Snared by a cybercult queen
SEAN ROBINSON; The News Tribune
Shaini Goodwin lies like a lover, and people pay to listen.
Her whispers promise the irresistible: peace, wealth and forgiven credit card debt.
She is a star only the Internet could create - queen of a cybercult, architect of a conspiracy theory built on the ruins of deceit. Every day, typing at a computer or speaking on the phone, she lures disciples to a bewitching creed, and pumps new life into a dead scam that suckered thousands.
Her words are soft and sharp, insistent and insolent, understanding and unyielding. From her South Sound double-wide, she peddles a myth that blends old grift, New Age sermon and political activism into a mixture one historian of confidence games calls "magnificent."
Most of her readers don't know who she is. On the Internet, she writes under an increasingly famous pseudonym: Dove of Oneness.
Hello, Dear Friends and White Knights.
The greeting heads every report she writes. Each ends with the same pleasant farewell:
Blessings and love, Dove of Oneness.
She says she does not lie, that she does not lead a cult, that she is simply a political activist on a spiritual mission, trying to make the world a better place.
"A lot of people who are on spiritual missions ask for help," she says. "People pledge their lives to make a difference in the world. You cannot live a normal life and do what I do."
At Dove's decree, thousands of her followers send letters, postcards and e-mails to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pentagon, Congress and the halls of international justice. They wave banners, pass out fliers and hold demonstrations on three continents, demanding announcement of a secret law that doesn't exist, anticipating the delivery of easy fortunes that never come.
Some have been conned before. They are being conned again, but telling them is useless. They ignore weary government officials who repeatedly say there is no secret law to announce. They scorn experts in fraud and high finance who tell them they're chasing shadows.
Instead, they put their trust in Goodwin, 57, who has declared bankruptcy at least once, owes the IRS $12,000 and lives in her ailing mother's mobile home in Shelton.
Her latest venture might be more profitable. She sells false hope.
It's not a crime. It's a corporation. Goodwin never mentions it to her followers, but she has a Washington state business license, granted in 2002 for a $20 fee. Her corporate category - computer services. Her corporate name - Dove. Her corporate address - a hole- in-the-wall mail drop in Olympia.
This is where her followers send money, addressed to her Internet persona. Now and then, she asks for "gifts" to cover the costs of her daily "Dove Reports." For those who send such indulgences, she provides explicit instructions:
"Please address your envelope EXACTLY as above or your envelope may not be delivered," she writes. "Also, please REPLY to this message telling me you are sending me a financial gift. You may make checks or money orders payable to 'Dove.'"
It's legal. No law prevents her from waving a cardboard sign on the shoulder of the information highway. The money comes - how much, only Goodwin knows, and she isn't telling. She says she asks for money only when she really needs it. If she lives high, she hides it well. The mobile home is no mansion.
But money isn't the only gift she receives. She also harvests something equally precious: believers.The secret law
Four weeks ago, as filmmaker Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" opened across the nation, Goodwin's acolytes stood by theater doors, handing out sheets of paper headed with a mysterious acronym - NESARA.
The word appears on purple fliers stacked on a shelf outside an Olympia cafe; on banners unfurled weekly at the World Court in The Netherlands; on signs carried by demonstrators in Texas, Chicago and South America; scrawled in the sand on beaches in Australia; and on the sides of rolling billboards in Washington, D.C.
It stands for the secret law, the one Dove claims Congress passed four years ago. The one that abolishes income taxes, forgives mortgages, zeroes out credit cards and declares peace.
The media can't talk about it, she says. Only Dove knows the truth about NESARA, and as she solemnly explains, it's dangerous information. That's why she has a secret identity.
"Hardly anyone knows my name," she says. "I'm the Deep Throat of the Northwest."
She shows up on radio occasionally, giving interviews to late- night talk show hosts across America who chat about crop circles, UFOs and conspiracy theories. In those broadcasts, she claims connections with highly placed sources among leaders of government and high finance, and knowledge of a war between the forces of good and evil over the secret NESARA law.
She has embroidered the saga for the last four years, writing more than 1,000 Internet reports, recording hundreds of "voice reports" on a Seattle telephone line, giving interviews on radio stations from Alaska to Vermont.
