Gold Diggers of '97

The TV star, the fortune-teller, the gun-toting miner and Captain Ecology: Meet the loopy cast of characters feuding over a tiny Colorado gold mine.

Weaver, the star of television's McCloud series in the 1970s, was looking for backers for his Ridgway-based Ecolonomics Institute, an environmental think tank that attempts to find ways to create ecology-friendly industries. White told him that Tatman planned to pioneer ecological methods of mining and milling and that he had enough money to help fund the institute.

"Sasha called me up one day and said, 'I've got a person who could fund what we're doing,'" recalls Weaver. "He came over to the house driving an old Lincoln. I thought, 'If this guy has the money he claims, why isn't he driving something better?'"

Despite his misgivings, Weaver says he thought Tatman might be able to support the fledgling institute and met again with the promoter during a visit to Boulder later that year. "He talks a lot and says what he thinks you want to hear," Weaver says of Tatman. "One time we were driving through Gold Hill, and he was explaining to me how he was going to build his home on top of the mountain and he'd build an elevator from the mine shaft and it would serve the house."

Tatman went on to describe other big plans, including a multi-million-dollar educational facility and tourist attraction that would turn Gold Hill into an ecological theme park. Weaver says he was skeptical but still thought the promoter might be a source of funding for the Ecolonomics Institute. He even agreed to put Tatman on the institute's board, but Tatman never came through with any cash. "He made a lot of promises about how much money he was going to give the institute, but he never did anything," says Weaver.

Despite Weaver's misgivings about the Mogul project, Tatman was able to use the actor's Hollywood pedigree to impress at least one investor in the mine. Bill Maher met Weaver and got the star's autograph during a gathering at Tatman's Boulder home in October 1994, a few months before he bought his first shares in Durango Metals. Maher also considers himself an environmentalist, and he says he was eager to meet Weaver. The dentist had visited Ridgway earlier that year and had his picture taken outside the Earthship--a structure Weaver put up made of recycled tires--in his Captain Ecology suit, a green outfit that Maher wears on occasion when he plays a new-age caped crusader.

Like Weaver, Maher had been brought into Tatman's orbit by Sasha White, who says she began touting the Mogul project after Tatman promised her a finder's fee for lining up investors. A friend in California put the dentist in touch with White when he complained about the performance of his investments. "I was pissing and moaning about stocks and bonds and what I was going to do for the future," Maher says. "My friend said, 'I just got some material about an investment in Colorado.'"

Just a few days before the meeting with Weaver, Maher says Tatman took him on a tour of the Gold Hill Mill. At the time, ore from the Mogul was being processed in Gold Hill, and Maher says Tatman presented himself as an experienced miner who had recently sold a gold mine he had developed in Nevada for $50 million. There were three or four miners doing exploratory work in the Mogul when the dentist visited--"just enough miners to make it look legitimate," he says.

Maher says he was charmed by Tatman's vision of "environmentally sensitive" mining--rhetoric perfectly suited to an environmentalist looking for a lucrative investment. He told Tatman he was very interested in the Mogul Tunnel project.

What Maher didn't know was that Tatman had a record of promoting mines all over the western U.S.--and a history of leaving behind angry owners, investors and government officials.

Before he showed up in Colorado in the early 1990s, Tatman spent ten years doing business in Winnemucca, Nevada. In 1980 he leased several claims to the Alma mine from Lee York, a local man who soon found himself fighting Tatman both inside and outside the courtroom.

For years York was involved in litigation over the mine with Tatman, whom he calls "Tat Rat." York says Tatman claimed he owned the mine, and then sued York for defamation when he started telling people about his experience with the promoter. The two men didn't confine their dispute to the courthouse; according to York, in 1988 Tatman tried to run him over with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. At one point York--who claims that Tatman ran the mine from an office in a local bordello--says he even exchanged blows with his adversary.

"I invited him up to a meeting, and the bastard was dumb enough to come," he says. "I asked him, 'Who owns the Alma?' and he said, 'I do,' so I knocked him off the stool. He pulled his pants up to go for the pistol he kept in his boot, so I pulled my shotgun on him and walked over and knocked him over with the barrel of the shotgun."

Tatman had disputes with others in Nevada as well. After the federal Bureau of Land Management cited him for failing to clean up an abandoned mine site, Tatman wrote to the agency complaining that he was the target of a "vendetta" because his dog, Buffy, had defeated a BLM agent's dog in a Humane Society pet show.

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