Money Machine

At eighteen, Scott Zuviceh wanted to be just like a Secret Service agent. He'd grown up in Granby, mostly, and was one of the town's more notable troublemakers, a bona fide hellraiser. When he was eleven, he'd been removed from his parents' home and sent to live in a progression of group homes. He'd spent his early teenage years growing his hair long, boozing with misfits, listening to Guns n' Roses; by sixteen, he was serving a two-year stint at a youth detention center in Colorado Springs. And now that he was out, he was looking to make an honest wage.

Zuviceh pleased his family and surprised his friends by enrolling at Executive Security International, a two-year vocational school in Aspen that trains its students to become top-notch bodyguards. The school uses Secret Service training manuals to teach how to detect celebrity stalkers, sniff out bombs and speed away in getaway cars. ESI graduates have gone on to protect people such as Jane Fonda and Bill Gates; Jeff Gillooly, the thug hired by ice skater Tonya Harding to thwack her nemesis, also studied at ESI.

But even in that crowd, Scott Zuviceh had unusual career goals. He didn't plan on becoming a bodyguard for hire, a big-city fed or even a small-town cop. Instead he spent his classroom time conducting his own counter-surveillance on the U.S. government. He wanted to learn how the government "got away with what it got away with," he remembers. To Zuviceh, that meant understanding how the powers that be made their money -- and how they kept it away from everyone else. In other words, he didn't want to become a Secret Serice agent; he wanted to think like one.

In one of Zuviceh's courses, a class on international terrorism, he learned that in the early 1930s the Federal Reserve abandoned the gold standard that had backed U.S. bills pound for pound. Rather, the government now relied on economic formulas and physical wealth, such as rights to oil fields, to fortify the greenback. It was a brilliant scheme concocted by the government and a handful of private bankers to control the world's wealth, as Zuviceh saw it. It also allowed private bankers to write new rules to favor their own bank accounts and then use the amassed riches to support personal causes. That's how international terrorism gets financed, Zuviceh concluded.

Zuviceh was a good student, and away from school, his friends would always catch him with his nose buried in newspapers or books, usually works of fiction that had a knife or gun on the cover. Scotty, as they called him, was smart as a whip but still mischievous as hell. He had a heart like Santa Claus but a brain like Satan.

When Zuviceh completed his stint at ESI in the early '90s, he was 21 years old. He owed $18,000 in student loans and had gone back to partying with old friends. Within a year, his teenage enthusiasm for drugs and alcohol had become very adult excessiveness: He was shooting meth all the time, working through an astonishing $200 a day.

He submerged himself in dreams: What if I were filthy rich? What if I were filthy, roll-in-the-mud, stinking rich? What if I could buy the world and still have change to spare?

Zuviceh got to thinking: If they make money, why can't I?

The first time Scott Zuviceh made something fake, he was sixteen and needed a phony driver's license to get into bars. His fake ID worked, so he made more for his friends, relying on his steady hand and X-Acto knife. Soon they were all drinking and having fun, thanks to Scotty.

Now that he was out of school, Zuviceh had more time to fool around. He also had a new tool: the computer. One day he purchased software for making payroll checks, downloaded it onto his laptop and printed out paychecks for his friends. He created IDs to go with the names on his phony payroll. Within a few days, Zuviceh realized that he was onto something potentially very lucrative: payday, everyday.

But printing bogus paychecks for the same friends again was dangerously redundant, the downfall of any good scam. So Zuviceh started looking for more than a one-hit sting. He and his friends rummaged through mailboxes and broke into cars, stealing personal checkbooks. With a scanner and a few more taps on his computer, Zuviceh created driver's licenses to match. His forged works were nothing spectacular, but they didn't need to be. They just had to look good enough to fool people for a second, that first second they looked at the ID.

When Zuviceh tired of hunting for checkbooks, he simply made his own. He created fake names -- Robin Banks and Michael Hunt were favorites -- fake routing numbers and sometimes even fake banks. The checks were always easy to pass. Unlike cash, personal checks came in a number of colors and designs, too many for a Kmart cashier to keep up with.

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Justin Berton