You'd think that people who value any kind of reputation would stay away from sleazy con men like Monte Friesner. You'd think - but nothing could be further from the truth because, believe it or not, there are plenty fellow expatriates who stand by their favorite fraudster no matter what he does, no matter how many people he's ripping off, no matter how insanely he behaves.
A while ago Bananama Republic already reported here how Friesner could count on loyal fans like Ron Davis and his wife Esther, who were actively recruiting new victims for Friesner's advance fee frauds. We described how groupies like Marion Ellner, Clyde Jenkins and Peter Gordon rallied behind their idol when he was caught trying to swindle money out of innocent people.
And then we had, more recently, Cynthia Mulder of the Taboga-based Cerrito Tropical hotel, who first helped a violent criminal escape the country and then, when we wrote about that, supplied Friesner with details about your reporter's home address.
However, in the cache of documents, emails, pictures etc. we were recently given from inside the Friesner enterprise by a super-secret source, we discovered a couple of new ones we didn't really know about.
Hunter Schultz and Monte Friesner, "Je t'aime... moi non plus"
We start with him not because he's the most important, but he's definitely the funniest. Years ago, Schultz was the leading figure behind something called "LifeFlight Panama", a start-up medical evacuation helicopter business. Nothing wrong with that, except! They started collecting membership fees before even having purchased a helicopter. And when they announced the purchase of a helicopter, we were contacted by some expert whom they had hired as a consultant, and this expert, in short, told us that the helicopter they wanted to buy sucked ass, big time. It would basically be hopping from gas station to gas station on the longer hauls Schultz et al were promoting, like Bocas and Boquete. They could not fly such a helicopter at night - when most medical emergencies occur. It was just a really bad idea no matter how you looked at it, and the authorities apparently agreed because they denied LifeFlight a license to operate. Our (and not just our) humble suggestion was that it would probably be more practical to have either a helicopter attend emergencies and stabilize patients for ground transportation or, alternatively, have a medevac plane. And this indeed was the next move of Schultz and friends, and on their site they even admitted that there were safety concerns about using helicopters, for which of course we made a bit of fun of them.
End of story, you'd think. We - full disclosure - even rented a plane through Schultz for aerial photography and sent him compliments for the service. But guess what? After we first wrote about Friesner's unsavory past as an advance fee fraudster and arsonist, Schultz immediately emailed him with suggestions about what to do about your editor:
Check with your legal people about the possibility of using "tortious interference" as legal angle with more teeth than a libel suit alone. Hit him with both. Not sure if Panama has it in their code but certainly worth looking into.
Note he has a Netherlands phone number on his site. Perhaps sue him there as well using the same angle Travel costs will kill him assuming he can actually return there.
Sharo and her brother are against doing anything with him at the moment. Too close to the roll out of Evac Americas and they are Panamanian. They feel that he will create more stink if it becomes a suit regardless of who pays the bill.
Keep up the good work.
Keep up what good work, exactly?
As it turns out, Sharo and her brother, those Panamanians, are a hell of a lot smarter than gringo Hunter Schultz. Schultz isn't just an aviation entrepreneur, he is also a sort of a community figure in his capacity of Vice-Chairman of the Panamanian chapter of Republicans Abroad. We assume that such an upstanding organization would find it quite embarrassing to have one of its board members egging on a convicted criminal who wants to take down a journalist, providing advice on how to start frivolous lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions. Republican business ethics; make a journalist's life impossible by teaming up with gangsters, unless you can rent him a plane? Not the kind of reputation that gets you any further in the real world, I'm afraid.
Apparently he thought so himself too, because on the Yahoo Panama Forum - an online group where many of these hucksters hang out and stick feathers up each other's asses - Schultz and Friesner are now doing wacky damage control by having a bizarre love fest:
How goes it, Monte?
I guess OO thinks he'll embarrass me with some advice I gave you about tortuous interference with a business. Yawn. Whatever.
How are the fish doing? I recall the big ones in your aquarium. We inherited a 30 gallon tank from a neighbor. Stocked with little fellas though. Not like the 10 pounders in yours.
Actually, OO thinks that Schultz is doing all the embarrassing by himself and doesn't really need any help. The "yawn, whatver" part means that he's worried and scared, or he wouldn't be posting this poetry on a public forum. Anyway, Monte Friesner's reply:
How is the business doing? Have not seen or talked to you for about 3 years.
Take care and thanks!
Three years? This sounds as fake spontaneous and rehearsed as Kevin Bradley's letter to HSBC! And then Hunter Schultz again:
Well enough, thanks.
