EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 6
Near the end of 1999, I approached my breaking point. I had undoubtedly experienced a good measure of spiritual growth and felt much more comfortable with my new life in California, but the weight of my financial worries was crushing. My casino debt was undiminished, and the Internal Revenue Service was after me again. I had fallen two years behind on federal income taxes, and the IRS was threatening to come after me with the heavy artillery—liens and wage attachment. This situation called for some serious self-examination. As a person of faith, I asked God for help, but at the same time I let my pride get in the way. I was trying to avoid the uncomfortable but necessary step of telling the casinos that I had maxed out and simply could not afford to pay them off all at once. I would have to negotiate some kind of payoff plan. I should have done this a year earlier, but I lacked the moral courage. Now I had arrived at a critical moment of reckoning. What should my next step be?
The answer came within a matter of days. It came shockingly, frighteningly—and miraculously.
I was awakened on a Monday morning by a phone call around 8:00 a.m. The caller identified himself as an FBI agent from the New York district office, and he informed me that I had been under criminal investigation for one year—an investigation that he had just concluded. The bottom fell out of my stomach, and my heart began pounding. My left hand trembled as it held the phone. Then, just as I was about to collapse in a state of complete panic, the agent told me that no charge was being brought against me. His investigation had led him to the conclusion that I had not committed any criminal offense. He added, however, that I clearly had a gambling problem and that the manner in which I had been moving money around was what had led to my being investigated.
Here’s what I had been doing that drew the FBI’s attention and triggered the investigation. Before every casino credit line “juggling” trip, I would withdraw several thousand dollars from each of the numerous checking accounts that I maintained. Then, upon returning home, I would redeposit into my various accounts whatever cash I had brought back. Because cash deposits and withdrawals of $10,000 or more require a bit of paperwork (it’s federal banking law), I kept all of my individual transactions under $10,000 in order to save time and avoid the paperwork hassle. However, since I had maintained this pattern for so long—depositing $7,500 here and $8,000 there—my banks became suspicious and reported the pattern of my transactions to the federal government. The FBI then began investigating my activities to see if I was engaged in any illegal activity or was perhaps committing some form of bank fraud. Thankfully, I was deemed not to have broken the law, but the investigating agent filled me in on all that he had learned about me.
He had interviewed employees at the banks where I maintained accounts, casino personnel who knew me from my regular visits, and many other people I encountered in my travels and financial transactions. He had even spoken with colleagues of mine at GMA who were familiar with my frequent trips to gambling venues. His final words to me were an admonition. He strongly suggested that I get some professional help to deal with my gambling addiction—and then told me that my case was closed. This had truly been a wake-up call, literally and figuratively.
As I recovered from the shock of that call, I quietly gave thanks. In my mind, this had been the answer to many prayers—the jolt or reality check that I needed. The next step I had been looking for was now right in front of me. I needed to stop the charade. I called all the casinos where I had credit lines—14 of them—and pleaded my case. I described my weakened financial condition and inability to settle all of my obligations at once, and asked for reasonable payoff plans. Interestingly enough, the ones to whom I owed the highest amounts—$40,000 or more—were the most cooperative and offered me the most affordable payment plans. The ones to whom I owed the lowest amounts—under $20,000—were completely uncooperative and employed aggressive collection tactics, filing judgments against me and serving me with papers at work, in full view of my colleagues.
Confronting the casinos and dealing with the fallout was difficult and humiliating, but it was also liberating. I no longer had to play the risky and exhausting juggling act that I had carried on for years, and I could reclaim some semblance of a normal life. Just before New Year’s Day in 2000, I made what I thought would be my last visit to Las Vegas or any other gambling venue.