Archive for August, 2010

Felony Fraud & Conspiracy

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Sunday afternoons I sit down with the newspaper (yes, people still read those).  There, in bold print on the front page was the teaser for the leading business story. “Burned Out Dream House,” it said. Most of the page of Business P1 was covered with the story, pictures of the house, and pictures of the men who had built it.  You can read the full story on the Denver Post website. I know one of those men. He is currently charged with felony fraud and conspiracy for his part in the alleged arson of the so-called dream home.

I first met Denver Haslam when I was producing a radio show and he called in for a topic called “I Shouldn’t Be Alive!” where he mesmerized us with his true tale of a skiing accident five years previous. He hit a tree. Broke most of the bones in his body. Punctured both lungs. Lacerated many of his other organs. The only thing he didn’t break was his heart (or his head, thanks to the helmet he was wearing). This miraculous survival would guide him to look out for others, to open his big heart to any charitable cause that came his way, to become an advocate for skiing safety and the poster child for wearing a helmet.

He would come to the station to claim his prize. With his disarming genuineness and his wide smile he would charm the receptionist into calling me to come down. We would meet, talk, hug. I would agree to go out with him. He would be the only person I would ever meet after hearing him tell his story to 200,000 listeners. When you live in the radio no one is real; they’re all just characters. The disembodied voices don’t have faces or feelings or mothers. They’re just people with 90 seconds of material. But this guy, I had to meet this one. I needed to know him.

We had a summer flirtation. It never turned into anything more than that. I was at a stage where my dating life was at warp speed, rotating through dates and men faster than farmers ever turn crops. He was too many things. Too nice. Too sweet. Too wounded. He’d been hurt before and I was convinced that I’d walk all over him. So we were really more like friends who happened to go on dates.

He was a bit of a enigma in all actuality. The kind of guy who seemed wildly successful except that he didn’t currently have a job. He was a business consultant. He was into racing and fixing up cars. He owned a home here and a condo in Texas. He was the co-owner of a multi-million dollar investment property, “A mansion,” he explained, “I own it with a group of guys. We’re working on getting it sold.” He loved his mother. He talked of going to grad school. He never drank alcohol. I felt like I knew him intimately, yet knew nothing about him at all.

We stayed in touch. On Halloween I called him, drunk, my feet bleeding from wearing idiot shoes to march around downtown in. He came and fetched me and my two equally drunk friends and drove us home. He made sure we got inside and were tucked in, ever the gentleman as always.

We’d make plans to see each other. Sometimes they wouldn’t happen. After his accident he slept odd hours of the day and night. Sometimes he would have bouts of insomnia that would last for days, at other times he would sleep for 36 hours straight. I’d think of him here and again and I’d call him or he’d call me. We’d text “Hope you’re well!” and the kinds of niceties you save for people whom you genuinely like but have no idea how to have real honest-to-god interpersonal relationships with.

“I’m scared,” one day he told me on the phone. “I might have to disappear for a while. Maybe go see my family. I think there are people after me.”

This was not the man I knew. The man who was always cheerful and optimistic, the man who survived a pine tree running straight through his middle and walked away from it. No. This man who I spoke to now was weary; he genuinely thought someone was trying to kill him. He couldn’t fully explain his paranoia, didn’t know how.

The last time I saw him it was winter, seven or more months ago. We had breakfast and talked about a creative project I was trying to get off the ground. He was his usual helpful and excited self; my success became his success. We didn’t talk about how he was sleeping or whether there was still a gun under his pillow. I didn’t ask. He seemed well and I wanted to keep picturing him that way.

So when I read the paper that fateful Sunday, two weeks ago now, I didn’t know how to react. Still don’t. I’ve written and re-written this blog post a half dozen times. I knew about the house he owned, knew that it had burned down. But this–to be charged with a felony–what am I supposed to do?

I started to write a text message, “I hope you’re well,” it reads. “I saw the paper.” I haven’t sent it yet. I don’t know what else to say. I selfishly don’t want to get too involved. I want everything to work out for my friend. Yet I don’t know how to support him without his crisis becoming my own.

He is a good man. I don’t believe he is capable of committing felony fraud or conspiracy. I think he got caught up with the wrong people being his helpful self. I feel helpless. Watching something happen to someone from afar like a coward.