Gold Rush: Soaring Prices, Unscrupulous Precious-Metals Dealers, Right-Wing Paranoia -- We've Been Down This Yellow-Brick Road Before

Page 6 of 9

"Sherman Unkefer — he could sell a used toothbrush," Stott sneers. "These guys have a terrible record."

No wonder, then, that Unkefer's name doesn't show up in Arizona Corporation Commission records about Republic Monetary Exchange LLC.

Records show the principal members of Republic include Jim Clark, another Clark company called Clark and Sons Vending, and a California limited partnership, Occidental Resources. The latter doesn't show up in a records search for California businesses.

John Jakubcyzk, Clark's attorney, says the Occidental company is probably the Unkefer link — but adds he's not the one to talk about that. He directs New Times to a man he says is Occidental's lawyer, San Diego attorney Grant Teeple.

New Times already had spoken to Teeple — he's Unkefer's lawyer, and he returned a phone call made to Unkefer's number. Like Clark, Teeple wondered what the upside would be for his client to talk to a reporter. But he stayed on the line long enough to say that Unkefer had no direct ownership of Republic Monetary, even though Unkefer's deceased wife's trust was part-owner.

The name Occidental Resources "doesn't ring a bell," Teeple says, adding that his firm handles lots of corporations as clients.

A former employee of Republic Monetary, Gene Miller, states in court records that Unkefer is Clark's "business partner" and describes how Unkefer took part in a 2009 business meeting to help negotiate a deal to retain Miller.

Clark and Jakubcyzk deny that Sherman Unkefer has any role in the business, other than coming in now and then to give pep talks to the sales crew. (Unkefer's granddaughter, Alexa Unkefer, also works at Republic Monetary as the company's office assistant.)

Jakubcyzk admits that Unkefer's deceased wife's trust played a big role in the company's start-up.

It's unknown whether the late Sharon Unkefer's trust was funded by Sherman Unkefer, or how her trust came to be used by Clark's new company. But Unkefer appears to be doing quite well for himself these days.

After his release from prison in 1998, Unkefer reportedly made a fortune selling prepaid legal services. Now "the Shermanator," as he's known, is into a multi-level marketing business called Xango Juice. He brags on his Web site, www.shermanunkefer.com, that he's earning a six-digit income — monthly.

Meanwhile, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office — representing a list of victims that's dozens of pages long — has been fighting as recently as this year to get the Shermanator to pay $7.1 million in restitution he's owed since 1988.

Unkefer's attorneys argue that the restitution order is no longer valid, though Superior Court Judge John Hannah Jr. ruled in September 2009 that it is.

A hearing on the matter is set for July 14 before the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Sam Walls of Cleburne, Texas, lost $195,573 to the business Clark liquidated in 1993, Sheffield Metals.

"It didn't wipe us out, but you don't like to lose that kind of money," Walls says.

He's thought about buying gold in the past year as prices have gone up, "but I don't know who to trust."

Dr. Enrique Scappatura, a Phoenix thoracic surgeon, bought 50 100-ounce tablets of silver from Sheffield Metals in 1992 with money he'd pulled out of his pension fund.

"They weighed a ton — I said, 'Leave it there,'" Scappatura says. "I trusted him."

Big mistake. He never saw the silver — or his money — when Sheffield went bankrupt. He recently learned that Clark is now the owner of Republic Monetary Exchange, he tells New Times, and plans to confront him "to see if he's got some piece of a conscience left."

Wisely, the good doctor doesn't just want the $25,000 back he paid for the silver — he wants the metal itself, which now goes for nearly four times what he paid.

Clark's lawyer, John Jakubcyzk, says Clark was contemplating giving some money back to Dr. Scappatura and another local victim but hadn't yet made up his mind.

Apparently, no similar offer is being considered for folks who lost big money on Sheffield, like Walls or the rest of the victims.

How much money Republic Monetary Exchange is pulling in for Clark could not be determined. Though the business' Web site mentions nine brokers employed by the company as commissioned salespeople, the business is also somewhat of a family affair: three of Clark's children work there.

Old newspaper articles and court records back up Clark's contention that he didn't profit from the scam. He was initially charged with 99 counts of fraud and other crimes, yet prosecutors let him plead no contest to just two charges of selling securities without a license.

Essentially, Clark mismanaged his company and wound up selling some of his customers' stored metal, or diverting the proceeds of purchases, to put down payments on loans to buy more precious metals. Had the gamble worked, no one would have been the wiser and Clark's business would have profited.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.