From Denver, With Love

Five balding white men and a sixth wearing a hearing aid sit around a bamboo table in a Bangkok bar, under swaying fans and a neon Johnnie Walker sign that casts a faint red light over the group.

The six, all Americans, are waiting for Richard Beals. Each have paid $5,950 to Richard's Denver-based business that takes men on marriage tours halfway around the world. The minute they stepped off the airplane in Thailand, all six seemed younger, wealthier, better-looking than they had in the United States. All six are seeking Thai brides.

All six share a distrust of love American style.

Fifty-five-year-old Greg Sefchik, the man with the hearing aid, is the only one who's taken the marriage tour before. Richard gave him a $2,500 discount on this second trip.

Greg lives in Ohio, where he works at a Ford manufacturing plant. Tired of American women, he traveled to Thailand last spring to find a new wife.

Thailand Romance Tours takes men to three Thai cities to meet women whom Richard has screened personally and deemed good wife material. But on the May 2005 trip, Greg ran off with a 38-year-old woman who was not on the tour but worked in a hotel in Bangkok, the tour's first stop. Richard had a feeling she was a former "bar girl," a woman who'd learned English while selling sex to Western men in bars, and he pleaded with Greg to get back on the tour. "I'm trying to find you a good wife, not just a bed partner," he told him.

Greg rejoined the tour on its last stop, in the city of Khon Kaen. But not before he gave the woman from the hotel a $3,800 ring.

In Khon Kaen, Greg again fell quickly, this time for a 24-year-old he showered with gifts during their few days together. After he left Thailand, Greg sent her hundreds of dollars. A few months later, ignoring Richard's warning about showing too much generosity too quickly, Greg went back to Thailand and gave her the $3,800 ring that Richard had rescued from the first woman. After that, Greg continued to send her money.

By Thanksgiving, Richard could see that Greg had spoiled a good woman rotten. At his suggestion, Greg finally ended the relationship.

"These women will knock your eyes out, running around on those motor scooters with their black hair in braids," Greg explains.

On this tour, he vows, he's going to make sure that women are attracted to more than his money. "Trying to weed that out, that's the hard part," he says. "They're all looking for someone to take care of them; it's just the way. I plan on handling it different this time."

Lee Laidig is a 53-year-old former police officer who worked in Greeley for nine months, then in Illinois for eleven years. After 9/11, he joined the Transportation Security Administration. He wears glasses, and though he keeps his head down as he speaks, his blue eyes are looking up, like those of a cop interrogating a suspect. Lee has broad shoulders and plays the tough-guy role in this group, but back home in Illinois, he's lonely. He says he eats TV dinners by himself every night.

Lee had a sweetheart in high school, but the two split up when they went to different colleges. She married another man and had two kids before her husband got hit by a car and was hurt physically and mentally, Lee says. After they split up, Lee fell in love with the children and married his former sweetheart so that he could be part of their lives, although he denied that when his wife confronted him. They stayed together in a not-great marriage for 23 years before divorcing.

Lee has a friend back home who's married to a Thai woman. When Lee showed her the photos on Richard's website, www.thailandromancetours.com, she said that the women were all whores who were after money, not love. Lee asked if she knew anyone she could hook him up with, and last year the two flew to Thailand to meet her 35-year-old niece.

Lee married the niece last April. A wife visa normally takes about a year to obtain, so Lee wrote his congressman, asking for help in speeding up the process because he feared his new wife would be murdered by her former lover. In the meantime, Lee bought her presents, including a computer, sent her money for English classes and helped put an addition on her family's house.

On December 6, Lee's bride arrived in Illinois. She hated it, and a day and a half later, she had Lee put her on a plane back to Thailand.

On this tour, Lee's first order of business was to divorce his Thai wife. With Richard's help, he was a single man again after he paid about $200 for the half-hour procedure.