Longform

FROM THE BIG HOUSE TO GOD'S HOUSE

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Buoyed by cash, the business grew; IGBE had more than 100 telephone-marketing reps. The Alderdices boldly flaunted their success. They leased an enormous building in Fort Lauderdale, right across the street from the government buildings that housed the FBI and the DEA, and atop the building, they erected a giant sign depicting gold coins. If that was not a deliberate nose thumbing, the feds took it that way. The sign, says Michael Pasano, the federal prosecutor who eventually brought them down, was "like a landmark that was galling to no end to the federal agents."

Infatuated by their apparent success, the brothers started up 38 subsidiary businesses--travel agencies, car-rental agencies--and opened branch offices in Dallas and Los Angeles. As president of the company, Bill Alderdice paid himself a salary of $520,000 per year; Jim, as secretary and treasurer, earned $200,000; their mother, Eileen Alderdice, made $90,000. They padded their staff with hangers-on and beautiful women until they had several hundred employees and a monthly overhead of $3 million. Bill and Jim lived wildly and wonderfully, taking office-staff field trips to Hawaii to plant the company flag on a volcano, throwing $100 bills out of limo windows and, according to legend, wild bashes in apartments hung with side-by-side portraits of Jesus and Elvis.

There was a religious overtone to their excesses that bordered on delusion, an apparent assumption that God must be smiling on them if they were doing so well. As an ex-girlfriend told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "Bill would do cocaine and tell me how he wanted to become another Jesus Christ and feed the poor, heal the sick and do good for people."

They would make generous donations to charity--even while they were raiding the life savings of their investors. And in an interview during his prosperous years, Bill said, "When we leave this planet, I'll know I've done a fair job to God and my country."

He did not think he was bragging. "Bill, at some point, started believing his own hype, and that's when you move from businessman to megalomaniac," says Pasano, the federal prosecutor.

That the Alderdices could ride the wave of warped fortune for two years certainly made it look as if God were on their board of trustees. But then gold prices went flat, and so did the scam, and, as Pasano says, "The trickle of consumer complaints became an avalanche."

Despite gross earnings of $130 million between 1980 and 1982, IGBE went broke, and the Alderdices claimed they were penniless. In April 1983, they declared bankruptcy to escape their creditors. Bill claimed that it was just another failure of a large company. The brothers denied they had intentionally defrauded anyone.

"It was just mismanagement," their mother, Eileen, still claims. "It was growing too fast. It got out of hand, and a few complaints started coming in, and when they did, of course, well, everybody panicked. It was just a real sad situation how things evolved."
Even the federal prosecutor remarked that Jim and Bill did not take the money and run. "This was not a bust-out scheme," says Michael Pasano. "The Alderdice brothers are what I'll call 'bent businessmen.' I wouldn't describe them as bad; you might describe them as punks. They were full of ego. They thought they were so smart, that their system was so perfect that eventually it would make all the money that they thought it would. They thought they could talk their way out of anything."

They could not. The Alderdices were hit with 203 theft and fraud charges in three states--Illinois, New York, and Florida--and in federal court, stemming from complaints by 13,000 investors taken for $75 million. Investigators poring through IGBE records were unable to account for $20 to $40 million.

Bankruptcy officials found that the gold bars stacked in the company vault were really blocks of wood painted to resemble gold. The brothers alleged the bars were merely photographic props.

Though Bill wanted to downplay the seriousness of his error by characterizing the scam as a routine business failure, the consequences to the investors were hardly casual. Ellsworth Decker of Rochester, New York, lost $300,000 to the Alderdice brothers. He's passed away, but his son, James Decker, who lives in Scottsdale, claims that his father was a sophisticated investor and businessman who had carefully researched IGBE. "They used some pretty big names, and so he got some feeling of safety there," James Decker says of his father. "The fact that it was backed by gold, and it was an interest-bearing type thing was, I guess, what hooked him, and he put a lot of money into it."

He lost it all. "It had a devastating effect," the son says. "It contributed to his death. He had begun looking forward to spending time in Florida and doing things with his life in his later years. He prided himself on being a good businessman, but this broke him, and he just couldn't forget it. After it happened, he just seemed to vegetate."

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Michael Kiefer