Empire of Deception – Coming soon

EMPIRE OF DECEPTION: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation

>>>> The larger-than-life exploits and make-believe world of 1920s Chicago con man extraordinaire Leo Koretz – and his escape to a new life in Canada. A riveting tale of greed, glamour and one of the greatest swindles in history.

NEW!! Now available for pre-order from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Coming in May 2015 from New York’s Algonquin Books, HarperCollins Canada and HighBridge Audiobooks.

HE RAN ONE OF THE LONGEST, most elaborate and most successful swindles in history. For almost twenty years a charming, smooth-talking Chicago lawyer enticed hundreds of people to invest as much as $30 million (upwards of $400 million today), most of it in phantom timberland and oil wells in Panama. His Bayano River Syndicate, he claimed, controlled millions of acres near the Canal Zone, including oilfields that produced a torrent of crude and earned investors an astounding sixty percent return. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil conglomerate, he assured his grateful investors, was desperate to buy into the Bayano windfall.

His name? Leo Koretz, the Bernie Madoff of the 1920s, a con man extraordinaire posing as a financial genius. The New York Times considered him “the most resourceful confidence man in the United States.” The Chicago Daily Tribune agreed, describing him as “the most boldfaced swindler” of his time. To Pulitzer Prize-winning author W.A. Swanberg, one of the few writers to chronicle his exploits, Koretz (pronounced korits) was “the swindler of the century,” winning his victims’ trust through “a personal magnetism that was well-nigh hypnotic.” And when his scheme collapsed in 1923, under the weight of his own dazzling success in reeling in the suckers, he almost made a clean getaway to a life of luxury in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.

An absolutely rollicking tale that is one part The Sting, one part The Great Gatsby, and one part The Devil in the White City …. Empire of Deception vividly recreates the unscrupulous side of 1920s Chicago where greed, deception, and corruption ran amok, and where one Leo Koretz, a charismatic and enigmatic con man, charmed them all … including me.”Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy


The New York Times declared Leo Koretz “the most resourceful confidence man in the United States.”

Leo’s method was simple: Promise high returns and, when the money rolls in, use some to pay fat dividends to keep the stockholders happy while skimming off the rest. He robbed Peter to pay Paul, creating a giant pyramid that could only be sustained with a fresh supply of investors’ dollars. It’s the template for the scam Madoff used to rake in billions of dollars, a financial sleight of hand known as a Ponzi scheme. Charles Ponzi, a contemporary of Leo’s, used it in 1920 to fleece unsuspecting immigrants, promising huge profits from the resale of postal-reply coupons.

If not for the fact Ponzi’s short-lived fraud was exposed first, the financial press and Wall Street regulators might be warning today’s investors to beware of Koretz schemes. Leo mastered the investment scam long before Ponzi stole a dime and it took his imagination, bravado, and charm to keep it running for almost two decades. He whipped his investors into a frenzy. People camped out on his doorstep and begged him to take their money. Leo was so slick and so convincing, nothing could shake their faith in the man they hailed as “The New Rockefeller,” not even the exposure of Ponzi’s fraud in the midst of his own. Investors simply gave Leo a new nickname: “Our Ponzi.”

LEO LIVED WELL on the backs of his Bayano investors, splurging on a twenty-room mansion overlooking Lake Michigan, two Rolls-Royce limousines, suites at the finest hotels in Chicago and New York, a cache of bootlegged booze, and a string of mistresses. “I don’t see why these women won’t leave me alone,” he once complained in jest, knowing full well the answer was the charm and money he used to win their affections.

His house of cards came crashing down in December 1923, when a group of eager investors boarded a steamer and headed to Panama to tour their lucrative holdings. Leo saw them off, then scraped together as much cash as he could. By the time the investors discovered the truth – their bonanza was a swath of worthless jungle and swamp – Leo had abandoned his wife and children and disappeared.

