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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.

Authorities in Oregon and Washington were already familiar with Tatman by the time he started mixing it up with Nevada officials. In 1984 in Douglas County, Oregon, Tatman was cited for operating a mine without a permit by state authorities, and according to a story in the local newspaper, mining inspectors were told not to visit the mine without an armed escort after Tatman was seen brandishing an Uzi machine gun. In Washington, a mine Tatman promoted was added to the federal Superfund environmental cleanup list in 1984 after toxic wastes leaked out of a containment pond.

Tatman's attention apparently began to turn to Colorado in 1990. That year he allegedly convinced an elderly Grand Junction woman to hire him and an associate named "Sparky" to prospect her mining claims in the Canadian Yukon by using an electronic "black box" that he claimed had the magical ability to find gold underground.

The woman, who still lives in Grand Junction but asks not to be identified, says Tatman took her and her late brother to a ranch near Colorado Springs to demonstrate the effectiveness of the black box. "We watched him come up with a big deposit of gold," she says.

After that, she says she gave Tatman and "Sparky" $10,000 to pay for a trip to the Yukon. She says she eventually gave Tatman more than $50,000 before deciding she'd been scammed. "He was very slick," she says. "He works on a person's ideas and desires. It's a wonder he hasn't been in jail."

After Tatman disappeared with her money, the Grand Junction woman says she got a call from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police inquiring as to the promoter's whereabouts. "They said he pulled a gun on a government inspector," she recalls. "They said, 'If he comes back here, we'll get him.'"

A spokesman for the Mounties in the Yukon territorial capital of Whitehorse confirms that his agency has investigated Tatman but refuses to provide details of the probe or to say whether the RCMP is looking for him. However, the Grand Junction woman says she doesn't expect to see Tatman--or the money she gave him--ever again. Her voice rises in anger as she reflects on her experience with the salesman. "If there's a God in heaven," she says, "Tatman will be destitute one day and have to scratch a living out of the dirt."

Tatman hasn't been reduced to living off the land, but he has apparently left the country.

For now, he's reportedly staying out of the way of his adversaries in the copper-mining regions of northern Mexico. Court documents recently filed by Tatman are signed by a Mexican notary.

According to Tim Hartley, his former business associate "went broke and left the country." Hartley denies all of Maher's allegations against Durango Metals and says he and Tatman are being persecuted by a vengeful investor with deep pockets.

"We have a bunch of little people being stomped on by some wealthy people trying to take away some rich ore bodies," says Hartley. "Durango is a small company, and we're struggling to save those properties for our shareholders."

Hartley says Durango has so little money that it's hardly able to pay its legal bills--quite a problem, since he acknowledges that the company is currently involved in seven lawsuits.

Court records indicate that Durango has gone through five attorneys in the last few years. According to Rugg and others, at one point a former Hartley lawyer asked the court to release him from representing Hartley because he hadn't been paid. When the judge refused, the lawyer burst into tears, astonishing everyone in the courtroom.

"It was a very remarkable occurrence," says Thomas Morris, Rugg's attorney.
Hartley, however, says Rugg and his other adversaries are simply using the court system to bankrupt him--the same claim that Rugg makes about him. "We keep running out of money," Hartley says. "It's been an effective legal strategy for them."

But those who've been involved in litigation with Durango, including Rugg and Maher, say they've had to dig deep into their own pockets to prevent themselves from being ripped off.

"Their strategy is to lease a mine from somebody who's pretty poor, sue them, run them into the ground, and then hope they get the mine," says Maher, who has hired former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton to press his case.

Hartley now says that he had little to do with Tatman other than contracting for Durango's ore to be processed at the Gold Hill Mill. But Maher and others say Tatman's company, COM Inc., was virtually joined at the hip with Durango. In documents filed in federal court, Maher insists that most of his dealings with Durango were handled by Wayne Tatman, beginning in October 1994.

"My first contact was with Wayne," says Maher. "I got to Boulder and called Sasha White, and about half an hour later, Wayne came and picked me up and showed me the Gold Hill Mill. He told me he knew Dennis Weaver and that he was coming to town."

In other court pleadings, Maher says he bought his first 100,000 shares of Durango stock for $40,000 in February 1995, after being told by Tatman that the mine had already produced sixteen tons of gold-laden ore and that the company would soon begin paying dividends to its shareholders. The next month he wrote a check to Durango for $160,000 and was given a stock certificate for 500,000 shares. In the next few months, Maher says, he started to suspect something was amiss. The promised dividends never showed up, and he learned that Durango had sued Rugg, who owned the tunnel the company used to get to its claims.

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