Longform

Gold Diggers of '97

Page 2 of 7

"I never dreamed a miner could be a crook," says Rugg.

Dennis Weaver hasn't forgotten the day in 1994 that he drove up to the town of Gold Hill with Wayne Tatman. The charming promoter headed up a company called COM Inc. that was running an ore-processing mill in the mountain community. More important, Tatman was engaged to a close friend of Weaver's, Boulder environmental activist and sometime numerologist Sasha White, who had arranged for the two men to meet.

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.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers