Unkefer, who runs a major distributorship for a lucrative, multi-level marketing business called XanGo, has his own family problems.
Republic Monetary Exchange, in an office building at 4040 East Camelback Road, has become one of the state's most prominent gold-selling companies in its four years of existence.
It's the primary advertiser for conservative radio station KFYI (550 AM), which broadcasts "from the Republic Monetary Exchange studios," and nationally syndicated right-wing talk-show host Mike Gallagher, whose show airs on "the Patriot" (960 AM)
The company was founded by smart and personable convicted criminals.
Owner Jim Clark's an affable salesman who can turn on the charm when he wants. He has a hard side, though: He's staunchly right wing and has made headlines for wearing his pro-Arizona Senate Bill 1070 T-shirt to a Phoenix Suns game. He made big donations to Ron Paul's campaign. He attends a Phoenix church that holds all-Latin masses, yet he becomes emotional when speaking of the "enemies" of the Catholic Church, who include the current pope, in his opinion.
Accused of ripping off clients of Sheffield Metals, Clark served seven months in prison in the mid-'90s before launching Republic in 2008 with the help of his former business partner from infamously failed North American Coin and Currency, Sherman Unkefer III.
The early-'80s collapse of the Phoenix-based North American Coin company, which may have done $1 billion a year in business at one point, was the subject of headlines for years afterward. Hundreds of victims were out millions of dollars when the business unexpectedly declared bankruptcy in 1982. More than one type of fraud was committed, investigators later found. In the worst cases, clients who'd trusted North American to store sacks of gold and silver learned that its vaults had been cleaned out.
The aforementioned New Times article detailed some of the ex-cons' history as it explored various aspects of the modern-day gold craze.
Until the article was published, few knew that Unkefer, who was convicted of fraud in 1988 and served five years of a 10-year sentence before he was paroled, was a partner at the high-profile Republic Monetary Exchange. Corporate paperwork showed the owners were Jim Clark, his wife, his other company (Clark & Sons Vending), and a mystery company from California called Occidental Resources Group.
Unkefer's involvement was hidden from public view — shielded by complex layers of shell companies and trust funds. On paper, Unkefer owns virtually nothing himself.
The reason: The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is focused on him, hoping to force him to pay all or part of a $7.5 million criminal-restitution order from 1988. Hundreds of fraud victims have been waiting decades for the day that Unkefer forks over his fortune to them.
And that day appears to be growing closer — thanks, in part, to the lawsuit between Unkefer and Clark, which put more of Unkefer's financial documents into the hands of county lawyers.Most of the facts in this story come from numerous court files related to the pair, as well as from interviews with key players, including Jim Clark.
Unkefer, who lives in Scottsdale, declined to comment for this article.
Unkefer and Clark were friends when they founded the company and were friendly for a while even after the lawsuit was filed. But they should have known better than to trust each other.
Clark seems to have fired the first shot in the war by failing to pay Unkefer and his associates what they claimed they were owed.
Unkefer thought he was a 30 percent owner in Republic and that he should get distributions of profits. But Clark kept a significant portion of Republic profits for himself, the lawsuit alleges, while Unkefer's holding company was stuck with a proportional share of tax bills.
Helping both Clark and county lawyers are Mark and Harley Davidson, the adult sons of Unkefer's deceased wife, Sharon. They're potential beneficiaries of their mother's lucrative trust account, which they say Unkefer is misusing. They've filed a separate lawsuit against their stepfather that seeks a full accounting of the trust's finances, and which may have the effect of wresting away control of the trust from Unkefer.
Because Unkefer used trust money to invest in Republic Monetary Exchange, Clark paid for the Davidsons' attorney in that suit, hoping to dislodge information that would be helpful to his own case against Unkefer.
The information has been of use to the government attorneys trying to force Unkefer to pay his debts.
As for Jim Clark and Republic Monetary Exchange — the allegations that surfaced in the lawsuit raise questions of whether this gold man, who once gambled and lost his customers' money, is up to old tricks.
Clark and Unkefer launched their business in mid-2008, which was great timing.