David Howard Profile picture
Oct 10, 2017 25 tweets 6 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Here’s a fun story for you. I spent 3 years learning about this guy, Phil Kitzer, the greatest con artist you’ve never heard of. 1/
In the 1960s, he was arrested for embezzling millions of $ out of 15 insurance companies in Minneapolis and Chicago, bankrupting them. 2/
Kitzer spent 8 days testifying in his own defense. He was hypnotic, charismatic. After 3-month trial, the jury believed & acquitted him. 3/
He spent the next decade traveling, opening offshore banks that were chartered but penniless. He printed and sold worthless securities. 4/
His bank documents were perfect fakes. He named shell banks to mirror names of legit ones, to confuse victims (including real banks). 5/
He & a co-conspirator fleeced #Elvis in 1976. Took private jet and almost $400,000 from the King and his father in wildly complex scheme. 6/
He “bought” 121 condo units in Honolulu from Hawaii’s former Lt. Gov., Jimmy Kealoha, using phony letters of credit. Easy $60,000 scam 7/
Kitzer had made millions doing this when he met two aspiring young con men in February 1977. They wanted a stolen bond. He liked them. 8/
Seeing Jack and JJ as potential new front men for his banks, Kitzer invited to them to travel with him, learn how his operation worked. 9/
There was one significant thing he didn’t know about them: They were actually FBI agents. 10/
They went to Miami, LA, Hawaii, Frankfurt, NY in first few months. Kitzer detailed how he worked with co-conspirators around the world. 11/
Agents gathered copious evidence but risked much. The FBI had only started with undercover work then. This white-collar case was a 1st. 12/
The agents hadn’t expected to go so deep. Had no undercover training, used their real names & personal AmEx. Made it all up on the fly. 13/
In Hawaii, they listened in on a scheme to defraud Kealoha out of another large sum. The agents risked months of work to foil it. 14/
They flew together, ate together, stayed in luxury hotels. Jack hid a mini recorder in the seam of a curtain in one Honolulu hotel room. 15/
Phil loved to go out, party, pick up women. The agents secretly poured out drinks or left them on the bar to keep their wits intact. 16/
They worked deals involving New York wiseguys, including dangerous Lucchese family members who carried guns w/ silencers and ice picks. 17/
The three of them watched out for each other. Phil began to think of them as good friends. Then something surprising happened. 18/
The agents started to feel protective of Kitzer. They liked him. They realized even though they had to take him down, he was a friend. 19/
After four mob-connected guys were whacked, the FBI shut down the operation. Eight months after meeting Kitzer, JJ & Jack arrested him. 20/
The agents didn’t stop there. They cared about Phil, tried to figure out how to help him—leading to a turn of events no one saw coming. 21/
Phil changed. Hugely. But he died in 2001. To bring him to life for #ChasingPhil, I had to go beyond extensive interviews with agents. 22/
In archives in KC, Chicago, Atlanta, and SF, I found hundreds of pages of his court testimony. Vivid, powerful, filled with dialogue. 23/
Jack and JJ (now Jim) spent more than 2 years describing their adventures to me. It’s the best story I’ve ever been entrusted to tell. 24/
My book about their adventures together goes on sale today. Robert Downey Jr. plans to play Kitzer in film version. #ChasingPhil 25/25

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