Sherman Unkefer Sold Secret Stash of $5.4M in Gold and Silver, Witness in RICO Suit Claims
Image: Jeremy Schultz via Wikipedia
Sherman Unkefer, the Scottsdale gold-and-juice scamster targeted in a $54 million RICO suit, supposedly sold $5.4 million in gold and silver in 2013 to stop it from going to his victims.
Marc Olivieri, who worked with one of Unkefer's associates, detailed the alleged sale in an affidavit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in late August as part of the RICO suit.
The county attorney's office filed the RICO suit against Unkefer in May following several years of attempts to make him pay court-ordered restitution for crimes he committed as the head of a failed 1980s-era Phoenix precious-metals firm.
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Seattle Sounders 2
TicketsSat., Sep. 2, 7:30pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Atlanta Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club
TicketsWed., Sep. 6, 7:30pm
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Diego Padres
TicketsFri., Sep. 8, 6:40pm
The suit seeks treble damages for nearly $18 million lost by at least 1,334 clients of North American Coin and Currency when it went bankrupt in 1982.
Unkefer was sentenced in 1989 to 10 years in prison for his schemes in defrauding North American's customers, and he was ordered to pay $7.5 million in restitution -- only about half of what authorities believe victims lost. As our previous stories about Unkefer detailed, many customers had trusted the firm to store their gold-and-silver investments in the company's vault. After the firm went belly-up, portions of the firm's vault contents were discovered to have vanished.
Unkefer made off with some of the treasure that went missing in 1982, the county attorney's office alleges. While helping Unkefer move some stuff out of his Scottsdale home once, one of Unkefer's relatives recalled carrying "two large and very heavy milk crates" containing silver coins in cloth bags, states the RICO complaint filed under seal in May.
Over the years, Unkefer "used a hidden cache of precious metals and coins believed to have been stolen from NACC [for] expensive cars, jewelry, and travel," the complaint says.
A silver-tongued con-man and tireless traveler, Unkefer managed to rise to the top of a multi-level-marketing organization called XanGo Juice, with his distributorship pulling in more than $100,000 a month for years. Estimates show Unkefer's franchise XanGo company made more than $17 million from 2003 to 2014. The fortune he was pulling in attracted the attention of the county attorney's office in 2008, which renewed efforts to enforce the criminal-restitution order.
Unkefer hid his assets in a trust and paid attorneys to keep the state of Arizona off his back as long as possible. In a 2010 article, New Times exposed his previously secret partnership in Republic Monetary Exchange, a Phoenix precious metals firm run by Unkefer's former business partner at North American, James Clark.
Clark's an ex-con himself who served more than a year in prison related to a separate gold firm he'd owned. No recent wrongdoing has been alleged against Clark, and none at all against Republic Monetary Exchange, which does not store its customers purchases like North American did.
As New Times detailed in a follow-up article in 2012, Clark's son, also named James Clark, sided with Unkefer instead of his father in a lawsuit that pitted Unkefer's deceased wife's trust versus Republic Monetary Exchange. The suit ended in an undisclosed settlement.
Marc Olivieri, a former salesman for Phoenix gold firm Republic Monetary Exchange, had been employed for a time with Core Resource Management, Inc., an oil-and-gas-investment business started by the younger James Clark. Olivieri says in his August 21 affidavit that, at the same time, Clark set up a company called Biltmore Precious Metal Services "for the purpose of allowing people, including Sherman Unkefer, to liquidate their precious metals."
Photo Illustration: Ray Stern
Olivieri says he soon learned that Unkefer's plan was to sell his precious metals, move the proceeds offshore, then invest -- through an intermediary -- in Core Resource Management, Clark's penny-stock company, which is registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Olivieri says the younger Clark told him the "sole purpose" of the planned sale of metals was to "prevent the State or government from seizing the money."
The gold and silver was located at the Teeple Hall law firm in San Diego, Olivieri alleges.
The law firm of California attorneys Grant Teeple and Todd Hall also manages the trust of Unkefer's deceased wife, which contains the proceeds of the XanGo profits -- and which the state wants to tap in order to reimburse the many North American Coin and Currency victims.
