Monte Friesner and the mafia

Monte Friesner, the behind-the-scenes man of the collapsing Pronto Cash scheme, saw at least three previous swindles implode because of Marvin Elkind, a chauffeur and goon for mafia bosses who became a secret undercover weapon for police agencies around the world. This and more is revealed in the book, “The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob” by author Adrian Humphreys, which was published in November of last year. From the description:

By a quirk of fate, Elkind was placed in the foster home of a tough gangster family in Toronto, immersing him from the age of nine in a daring world of con men, bootleggers, loan sharks, bank robbers, leg breakers and Mafia bosses. During a Golden Age of underworld life in New York, Detroit and across Canada, he found himself working beside a surprising cast of colourful characters. He befriended gangsters by smuggling bottles of Scotch to their tables as a waiter at New York’s famed Copacabana. He was pushed to be Jimmy Hoffa’s driver; then, he chauffeured Montreal mob boss Vic Cotroni before returning to Toronto to work for a corrupt union boss in a search for a sense of belonging.

“Everybody got to know me. I became a part of the furniture,” says Elkind.

But his disenchantment with the broken promises of mob life brought him into another fraternity, one offering the same adrenaline, danger and dark comedy he craved. After a startling confrontation, he was embraced by a rogue in uniform, a cop with an insatiable appetite for justice.

“I started small in the mob and stayed small,” says Elkind. “My problem was that I typecast myself. I never wanted to be a boss but I wanted to do something more. I wanted it very badly. When they said no, I accepted it too easily. They looked at me as the same muscle I was when I was a kid. It showed the lack of respect the mob had for me.”

After embarking on an astounding journey as a career informant, The Weasel learned he was a far better fink than he ever was a crook. With his impeccable gangland pedigree, enormous girth, cold stare and sausage-like fingers adorned with chunky rings, no one questioned his loyalty. The backroom doors were flung open and The Weasel slipped in, usually bringing undercover cops with him.

Marvin Elkind knew and was trusted by Monte Friesner, who in the eighties was already making steady progress pursuing his criminal career and was hanging out with mobsters. In the book, Friesner is introduced with a story on how he was claiming to be a lawyer (to this day he claims to be a “Dr.”, a “Phd” and a diplomat, which is all false) in order to illegally take over a hotel:

Back in 1985, Marvin had learned Friesner was fraudulently taking over a Thunder Bay Hotel, claiming to be a lawyer. Robbie [the policeman Marvin worked for - editor] alerted the owners and the scheme withered. Friesner never learned how the police had uncovered his plot, and the following year he told Marvin that he had just convinced Steve Fonyo to let him be his business manager. Fonyo was the young Canadian who had lost a leg to cancer and then set out to emulate Terry Fox’s marathon across Canada to raise money for cancer research. Unlike Fox, who had had to abandon his run when his cancer returned, Fonyo had completed the journey and done the same across Britain. His gruelling runs had brought in $14 million, and the idea of someone like Friesner getting near that money worried Robbie. Seeing nothing criminal in the relationship, yet, Robbie intervened in another way. He (…) leaked information to [reporter] Peter Moon (…). The front-page newspaper story, about a man with convictions for arson, assault, fraud, possession of stolen goods and (denied) links to organized crime managing the then-national hero, had the same effect on donors and sponsors as it had on Robbie. Fonyo soon fired him.

The story about Friesner being fired from the Fonyo team can still be found online, here. A couple of weeks after having been fired, Friesner was convicted for car theft. In May 1988 his name popped up in the papers again, this time because he was charged with credit card fraud.

The book goes on to recount how Marvin Elkind intervened with Friesner’s scams again when he had ripped off one Lorraine Latter, who used to be the girlfriend of mafia boss Joe Natale until he died of cancer. Mrs. Latter contacted Elkind because Friesner had taken $500,000 from her in an advance fee loan scheme under the flag of “First Federal Bancorp Inc.”, from Canada:

This time it was with Morris Monte Friesner, who appeared to be a financial guru who could land enormous loans from exotic sources. (…) He told clients he could get multimillion-dollar loans from Kuwaiti lenders for an advance fee of $500,000. One of the suckers was Latter, who had borrowed most of the advanced fee from friends so she could buy a hotel. Latter told Marvin of other victims who had also paid at least $2 million in fees for loans that never materialized. Marvin passed the tips on to Robbie.

After Robbie started investigating him, Friesner declared bankruptcy in Toronto – listing liabilities of $11.4 million and assets of just $200 – and relocated to Oklahoma, where he sped around in a Porsche 911 and raised Arabian horses.

We have a copy of that bankruptcy document, right here. Friesner did actually more than just showing off his Porsche and his horses; he continued his advance fee scams, and he had already ripped off Hy-Tek Oil Products to the tune of $11 million before declaring bankruptcy. Local papers reported him and an accomplice flying around in Lear Jets. In any case, according to the book, agent Robbie gave his evidence to the FBI and Friesner was arrested in 1992:

At his trial, the prosecutor summed up Friesner’s life, saying: “So many lies, so little time.” He was found guilty on 21 counts of fraud and money laundering and sentenced to seven years. Judge Thomas Brett spoke of the Canadian’s silver tongue: “Frankly, I think you could sell iceboxes to quite a few Eskimos. You have an unusual talent and ability at salesmanship.”

Friesner was released in June 1998 and we understood his lawyer and business partner Lawrence B. Heath facilitated a quick return to Canada, where he immediately got in trouble again for running a high yield investment scam. In 2004, the Ontario securities commission fined him and ordered he could never serve as a corporate director again. All the same, he still found time with aforementioned Lawrence Heath to engage in laundering Russian money, stolen from the state after the collapse of the Soviet regime, according to a Russian Duma report.

Not long thereafter, Friesner popped up in Panama where he teamed up with lawyers Herbert Young and José Blandon to start a myriad of financial companies and schemes, of which Pronto Cash lasted a bit longer than the rest. Within months, allegations of advance fee fraud started to surface again. In lieu of Arabian horses and sports cars, Friesner restyled himself as a yachtsman and set up a largely unsuccessful sailing school.

Pronto Cash is all but closed down by the Panamanian authorities and the Public Ministry investigates allegations by the Banking Superintendency of financial crimes.

About the author /


Okke Ornstein is an award winning journalist, TV/Radio producer and photographer from the Netherlands and currently based in Panama. Specialized in high-impact investigative journalism, his work has led to arrests, questions in parliament and the downfall of many frauds and swindles.

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7 Comments

  1. Eric Jackson

    Eeeew! What kind of a name is “Marvin” for a Mafia hood?

  2. Joe Shmoo

    You deserve the Nobel for this.. Maybe the Panabananaobel Prize for uncovering the best fraud ever.
    The best is this schmuck Monte thinks that when he posts at “tatiana” on the yahoo groups people dont know. Douche bag.
    OO can I buy you a drink for this?

  3. the Editor

    A drink? I think it’s champagne time!

  4. Sitting bull

    How did this crook get into Panama anyway? When some have gone through hell trying to follow the immigration rules, it is clear the money went under the table to waive the obvious that he is a convicted felon. It would be interesting to find out under whose watch he got his visa, and which attorney he used. I suspect the “yacht club” with it’s charters is just another way to find targets for other scams.

    • the Editor

      It’s even better: He doesn’t have a visa. His wife has, but he doesn’t.

  5. Joe Shmoo

    i havent seen much of the old bastard on the yahoo groups. whats the latest? Do ya know? and Champagne? Oy Vey, You have no idea what that stuff does to me! However, Monte goes to jail and you got it!

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