She claims more than 15,000 subscribers to her reports, and 300,000 readers worldwide. Between 5,000 and 10,000 of them are in Western Washington. The numbers cannot be verified, but her online presence suggests an international following. Her reports are translated into Dutch, Korean, German, French and Spanish, and published on Web sites based in America, Canada and Europe.
Her long-running tale is a curtain - a veil that covers a con. She waves the so-called secret law like a winning lottery ticket, telling her followers its provisions will grant them the wealth they were once promised by an Illinois grifter.The scam that started it all
The grifter is Clyde Hood, a retired electrician from Mattoon, Ill. He's serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
A decade ago, Hood created an investment fraud scam called Omega. Dove almost never mentions Omega these days, but without it, her celebrity and her cybercult might not exist.
Omega robbed thousands of people, including South Sound residents, of at least $12.5 million. That was the traceable part. Federal attorneys and investigators who prosecuted Hood and 18 co- conspirators think the real number was greater - at least $20 million, perhaps $50 million.
In 1994, Hood started telling a story to Midwestern churchgoers. He said he'd worked for Fortune 500 companies, been in the investment business for 15 or 16 years, owned a foreign bank. He had become an expert in offshore trading, European high-yield investment programs and prime bank notes. He could do a $250 million deal in the morning and again in the afternoon, four times a week.
"I'm the only one with control," he said. "I'm the only one with the collateral account, I'm the one with the fiduciary bank. There are only seven or eight people in the world that can do all this."
With a nod to his Christian audience, he said a vision from God came to him during a business trip in Hong Kong: It told him to help the little people, and do a big trade for humanitarian causes. For that, he had formed a company called Omega Trust and Trading Ltd. He was offering hardworking people a chance to reap their share of "the Lord's storehouse."
They could buy Omega "units" for $100 apiece. Under Hood's supervision, each unit would "roll" for 275 days, with a 50-to-1 return. Investors could let it "roll" again, for another 275 days, again at 50 to 1. After that, they could do one more roll, but that was all.
For onlookers, the math wasn't too hard to figure. In less than three years, $100 could become $12.5 million.
Hood sealed the deal by sending investors an official-looking document called a "private party loan agreement." They even got receipts.
Thousands of people fell for his pitch. Later, he admitted it was bull.
"Did you get a vision, an actual vision from the Lord?" a federal prosecutor asked Hood in 2001.
"No," he said. "I did not."
"Have you ever worked for a Fortune 500 company as a trader?" the prosecutor asked later.
"No," Hood said.
"What is Omega?"
"It's a scam."
The loan agreements were worthless. "Prime bank notes" didn't exist. Hood didn't own a bank and had no experience in finance - just a few financial terms picked up from wealthy friends, and the knowledge that others had engineered the same swindle.
"There's other programs similar, and I just picked up on it and thought I had something I could work," he said in court testimony.
Omega lured suckers from all 50 states and a few foreign countries. Dove was one of them. She says she bought two units in 1998 after learning about the program through a friend in the town of Rainier.
She says she began publishing Internet reports in November 1999. In those early writings, she called herself an Omega investor, still waiting for her "prosperity deliveries" like everyone else. She named Hood and his allies and described her contacts with them.
The Omega pitch spread by word of mouth, through relatives and friends. Hood and four confederates created a network of phone lines in 17 area codes. Omega investors could hear phony, prerecorded "updates" from Hood, explaining Omega's status, and why promised fortunes weren't being delivered.
It worked for six years. From 1994 to 2000, Hood got by with excuses.
"Omega has been interrupted due to some unforeseen financial conflicts," he said in a June 3, 1996, phone message, typical of his style. "These situations or those situations should be completed on June 17, 1996. And the banks then will continue to process your checks and credit cards."
Scores of similar messages explained more delays. The deliveries, always a few weeks or months away, never came.
Meanwhile, the money for new Omega units poured in. Hood's four "coordinators," a handful of allies who collected money for Omega shares, piled cash, cashier's checks and money orders into cardboard boxes. The biggest producers collected between $60,000 and $100,000 per week.