"James Clark traveled to the offices of Teeple Hall in San Diego to perform a physical inspection and inventory, and prepared the inventory list, of the gold and silver," Olivieri's affidavit says.
Clark gave Olivieri the inventory paperwork and told him to handle the details of the sale, Olivieri maintains.
The precious metals were to be picked up from Teeple Hall in San Diego, taken to A-Mark Precious Metals in Santa Monica and sold, but the sale couldn't be completed until someone gave up a tax ID number for the government. Clark wanted Olivieri to use a tax number from a limited liability corporation Olivieri owns, the affidavit says. Olivieri balked, saying the owner of the gold and silver should put down a tax ID number. He was taken off the deal and fired four days later, he claims. But he says the deal did go through as scheduled, meaning -- apparently -- that someone's tax ID number was used.
Olivieri, a Mesa resident, could not be reached for comment. Unkefer didn't return a phone call; neither did James Clark, (meaning the younger, here and throughout the rest of this article).
Our phone call to the Teeple Hall law firm in San Diego resulted in a call from the firm's Phoenix lawyer, Rick Righi. He says that to the extent this article is based on Olivieri's affidavit, it's "not going to be very good." Olivieri's "not a credible" person or source.
"The $5 million transfer never occurred," Righi says. "We have proof that it didn't."
Righi emailed us another affidavit -- this one by James Clark, dated September 2. In it, Clark denies that he: instructed Olivieri to help with the transaction; talked to Unkefer about his intentions for any sale proceeds; has no knowledge of 4,600 pounds of gold and silver ever being stored at the Teeple Hall firm; has ever been to the offices of Teeple Hall; and in general has no knowledge of such a sale.
Besides that, Clark says in his affidavit, Olivieri was fired from Core by the former CEO because of "poor performance related, in part, to his alcohol and substance abuse issues."
Righi tells us that the county attorney's office is "accepting" of the idea that Olivieri got everything wrong. County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office hasn't yet responded to our question about that.
So maybe this is just another Arizona tall tale about a fortune in gold and silver, along the lines of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. Except with Unkefer's reported treasure, there's paperwork.
Attached to Olivieri's affidavit were three pages that seem to represent that a sale did occur, or was going to occur.
The first page is an order form from Via Mat, a freighting company, dated May 8, 2013. It shows that 4,629.66 pounds of gold and silver was scheduled to be shipped on May 10 from Teeple Hall to A-Mark in Santa Monica.
The second page is the inventory Olivieri says Clark gave him. It's a fun list of the various forms of gold and silver that Olivieri says were to be liquidated, totaling $5.4 million at that day's spot gold and silver price. The inventory supposedly included:
* 20,000 silver American Eagles
* 104 100-ounce silver bars
* Bags of silver coins and "generic" one-ounce silver coins
* 52 gold Kruggerands
* 160 gold Canadian Maple Leafs
* 980 gold American Eagles
* Various other gold bars and coins.
Sherman Unkefer and former daughter-in-law Laundy Unkefer
Finally, the third exhibit attached to Olivieri's affidavit is an alleged record of an earlier transfer of metals from Teeple Hall to A-Mark, this one occurring in April of 2013.
Asked about that paperwork, Righi says the transaction was "canceled."
But if it was canceled, doesn't that mean it was at one point considered? we ask.
Righi says "no," that there "never was" a fortune in gold and silver at Teeple Hall. Intriguingly, though, he remarks that the precious metals "may have been Sherman's, but we never knew about it."
In other words, even if the gold and silver hadn't been stored at Teeple Hall, it apparently existed somewhere, accessible to Unkefer, who may have indeed found a way to sell it.
The RICO suit is headed slowly for trial, with a pre-trial conference set up for late November. The defendants in the suit include Unkefer, his girlfriend (and former daughter-in-law) Laundy Unkefer, Grant Teeple, Todd Hall, and various other companies and people tied to Unkefer's businesses.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.