DEATH OF A WHIZ KID

BY AGE 30, SHELDON WEINER WAS ONE OF CHARLIE KEATING'S TOP LIEUTENANTS. TEN YEARS LATER, HE COMMITTED SUICIDE IN A TOY STORE PARKING LOT.

"I am one of those people. I was a passive investor and significant creditor of Family Archive Press. . . . Like you, I have nowhere to turn to recover my financial loss. It is my understanding that the company has no assets. This is an unfortunate situation for all involved."

Infuriated, Martin responded in a July 2 fax.
"HI THERE, KEATING KIDS!" it started. "I want the money that you owe me for having worked for you at Family Archive Press, and I want it now."

But the employees likely won't see the money they are owed. Under Arizona law, the investors would have no legal obligation to pay them, even if Family Archive did have assets.

Another unresolved question: How many people around the nation have paid for books they'll never receive?

The week before Weiner died, Family Archive records show, telemarketers sold almost 1,500 genealogy books at an average of $70 per book. That came to $105,000 in sales. All but 6 percent of the customers paid by credit card, electronic debit or personal check.

With Weiner's telemarketing scam in full flower, that's almost $100,000 presently unaccounted for for just one week's sales.

"There were some people for whom the Bible and their family-tree book are the two greatest books in the world," says Janet Wilson, an editor at Family Archive. "Many of our customers didn't come from well-to-do or educated backgrounds. I'm embarrassed to say that we were preying on these people. I guess now it's our turn to get screwed."

Friends, employees and former colleagues of Shelly Weiner use the same adjectives to describe him: hardworking, diligent, tense, ambitious, intelligent.

Those interviewed for this story say Weiner seemed at his most relaxed around his sons, now 15 and 10. But those observers note they never saw him totally at ease.

In and out of Family Archive Press, sources say Weiner's wife, Ellen, appeared to be in awe of him. He's the smartest man I've ever known, she liked to tell newcomers, the very smartest.

The New York natives had been teenage sweethearts, who married and moved to Arizona in the late 1970s.

The State of Arizona certified Weiner as a public accountant in 1979. After a stint at a large accounting firm, he took a job that many neophyte CPAs of that era would have drooled over--Charles Keating Jr.

For those who didn't live in Arizona in the early 1980s, here's a three-word history lesson: Charlie Keating ruled.

Keating's sprawling realm included Lincoln Savings and Loan, American Continental Corporation and a web of subsidiaries. By his 30th birthday, Weiner already had risen to exceptionally lucrative top-level positions at Lincoln, American Continental and other Keating-owned entities.

In the mid-1980s, according to American Continental records, Weiner was garnering about $700,000 per year, plus stock dividends.

His value to Keating was easy to figure, says Jack Atchison, author of the recently published pro-Keating book Legal Extortion.

"Shelly did not have any entrepreneurial license in what he was doing," recalls Atchison, a former Keating insider, "but he possessed an outstanding technical understanding of currencies, markets and how trades are executed. What I really remember is how unflappable he seemed in what was a hectic kind of environment."

In a sense, that ability to operate amid chaos, to keep going when all seemed lost, served Shelly Weiner well--when he worked for Charlie Keating and, later, in his own ventures. That focus and perseverance, however, allowed him to continue a business that was failing miserably. And, like Keating, Weiner turned to chicanery as his losses mounted.

In the late 1980s, Keating's kingdom melted under an onslaught of government probes, lawsuits and criminal indictments. Weiner left Keating in 1989, just days before American Continental claimed bankruptcy.

Weiner is mentioned in almost every book and in-depth article related to the Keating scandals. But he avoided the criminal sanctions and public humiliation endured by many other big shots in the Keating fold.

He didn't escape unscathed, however. He was one of 12 American Continental executives who agreed in 1991 to pay $3.75 million among them to a group of aggrieved company investors.

Onetime colleagues of Weiner say he was outspoken about being his own boss in his life's next phase. Trouble was, they add, Weiner didn't seem to know where to start.

He had made more money by his early 30s than some CPAs make in a lifetime, which was a blessing and a curse. Weiner had no experience in running his own show. And processing tax returns at H&R Block as he tried to figure out what to do just wasn't in the cards.

In 1989, a Valley man named Marc Kaplan marched into Shelly Weiner's world. Kaplan had more moneymaking schemes on the tip of his tongue than a convention of carnival barkers.

Beneath the patter, however, Kaplan defined the term wanna-be.
Naturally, he dabbled in real estate.
Kaplan also had figured prominently in the Senior Baseball League, a highly publicized attempt to market washed-up major leaguers. That enterprise failed to pass muster with fans, and soon died.

His prime business interest in the early 1990s was Health and Nutritional Labs, a telemarketing operation that hawked vitamin pills, protein powders and the like.

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