They laundered the money through banks in Texas, California, Illinois and the United Arab Emirates, then spent it on themselves. Hood bought a fleet of classic cars, and handed out interest-free loans to friends and family members who bought houses and businesses.The messenger
Washington was an Omega stronghold. Only California and Texas ranked higher in the list of documented victims. Within the state, the majority of victims lived in and around Yelm.
"It proliferated throughout this entire town," said resident Emily French, whose mother gave $1,100 to Omega.
"It was just by word of mouth," said Rainier resident Frances Motyer, who lost $4,500. "Some friends of ours told us, and when we turned around to talk to other people about it, they already knew."
The victims didn't always fit the stereotype of elderly shut-ins wooed by smooth-talking grifters. Joseph Dispenza, a chiropractor from Rainier, gave $11,700 to Omega. He thought it sounded legitimate.
A Seattle-based tax attorney with a Yelm address gave Omega $280,000, the largest documented restitution claim filed in the Omega case.
Her name is Ruth Sparrow, and she works for Garvey Schubert Barer, a Seattle law firm. Her biography on the firm's Web site states she spent 14 years in the tax department of a Philadelphia law firm and describes her as having "significant experience in federal income tax matters concerning corporations, partnerships and individuals in business and real estate transactions."
Sparrow refused to discuss Omega when reached by The News Tribune.Ramtha
As he gathered Omega's threads, Esteban "Steve" Sanchez, the assistant U.S. attorney in Urbana, Ill., who prosecuted the case, noticed the Yelm connection. He realized several victims were linked to JZ Knight, the ethereal New Age guru who claims to "channel" the spirit of a 40,000-year-old warrior called Ramtha.
"I cannot tell you what, if any, direct relationship there was between this person in Yelm, Washington, and Clyde Hood," Sanchez said of Knight. "We knew that there were people associated with her that apparently had invested in Omega, but that was not an angle that we wanted to pursue, because apparently it's very difficult to pursue that angle."
Omega was an open secret at Knight's Ramtha School of Enlightenment, four former students say. They asked not to be named, citing the fear of legal retaliation from Knight, who requires students to sign nondisclosure agreements.
"That's how I became involved in it, was through the school," one student said. "I was involved in it and practically everybody else I knew at the school was involved in it. There were tons of people involved in this on just a cash basis. People were sending in cash - cash with no paperwork, no receipt, no nothing. People were promised their money was going to come in before the next snowfall."
The students say Knight never endorsed or promoted Omega. Some recall her telling students to cultivate an "abundance mentality" if the promised fortunes ever came.
Knight did not respond directly to requests for comment from The News Tribune. Greg Simmons, a Ramtha school spokesman, acknowledged Omega was discussed informally among students at the school. When asked whether Knight lost money in Omega, Simmons would not comment.
In the late 1990s, as Omega reached its peak, Shaini Goodwin was living near Yelm, in a gated community called Clearwood.
She had taken classes at the Ramtha school in the late 1980s and later claimed to be a kind of channeler herself, according to those who know her. She sprinkles her daily Dove reports with frequent references to the "Ascended Masters" and "the Illuminati," common figures in New Age teachings.Dove's mission
In her early Internet messages as Dove, she claimed access to secret information.
"Two new pieces of info suggest that important strides forward are being made," she wrote March 20, 2000. "You are well advised to GET READY. I have personally been reprogramming my old ideas about prosperity so that I am ready to wisely steward this great abundance."
The News Tribune interviewed 12 Omega victims, including current and former Washington residents. Most said they had heard of Dove through her Internet reports. A few remember Goodwin. None recalls her selling Omega units, and Goodwin says she never sold any. Sanchez found no evidence of it, though he didn't know Dove's real name.
She rose as Omega fell. By 1999, Hood's prerecorded excuses were growing more desperate. The feds were on his trail, and he knew it.
His explanations got spooky: The government was interfering with the deal, and "numerous individuals and entities" wanted to see the program fail.
When investors complained or discussed the delays in the chat rooms, he attacked them for spreading rumors, and warned them that they were jeopardizing Omega and their fortunes.
