AT 9AM ON JULY 16, 2009, SCOTT Stuart answered the door of his trailer in Blaine, Washington, wearing just a pair of white cotton briefs. It was as if he’d just been roused from a deep sleep, and under other circumstances that might explain his state of undress. But Stuart had closed-circuit video cameras strategically placed outside his unit, which sat just south of the Canada border. Had he glanced at the monitor inside, he would have known that the pounding that woke him came not from a neighbor looking to borrow a cup of sugar but several armed men wearing tactical vests and windbreakers. And Stuart had more than enough time to take a peek at the black-and-white feed, let alone put on pants; he’d ignored the pounding so long that just as he unbolted the lock those men were preparing to splinter the door with a battering ram.
Maybe it was a sense of resignation that caused Stuart to answer the door in his underwear. The men outside were United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, armed with a federal search warrant. And after Special Agent Robert Baker pushed his way into the trailer he informed Stuart that they were looking for evidence of an investment scam they believed he’d used to bilk more than a hundred people out of millions of dollars. But rather than lead the agents on a clumsy Cops-style chase out the back of the trailer and through the wooded area that surrounded it, Stuart acquiesced to the search and peacefully submitted to being handcuffed. He lowered his bulky six-foot frame onto a couch next to his wife and adult daughter and chain-smoked while the agents rifled through files, booted up PCs, and even searched two rusting, 40-foot freight containers that sat on the property. Six hours later the feds filed out with eight computers and a dozen boxes of documents, including hundreds of receipts for bank deposits. Before Baker left he unshackled Stuart and offered an ominous warning: “I’m telling you right now, you need to stop contacting people and soliciting them for money. Because this will get a lot worse if you don’t.”
A more likely explanation for Stuart’s casual demeanor during the search is that he simply thought he was untouchable. That night, one of his “investors” from the San Francisco area called for an update on when he might get his money. After promising the man that it was just a matter of days before he’d be paid back, Stuart offhandedly recounted his visit from the feds, almost as if describing a trip to the grocery store. Oh, by the way… Then he laughed. They were just shaking him down, he said, trying to steal the cash for themselves. But they wouldn’t find it, Stuart declared confidently. God bless us all in Jesus’s name.
Word of the search began to spread throughout his vast network of contacts within a week, but Stuart placed calls and sent emails to assure them their money was secure. Oh, but could they send a couple thousand dollars more? Some unexpected fees had cropped up.
REMEMBER THAT EMAIL YOU ONCE GOT FROM A NIGERIAN BANKER? The one that confided in you—and you alone!—the details of a multimillion-dollar account left by a deceased petroleum magnate? The one that offered you a share of the money as long as you fronted a little cash to pay some fees and grease a few government employee palms? Of course you remember that email. And you knew before you’d finished the first sentence that it was an utter crock. If you didn’t delete it immediately, you probably read it a few times just to laugh at its conspiratorial yet subservient tone; its carefully broken English; its patently absurd assertion that you had to pay money to get money.
It’s called an advance-fee fraud, and despite the warning signs, people fall for some version of it all the time. There’s the foreign lottery scam, in which victims receive a phone call informing them they’ve won a fortune but must pay a fee to have the cash sent stateside. There’s the black money fraud, in which mysterious men claim to have millions coated in a substance that makes the bills undetectable to x-ray devices and thereby easier to pass through customs; if you can pay for a chemical to clean the money, you’re entitled to a cut. No matter what form the scam takes, though, once its perpetrators—who historically have actually been based in West African countries—have someone on the hook, they slowly drain their victim’s savings accounts by fabricating new fees or taxes that must be paid. And most victims are so ashamed of their gullibility or afraid of being prosecuted for participating in something illegal that they refuse to ever report the crime. That’s part of the reason the feds aren’t able to reliably track the amount of American money lost to advance-fee frauds, but Special Agent Baker of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement estimates it could be as high as $4 billion a year.
Despite the seemingly transparent nature of most scams, though, the victims aren’t always necessarily slow-witted. Robert Kierstead, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Seattle office, investigated several advance-fee schemes as a field agent in Boston in the 1990s, including one that bankrupted a well-respected scientist—who subsequently morphed into a con artist himself and took the investors in the scam he cooked up for nearly $4 million. “These victims want to believe in something that’s almost too good to be true,” Kierstead says. “You’re talking about people who are gullible or greedy.”
