Gold Diggers of '97

Page 4 of 7

"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.

There were other problems that Maher didn't know about. In January 1995, one month before Maher made his down payment, the state's Mined Land Reclamation Board had issued a cease-and-desist order against the "environmentally conscious" Gold Hill Mill for not properly containing its mine tailings. The mill shut down as ordered, but state officials say that after a heavy snowfall in the spring of 1995, 10,000 cubic feet of tailings from the mill overflowed into Cash Gulch, a tributary of Boulder Creek.

Maher grew even more uncertain about his investment when he learned that Wayne Tatman had broken off his engagement to Sasha White, the rainmaker who'd brought Maher into the picture in the first place. Hartley says the reason for that is simple. He claims Maher's lawsuit is part of a romantic vendetta--Maher and White became lovers, he says, and have conspired against her former fiance. "Wayne Tatman caught Sasha White in an embarrassing position with Bill Maher one night," Hartley says, a charge he has repeated in court documents.

Both Maher and White call the allegation that they were lovers ridiculous and say that it's part of a strategy by Hartley and Tatman to pin all the blame for Durango's problems on White. "It's completely drummed-up bullshit," says Maher.

Rugg agrees and says he thinks White's reputation may be another victim of the Mogul Tunnel fiasco. "They're just trying to ruin her by saying she was sleeping with everybody who wanted to buy stock," says Rugg.

Sasha White says the only thing she did wrong was to fall in love with the wrong guy.

A Texas-born blonde who speaks with a Southern drawl, White lived for several years in Boulder, where she became known for her environmental activism. She organized several conferences on the environment, which is how she befriended Dennis Weaver.

But she says she hooked up with Wayne Tatman entirely by accident in 1993, when she was working as a telemarketer for Great Expectations, a Denver dating service. Tatman had stopped by a Great Expectations booth at the National Western Stock Show and filled out a card expressing an interest in the service.

"He was one of my leads," says White. "I went into work, and his lead was right there on top of the stack. I called him in Gold Hill and asked him to join our dating service."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers