Gold Diggers of '97

Page 3 of 7

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.

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.

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