How a master grifter taught the FBI to crack open the art of the deal

Christopher Dickey writes: David Howard’s Chasing Phil tells the story of two young FBI agents who go undercover in the 1970s to expose a relatively minor con and get taken in, in every sense, by one of the great grifters of the last century, a master of multi-million-dollar scams involving multiple offshore banks—some of them legit, some of them shells—and a collection of accomplices around the world.

Back then, the bureaucrats at tbe Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in D.C., just recently free of J. Edgar Hoover, but still in his mold, really didn’t like this kind of undercover operation. They wanted to nail commies and Dillingers, not guys in suits with global connections in high finance. But the young agents, who to their amazement were accepted as apprentice con-men, kept jumping on planes to Hawaii and Geneva, Hong Kong, the Bahamas and Frankfurt with their new buddy Phil Kitzer. Eventually, they were having a ball, and they might well have wondered where their loyalties lay (althought they insisted they always knew).

As Chasing Phil sketches the multiple layers of fraud in multi-million-dollar cons and describes the personality of Phil Kitzer, the central scam artist, one can’t help but think of another man who still likes to brag about “the art of the deal”:
“Phil was hard to read, partly because he was a skilled, habitual liar. He lied to con his marks, of course, but in the past seven weeks they’d watched him fib to just about everyone else—including them. … If he didn’t want to go outside, he would say that it was raining [even if it wasn’t]. He routinely offered letters of credit for 10 percent of face value, and after a client agreed, he would say he’d calculated wrong and jack the price up another few thousand dollars. One of his mottos was, Don’t tell the truth if you can avoid it.”

But Kitzer had a lot more class and a lot more charm than Donald Trump, and to the extent there is a link between the two, it is the fact that without Kitzer and the agents pursuing him, the FBI would have taken a lot longer to develop the expertise in fraud and finance that now is central to the Trump investigations headed by Robert Mueller, a former FBI director. [Continue reading…]

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