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GOLDEN FLEECE

part 2 of 2
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Savage spent a lot of time jetting back and forth between England and Colorado, where he had also developed a number of business contacts. One was Michael Bergman, a Fort Collins man who hoped Savage would provide him with money to help fund an idea he and a friend had for a nonfogging dental mirror. Another was Robert Clark of Colorado Springs, former publisher of a magazine called Counterterrorism and Security, a short-lived venture in which Savage invested.

For a while, Bergman says, he believed Savage's line that he was a secret agent investing on behalf of the Kuwaiti government and, unknowingly, helped recruit investors for the advance-fee scam. "He knew how to mix just enough truth with something to make it plausible," Bergman says. "You got to fill in the blanks. At this time, I would have to say that I'm looking at everything that John ever did as suspect. [But] at that time, it looked good."

Later, when Bergman realized Savage was lying and refused to help him anymore, Savage tried to scare him, Bergman says. Savage began making vague allusions to the "Star Chamber," a group of powerful figures that Savage claimed "really ran the world." The Chamber had compiled a dossier on Bergman, Savage said, and he'd better "get in line."

"I don't think he [Savage] was capable of actually taking someone's life himself," Bergman says. "But he would be the type that would pay to have someone's life taken. I can truthfully say, in all the time that I spent with John, that he was incapable of having deep feelings for anyone other than himself."

During his frequent trips back to the States, Savage found time to add American victims to his list of European conquests. One of them, Gordon Erkfitz, a brash Texan who ran for that state's House of Representatives in 1978, lost more than $1 million to Savage.

"I don't know how prudish you are, but the guy literally fucked me," Erkfitz says. "I mean he literally fucked me. He just really put me through the coals, and my family. It was devastating. I ended up filing Chapter 7. I lost everything."

In the Eighties, Erkfitz says, he had "the Midas touch." Every venture on which he embarked earned him scads of money. He owned a cemetery, a funeral home, insurance companies, shopping centers and a number of other businesses in and around Waco. At the end of the decade, however, the Texas economy went south, and it started taking Erkfitz's highly leveraged little empire down with it.

In 1989 Erkfitz began searching frantically for a loan, but banks in Texas seemed to be failing every day and were no longer a viable source of credit. "When you're this damn desperate, you're like a guy that's hanging on a cliff," Erkfitz says. "You just try and grab on anything you can." Then one day he spotted an ad in the Money section of USA Today. The ad, which listed a telephone number in San Francisco, offered interested parties access to large amounts of cash in return for a 1 percent "loan origination fee." Erkfitz called the number and spoke with a man who put him in touch with a contact in England. The contact turned out to be John Savage.

Erkfitz says he flew to London to meet Savage, who told him he was working as an intermediary for unnamed Arab investors. The Arabs, Savage told him, couldn't make the loans directly because the Koran forbade them to charge interest. Savage told Erkfitz that if he came up with $1.4 million, he would have access within a few weeks to a $100 million line of credit.

Erkfitz scrambled to come up with the money, spending the next several weeks at a London hotel called the Rathbone, making phone calls and typing up a blizzard of documents that Savage gave him. And for a while, things seemed to be happening. Erkfitz was dispatched to Geneva one day, where an Arab named Al-Masri met him carrying a suitcase full of cash. Another man, a black American from Germany whom Erkfitz knew only as "Dr. Bronson," flew to London later to participate in the deal.

Despite all the sound and fury, nothing ever happened. Erkfitz eventually flew home to Texas--out $1.4 million and empty-handed--with Savage still promising that the loan would be wired to his bank account any day. "I wanted to kill him," Erkfitz says.

The British law enforcement official who investigated Savage and his partners says Erkfitz's tribulations--the flurry of documents, the international phone calls, the mysterious figures like Bronson and Al-Masri who appeared out of nowhere--are all typical in an advance-fee sting.

"You can't do these things on your own," the official says. "The essence of a good advance fee is as many players as possible who spend all day on the telephone, all day on the fax machine. You just bury your target in paper and phone calls. You promise the world. And you flood him from all points of the globe--flood the poor idiot with paper.

"A lot of these guys--on another day, they wouldn't have gone along with it," the official adds. "But they get worn down."

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