By all accounts Scott Alan Stuart was both. Born in February 1960, Stuart lived most of his life in northern Washington State. He owned a small business in Ferndale, Stuart Scotsman Inc., that sold recreational vehicles and prefab homes, but it had hardly made him rich. He and his family lived in a modest home in the neighboring town of Custer. But then in the late ’90s, Stuart began receiving faxes at his office informing him that a business owned by his father, Holloway Stuart, had been awarded a contract for the construction of an oil pipeline in Nigeria in May 1992. Holloway completed the work but died unexpectedly before the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation could pay him, so Scott was to be the recipient of the contract. Which was worth $45.5 million. That kind of money would change anyone’s life, but it was especially attractive to Stuart. His RV business was not only failing, but he’d also run afoul of the Whatcom County Prosecutor: An audit conducted by the Washington Department of Revenue in 1997 found he had failed that year to report nearly a quarter-million dollars in sales.
To collect his inheritance, Stuart needed only to pay a few taxes and transfer fees. And without much prodding from his new Nigerian associates, he began wiring what little savings he had to overseas banks almost immediately. When he would run short of funds, he’d hit up friends and neighbors for money and promise them a share of the millions he believed he’d one day receive. But by the following year one of those contributors, who’d grown suspicious after failing to see a return on her investment, tipped off the Secret Service. Agents questioned Stuart, but because he had sent all of the money to his contacts in Africa—as opposed to pocketing it—he was considered a victim and the Department of Justice declined to press charges. The agents simply informed him he was being exploited and insisted that he cease raising money immediately.
He didn’t stop. Two years later, in November 2000, Stuart was trading faxes with a man named W.D.A. Williams on an almost daily basis. Williams, purportedly acting on behalf of the petroleum company, had enlisted investors willing to help Stuart finance the release of the inheritance. The following month, on December 14, Stuart and a friend walked into Mobile Exchange, a check-cashing operation frequented by long-haul truckers near the Canadian border in Blaine. The “investors” recruited by Williams had come through, and Stuart had received two checks, one for more than $172,000 and another for nearly $83,000. Despite protests from employees who believed the checks had been altered—badly—Mobile Exchange’s owner approved the transaction, and Stuart and his friend walked out with $254,975.77 in cash.
The next day Blaine police, accompanied by the Secret Service, picked up Stuart for questioning. Just as the skeptical Mobile Exchange employees suspected, the checks had been altered. One was originally written for $2,500, the other for $3,000, and both had been reported stolen. Stuart calmly pleaded ignorance and told the story of his father’s inheritance and his efforts to claim it. His contacts in Nigeria were above reproach, he believed, so he had no reason to doubt the checks’ authenticity. Just as the Secret Service learned in ’98, Stuart wasn’t profiting from the scheme—he’d already wired most of the $250,000 overseas, essentially a pawn in a money-laundering operation—making it hard to charge him with a crime. And just as they had in ’98, the agents informed Stuart he was being scammed, that the inheritance didn’t exist, and that he needed to wash his hands of the whole affair.
Yet despite being presented with evidence that he was throwing good money after bad, Stuart still refused to stop. Was he just that greedy? Or was he nagged by the notion that if he only invested a couple thousand more, he might finally collect his inheritance? Was he so racked with guilt for having thrown away his friends’ savings that he felt duty-bound to get it back? Or was he emboldened by the authorities’ continual failure to stop him? It’s impossible to identify Stuart’s motivation, but one thing is clear: He was persistent to the point of obsession. And in the summer of 2002, he believed he had finally been rewarded for that persistence. On August 30, he sauntered into Pacific Northwest Bank in Ferndale and asked if he could open an account and make a deposit. Then he slid a check across the counter that, if it didn’t cause the teller to think he was the victim of a hidden-camera prank show, should have made him do a double take. Issued by All States Trust Bank in Lagos, Nigeria, and made out to “Stuart A Scots,” the check was for $30 million.