Your daughter is still riding, I take it?
My client that went on the yacht charter with PSS still mentions how enjoyable that was. He's coming back next year.
Blend in PSS (Panama Sailing School), also really casually - NOTHING at all to do with some story that was recently published of course... That client, however, will have to find another place to charter a yacht, because the Panama Sailing School is dead.
But, this is how Republicans Abroad leaders behave in Panama, getting all nice and fluffy with crooks? Are you guys gonna do a little ballet dance as well? What is this, Breakfast at Pronto Cash?
It must be some kind of pathological phenomenon that moves people you'd think have a certain degree of intelligence - at least enough to run an airplane rental business - to support criminals and their activities because they got their feelings hurt over a toy helicopter. What else than an actual disease could it be, that makes Hunter Schultz and his ilk incapable of realizing and verifying that what is written here and elsewhere about Friesner is true? It is no doubt a yet undiscovered tropical virus why they don't mind teaming up with a crook while healthy and mentally sane business people in Panama avoid Friesner like the plague because he is, if nothing else, a giant reputational risk.
Don't Republicans care about their reputations, even when they're abroad? And is it smart to pick fights with journalists when you are the one who stands to lose most?
"Double O" Brett Mikkelson
Among the ProntoLeaks files which we were handed by a gorgeous blonde who simply walked into our office and, without saying a word and against our will, calmly took possession of your editor, we found a report by "BM Investigations" about yours truly. Friesner hired Brett Mikkelson to have me followed around, photographed and filmed, apparently with the purpose of locating this reporter and verifying his residence. The report starts with describing how Mikkelson's goons staked out the New York Bagel Cafe on Via Argentina because, it says, that's where Ornstein would be a regular. Suspicious! Intrigue! But Ornstein failed to show up (no idea where they got the idea that I'm a regular there), so then the private eyes staked out my house in Gamboa, and came up with such shocking events as your reporter taking a walk to the Gamboa Resort and smoking a cigarette. Call the police! Where's superintendent Wanker when we need him!
Friesner then published some of these pictures - of me, my house, and of someone who was visiting - on his website.
Among the documents was also the invoice for Mikkelson's gumshoe work, to be paid to the "Innovative Solutions Corp", with a PO Box address in Miami. Considering that Mikkelson couldn't even get my last name right one single time, one wonders why Friesner paid it.
Who is Brett Mikkelson? He runs an investigations firm - a rather shady one it seems - and does lie detector tests for clients like Copa Air. This of course poses similar questions as those regarding Hunter Schultz - why risking good business by getting in bed with a psychopath like Friesner, and stalk journalists for him?
Don Winner calls him "my best friend in Panama". We got comments from two people who are familiar with his past: "This clown was a counter intelligence guy. We called him Double 0 Brett as he was a fool".
The latter appears to be true. Shortly after taking Friesner as a client, Mikkelson writes Friesner:
Thank you for choosing B.M. Investigations, Inc.! In order to access our case management system, you must use the provided account information. Once logged in you can change your password by clicking the "My Profile" link.
Please use the following credentials to login to your account:
To log in, please visit the following web address: https://bminvestigations.viewmycases.com
However, a complaint by Friesner alleges that the "case management system" doesn't work.
This is not the first time that Mikkelson performs this type of services for confirmed criminals; he did the same for Tom McMurrain of San Cristobal noni swindle fame. On top of that, we have a pile of documents here from two Americans who make a rather convincing case that Mikkelson ripped them off in a dump truck business they were partners in (more on that later).
We are currently investigating with the legal people if Mikkelson committed a crime with his activities for Friesner. If so, we'll take proper action.
Mikkelson did not answer a request for comment. He did write Friesner on January 29th, 2010: "Would you be able to pay that first invoice today? Thanks in advance".
Nervous, maybe, because of his client's reputation?
Don Winner and his friends Ben Pilosky and Dick Wazinya
Avid readers of Don Winner's scam pimping rag "Panama Guide" will no doubt have noticed that he is in a sort of a shit panic about all these documents having been leaked to us from the Friesner den. As if it's our fault that people leak stuff because they're fed up with Friesner's antics! So here's Winner's "analysis" of the case as of this morning:
Editor's Comment: Let's see, can we think of anyone who is currently bragging about having a computer full of stolen email? Do you think this moron understands he's literally bragging about having broken the law? When this new law is passed, that will tack on an additional two to four years in prison, on top of what he's already facing for the dozens of complaints pending against him for other, similar crimes. I wonder if every email message would be considered a new "count" or crime. That would be nice. I don't like people who steal the contents of a hard drive in order to extort money from victims. This guy is just another serial criminal, and the justice system is slowly catching up with him. Sooner or later...