The conspiracy talk played like a dream with Omega followers. They knew about secrecy. They sent money wrapped in aluminum foil and used private mail carriers, believing the government would have more trouble tracking it. Clyde and the others had warned them the government and other powerful interests would try to get in the way. Now it was happening.
The loose network of Hood's allies, hangers-on and true believers fed the rumor mill. Messages preaching patience filled the chat rooms and the boards. Everyone just needed to stay calm, to remember the program would fund.
One key source of soothing messages was Dove, who wrote with a distinctive voice and gradually gained a following.
"I know that I am receiving information because the divine power behind getting Omega to us all wants the group prayers to continue," she wrote in a message posted July 17, 2000. "So I have been given the mission of passing on as much information as I can without jeopardizing the safety of the processes for our benefit."
Many Omega-related bulletin boards and chat rooms have shut down since the Omega trials, but a few fragments survive. The messages reveal a mishmash of anxious victims and wannabe con artists hitching a ride on the Omega idea.
Some posters headlined messages with obvious come-ons ("I WAS PAID TODAY ... THIS IS HOT"). Others tried the sober approach ("TAKE A SERIOUS LOOK AT THIS PROGRAM, HAS TREMENDOUS BENEFITS AND POTENTIAL"). Some offered plaintive stories of sick relatives, spouses and children.
Some of the messengers weren't working for Hood. He didn't collect money from them and had no way of knowing what they were doing. During the Omega trials, he talked about his freelance imitators.
"So some people could hear of Omega, go out and try to copy what you were doing?" a judge asked.
"Yes," Hood said.
"And then that money, you have no idea what happened to it?"
"No. Do not."
The News Tribune tried to interview Hood, but he didn't answer letters or phone messages. His prison counselor in Michigan said he didn't want to talk.'The dark agenda'
In the summer of 2000, as investigators closed in on Hood, Goodwin reported new plots on the Internet boards.
As Dove, she cited information from unnamed sources, and described secret struggles among the world's financial elites. Beginning sentences with "I have been told," she said a major European bank had come to Omega's rescue, but a major U.S. bank was fighting the program "with every trick and delay possible."
U.S. Supreme Court justices were on Omega's side. An important judge from the East Coast was fighting on their behalf. A group she called the White Knights was waging war against powerful enemies she began to call "the dark agenda."
Between such ominous reports, she called for group prayers and positive thinking. She wrote lengthy instructions that explained how to handle large sums of money when they arrived. She talked about how she would spend her own money once she received it: She would give large gifts to humanitarian causes.
Periodically, she reported "confirmations" - people who had received their money in sprinkles in one part of the country or another. The names couldn't be revealed, for privacy reasons, she said.
Over and over, she told Omega investors that prosperity deliveries would arrive any day. She and others sometimes referred to Omega in a kind of typewritten code, mixing numbers and numerals, calling it "O" or "the big O." On July 26, 2000, she said members of "the big pr0gram" could expect deliveries by July 31. On Aug, 4, she said deliveries were imminent. On Aug. 7, she said deliveries were scheduled for the end of the week.
Soon, she was pitching an "e-group." Readers could subscribe for free and get regular updates from her.
Omega investors, hungry for any information, devoured her messages. She quickly claimed more than 1,000 subscribers. Her reports started showing up more frequently.
Speculation about her identity fizzed. "Who was she?" other writers asked. A few flamed her on the bulletin boards. She fired back in regal fashion.
"My main sources include very important people whose responsibilities require their presence in the most secret and most important activities of this country and all the major countries in the world," she wrote. "My personal relationships to some key people have caused me to be chosen to be the spokesperson to the lenders."The parade queen
The real story was less glamorous.
She was born Candace Darlene Goodwin on May 4, 1947, and grew up in McCleary, a small town east of Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County.
The oldest of four children, she was dark-eyed and pretty. In 1962 she was crowned queen of the annual McCleary Bear Festival. The photo made the front page of the now-defunct Elma Chronicle.
Candy Goodwin attended Elma High School, and graduated in 1965. She studied French and made good grades. She joined the pep club. Her high school classmates liked her, and she had lots of friends.
