A Legend Passes

By Victor A. Johnson, CFE, CCFT, CCCI

The recent death of a well-known criminal left a CFE remembering how the crook committed some of the most convoluted frauds in the 20th century and how they easily could have been prevented. 

I do not normally scan the obituaries so I am not sure why I was reading that page of the local newspaper that day. The notification in the “Sun-Sentinel,” Broward County, Florida’s newspaper read simply “WILSON, Philip M., of Coral Springs, FL. Died on January 15, 2003” and supplied the name of the funeral home. No other details. No descriptions of how he committed some of the most infamous and convoluted frauds in the 20th Century. Just a name and a date.

I first thought that this was another of Wilson’s elaborate schemes designed to throw everyone off the track. He was due to voluntarily surrender to federal authorities after pleading guilty to two counts of a 15-count indictment involving wire fraud and commercial bribery. And I was scheduled that same week to pick up arrest warrants charging Phil with a variety of state charges, from RICO to money laundering and advance fee fraud. My case had been almost two years in the making and had carried me from the British Virgin Islands to New York and West to Texas and Utah. This had to be another of Phil’s tricks. But sadly, it was not.

The fraud community had become a little bit smaller. The “good guys” would have to look farther afield for their next case.

Philip Morrell Wilson was born Aug. 6, 1937, in St. Louis, and purportedly lived a comfortable, middle-class childhood. He started to run afoul of the law when he was 26 by passing some bad checks and dabbling in a little breaking and entry. His “dark star” really began to shine in 1968, when he took advantage of the new offshore business regulations on the Isle of Sark, off the British coast. Wilson’s Bank of Sark operated for four years, producing certifications and bank letters that ended up in the portfolios of some of the largest corporations in the world, including American Express. At $100 million, Wilson’s Bank of Sark was at the time the largest fraud in history. While working the Bank of Sark, which was actually a third-floor, one-room, walk-up with a fax and telephone, he met fellow fraudsters Sam Wilkinson and Clifford Noe.

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