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Straw Man

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"I would have to tell you figures, and I can't do that," he said with a smile. "Directions and figures are two things I can't tell a man."

To test Long, I asked him to compute 40 percent of 2 million. "You tell me," he muttered blankly. He truly had no idea. The man involved in those multimillion dollar swindles can't even do simple arithmetic.

It figures. Long is no cunning con man. He's not in the class of a Ruth or a L'Hoir. He's just a half-baked, morally stunted salesman. And he's not without some charms. Like most Southern-born hucksters (and having been raised in Kentucky, I've met a few), he's quick with a laugh and doesn't take himself too seriously. He said he didn't steal money from Cash Today, and for the most part, I believe him. Long drives a Daewoo, and he's genuinely bitter about the FBI raid and dissolution of Cash Today -- which is neither the typical transportation nor disposition of a man who made off with a bundle of illicit money.

So what happened to the money raised by Cash Today and Republic? Billups returned my phone call last week and swore he didn't take it. Ruth swindled him, and Long is a "crazy man," Billups complained, adding that he's living in a trailer home in Arizona, flat broke and looking for employment.

Did Ruth hide some of the money before he was caught?

"I have no idea," Billups answered. "Trying to conjure up what happened in this deal would be like some kind of black magic. It's impossible to figure out. All I know is, I have been ruined."

The FBI investigation of Cash Today is still open, and the bank account is still frozen. The FBI won't comment on it, but I would bet that Long won't be charged with anything. As he himself puts it, "Why would they care about me? I'm baby shit."

But he's paying a price for his transgressions. Seems none of his old boiler-room friends -- a gang of sociopath swindlers, dirty salesmen, and clueless businessmen -- will hire him. "Everybody thinks I'm wired, that I'm working for the FBI," he said. "Nobody wants to be around me anymore."

Then there are those misguided death threats. Nobody should physically hurt J.W. Long, but it is fitting that an old boiler-room man is now afraid of his own phone.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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