"Very outgoing, vivacious, good sense of humor - I picture her smiling," said classmate Karen Olson, whose maiden name was Basset.
After graduation, Goodwin married but later divorced. There weren't any children. She moved on alone. Boyfriends came and went.
For a few years in the mid-1970s, she lived in Minnesota and worked for a computer company. She came back to Washington and, in 1980, landed a job with the state Department of Social and Health Services as a computer specialist. For the next decade, she bounced between state employment and private business, sometimes living with relatives.
She tried to freelance as a computer consultant, but didn't do well. She got interested in New Age philosophy. JoAnn Witt, Goodwin's aunt, says Candy always was "a little different."
In March 1988, she linked up with a Delaware corporation called EAN Corp., and asked family and friends to invest $1,000 in start- up money. She bought a new truck in early 1989 and listed her corporate salary as $5,000 a month on the loan application.
Delaware state records show EAN didn't make a dime. Goodwin says the company's owner deceived her and stopped paying her salary. On July 16, 1989, Goodwin filed for bankruptcy in Tacoma.
She erased more than $20,000 in maxed-out credit cards, kept the truck and went back to state employment for three years as a computer information consultant.
In 1992, she resigned, moved to Port Angeles, and eventually changed her name from Candace to Shaini. Goodwin says she left her job because a concussion from a car accident made working too difficult.
In 1995, an ex-boyfriend named Larry Tipton sought a protection order against Goodwin in Clallam County and accused her of harassment - peeking in his windows, calling him repeatedly and appearing in places where he could not avoid her. Goodwin disputed the claims. She says Tipton was depressed and suicidal and that she was just trying to keep an eye on him. A judge granted the restraining order.
Tipton hasn't spoken to Goodwin in several years. He said he did not know about her Dove pseudonym or her Internet celebrity.
"She's a wonderful, vivacious woman, but her views are a little bit out there," he says. "She's very bright - she'll tie you in knots. If you want to meet a character, meet Shaini."
In 1997, the IRS filed a lien against Goodwin, seeking $12,000 in unpaid taxes dating from 1991 to 1994. The agency does not lift liens until the debt is repaid in full. As of June, Thurston County court records show the lien remains active.
Goodwin says she was audited in the early 1990s and says she thinks she paid those bills. She told The News Tribune she hadn't seen the lien and gives it no credence. She says the IRS is an illegal organization and its actions have nothing to do with her "work." She says she has never mentioned her bankruptcy to her readers because it's "irrelevant."The messenger
In August 2000, federal investigators smashed Omega. Steve Sanchez filed indictments against Hood and 18 co-conspirators, charging multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy.
On Aug. 29, the day after the indictments were announced, Dove posted a message:
"Tonight we were told by a very high intelligence agency source that this whole thing in Illinois 'has been staged' to try to stop funding! However, this case in Illinois TOTALLY LACKS any ability to stop funding. It's almost a comedy, because the whole case will disappear instantly - VERY SOON."
She added a warning to worried Omega investors seeking information about the case.
"STAY AWAY FROM THE WEBSITE that has information on this case!!!" she wrote. "You will be tracked if you go to that website. And, absolutely avoid filling out any complaints - you could lose your funding if you do that!"
The case didn't disappear.
Sanchez won 18 convictions. The sole exception was Michael Kodosky, one of Hood's key lieutenants. He died before his trial began, from complications related to diabetes. Before his death, Kodosky entered a guilty plea.
Dove claims Omega's enemies, including the government, killed Kodosky with slow-acting poison. In her reports, she scoffed at the "Urbana soap opera."
She claimed Omega wasn't the only program affected by battles among the financial elites. At least 50 more "prosperity programs" were in play. Soon, all of them would be triggered by the announcement of a secret law passed by Congress. She called it NESARA - an acronym for the National Economic Stabilization and Recovery Act.
The law forgave debt and eliminated taxes. It changed the banking system and shifted the backing for the nation's currency, she claimed. New, colorful bills printed by the U.S. Mint were proof. But no members of Congress could admit the law's existence, she said. They were bound to secrecy by a gag order from the U.S. Supreme Court, and violations were punishable by death. Group prayers were needed to hasten the law's announcement.