A guilty-pleasure reminder that the most audacious bad guys have always been the most entertaining …. Kudos to Jobb for unearthing this overlooked story and bringing to life a charming, witty, naughty, iconic American crook.”Neal Thompson, author of A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley

After laying low for a few months in New York City, he made his way east to Nova Scotia. He grew a beard to mask his identity, adopted the alias Lou Keyte, and posed as a retired financier-turned-literary critic. He became a regular at hotels and dance halls in the provincial capital, Halifax, and joined the exclusive Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. He converted a secluded hunting lodge on the province’s South Shore, north of Liverpool, into a posh estate and soon attracted a new circle of friends, including the young women whose company he preferred. He bragged that bestselling author Zane Grey, who headed north to fish for tuna off Nova Scotia during the summer of 1924, would be among his many guests.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, police and federal agents mounted a worldwide search for the missing swindler. After almost a year of chasing anonymous tips and false leads, it began to look as if Leo Koretz, master of the Ponzi scheme, might be a master escape artist as well.

Inside Detective magazine's cover story on "lover boy" Leo Koretz

EMPIRE OF DECEPTION is the first book to chronicle the exploits of one of the slickest con men in history. It captures the intrigue and drama of Leo’s stranger-than-fiction story while recreating an era when it seemed as if everyone was entitled to easy riches. The dot-com bubble and the stock market meltdown of 2008 are reminders those heady times were not so different from our own. The book establishes Leo Koretz, not Charles Ponzi, as the first to master the pay-dividends-from-capital investment scam. It dissects how con men and stock swindles operate. And it brings to life a time and place when anything – even vast oilfields in faraway Panama – seemed possible.

Leo’s brazen fraud is a compelling story that combines drama and dark humor. It is a cautionary tale that will resonate with readers who are curious about how con men such as Bernie Madoff operate and how they prey on the trust of others. It is a rollicking tale of greed and gullibility, lies and betrayal and grandeur and delusion that could have been ripped from today’s headlines. It is a story played out against a Jazz Age backdrop that reaches from the tough streets of Chicago to the remote jungles of Panama, from the glitter of Manhattan’s finest hotels to the backwoods of Nova Scotia.

The incredible-but-true saga of Leo Koretz and his spectacular oil swindle exposes the pitfalls, then and now, of too much trust, too much greed and too little common sense.


“Dean Jobb has written an absolutely rollicking tale that is one part The Sting, one part The Great Gatsby, and one part The Devil in the White City. Impressively researched and brilliantly told, Empire of Deception vividly recreates the unscrupulous side of 1920s Chicago where greed, deception, and corruption ran amok, and where one Leo Koretz, a charismatic and enigmatic con man, charmed them all. . . including me.”
Karen Abbott,
New York Times bestselling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

“The story of slick-talking Leo Koretz — aka Lou Keyte, aka Al Bronson — is a guilty-pleasure reminder that the most audacious bad guys have always been the most entertaining. In Dean Jobb’s hands, the free-for-all 1920s, a sweet spot in the history of greed and corruption, reads like a Gatsby-Ponzi mashup. What makes Koretz’s unscrupulousness outshine Charles Ponzi’s and even Bernie Madoff’s is how, after he’s cornered, he hits the road and brazenly crafts a deluxe new life for himself in remote Canada, which launches a massive manhunt led by an obsessive Chicago lawman. Kudos to Jobb for unearthing this overlooked story and bringing to life a charming, witty, naughty, iconic American crook.”
Neal Thompson, author of A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley

A cartoonist's take on Leo Koretz's oil swindle

“Begin with a Bernie Madoff, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing con man, pursued by a power-hungry prig of a public prosecutor; add the great hog-trough feeding frenzy of 1920s Chicago; stir with great writing and enterprising research, and there you have it: A wonderfully entertaining read!”
Michael Lesy, author of Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties

“Empire of Deception is a sure thing–a book guaranteed to entertain and make you rich (in knowledge, that is). Dean Jobb has found a fascinating yet little-known jazz-age tale and told it with style and smarts. Get in on the action.”Jonathan Eig, New York Times best-selling author of Get Capone

“Dean Jobb’s Empire of Deception is the highly readable account of a major swindle in the Roaring Twenties in Chicago, which will convince any sensible reader that when it comes to investing in crackpot schemes nobody ever learns anything by experience. Leo Koretz did exactly what Bernie Madoff did, and came to the same end, as did his investors. A dramatic read, and a useful lesson!”
Michael Korda, author of Charmed Lives

Bayano River Syndicate stock certificate

“A captivating tale of high-flying financial chicanery in 1920s Chicago. Dean Jobb tells the story of Leo Koretz, a legendary con artist of Madoffian audacity, with terrific energy and narrative brio. A thoroughly enjoyable read.”
Gary Krist, author of City of Scoundrels