Of course there's not a single line in there that's true. Nothing is in our computers, everything is safely stored far away from Panama. We didn't steal anything; all was handed to us without even having asked for it, by a chain-smoking man in a long raincoat in a parking garage who refused to introduce himself. Not unusual in the world of real journalism. Winner is hoping that a law that hasn't even been passed yet would be retroactively applied here, well, keep on dreaming.
This delusional drivel is frightfully consistent with Winners's earlier publications about Friesner versus Bananama Republic. This site, yes, the one that you're reading now, is actually not online, because Winner said so, and he claimed the FCC did it. And your editor is in Costa Rica, and Ecuador, and Holland, and everywhere, at the same time, on the run. Don Winner just obsessively makes shit up, all the time.
He is a bit like a mobster version of Barney the Dinosaur, with a following of criminals and outcast, singing, "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family......"
But Winner has reason to worry. Back in the days, before anyone was writing about Friesner in Panama, the Friesner empire employed a web designer and IT manager. And Friesner being Friesner, he refused to pay this person what he was due, choosing instead to resort to threatening and bullying - a habit we saw earlier in our story about Friesner and the sailing school. So, conflict ensues, and guess what? The ProntoLeaks emails show how Winner offers his client, Monte Friesner, to trash his web guy on his Panama Guide site, which he indeed did. It was, if nothing else, a clear attempt to shake down a hard-working Panamanian on behalf of a convicted criminal - "back off and hand over the domain names without payment" - rather ironic as Friesner and Winner themselves constantly cry "extortion" whenever someone writes something about them and their criminal schemes.
More or less at the same time, Winner sold Friesner an advertorial to pimp Friesner's scams, and a rotating banner on Panama Guide. Wanna know how much Winner charges for the crap he writes to promote all these frauds? See for yourself on the: Invoice Panama Guide Pronto Cash.
The duo truly seems to enjoy scams and advance fee ftrauds, it shows from their emails. Like true connoisseurs, at one point, Friesner forwards a classic Nigerian 419 pitch to Don Winner, commenting, "This is beautiful!"
It gets really hilarious when these two shysters get all paranoid. It's February 3rd, 2010, and Monte Friesner writes his buddy Don Winner if he knows someone called Dick Wazinya. Replies Winner: "Get it? Dick Was In Ya ... And no, I didn’t know".
To which Friesner, in horror, answers, "It is OKKE on Facebook".
Wonderful, ain't it, when they start projecting their own behavior all around them?
Last but not least; The two shakedown artists share a common love for taking on different identities. From the emails we learned that someone who goes by the name of "Ben Pilosky", with email address firstname.lastname@example.org, is in fact Don Winner. Don't these people ever get tired of these charades?
Brother Fahro Handanovic
Not strictly an expat, but a Croatian associate of Monte Friesner - we'll do a bigger story about the Croatian connection later, but Handanovic was the would-be Central European partner of the now closed down Pronto Cash debit card venture and in some coffee deal that never went anywhere. However, emails show that Hunter Schultz's idea of starting fake cases in multiple jurisdictions resonated well with Friesner and his accomplices. In one piece of correspondence, Friesner announces that he will be sending details for cases to be filed to Mr. Handanovic, to which the latter replies:
Dear Brother Monte,
I am overjoyed with our talk today and believe that your idea is fantastic. Please send me the approved documetns concerning the denuncias for Okka Ornstein and his gang. I am confident so showing the signed documents to the Board of TTC of the countries. I will always be your friend and comrade and have always and alwyas will trust you in all positions.
Please send me the samples of coffee quickly because we have many groups in the countries that want to test and order immedialtey.
Warm regards to your family,
Unfortunately, Brother Monte doesn't seem to have gone anywhere with his international legal offensive.
Writing from jail?
This morning, by the way, we learned that Monte Friesner, on his WantedSA website-with-sherrif-button, published a diatribe about how your reporter had been arrested, hauled before a judge, forced to pay bail and what not. In the real world, however, this journalist spent a quiet weekend with family, attended a school theater play, and is currently coming to you from a nice terrace on the shore of the Panama Canal - and it ain't El Renacer. So, for someone who has supposedly, in some parallel universe, just been captured, I guess we're doing jolly well!
[This is the second of a series of articles based on a cache of documents, emails, pictures and other evidence that was leaked to us from inside the Friesner criminal enterprise.]