She had taken Hood's idea and transformed it. Omega no longer was a simple investment, but an article of faith. She no longer was the messenger for one failed prosperity program, but scores. She made it clear she was the only voice, the designated messenger, for every one of them. She made it clear she was the only one who knew the truth about NESARA.The man who created NESARA
The claim shocked Harvey Barnard, 62, an engineer, consultant and teacher from Louisiana who wrote NESARA 13 years ago during an academic daydream.
While fooling around with mathematical formulas applied to economics, he decided the American economy was fundamentally unstable. So he came up with new formulas, translated them into legal language and wrote a bill.
"It was just an exercise to see if I could do it," he says.
Barnard printed 1,000 copies and sent them to every member of Congress. At first, he figured the idea was so obvious, he'd have to wait about a week for the bill to pass. Unfortunately, no one was interested in saving the economy. He still pitches the idea, and provides copies of his bill on his Web site. But no one has ever sponsored it.
The rumors from Dove suggested otherwise - that the law had been secretly passed. Dove started referring to NESARA by name, and directing readers to Barnard's Web site. The hits jumped and people started e-mailing questions. Barnard was pleased by the interest, but puzzled by claims that NESARA had passed.
At first, he replied to messages with gentle debunking. He pointed readers to official records of congressional actions, and asked them to look for themselves. NESARA hadn't been introduced, let alone passed. It was unlikely, he said, that every member of Congress, thousands of aides and the media would conspire to keep such a thing secret.
"If you believe any of that, you might also want to start looking for ocean front property in Nebraska," he wrote.
Indifferent to Barnard's message, Dove charged ahead, giving more details about what NESARA would accomplish, including forgiveness of mortgage and credit card debt. Subscriptions to her e-group rose above 2,000.
Barnard did some more research, discovered the clusters of Omega bulletin boards and read news stories about the case. He realized people were attaching his brainchild to a scam.
Part of him wondered whether this was a deliberate disinformation campaign to discredit his idea. The other part wondered if these rumors came from somebody wearing a tinfoil hat.
"Two different explanations," he says. "The simpler one is probably more nearly correct."
Again, he responded to the streams of questions, this time with a tougher tone.
"Many people who write to us seem to believe we are somehow connected with various financial schemes," he wrote. "At least some people are representing or claiming such an idea. We cannot vouch for the validity of those schemes, nor do we care to investigate."
To rumors of debt forgiveness, Barnard responded with specifics. That wasn't how his bill worked. True, it would change certain banking laws, but no loans would be forgiven.
"We really do not know how to dispel such rumors other than refute them, but you can help by not forwarding the rumors to others," he wrote.
When people relayed Barnard's messages to Dove, she dismissed them. It was obvious that the NESARA people couldn't discuss what was happening. They weren't talking to her high-level sources. On April 8, 2001, she explained it all.
"WHY would the people at the NESARA website commit 'TREASON punishable by DEATH' by telling anyone who writes them that NESARA secretly passed in March, 2000?" she wrote. "Leave the NESARA people alone - you are showing your ignorance by asking them to commit TREASON."Confessions
On April 10, 2001, Clyde Hood crumbled. In the Illinois federal court, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He agreed to testify against his co- conspirators.
The chat rooms and bulletin boards buzzed. Dove and other Omega supporters posted hundreds of messages that suggested the program would still pay.
On April 13, 2001, Dove hinted that Hood's guilty pleas were part of a conspiracy to deny investors their money. His confessions were a sham; the anti-Omega cartel was forcing him to lie, to prevent the announcement of the secret law.
"CH knows the whole Illinois court thing is just a smoke-screen, " she wrote, and added a sinister explanation:
"So, WHO benefits from the smoke-screen?" she asked. "Well, WHO wants the 'general populace' to believe these programs don't exist? WHO puts out this fraudulent info? The top world bankers, who have controlled our money system through the Fed, are the ones who want the general populace to believe these programs don't exist. Why? To keep these programs just for the 'RICH,' who have always had access to these huge money makers."