“Dean Jobb’s exploration of financial shaman Leo Koretz’s shameless scheming is a great read, but it’s also so much more than that. A brilliantly researched tale of greed, ambition, and our desperate need to believe in magic, it’s history that captures America as it really was – and always will be.”Douglas Perry, author of Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero and The Girls of Murder City

“The unique features of Dean Jobb’s book about Leo Koretz are his lively description of the people involved and the slippery slope that grew with each fraudulent step. The book makes the people come alive, presenting a ‘movie in words.’ Empire of Deception demonstrates the dangers of unverified promises of great wealth and is an invaluable lesson on how investors can protect themselves.”
Tamar Frankel, author of The Ponzi Scheme Puzzle

“Except to those being swindled, swindlers make wonderful swaggering copy, and Dean Jobb has made splendid use of the material in this juicy retelling. His story of con man Leo (or Lou, or Al, or whatever name he chose to use) and his pathetically gullible and mostly rich victims perfectly captures the flavors of Chicago (and New York! and Nova Scotia!) in the roaring Twenties. What a great caper movie this would make!”
Marq de Villiers, author of Our Way Out and The End

13 Responses to “Empire of Deception – Coming soon”

  1. This looks absolutely fabulous! I am very much looking forward to reading it.

  2. Robin MacDonald says:

    Empire of Deception looks like it will be an intriguing story, as it seems to have all the ingredients that make for a gripping read — deception, lies, mystery, scandal, and even a touch of romance, if Leo Koretz’s claims are to be believed! I am a fan of Dean’s writing and this book seems sure to deliver a fascinating, yet cautionary tale that will surely hit home in our modern world of scammers and fraudulent people. I can’t wait to read the story of this consummate master-swindler!

  3. Trevor Howlett says:

    Cannot wait to read this! I love an old fashioned con-man tale and Dean is a really engaging writer. The depth of this story is incredible, it’s hard to believe this could actually happen. Should be a great read!

  4. Andrei Dezsi says:

    Sounds like a riveting tale! I’m looking forward to reading this, as I hope many others are as well, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past. It is truly eye opening to think how long things like this, on such a scale, have been going on.
    I’m going to ignore the temptation to google what happened to him in the end! I’m sure Dean will do a better job of telling it!

  5. Corbett Hancey says:

    Amazing to think that this guy got away with this for so long (two decades?!) and even after Charles Ponzi’s crimes came to light. Looking forward to getting the full story on how he was able to pull it off for so long and then still able to live a life of luxury under an assumed name afterwards.

  6. Angela M Schneider says:

    The citizens of the State of Illinois appear to have a fascination with crooks. We have had and still have a lot of them. Look to our former governors. Now, I am looking forward to the publication of Dean Jobb’s new book of Leo Koretz, “Empire of Deception.” I am curious to read how Leo Koretz lived so well in Illinois and then in Nova Scotia. Did he really “get away with the crime”? Dean Jobb’s new book may not be a “whodunit?” but rather a book of “how did he do it?”

    Angela Schneider

  7. Mary Goodman says:

    I am anxiously awaiting the publication of “Empire of Deception.” My husband is a member of the Koretz family and we are aware of the years of meticulous research Mr. Jobb has done while writing this book. Can’t wait to read it!

  8. Audrey Bennett (nee Douglas) says:

    This will be a great read, especially for those of us who have connections in the community on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

  9. Blair Douglas says:

    This will be an interesting book to read and an important part of our history properly researched and told. I am looking forward to it.

  10. Kathryn Smith says:

    I have read many of your books. I am anxious to know when “Empire of Deception” will be available. Looking forward to a great read!

  11. Greg MacNeill says:

    It seems Wall Street has not changed an iota. Or at least the financial wolves are wearing the same sheep’s clothing; a fashion apparently set in the 20′s. This coming book sounds like a great read and looking forward to the completed work.

  12. Katharine Mott says:

    I can’t wait for this book to be published … such a great present for at least five friends! Hope it is on the bookstands soon.

  13. Judy Shedden says:

    This story sounds like a wonderful tale of wealth and naivety; a perfect combination for a talented con-man. What a great storyline for a movie!

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