This time, Stuart left empty-handed. The bank’s manager, leery of the Nigeria connection and the obscene dollar amount, confiscated the check and called the authorities. The check was counterfeit, and again Stuart was hauled in for questioning, this time to the Secret Service’s Seattle office. After initially agreeing to a polygraph and then changing his mind, he repeated the story of his father’s work in Nigeria. But this time, he began to show signs of giving up. Before he left—once again without being charged for a crime—he provided agents with a statement that explained why he attempted to cash a check that was so obviously fake. The statement expressed in writing what his slumped shoulders seemed to suggest: “…I was at the point where I needed to recoupe sic all the fund sic that I had paid out and needed to get my money back even knowing in the back of my mind that the [check] may not be good. But at this time I needed to get my family and my business back on track and stop sending my money overseas to Nigeria. There comes a time when enough is enough.”
But that time hadn’t come yet.
DREW VANDENBERG’S STORY IS EQUAL PARTS DICKENS AND HORATIO Alger. The son of destitute farmers in Alberta, Canada—“We couldn’t even afford shoes,” he says—Vandenberg ran away at 14 and ditched school to take odd jobs. By the time he was 18 he owned a dump truck and made money hauling gravel from the Athabasca oil sands in northeastern Alberta to firms that would crush it, wash it, and use it for concrete. Vandenberg built the operation one rig after another, and by the time he sold it 17 years later, in 1980, he’d amassed a fleet of 70 trucks. He and his wife, Joan, settled on a thousand acres about two hours west of Edmonton, and he spent the next 30 years as a serial entrepreneur. Success in business came naturally to him, the result of an uncanny knack for playing hunches. “I can see things that other people can’t,” Vandenberg says, “and I take advantage of it.”
His only weaknesses were his generosity and willingness to trust others, which wouldn’t have been weaknesses at all if the few occasions when they came back to hurt him hadn’t stung so badly. There was the house he bought for his parents; after they died his sisters sold it without his input and then kept the money. There was the $50,000 he lent to his brother but never got back. And then there was the money he turned over to Scott Stuart.
Vandenberg met Stuart in 2004 through an old trucking acquaintance from Vancouver who had contributed to Stuart’s efforts to collect the inheritance. As it turns out, Stuart’s previous run-ins with the feds had done little to deter him. In fact, he’d doubled down. He still hadn’t gotten his hands on his $45 million, but he claimed to have successfully paid to get the money moved out of Nigeria and to Toronto. (Stuart would even show his investors a photo of two briefcases that he claimed held the inheritance.) If Vandenberg and his friend from Vancouver could retrieve the money in Toronto and bring it back to the Washington-Canada border for Stuart, they’d get a cut. Vandenberg was in the process of developing a motel property, and any extra cash he could scrape together would help the project, so he paid to fly himself and his friend to Toronto.
“I need to get my business back on track and stop sending my money overseas to Nigeria,” Stuart wrote in a statement to the Secret Service.
Within minutes of arriving at their hotel room and meeting the man who claimed to have the $45 million, they learned that the cash needed to be cleaned. The man—a Nigerian—even showed them how the cleaning would work: Like a magician setting up an illusion, he produced what looked like two ordinary rectangular pieces of white paper from his pocket and waved them in front of Vandenberg and his friend. Next he pulled a bottle of clear liquid from a bag, poured it into the room’s trash can, and submerged the paper. The white began to dissolve away, revealing Benjamin Franklin’s smirking face underneath. And when the Nigerian pulled the paper out of the trash can, he was holding two $100 bills. The amount of chemical necessary to wash all of the money, he told them, cost $92,000.
Vandenberg was skeptical, but the Nigerian said he had other investors who were willing to chip in $62,000. And when Vandenberg thought about it some more, $30,000 didn’t seem like much to pay if he could reap enough to build his motel without applying for a loan. That same day he went to the nearest branch of Royal Bank of Canada, took out a cash advance on his credit card, and paid the Nigerian his money. And then Vandenberg and his friend sat in their hotel room in Toronto—for a day, then two days, then a week, then two weeks more—waiting for the chemical to arrive. The Nigerian would occasionally call with updates on its progress—the wrong people had been paid off; it was held up in a warehouse—but after a month of killing time, they left with nothing but the $60,000 SUV Vandenberg had bought in Toronto to transport the money home. (You don’t exactly get on a plane carrying $45 million of indeterminate origin.)
