Friday, August 21, 2009

21 AUG 09: Too Rich in Richland?

Prosecutors in Columbus released more details Thursday about an alleged "ponzi" scheme based in Stewart County. Some rural residents heard about this, and wondered why it took so long to arrest that rebellious punk on "Happy Days."

Prosecutors say Michael and Phillis Bleckley of Richland operated an unregistered and suspicious investment plan for several years. MKB Capital Management reportedly took investors for more than $2.5 million. And any taking apparently didn't give much back to Richland in taxes, because the city doesn't look any more modern.

Authorities say they were tipped off to MKB Capital Management by the family which owns Mikata Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar at The Landings. One TV report said the family decided in late 2007 "something fishy" was going on - and who better to know something's fishy than the operators of a sushi bar?

The Kim family which operates Mikata claims the Bleckleys promised to invest their money in German bonds and securities. So it's no wonder this offer was attractive - because Japan and Germany worked so well together in the early 1940s.

Prosecutors say the Bleckleys went against their word, and invested NO money in German securities. In fact, police still aren't where the Kim family's fortune is. If I might offer a suggestion - Swiss bank accounts are right across Germany's southern border.

Michael and Phillis Bleckley own some wide-ranging businesses - two funeral homes southeast of Columbus, as well as The Bulloch House restaurant in Warm Springs. This may explain why The Bulloch House menu refers to "fried chicken strips," instead of chicken fingers.

(The Bulloch House remains open for business. But its web site lists other people as the long-time owners, instead of Michael and Phillis Bleckley. But this IS Warm Springs, after all - where people take pride in doing things at a slower pace.)

If authorities are right with these charges, why would the Bleckleys go after the Kim family with such a scheme? Mikata certainly doesn't seem like a threat to The Bulloch House. Columbus has other restaurants which are more similar in style - but then, Minnie's Uptown Restaurant may be too close to the Government Center to be comfortable.

Prosecutors and police are wondering if other people invested money with the Bleckleys during this decade. If so, their complaints could be added to this racketeering case -- and Michael Bleckley might wind up writing a sequel to Bernard Madoff's memoirs.

If Michael and Phillis Bleckley wind up in prison for racketeering, the lesson for criminals should be plain and clear. You don't mess around with the owners of a Japanese steakhouse - because they know how to play with fire.

By the way, which staff member at WTVM decided to give this story the 5:00 p.m. on-air headline: "Ripped Off and P***ed Off"? Is that "P-word" allowed during newscasts before 10:00 p.m. these days? I mean, just because it's probably thrown around during "General Hospital" at 4:00....

We have plenty of other news items to review, from the last couple of days:

+ Dick McMichael's blog reported on a historic and rare public appearance in Columbus by retired Army Lt. William Calley. He told a Kiwanis Club meeting this week he feels remorse every day, for the so-called "My Lai Massacre" of 1968 in Vietnam. Supporters would note Calley went to the stockade for his actions and lost his right to vote - while Jane Fonda still has faced neither.

(I've heard stories for years of William Calley refusing to do media interviews - and even opening an umbrella outside V.V. Vick Jewelers to avoid reporters. Apparently WLTZ's Al Fleming only persuaded Calley to speak on the condition that the Ledger-Enquirer didn't know about it.)

+ National Infantry Museum Director Jerry White told the big health care forum the museum's attendance "exceeds expectations," at more than 1,600 visitors per day. Yet the Fife and Drum Restaurant has cut back to serving dinner only four nights a week - which means the competing Chuck E. Cheese down the road can't be built soon enough.

+ WTVM reported two women are charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Fourth Street Baptist Church. We wondered here in January why Pastor J.H. Flakes gave a sermon specifically about stealing [19 Jan]. Now we see it had nothing to do with going back for seconds at church dinners.

+ WRBL reported three Lafayette firefighters have been fired, because they posted "inappropriate pictures" onto Facebook pages while on duty. Why couldn't these public servants have used Facebook for a more uplifting purpose at work - you know, like playing the Mafia Wars game?

+ Columbus Technical College held a "beam-signing" ceremony, for the beam going at the top of the new Health Sciences Building. I've never heard of signing steel beams before. Apparently the administration has decided if they leave names on the sidewalk, it will fall apart in a few years.

+ The Phenix City Council held a public budget hearing, with various groups asking for city money. Even the Russell County Health Department requested city funds - which must mean the roof repairs at the old county courthouse are already breaking the bank.

(A recent postal mailer to us wondered why Phenix City scheduled 2:00 p.m. budget hearings "when most.... working people cannot attend." The TV news reported an evening hearing is planned next Thursday - and you can't use "Survivor" as an excuse, because its new season hasn't started yet.)

+ Alabama gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis met with Phenix City officials at Shoney's. The closest thing this city can have to a "health care reform town hall" is at a restaurant known for all-you-can-eat buffets.

+ The University of Georgia announced the football coaching staff will have to take two furlough days during the season. Why they're not scheduled during the week of the Tennessee Tech game, I have no idea....

+ Instant Message to the Columbus chapter of Omega Psi Phi: What's this "All-White Affair" you're having at Fort Benning this weekend? Has your chapter joined One Columbus, and decided to expand beyond African-American members?

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: A reader's thoughts on health care and religion.... and my encounter with a "Gang of Six...."

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