Then came the idea for the 9/11 cards, which he believes will dig him out of his financial morass. He says it occurred to him just days after the World Trade Center disaster.
Despite opposition from friends and family, he raised the $250,000 he thought would be needed. Some of the money is his own. There are three other investors. "All I have is a house my mom left me in Maine, and I've leveraged it to do this," he says. "I live life like I'm in college."
The torrent of press and TV coverage Barham has received for the project is certainly the kind of publicity most rascals like Barham only dream of. He was called "ghoulish" on CNN Live. Articles questioning his project have appeared in France, Spain, and throughout the English-speaking world, including New Zealand and Australia. My favorite piece is an editorial by Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, who took Barham wa-a-a-ay too seriously this past December 31: "Meaningful content can appear in many forms, including small slabs of cardboard. The First Amendment protects free speech, regardless of the format. In the end, it's about the message, not the medium."
I wish Paulson could speak with Karyn Ricke, a Lake Worth graphics artist who sued Barham after she provided a design for the cards and he refused to pay. This past October, after Barham didn't show up in court, a judge awarded her $3,000 in damages. "I don't know if this guy has a pot to piss in," says her lawyer, Scott Chapman. "A lot of people are probably after his assets."
Despite all the press, it seems most likely that Barham's 9/11 escapade will fail miserably. His friends and business associates will be left holding the bag, as they have been in the past. At least one investor, though, isn't particularly bothered by the prospect of losing money. Bill Healey, who lives in San Francisco, says he has plowed more than $25,000 into the project. He doesn't believe the project is in bad taste, pointing out that these aren't really trading cards. If people receive duplicates, the company will replace them, he says. "I probably put in the first $25,000 because Kingsley is a friend," Healey says. "He has had a pretty tough time of it in the last 20 years. I'd like to see him have some security."
Barham says his tawdry record has no bearing on the 9/11 project. He contends that a chain of grocery stores in Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey recently agreed to sell the cards. And they are doing well on the Internet. "There is no question that I have gotten some bad advice, but I have never set out to harm or hurt or financially wound someone," he concludes. "Most of the people who have been hurt by me have been worth a lot of money."
East Bay Express Intern Helene Blatter contributed to this report.