The Pro Con Man

For a decade, Stephen C. Peterson has been the Energizer bunny of white-collar scamsters. And he's still going and going...

One Peterson ally, the director of the Economic Development Council, told the Lima News: "The situation is over. The company has cleared up their bills after having some problems."

Those inaccurate comments angered Bass 'n Man creditors, who called for the director's head. Many filed legal claims against Bass 'n Man.

Word of the Ohio controversy filtered to Billy Oliverio, the Arizona Corporation Commission investigator. A cursory investigation uncovered an almost-bizarre situation in the small Ohio city: Bass 'n Man's few employees had nothing of substance to do, so they had devised an indoor golf game to pass the time at the plant.

On the rare occasion that a fishing-lure order came in, a worker would go to the local K mart, buy some lures, rip off the labels and send them out.

Authorities say they aren't sure what Peterson intended to do with the Ohio business.

"Can't say," says prosecutor Sheila Madden. "Wish I knew. But whatever it was, it wasn't working."

Oliverio alerted Peterson's probation officer, Nick Crowder. But it appears that Crowder, who deferred comment to his agency's public-information officer, did little to investigate Peterson for months.

"It's not uncommon for [probation] officers to wait for charges to be filed before they move on someone," says the agency's Gael Parks.

Crowder's failure to act spelled trouble for some of Peterson's victims.
When authorities raided Peterson's home and office in June, Terry Graham and his motor home were the only ones around.

On July 12, 1995, the attorney general filed a complaint against Stephen Peterson in East Phoenix Justice Court. The single count accuses Peterson of defrauding Terry Graham of at least $10,000.

Those presidential paintings Stephen Peterson hung in his Central Avenue offices gather dust in a warehouse where the attorney general stores evidence. No one, it seems, has put in a claim for the artwork.

As for the Dominion of Melchizedek, its founder, Branch Vinedresser, née Mark Logan Pedley, was arrested in February 1991 on parole violations. Authorities found him at the Nevada offices of the Banco de Asia, a linchpin of his phony empire.

But Pedley's fantasy island lives on. A recent trek into the Internet turns up a prospectus for the "Polynesian Melchizedek Dominion," which claims to be an "offshore business center based on its island Karitane--located some 1,500 miles south of Tahiti." For $650, anyone can create a corporation based in the dominion.

Prosecutors and victims--even Stephen Peterson's "associates"--wonder where he might be.

Terry Graham received a religious book from Mary Peterson in the mail several months ago. The package had a Wisconsin postmark and no return address.

She recommended that Graham read asection of Psalm 118, one verse of whichironically reads: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man."

Mary Peterson inscribed it, "Please enjoy this valuable treasure. ... Perhaps we will see you again somewhere, sometime in the future.

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