This originally appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 5, 1994. A direct link to it to share with you was not available but credit where credit is due.
Portrait of a charmer. (convicted confidence man David Riggs)
Atlanta Business Chronicle
| August 05, 1994 | Gillam, Carey
Convicted con man David Riggs making himself at home here
When David Riggs moved to Atlanta and started looking for business deals last year, the 31-year-old globe-trotting businessman was all confidence.
After all, Riggs had earned himself a cool $3 million by starting and then selling a video production company in Kansas City, Mo. And he had won friends and influence around the world during travels that took him from London to Hong Kong.
At least, that is the story Riggs told to Fred Wynne, a wealthy Hilton Head, S.C., businessman, as Riggs negotiated his way into a business relationship with Wynne and an eventual job as chief operating officer of an Atlanta video production company co-owned by Wynne called Video Post.
But the story Riggs told left out a few details.
Riggs did not tell Wynne that he used his Kansas City company, Mokan Productions Ltd., to con several banks and investors out of millions of dollars and dupe a major accounting firm into helping him launch a public offering in the company’s stock. He did not tell Wynne that federal prosecutors charged him with 29 counts of bank, wire and passport fraud in connection with Mokan and that he pleaded guilty to three of those counts in 1990.
And he did not tell Wynne that his last address before moving to Atlanta was Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.
Riggs also neglected to tell Wynne that before his imprisonment he traveled the world using a variety of false identities and fraudulent passports with the FBI in hot pursuit. And he left out a stint in South Africa, where South African police believe Riggs masterminded an illegal rhino horn and elephant ivory smuggling operation. Before South African police could catch up with him, Riggs was arrested in Hong Kong for passport fraud and held for a year in prison until his extradition back to the United States.
Riggs, who was dubbed the “Rhino Cowboy” by foreign newspapers, saw his relationship with Wynne fizzle when his past was uncovered by a suspicious associate. But the brief encounter with Riggs has left Wynne mired in lawsuits and countersuits and frustrated at how easily Riggs charmed him.
“I was infatuated with Dave,” he says. “He was a wonderful salesman. I thought . . . ‘I can’t let this guy get away,’” says Wynne. “This is the damnedest thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”
But that’s not all. Federal investigators have received information that Riggs is trying to do business in Africa again.
Authorities in the Department of the Interior’s Division of Fish & Wildlife in Washington, D.C., and the South African Police Authority say the information — received from informants in Africa — centers around the recruitment of investors for an African hunting lodge.
The lodge, dubbed the Zambezi Safari Lodge, is to be located in Zimbabwe, Africa, which borders South Africa.
Visitors would hunt a range of wildlife, including rhino and elephant, according to the private placement memorandum for the $3.2 million lodge project. The memorandum says Riggs is a “substantial investor” in the lodge venture and is “director of operations.” A copy of the memorandum and supporting investment materials has been circulating among potential investors since mid-1993.
The possibility of a man imprisoned for fraud and suspected of smuggling rhino horn and ivory being involved in developing a rhino and elephant hunting lodge in Africa worries law enforcement authorities there.
“I would like for him to stay as far away from South Africa as possible,” says South African Police Authority Captain Piet Lategan. “And we would seriously look at anything he was doing anywhere in Africa.”
Lategan says it was earlier this year when informants warned police. Lategan then contacted investigators with the U.S. Department of the Interior who were familiar with Riggs’ previous activities.
According to Lategan, who led the investigation into the South African smuggling ring in 1989, Riggs only stole a small amount of rhino horn — about 17 kilograms worth about $2,000 — before he was arrested in Hong Kong for using a fraudulent passport.
But Riggs was plotting much bigger things, says Lategan. An undercover sting operation had turned up a plan by Riggs to raid the vaults of the Natal Parks Board offices in Maritzburg where tons of valuable ivory and horn were stored.
Lategan says he and other South African investigators were “lying in wait” for a move on the Parks Board, when immigration officials nabbed Riggs in Hong Kong.
‘It’s a difficult road for someone like myself’
Atlanta Business Chronicle attempted to interview Riggs, now 32, who has been keeping a low profile in Atlanta, living for a while in an Alpharetta apartment and driving a Saturn. But Riggs refuses to comment about Wynne or Zambezi Lodge. He is trying to find honest work, though it is hard to find people who will trust him, he says.
Since his arrival in Atlanta, Riggs has tried unsuccessfully to start his own video equipment leasing company, as well as a video production facility called Brick House Editorial Inc.
“It’s a difficult road for someone like myself,” says Riggs, who was first arrested at age 17 for trying to rob a motel. His second arrest came a month later when he was caught trying to shoplift a television. His third arrest was for defrauding his employer, an insurance company.
Riggs’ lengthy criminal history represents a “pattern of escalating criminal enterprise,” according to a motion to deny bond for Riggs compiled by federal prosecutors in Kansas City before Riggs went to Leavenworth.
“He’s a good talker and he is a pretty intelligent guy,” says one law enforcement official who worked on the Riggs case in Kansas City.
Riggs’ Atlanta attorney, Christine Stadler, downplays Riggs’ involvement with the Zambezi project, saying Riggs told her he was not a substantial investor and that all he did was some promotional work for the venture last August. Stadler says Riggs told her that he has asked the project’s backers to stop using his name. In addition, Stadler says Riggs told her the project has folded.
The Zambezi private placement memorandum states that Riggs recently “imported a Hughes 300C Helicopter into Zimbabwe . . .”; is a “permanent resident of Zimbabwe”; and is in the process of “applying for Zimbabwe Citizenship Status.”
But as a parolee, Riggs is under travel restrictions. He is not allowed to leave Atlanta without permission from his parole officer and he is not allowed to travel internationally.
The private placement memorandum was authored by International Resort Development Group Ltd. The subscription agreement put together by the group asks investors to pay $2,500 each for 1,000 investment units.
To accompany the private placement memorandum, Riggs produced a videotape with professionally shot video of African wildlife and voice-over narration about the Zambezi Safari Lodge.
That tape provides a further twist to the questions being raised about Riggs, because The National Geographic Society is evaluating whether to take legal action against Riggs for allegedly appropriating copyrighted wildlife video for his own use, according to Pat Gang, a National Geographic employee who has compared the Riggs tape to Society footage. “We’re going to try to do something about it,” Gang says.
Going to Kansas City
Riggs has made repeated trips in a private plane back to Kansas City, and corrections officials there say they have not received any notification of those visits, as required by the terms of Riggs’ parole. That alone is an offense that could get Riggs thrown back in jail, say parole officials there. Dan Rechter, Riggs’ parole officer in Atlanta, refuses to comment on Riggs and his travels.
Riggs is the Southeast regional manager for Mega Byte Computer Graphics, according to a lawsuit filed in May by Riggs against Video Post’s Wynne. Jerry Brockhaus, president of Mega Byte and the former insurance agent for Mokan Productions, refused to return numerous phone calls seeking comment on Riggs’ role at the company.
Atlanta businesswoman Cindy Garguilo also is reluctant to talk much about her dealings with Riggs. She was Wynne’s business partner at one time and the person who unearthed Riggs’ past. She hopes other business people steer clear of Riggs.
“He never told the truth once,” she says. “In my opinion, if anyone was considering doing business with Riggs, I’d say ‘put a lock on your wallet and run the other way.’”
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