Kitzer was indisputably one of the great con artists of all time. One headline writer called him the "king of scam." A reporter wrote that in the financial world, Kitzer was a "genie" who could "perform magic tricks of all sorts," and a federal prosecutor called him the architect of "one of the most cleverly designed schemes that's ever been uncovered." He singlehandedly pried loose many millions of dollars, and one FBI official calculated that Kitzer and his band of co-conspirators triggered a cascade of losses that exceeded $2 billion. But as CHASING PHIL details, Kitzer achieved a measure of redemption before he died in 2001.
Wedick, who now goes by Jim, is shown here bordering one of the flights on his around-the world itinerary with Kitzer and Brennan.
While testifying in the many trials that spawned from the Kitzer investigation, Wedick moved to the FBI's office in Sacramento, California. During a decorated career there he focused on fraud and public corruption. In his most prominent case, he led a bribery investigation at the California Statehouse in which four state senators and the assembly minority leader were charged and convicted.
He spent 35 years in the bureau before retiring in 2004. He now runs FBIretired.com, an online directory of retired agents. (Photo courtesy of Jack Brennan)
Brennan, shown here in Hawaii while traveling with Kitzer and Wedick, was 31 when he joined Operation Fountain Pen, the code name he and Wedick invented for the investigation. At the time he was married and had two young boys, which complicated his fictional role as a freewheeling con man in training. Brennan kept his personal life secret, telling Kitzer only that he had a situation that precluded him from joining in on some of Kitzer’s nighttime escapades.
After the undercover phase of the Kitzer case ended, Brennan relocated to the FBI's office in Mobile, Alabama, where he worked for the rest of his 26-year career, specializing in financial crimes and insurance fraud. He is now retired and living in Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Jack Brennan)
Pro, shown in the center of this photo, wearing a turban, was one of Kitzer's most prominent parters in financial fraud. He was arrested in the aftermath of the Kitzer investigation and become a government witness, and Myron Fuller planned to use him in a starring role in Abscam. But Pro couldn’t leave what Kitzer called "the Game." In December 1977 he swindled two Florida-based wiseguys out of $100,000; two months later he learned that they had taken out a contract on his life. Pro fled New York for California, violating his bail agreement.
Living under the name Edward St. John, he landed a job at Lockheed, which soon tapped him for a project in Saudi Arabia. But he was fingerprinted for the travel, and J.J. Wedick identified him when he popped up in the FBI’s database. U.S. marshals flew Pro back to New York as a fugitive in autumn 1978 and sentenced him to forty-four months in prison. He testified for the government in several trials and entered the witness-protection program. After serving a little less than three years, he was released with a new identity—Frederix P. DeVeau—and relocated to California. In 1981, "DeVeau" assumed control of the virtually defunct Electric Car Company of Huntington Beach, California, and moved it to San Antonio. There he took control of another electric-car company, Jet Industries.
Pro, then 55, still under the supervision of federal marshals, lived in a plush River Walk condo with an eighteen-year-old girlfriend. But the SEC soon charged that he drained about $1.6 million from these companies for his personal use; he was arrested again, and after a four-week trial was sentenced to twenty years in prison, leaving a witness-protection-program scandal in his wake. (Photo courtesy of Myron Fuller)
Fuller used the Kitzer operation as a launching pad for a larger investigation into financial fraud in New York City—which soon became known as Abscam, the FBI’s monumental investigation into public corruption. The case famously resulted in the arrest of seven members of Congress, including U.S. Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. of New Jersey. After Abscam he took over the
During his 31-year FBI career, Fuller rose to a number of leadership positions, leading the bureau's initial counter-terrorism efforts in a 42-nation region in and around Asia. After retiring, he served as a consultant on the filming of the movie "American Hustle," which was loosely based on Abscam. (Photo courtesy of Myron Fuller)
Iuteri traveled with Kitzer, Wedick, and Brennan in April 1977. He was a "button man" for the mob, according to Kitzer—a soldier and enforcer. The mafia had tasked him to follow Andrew D'Amato, a con man who participated in Kitzer's scams, to take a cut of his earnings. At the time, Iuteri faced murder-conspiracy charges in Connecticut for the 1978 gangland-style killing of Norman Bacchiochi, who, oddly, played a fictional mobster in “The Godfather.”
At his trial, in Hawaii in 1980, his attorney tried to suggest that Iuteri had been a patsy in Kitzer’s web of deceit. “If stupidity were a crime, I suppose that might be something (Iuteri) might be charged with,” he said. “But he’d be in the same boat with a lot of other people fooled by Phil Kitzer.”
