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Joanna Wray didn't have anything to do one night in October 1987, so she tagged along with a friend to hear a seminar given by Wade Bruce Cook, lecturer, writer and self-professed real estate wizard.

For several months Wray had listened to her friend rattle on and on about Cook's business acumen. The friend painted Cook as a kind of saint, a guy who made millions in real estate and was willing to share the secrets of getting rich with the man in the street--for a small sum. He shared this knowledge at his seminars across the country, and in his books and videotapes.

Wray's first impression of Wade Cook in Phoenix that night was that, for a millionaire, he wasn't very well dressed. But he seemed "very kind, sincere and knowledgeable." So she plopped down $295 to join American Business Alliance (ABA), a club that provided business-success seminars. Cook preached courage, and said that practically anybody could be a success with his techniques. "Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are for," Cook was fond of saying.

He counseled people to buy houses facing foreclosure, fix them up and sell them. "He said he once bought a house at a Denny's as the owners were leaving town," says Wray, who lives in Phoenix.

Wray found herself sucked in. She attended more Cook seminars. She read every letter Cook sent her. And she bought $1,000 worth of American Business Alliance stock. "The American Business Alliance is about exposure," Cook bubbled in his newsletter, The Money Connection. "Exposure to new business contacts who may become friends and customers. Exposure to new ideas and solutions through live and taped seminars. Exposure to like-minded people to help you along. Exposure to high-tech solutions from companies dedicated to helping your bottom line. In short, exposure to the components and techniques that every person needs to excel."

It was a sacrifice for Wray to part with the $1,000. It was all she'd managed to stash away in her savings. She was earning only $20,000 as a purchasing agent for a medical supply company and trying to help her daughter get through college. But she trusted Cook, and she figured she'd make a killing with her American Business Alliance stock.

Shortly after Wray bought her stock, in late 1987 or early 1988, Cook's office closed. The phone was disconnected. The newsletters stopped.

"It was like joining a health club only to have the door locked on you," Wray says during an interview. She sits on her living room floor, tossing her head back and forth in disbelief as she thumbs through her worthless stock certificates. "And I'd always been so cautious," she says. "I'd been cautious, cautious, cautious."

Although she doubts she'll ever get her money back, she can still laugh at her own gullibility and some of the things Wade Cook did. Like the way he was fond of quoting what he called an Irish proverb: "The biggest fish you'll ever catch is still in the ocean."

What Joanna Wray didn't know was that she wasn't the only one who was suckered. Two years after she lost her money, the Arizona Corporation Commission would conclude that at least 150 others, mostly middle-class working people who, like Joanna, had little money to spare, lost a total of $390,000 by purchasing worthless securities from Wade Cook or one of his corporations.

"I don't really like to talk about this," says Kelly Cook, who is not related to Wade Cook. Kelly Cook installs window sills for a living. He pooled his life savings with that of family and friends to buy $23,000 in stocks Wade Cook promoted after a real estate seminar. "Oh boy, he talked up some dandy stuff," says Kelly Cook, who has since moved from Arizona to Wisconsin. "We ended up losing all our money. It drained our account and we're not going to get a dime back." "In my opinion, he's a con man," says Renz Jennings of Wade Cook. Jennings is chairman of the state corporation commission, which in 1989 ruled that Cook had engaged in fraud and several other securities violations, including using investors' money to pay for his house and income tax. It frustrates people like Jennings that he's still handing out investment advice.

And getting money for it.
Wade Cook, real estate guru, author of a dozen books with titles like You Can Get Anything You Want and How to Build a Real Estate Money Machine, is back in the saddle again. Although he has been banned from selling stocks in the state of Arizona, he has not been banned from giving "Cash Flow" seminars.

JULY 18, 1991. Wade Cook stands at the entry to a rented conference room at the past. I mean, he's a real estate lecturer," the lawyer says. "You can imagine with the market being down his business is going to be down, but with the market picking up his business will pick up." As for the "difficulty with the corporation commission," Novak says Cook simply got in hot water because he ventured into foreign territory--the sale of stocks. Cook sold stocks because he received "poor legal advice."

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Terry Greene