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A special kind of stupid: bootstrapping a high-profile start up with drugs money.

FCRO Subsection: 
Editorial Staff

We all know that getting any kind of new project off the ground is a complex, stressful and potentially ruinous venture. So, while there are those that spend their own capital, sweat equity, there are those that seek funding in the forms of loans or investment. So what happened when two New Jersey men decided to bootstrap their proposed development of a leisure complex with bunker-like, "doomsday", apartments designed to withstand every thing from biological threats to a nuclear winter?

It's a clever idea: build golf-courses and all kinds of things that people enjoy on the surface and build ultra-secure compounds beneath. Social characters will subscribe to the surface and "preppers" will love the comfortable bunkers and storage for all those cans of baked beans they collect. Even better, unlike the mountain-man preppers who are paranoid about their personal security, the compound would be secure while relieving individual parcel holders of the burden of carrying clubs with nails sticking out of them everywhere they go.

Two years ago, John Eckerd, now 55, was saying that he was preparing to build "a high-end underground residential bunker development outside of Dallas. The development project was marketed as a five-star doomsday escape for the wealthy with DEFCON 1 preparedness and allegedly capable of withstanding catastrophic events ranging from viral epidemics to nuclear war." The plan was a joint enterprise with Anthony Romano, now 53.

But the pair needed money and when they were introduced to a criminal with money to launder, Romano, in particular, couldn't resist talking big. They could, he told the criminal, launder significant amounts of money through their construction scheme. There were just two flies in the ointment. First, they hadn't begun the development and, perhaps even more importantly, the criminal was an FBI agent.

Jaw meet floor.

What was particularly sad was that the amounts involved were, relative to what would be needed for the project, tiny. According to the FBI "Between September 2017 and December 2017, Romano engaged in 10 separate money laundering transactions with an undercover agent. The agent and Romano met at various locations in Atlantic County, New Jersey, to discuss ways to conceal the origin of the money and to exchange the cash. Romano received bags of cash ranging in amounts of USD10,000 to USD60,000. The undercover agent represented to both Romano and Eckerd that the cash was derived from selling drugs on behalf of a South American drug cartel. In exchange for the cash, Romano provided the agent with various business cheques, less a fee that Romano charged for performing the illegal transaction. Several business cheques were from shell companies that Romano formed in order to conceal and disguise the nature of the transaction."

Ah, so it's the old cash for cheques scheme.

Later, Romano told the agents that the scheme had been tested and proved and that they could handle far more. "By January 2018, Romano and Eckerd were prepared to escalate the monetary amounts involved in the laundering activity. The first transaction of 2018 involving Romano, Eckerd and the undercover agent served as a test case to show the supposed members of the South American drug cartel that Romano and Eckerd could expeditiously launder larger sums of cash. In January 2018, the undercover agent handed Romano USD100,000 in cash at a location in New Jersey. Instead of receiving a business cheque in return, the undercover agent agreed to receive the money, less the standard fee, in the form of an inter-bank transfer originating from Eckerd. The following month, the undercover agent met Romano and Eckerd in Texas to engage in a second test case. The day after driving out to the site of the development project, the undercover agent turned over a backpack containing USD100,000 in cash to Romano and Eckerd. In exchange, Eckerd handed the undercover agent a cheque, less their standard fee, for laundering the alleged narcotics proceeds.

Clink, clink, clink went the handcuffs.

On 26th September,, 2019, Romano was sentenced to 54 months in prison for his role in conspiring to launder over USD590,000 in United States currency. On 4th November, Eckerd was sentenced to 15 months in jail for conspiracy.

Romano seems to be running with the wrong crowd: he also admitted his participation in planning a robbery of The Pawn Shop in Union, New Jersey on 19th April, 2014. Romano acknowledged knowing that his conspirators in that case had access to a firearm when they committed the robbery.

And it doesn't end there. Aside from the laundering, there are other issues including a Dallas man who claims he invested USD13 million into a tyres venture only to find out that at least some of the money was transferred to the construction company - which hasn't done any construction. See https://www.wvlt.tv/content/ne....

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