The jury didn’t buy it, and quickly returned a guilty verdict. (Photo courtesy of Jim Wedick)
Bob Bendis, Phil Kitzer, and Armand Mucci
This photo, taken in the Cleveland airport in February 1977, is one of the few surveillance photos captured of suspects in Operation Fountain Pen. At the time, agents J.J. Wedick and Jack Brennan had accepted a last-minute invitation from Kitzer to travel with him to Minneapolis. (The meeting is detailed in chapter 6 of CHASING PHIL.) An unknown Cleveland-based agent surreptitiously snapped the photo soon after Kitzer, Wedick, and Brennan stepped off their flight. Mucci and Bendis were peddling stolen bonds and using Kitzer's phony securities in an effort to acquire a hotel, among other activities.
In the months that followed, Wedick and Brennan avoided traveling with any sort of FBI surveillance because of the risks of being discovered and the complications of traveling with Kitzer, who often made last-minute decisions about where he was headed next. (Courtesy of Jim Wedick)
Santini was a mob-connected con man when Wedick and Brennan met him while traveling with Kitzer in 1977. Santini, whose real name was John Santiago, went to Catholic school in Brooklyn, where he grew up and was a star athlete, reportedly earning a contract offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers. He chose crime instead, running various scams, including one involving gold claims operated out of Las Vegas.
He was convicted of fraud in April 1981 as a result of his involvement with Kitzer and Operation Fountain Pen. Before he was sentenced, the FBI received a hand-written, anonymous letter about Santini that said that he “beat a lot of good people out of a lot of money with his bullshit and he does lots of other things out in Las Vegas where he lives… he said he will get even with all the people that showed up at court.”
In 1993, Dwight Greene, the former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Santini, was found bludgeoned to death in his bathroom in Queens. The case was never solved. (Photo courtesy of Myron Fuller)
Lifelong con artist Howard (right), architect of countless insurance scams, helped jumpstart Operation Fountain Pen in 1977 by offering to introduce Wedick and Brennan to Kitzer.
But Howard, working as an FBI operative, couldn't stay straight. In 1978, he signed on to help two Chicago agents work a case involving insurance fraud and mob-run construction companies. The FBI agents developed a plan, named Operation Frontload, in which Howard would pose as an insurance agent selling performance bonds.
But the agents made the mistake of giving Howard access to an actual insurance agency’s paperwork. He scammed everyone involved, selling more than sixty bonds and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in premiums. He was eventually arrested on unrelated fraud charges in Illinois, then jumped his bail before being picked up in Georgia. The federal government, meanwhile, had to pay nine claims on bonds Howard had written, at a cost of $1.9 million. The Washington Post called Operation Frontload “one of the most embarrassing ‘sting’ operations in FBI history.” He’s shown here in prison with a New Orleans mob boss. (Photo courtesy of Jack Brennan)
Presley's father, Vernon, met with Fred Pro in Memphis several times in summer 1976. Pro and Kitzer wound up swindling the Presleys out of one of Elvis’s personal Lockheed Jetstar airplanes by concocting a phony sale-and-lease deal. Vernon even handed over $340,000 for upgrades that the con men pocketed. Months passed before Vernon, then sixty years old, realized he’d been taken. Meeting with the FBI in March 1977, he said, “You know, I have—I guess it’s a bad habit of trusting people.”
By the end of the interview, the truth was dawning on him. “You know what I got to thinking,” he said. “Maybe that this guy, the reason he was wanting upgrading money was to use it himself, not to—this might have been a planned deal all the way through.”
Guthrie was involved in many banking and financing scams during the 1960s and ‘70s, but his work on Fred Pro’s Trident Consortium, located on Central Park South in New York City, was the capstone of his career. Asked later as a government witness to describe what they were doing, Guthrie replied: “Insofar as the customers were concerned... Trident was performing a complete financial service.”
“And sir, what was your real purpose?” the prosecutor asked.
“The purpose of the business," he answered, "was to generate quick monies.”
They pulled in $1.5 million to $2 million in about eight months before the FBI pulled the operation down. (Photo courtesy of Jim Wedick)
Jack Brennan & Jim Wedick
This image of Jack (left) and Jim was taken in January 2016 outside Sacramento, California. Though they were stationed far apart after the Kitzer operation--Jack in Mobile, Alabama, and Jim in Sacramento--they continued to work together over the course of their careers. They often traveled to the other's area to help with cases, many times playing undercover roles. In one instance in the 1980s, Jack posed as an Alabama shrimper in Jim's case involving corruption in the California Statehouse. That sweeping three-year investigation led to the arrest of seven people, including four members of the State Senate and the minority leader of the Assembly.
The two men remain close friends today.
(Photo by David Howard)