Her reports generated comments and fierce debates about the quality of her claimed sources. Other Omega supporters began to criticize her, saying she was jeopardizing their fortunes.
On April 14, she again took aim at fact-checking skeptics who couldn't understand why Barnard and the NESARA Web site kept saying the law hadn't been passed.
"QUIT bothering the people at NESARA - and quit sending me emails about how YOU 'think' you got the truth about the SECRET law," she wrote. "It's ridiculous for you to think you can just send an email and get the truth about a SECRET law. Congress has been under a STRICT GAG ORDER about this secret law. So, Quit Wasting my time sending me emails on this."
In the summer of 2001, Hood began to sing. During two trials of Omega conspirators, he spilled it all - how he had devised the scheme, how he knew it would never pay, the private mail carriers, the laundered money, the phony update lines, the stories of government interference dreamed up to dupe investors.
"I didn't really realize how big a liar I was," he said.
Meanwhile, federal attorneys in Illinois tried to help Omega victims get their money back. The antique cars, property and other assets bought with Omega money were seized and sold. Victims were encouraged to file restitution claims.
The attorneys ran into a problem. Many investors refused to file, refused to even talk to government investigators. The problem was the Internet, and the never-ending stream of rumors led by Dove and others that urged Omega victims to clam up.
"All this miscommunication, all this misinformation," Sanchez said. "Everybody kept saying, 'I'm told that it's gonna pay tomorrow, so I'm not talking to you.' No matter how hard we tried to persuade people that the information being put out there was erroneous, people didn't want to believe it. We fought for a long time to find somebody who did not distrust the government - somebody who believed that they had been defrauded."
Hood's former attorney, Douglas McNabb, received phone calls and e-mails from Omega investors for months after the trials ended. They wanted the truth - the real truth.
McNabb told them that Hood said Omega was a scam. He had testified to it in open court.
The callers politely said they understood. They figured Clyde had to say that, just to cut his exposure. But when would Omega pay?
"Some of these people, they just really, really believe it," McNabb said. "That's why these people are so susceptible to being victimized again."
It's true, according to experts: For some reason, being defrauded affects the victim like a drug.
"A very well-known phenomenon," says Andreas Schroeder, co- chairman of the creative writing department at the University of British Columbia and author of several books on scam artists and confidence games.
"People who have been suckered once are your very best bet to be suckered again. You'd think they'd be the last people willing to be conned. Nope. It's almost as if you're genetically prone to believing that kind of stuff. Once you've gone one step of the way, there's no reverse - it's only forward."Fame
On Sept. 11, 2001, hours after planes hijacked by terrorists struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Dove posted the message that made her a star.
"The three targets today were ALL connected to NESARA and the banking changes. I just learned that at 9:00 a.m. in New York this morning, there was an IMPORTANT banking activity set to be activated in the IMF international banking computer center in the World Trade Center!" she wrote. "This was obviously WHY the World Trade Center was attacked TODAY at just before and after 9:00 a.m.! ... The orders for these plane attacks came from U.S. citizens who are trying to stop our deliveries/funding and NESARA."
The impact on the Internet was electric. Here was a new rumor to chew. Almost immediately, Dove's message appeared on every Omega bulletin board, and leapfrogged to other sites devoted to conspiracy theory.
In Illinois, assistant U.S. attorney Sanchez, who had continued to follow the doings of the Omeganites, read the message and turned away.
"Once I saw that, I said I'm not going to follow this anymore," he says.
From Louisiana, Harvey Barnard posted an angry message on his NESARA Web site.
"Pure idiocy," he wrote. "Such stories would be humorous if the tragedies of that infamous Tuesday had not happened. We find all such rumor-mongering to be despicable, and the nature of such messages is mindlessness at its worst."
Again, Dove waved off the criticism.
"What would you expect them to say?" she wrote.
With one stroke, Dove mixed con, conspiracy, terrorism, faith, finance and politics. Within a month, her e-group gained more than 1,000 subscribers.
"Brilliant," says Schroeder, the scam historian. "That's cunning. That is definitely magnificent."
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Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486