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From the February 15, 2002 print edition arrowMore Print Edition Stories

Arrests signal return of 'Fountain Pen Conspiracy'

Stephen Van Drake

Call it deja vu.

Coral Springs lawyer Louis S. St. Laurent II smelled a rat as he strode into a nondescript executive suite in the east tower of Boca Raton's Corporate Center behind the Marriott Courtyard.

At his arm, his French Canadian client, whose group had already plunked down $10,000 cash as a consulting fee to a Las Vegas septuagenarian broker on the way to $11 million of promised venture capital.

A fellow owner of St. Laurent's Hollywood-based Le Soleil de la Floride the largest French-language newspaper in the state asked him to help the Canadians with due diligence while seeking venture capital.

As St. Laurent and his client entered a cozy conference room, St. Laurent found himself staring at Paul Noe, now 74, who called himself Paul Noe Randall.

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It's the same man who St. Laurent, as a Florida prosecutor, put away 30 years ago in a federal Connecticut prison. Noe was part of a network subsequently profiled in the book, "The Fountain Pen Conspiracy."

Noe served eight years for grand theft and bided his time with a few of the Watergate felons. He later did two years in Mississippi, St. Laurent said.

In the 1970s, Noe and his younger brother Clifford Dixon Noe, now 71, worked with a loose network of nearly 100 international con men, systematically stealing at least $100 million in advance loan fees, St. Laurent said.

Their latest misadventure has allegedly ripped off at least $2.25 million from victims, sources close to the investigation said.

The pair always needed a phony bank as the primary instrument of their fraudulent schemes.

During the past two years, the brothers formed two companies: the Great American Trust Co. chartered in South Carolina and the Great American Trust Corp. filed in Florida. In promotional documents, the pair stated GATCORP was a subsidiary of GATCO.

No one has computed the total damage yet, St. Laurent said, noting he talked with a Jackson, Miss., lawyer Tuesday, who said his client has paid GATCO and another Noe-controlled entity, PAAM, $250,000 advance fees in a venture capital deal.

Deja vu.

'I'll bring you down'

Now, St. Laurent found himself again working closely with FBI and SEC investigators to keep an old promise that landed the brothers in jail Tuesday, setting the scene for another chapter in Jonathan Kwitny's book on international con men: "The Fountain Pen Conspiracy," reissued in 1993 as "The Super-Swindlers."

"If you ever do this again," St. Laurent promised Paul Noe 30 years ago, "I'll bring you down."

And down they came.

On arrest warrants issued from the FBI's Columbia, S.C., office, agents in Boca Raton on Tuesday arrested Paul Noe and his brother Clifford, now known as Cliff Goldstein after a 1992 Broward Circuit Court name change.

The FBI jailed the pair in West Palm Beach, according to FBI spokesman Tom O'Neil of Columbia.

O'Neil said the pair are charged with wire fraud, interstate transportation of a person in execution of a scheme to defraud, and conspiracy. If convicted, each man faces maximum imprisonment of 10 years, O'Neil said.

The pair appeared Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate-Judge Linnea Johnson.

Tall and slim, Goldstein shuffled into the court room, feet shackled wearing handcuffs. He wore tortoise-colored glasses and a blue prison jumpsuit. His hair was silver gray and he wore a full matching beard, looking like an Amish farmer, except for his white sneakers.

He nodded to his wife, Beth, and daughter Sarah, who sat in the back row. Suddenly, the sound of sobbing surfaced when Goldstein made eye contact with his family.

Then Paul Noe stutter-stepped in behind Goldstein, sitting down along the east side of Johnson's court room. Balding with gray hair, Noe appeared better nourished, sporting a paunchy mid-section. Like his brother, Paul Noe was tall, at least 6 feet. He wore a blue-striped dress shirt and tan slacks.

Neither man smiled.

When Johnson called their case, both stepped forward with their lawyer, Kenneth Stein of Deerfield Beach.

Stein tried making the case for the pair to be released without bond or bail. He said Goldstein had suffered a stroke in September and his wife needed care and was wheel-chair bound. And besides, Goldstein's adopted daughter was being home schooled with a learning disability, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen L. Atkinson demanded each be held on $250,000 bond. She noted that Goldstein owned a home in Costa Rica and wasn't that ill. He had flown there for dental treatment last year.

Johnson piped in that both had "extensive criminal histories, all fraud related."

As the 10-minute hearing concluded, Johnson set bond for Noe and Goldstein at $250,000 and conditioned release on the pair turning in their passports and limiting travel only to South Florida and within South Carolina.

That's where the brothers are likely headed after a Feb. 27 removal hearing that Johnson set. Johnson asked if two others charged with Noe and Goldstein were in custody.

Atkinson said they were not.

Asked for his clients' position on the fraud and conspiracy charges, Stein simply said, "No comment."

Why did the pair come out of retirement?

"It's not the money, it's the thrill of the next deal," Paul Noe (a/k/a Paul H. Noe, Paul Howe Noe, Paul Knowles, Paul Noel Randall, Paul N. Randall) told St. Laurent before testifying in 1972 before a closed session of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, St. Laurent recalled.

The Senate panel sought to identify the extent to which organized crime had infiltrated the banking industry.

