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How a high school dropout
$cammed American Express
out of millions

Sometimes things are so incredulous that they have to be called a novel, inspired by or based on true events. So was the case with my latest crime thriller, The Salad Oil King. The protagonist, Alfonso “Fonso” Gravenese was fashioned after a man who did the unthinkable before the Internet came along.

Life started humbly enough: he wiped olive oil on his cherished Duncan yoyo in Manhattan’s Little Italy so he could steal quarters from the older and bigger neighbor kids.



In high school, his primary interest became wealth accumulation through “short-cut” entrepreneurial ventures. He dropped out of high school at 15. By the age of 25, had scammed the Government programs post-recession Children’s Free Lunch Program out of $20 million while he becoming a philanthropic donor to the Boys Club of America.



Things only got better when WWII arrived: his net worth grew from $20 to $200 million as he manipulated the Federal Food Stamp Rationing Program while lived in a modest second-floor apartment in the blue-collar community of Bayonne, New Jersey.



After the war years, Fonso decided to create his financial Mona Lisa by taking full advantage of America’s Food for Peace Program. He traveled the world bribing government officials, cornering the soybean and cotton seed markets, and built the largest vegetable oil farm in the world –128 million gallons in 128 storage tanks–on an undesirable industrial site in New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from Wall Street.


Fonso’s farm in Bayonne that held 128 tanks and millions of gallons of vegetable oil


When the grand plan became to crumble, he duped American Express into issuing false inventory reports and venerable Wall Street firms into margin loans to cover enormous losses. In the end, the respected brokerage firm, Ira Haupt, went belly-up just months after moving into spanking new quarters on Wall Street.



As the salad oil scandal grew, American Express was bought for pennies on the dollar by an investor named Warren Buffet, who subsequently restored AMEX to its former glory, making billions on his initial investment.



For his mammoth transgressions, Fonso served 7 years in jail and got two off for good behavior. Neither he nor the money were ever heard from again. And, it’s not known whether he ever read the story of his journey featured in a 10-page story in Life Magazine.


DATE: Nov.27.2017 | CATEGORY: Archived