If you were to believe Daniel Meredith, President Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have him on speed dial. The former commanders in chief occasionally call Meredith with advice on a little land-ownership problem he’s having in Bolivia. See, Meredith, the self-professed son of the founders of media giant Meredith Corporation, received 300,000 acres in the South American country from his CIA-agent father, who was based there in the 1960s. Halliburton wants to drill for oil on the land, which also features an airstrip and a gold mine. Meredith believes that there’s potential for $2.7 billion in profits on the property. But the land is in limbo between the Bolivian and U.S. governments.
Greasing the palms of local officials and paying to get the land properly transferred to Meredith is expensive. He’s looking for backers willing to front him cash in exchange for equity in the property.
If you trust in any of these yarns spun by 51-year-old Daniel Meredith, there are a thousand Nigerian princes who would like your e-mail address.
The truth is, past and present American presidents don’t call Meredith. There’s no gold mine or oil well in Bolivia. And Meredith has no tie to the Meredith media empire. What he does have is an upcoming stint in federal prison.
On August 7, Meredith pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of selling securities without a license and two counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. Those are bland-sounding offenses compared with the frauds Meredith ran, dating back to 1995. Meredith’s public defender didn’t return a request for comment, but court documents describe the strange lies he told his victims.
The Bolivian land scheme had a kernel of truth, according to court documents. Mere-dith’s estranged father, Donald, told investigators that he bought land in Bolivia in the 1970s and transferred it to Daniel several years ago. Donald said he thought the land was overgrown, worth less than $20,000 and mired in title problems. That was enough for Meredith to build a whole compound of lies.
Authorities say Meredith shook down one victim, identified in documents as J.D., for at least $47,300 in 2006, $373,600 in 2007, and $1.87 million total. Another victim, G.R., started making payments in 1995 and couldn’t tell investigators the total amount of money he gave Meredith. At some point during the fraud, Meredith drew up a phony contract for G.R. to sign that supposedly gave the victim 50 percent ownership of the imaginary property. G.R. also gave Meredith $9,500 when Meredith claimed that his father had been kidnapped (he had not). Authorities say other victims contributed $950,000 more to the Bolivian scheme.
A few of Meredith’s investors demanded their money back, but Meredith unleashed whopper after whopper to avoid paying. He told one investor that President Clinton personally sent a courier with a cash-filled safe to Kansas City, but the courier was arrested in Arkansas. Meredith went to the Natural State to check on the money. He figured that the only way to get it back was to get a gun and hijack the plane carrying the safe and force the pilot to land. And, don’t you know it, then Meredith couldn’t get into the safe.
Another time, Meredith met with an upset investor at Ameristar Casino. He often met his victims at the casino, where he also gambled away their money. At this meeting, he brought a man who he claimed was an agent with the National Security Agency. The investor didn’t believe that an NSA agent would come to the meeting. Months later, the investor saw the so-called agent and confronted him. The impostor told the investor that he had “just been doing a buddy a favor.” Meredith later admitted that he lied to the investor.
When Meredith needed to back up a lie, he used props. He once gave an upset investor, who wanted money back, a suitcase supposedly filled with $1 million. The real contents: dumbbell weights. Meredith gave another investor a duffel bag, claiming that it contained not only cash but also explosives that would be triggered if the bag were opened. The bag was filled with newspaper.
Meredith didn’t limit himself to a single scam. Court documents say Meredith tried to enlist investors in 2007 to build Scooter’s coffeehouse franchises in Kansas City. Meredith never had a connection to the chain and never broke ground on the coffee shops.
The Scooter’s scam brought it all crashing down for Meredith. In March 2011, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan issued a cease-and-desist order outlining how Meredith promised investors a 100 percent return, possibly in just one month. Carnahan alleged that Meredith took $150,000 from investors, and she admonished Meredith for not telling his investors (one from Kansas, one from Missouri) about the potential risks involved with opening five Scooter’s locations. Carnahan noted in a press release that Meredith told investors demanding their money back that “the funds would be hand delivered by an FBI agent.” Following the secretary of state’s actions, federal prosecutors began investigating Meredith, prompting his guilty plea.
Another victim told investigators that she gave Meredith $13,000 to start a fishing-lure company. But it wasn't even a bait-and-switch; Meredith took her money and never started the company.
The federal government is seeking to recoup $3,113,450 from Meredith, who used some of his victims’ money to buy quarter horses and show them at competitions. He also remodeled his Excelsior Springs home, tiling the garage with his initials.
Much of the money, however, was lost to gambling. In 2007, he lost $76,454 playing blackjack at Ameristar. In Meredith’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors noted that his gambling losses were 15 times his reported income for the year.
After pleading guilty to the three felonies, Meredith is facing 11 years in prison.