Always remember: actions speak louder than words.
- Demonstrate love.
- Demonstrate competence.
- Demonstrate professionalism.
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