Shawn Vestal: Greg Jeffreys never learned how to stop hustling
Greg Jeffreys never quit trying.
The man who set a new land-speed record for big-time Spokane grift never quit hustling. If one deal wasn’t working, he cooked up another. If one story wasn’t working, he told another. If inflating real estate values wasn’t enough, he invented properties out of whole cloth.
Try, try again.
And why not? He had outrageous success in getting people to believe his impossible-to-believe claims. Banks loaned him millions of dollars on wildly inflated appraisals. Scores of “investors” handed over their money. He poisoned the Ridpath Hotel with cooked deals that muck up the ownership of that place to this day. He was, they say, a barroom raconteur, a high flier, a big spender. Shortly after he stole $1.8 million in federal money, he bunkered down in a Vegas casino, gambling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He would bow to no authority. In court, in open defiance of the judge, he gestured and communicated with people he had been ordered not to communicate with. Even facing 73 federal charges for scamming millions from banks and individuals – a series of fake transactions built on false representations tied to unbelievable assertions that is so vast you couldn’t fit it all inside the covers of “War and Peace” – even then you got the sense that he expected to hustle his way out of it.
Try, try again. Until Thursday.
Jeffreys pleaded guilty to four federal felonies Thursday. His co-defendant and girlfriend, Shannon Stiltner, pleaded guilty to two charges. The pleas leave him facing eight years in prison and her facing seven months. Jeffreys’ wife, Kimberly, has pleaded not guilty to several charges in the case.
It’s hard to say what contributed to Jeffreys’ decision to stop hustling. One suspects his attorney’s advice had a lot to do with it, given Jeffreys’ adherence to Churchill’s famous maxim: Never, never, never give up. This is the guy, after all, who prosecutors say continued to pitch investors on bogus investments even after he knew they were investigating him.
Listening to a summary of the boiled-down case at the plea hearing Thursday left little doubt as to the strength of the case against Jeffreys. It starts with inflated appraisals, misrepresentations and lies associated with the sale and purchase of almost all the condominiumized units of the Ridpath Hotel, starting in 2006. Appraisals on those sales ranged from merely 200 percent above market value to 1,000 percent above market value, said Sean McLaughlin, assistant U.S. attorney.
Jeffreys told banks that he had tens of millions of dollars in bonds – $97 million in one application and more than $80 million in another – that he did not have. He told the banks in the same applications that he had millions more in real estate and savings, also millions that he did not have.
Naturally, the banks loaned him money.
The revised charges against Jeffreys name six banks or former banks he defrauded: Coastal Community Bank, Riverbank, Washington Trust, Bank of Whitman, Banner Bank and Wells Fargo. Not to mention the life insurance company he defrauded. Not to mention the others that McLaughlin was referring to when he tagged “among others” to the end of a list of financial institutions.
Which is to say nothing of the individuals who “invested” in Jeffreys’ deals. McLaughlin said there are so many victims likely to want to address the court that the sentencing in February will be a long affair.
“I think it’s at least one day,” he said. “It might go two.”
In addition to three fraud charges, Jeffreys and Stiltner each pleaded guilty to contempt of court. They were ordered not to have contact with each other after their indictment. Jeffreys then proceeded to call her a whole bunch of times – he called her directly, and they communicated through other intermediaries. In these calls, prosecutors alleged, they “disparaged” the very order barring the calls. They also wrote each other letters. At one point, Jeffreys used a vulgar slur to refer to the FBI agent investigating his case.
He seemed to recognize fairly late in the game that jail phone calls are recorded. It says so right on the phones. Busted? Heck no. Not the hustler. He began using other inmates’ accounts to make his calls, and using fake names as cover.
It would be fascinating to know what woke up him to reality. In court on Thursday, he answered the judge respectfully and briefly, and pleaded guilty to the four charges. With one caveat: He intends to dispute the amount of restitution being sought.
Even when he’s giving in, he can’t stop trying.