Thursday, February 09, 2006

Today is 10-year anniversary of grand jury indictment

Ten years ago this afternoon, Carthage Press photographer (now general manager and managing editor) Ron Graber and I stood in a conference room at the Joplin Airport listening as Attorney General Jay Nixon announced the grand jury indictment of Lamar businessman Patrick Dallas Graham.
Graham, the CEO of Conquest Labs, Inc., was charged with 10 counts of securities fraud and 10 counts of selling unregistered securities in connection with the sale of $5.3 million in stock, notes and stock options in his company, which he said was developing a vaccine for the AIDS virus.
Those who were reading The Press at the time will recall that Graber and I had been on top of that story from the beginning, since May 23, 1995, when Missouri Highway Patrol troopers executed a search warrant at the Conquest office on the Lamar square.
Unfortunately for The Press, we had an afternoon newspaper and the press conference was scheduled for 1 p.m., well after our deadline, so every newspaper and television station would be scooping us on our own story.
We did what we could. Since no one from the attorney general's office would confirm that the news conference concerned Graham, The Press ran a story that day speculating that the Graham indictment might be coming down since we were well aware that a grand jury had been impaneled in Barton County and had addressed the issue. But that was a poor substitute for actually having the story.
Conquest Labs' marketing plan indicated Graham was telling investors that he not only had a vaccine for AIDS, but was working on vaccines for cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Nixon said, "In reality, he (Graham) was using investor funds to draw an annual salary of $120,000 undder his wife's name, purchase homes for him and his daughters, lease vehicles for him and his sons-in-law and pay a substantial part of his family's living expenses."
Graham was charged as a prior offender because of a 1984 conviction, which had been detailed in Press articles. He had pleaded guilty to a fraud charge after he offered to pay three southeast Kansas businessmen $250,000 "one half of my finder's fee from a gold sale in South Africa."
The rest of the media scooped us on the Graham indictment, but not on one particular fact. Later that afternoon, I received a call from a young woman with the attorney general's office who asked if I had received everything I needed at the press conference. I said I had and thanked her for her concern.
"Wasn't that something about Pat Boone being one of the investors," she said, referring, of course, to the 1950s pop star who later performed at Branson.
"Did you say Pat Boone was one of the investors?"
She said he was and after a short conversation, I was of the belief that someone from the attorney general's office, most likely his public information officer, wanted to make sure that we had something that our other competitors did not have, since none of them had done more than minor coverage of Conquest Labs.
As it turned out, Boone was just one of several Branson bigwigs who invested, including members of the Herschend family, owners of Silver Dollar City, and the Braschler family.
It was an especially nice day for Ron Graber, who hails from Freeman, S. D. In one of those strange coincidences that life sometimes provides, Pat Graham had bilked a large number of people in Freeman, S. D., who became involved in a restaurant venture there in the 1970s. Those people were quite naturally thrilled that a hometown boy had played a significant role in the investigation (much of what we dug up was used by the attorney's general office, though it easily had enough for a successful indictment without us) that finally brought this man to justice.
Pat Graham eventually pleaded guilty in 1997 and is serving a 15-year prison sentence.


Anonymous said...

Wow, ten years. Thanks for the reminder, Randy. Our Graham series is probably what got me off of my planned track to stay a photographer and pushed me to branch into writing and other journalism skills as I learned the value (and fun) of writing and in-depth projects. While it certainly was interesting seeing justice finally done to someone who had defrauded so many people in my hometown decades ago, one thing I will always remember is the shock I heard in the voices of the investors (Graham's victims) I talked to when I informed them that the man they met at church and had given their savings to was actually a convicted felon and lifetime scam artist.

Anonymous said...

Gee Randy, you must be double-jointed as often as you pat yourself on the back for past accomplishments.