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BRAZIL: Financiers at Work

3 minute read

A flurry of excited advertisements in the Brazil Herald glowed of fabulous land bargains in the wilds of the Mato Grosso plateau. Over a Rio television station, a warm-voiced announcer sold stock by posing an enticing question: “Does your money really work for you? Some of the luxuries of this world can be yours—a beach, a home, a boat, an airplane.” Such were the latest come-ons of expatriate U.S. Swindlers Benjack Cage (TIME, Feb. 18, 1957) and Earl Belle (TIME, Aug. 4), and they seem to prove that good con men, like cats, land on their feet when they fall.

Belle, 27, is Pittsburgh’s onetime “boy wonder” of finance, wanted for bilking three Eastern banks out of $825,000. Cage, 41, is under sentence to ten years in prison for embezzling $100,000 from the Texas insurance company he once headed. Both fled south just ahead of justice and took refuge in the fact that Brazil has no extradition treaty with the U.S. and refuses to sign one as long as the U.S. permits capital punishment—which is long enough for Cage and Belle.

Widows First. Cage set up quarters in a lavish suite at Sāo Paulo’s Jaraguà Hotel, decided that all the Mato Grosso needed for a land boom was the old backslapping hard sell. He fixed his selling price at $2 to $5 an acre. What if the land is remote (and no more fertile than tracts being peddled by Mato Grosso State for 35¢ an acre)? One day the wilderness would bloom. Said Realtor Cage, nobly: “I’m going to work hard and pay back everybody that lost anything in Texas. You betcha, and the first people I’m going to pay back are those little old widows—yessiree, I’m going to call them right up to the head of the line.” Cage’s wife, who wears mink despite the heat, is staying by her hard-working husband’s side.

Belle and his blondined second wife took a terraced apartment overlooking Copacabana Beach, bought a cabin cruiser, joined the Fluminense Club and the Yacht Club (membership fee: $2,000). Through a front man. Belle got control of two small firms that made abrasives, formed a holding company called Internacional de Màquinas e Abrasivos. He stepped off with appropriate fanfare: a caviar and steak luncheon and a trip to the humming factories in chauffeured Cadillacs for Rio’s leading businessmen. Belle envisioned expansion into a sprawling complex of steel, paper and machine-tool plants.

Time to Sell. Last week a major Imasa stockholder staged a surprise inspection of one of the abrasive factories and found “no production, no stocks, only five workers standing around with their arms folded.” Under pressure. Belle sold out his interests, but he still made a profit. His assets mostly liquid again (partly in U.S. $500 bills), Belle declared that he was ready for further opportunity. “If you hear of any little industry selling out cheap,” he told friends, “let me know. I’ve got money I don’t know what to do with.”

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