Federal and state agencies from Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama all had the brothers in their cross-hairs.

That was then, this is now.

GATCO's national advanced fee operation headquartered in Boca Raton grew tentacles reaching to California, Las Vegas, New Jersey, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The boys from Boca

It may be the last chapter in the saga about these con men and brothers, whose arrest and conviction records fill rap sheets in Texas, Mississippi and Florida.

St. Laurent said the pair started their crime spree in their late teens in Texas with various breaking-and-entering convictions.

In the 1972 plea deal in Fort Myers, but with the blessings of the U.S. Senate, St. Laurent sent Paul Noe to a low-security federal penitentiary.

At the time, brother Clifford was in a London jail for skipping out on a $700 dinner bill after failing to buy the E.H. Marley Bank with phony assets, St. Laurent said.

When he returned to the United States, authorities arrested him on warrants from Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, St. Laurent said.

St. Laurent added that Clifford was also convicted of grand theft and a related offense, imprisoned between 1972 and 1983 in Texas and Mississippi.

"The pair was back in business plying the same exact scheme that landed them behind bars in 1972," St. Laurent said.

"This time, however, Paul Noe looked pale and heavier but rattled off lies as smoothly and effortlessly as ever," St. Laurent said. He still had the knack.

Fortunately, Noe didn't recognize his old nemesis and prosecutor, St. Laurent said.

St. Laurent decided to play the role of dumb attorney fumbling his way through due diligence.

It was Dec. 14.

It was time to advance another $25,000 cash as legal fees to the Great American Trust Corp. and its claimed South Carolina parent, Great American Trust Co.

On its letterhead profile at the top, GATCO extolled: "Stewardship with Integrity and Confidentiality."

The deal was about to go south thanks to St. Laurent's nose for fraud and a little serendipity.

Thirty years ago, St. Laurent, armed with a .38-caliber pistol, three years of undergraduate accounting and a law degree from Stetson University, worked as chief assistant State Attorney for five counties in Southwest Florida prosecuting white-collar criminals.

When he kicked back into action more recently, St. Laurent bought time to review the joint venture documents that would supposedly give GATCO a 49 percent share of the Canadians' project for an $11 million payout.

He contacted FBI and SEC investigators.

The SEC probed GATCO and its Florida sister GATCORP as to whether they were selling unregistered securities.

Brothers Noe face old nemesis

In the 1970s, the Noe brothers used Fort Lauderdale as their home base. Today, it's Boca Raton. "Boca's like having an office on Wall Street," St. Laurent said.

After St. Laurent blew the whistle on Paul Noe, the pair met at a Coral Springs Starbucks for a chat.

Noe bragged to St. Laurent that he's got California-based operations currently hard at work plundering victims in various schemes on the west coast, St. Laurent said.

The GATCO/GATCORP advance fee approach exploits people needing large sums of venture capital money. Here, GATCO provided the critical banking vehicle.

Later, Noe and his crew in April 2000 tried to incorporate another GATCO in Florida.

The Secretary of State, however, rebuffed the effort, stating that a "Trust Company" requires prior approval from the Division of Banking and Finance, according to a Florida Department of State April 5, 2000, letter.

So, Noe and his retinue refiled the next day as the Great American Trust Corp. In its "Venture Capital Investment Agreement," GATCORP is named as a subsidiary of the South Carolina GATCO.

St. Laurent quotes Paul Noe in a candid face-to-face, tell-no-lies-please chat in Coral Springs that GATCO never had a South Carolina office.

All letterheads pointed to Boca Raton. And that's a third-degree felony in Florida, St. Laurent said.

Brokers were given $10,000 consulting fees to refer potential marks to GATCO, St. Laurent said. They also get a piece of the $25,000 legal fees.

St. Laurent said he knows that two of these clients paid GATCO a total of $45,000. And he said that two Hungarian companies have lost at least $58,000 in advance fees.

There never is a loan or VC joint venture deal closing, St. Laurent said.

"The fees collected will never be paid to any attorney, as represented, and will be spent before anyone can take legal action to stop the fraud," he added.

Despite St. Laurent's face-off with Noe, Noe insisted that he could prove that GATCO had funded a $250 million project, but declined to identify it, St. Laurent said.

GATCO's "profile" brochure stated it has

$5 billion in assets and works with a host of name-brand international banks that pool VC for entrepreneurs.

Noe then told St. Laurent that none of the advanced fee money ever goes through GATCO or GATCORP.

"These guys spend the money as high rollers as fast as they get it," St. Laurent said. "It's not the money, it's the thrill of the next deal that motivates them."

St. Laurent also said he's aware of other victims, including a group of Haitian businessmen in Miramar, who are out $10,000. They were waiting to sink in $25,000 more when St. Laurent and his Canadian client talked with Noe.

St. Laurent, however, warned the Miramar group, advising it not to pony up any more cash. The Haitians took St. Laurent's advice.

But unlike St. Laurent's French Canadian clients, the Miramar group will never see their $10,000. St. Laurent earlier demanded return of the $10,000.

"You're the only person who ever put me down," St. Laurent recalled Noe telling him.

"And that's the only reason we got our money back," St. Laurent said.

E-mail legal/real estate writer Stephen Van Drake at SVandrake@bizjournals.com.

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