The experience in Toronto soured Vandenberg on the story of the cash-filled briefcases, but Stuart assured him there was much more money to be had: He was actually owed $150 million, he said. If Vandenberg could just hold on and help Stuart pay some of the fees to bring the money to the states, he’d get 10 times whatever he put in. Whether it was Vandenberg’s blind faith in his fellow man or his own business instincts, his desire to see some kind of return on his initial investment, or the fact that he never seemed to catch Stuart in a lie, Vandenberg bought the story of the inheritance and kept writing checks to Stuart—$5,000 here and $10,000 there.
And the fact was, Vandenberg liked Stuart. Every few months he and his wife would travel from Edmonton to Ferndale and meet Stuart and his wife at a local casino for dinner. After finishing the meal Vandenberg’s wife would get up to play the slots and Stuart would direct her to the machines that were more likely to pay out. Vandenberg never bothered to ask Stuart how he knew.
So in late November 2005 when Stuart worried aloud that his efforts to secure the inheritance were bleeding him dry and that the bank was threatening to foreclose on his home, Vandenberg didn’t hesitate to offer him a loan to get by—$32,770 to be exact. But about the only truth to Stuart’s tale of woe was that he’d lived in a house. He was never in danger of losing it to the bank because he’d never owned it. He and his family had rented the 1,500-square-foot split-level in Custer from a friend, but it was the friend who was foreclosed upon—10 months earlier. The new owners allowed Stuart to stay on the property for a few months as he tried to secure a loan to buy it from them, but after he missed several deadlines they evicted him on May 5, more than six months before he claimed to Vandenberg that he was losing his house.
Vandenberg didn’t know that, of course. But by the middle of 2006, his suspicions were aroused. He’d taken plenty of risks as an entrepreneur, and when he went with his gut he’d been right more times than not. This time, though, he was starting to believe he’d bet wrong. The excuses, the delays—they just didn’t add up. So that October, nearly a year after he’d floated Stuart the loan to prevent the nonexistent foreclosure, he cut him off. Since Thanksgiving 2004, Vandenberg had shelled out nearly $300,000 in Canadian currency, which at the time equated to roughly $400,000 U.S. And that doesn’t include any of his travel expenses or the SUV he bought in Toronto.
By the way, Vandenberg never built that motel. The land he bought for the project—which looked so good on the surface—sat atop an undocumented landfill.
NOW TAKE VANDENBERG’S EXPERIENCE AND imagine it playing out several dozen more times. By 2008, Stuart had swindled so many people that it was growing impossible for him to hide the truth from everyone—in particular the manager of his bank. That summer the Whatcom Educational Credit Union in Bellingham alerted the feds to strange activity on his account: Since August 2001, Stuart had received hundreds of wire transfers, ranging from $2,000 to $30,000, from more than 60 people. Special Agent Robert Baker of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was assigned to the case, and he soon found that that was just the beginning. He began poking around Blaine in the summer of 2008 and discovered that when the bank got suspicious and refused to accept any more wires for Stuart, he enlisted friends—and in some cases his victims—to receive the transfers and then pass along the funds to him. But beginning some time after he tried to cash the counterfeit $30 million check, he’d all but stopped sending money overseas. Either he’d finally wised up to the fact that he was being scammed or he’d learned from the Nigerians just how easy it was to profit off of others’ greed.
Stuart’s victims were at least partially responsible for allowing his scam to continue—and not just because they kept fronting him cash. Beginning with one man in North Carolina who sent Stuart hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, Baker tracked down one investor after another and learned that in less than a decade the scam had spread like a virus across the United States and Canada, infecting nearly 140 people with the false promise of easy riches. And in many cases, it did so without any help from Stuart. Some victims would fall so hard for his sales pitch that even if they couldn’t afford to invest, they’d tell their friends, as if passing along a hot stock tip. Others would turn over their life savings to Stuart and then beg acquaintances to invest in the hopes of eventually recouping their losses. That’s how Steve Hyde, a mortgage broker in the Bay Area, came to raise a quarter of a million dollars for Stuart.
In 2005, Hyde’s retired father, Frank, caught wind of Stuart’s inheritance and the big returns he was offering. The elder Hyde had just come into some money he was eager to invest, and against his son’s wishes he donated a few grand to Stuart’s cause. Then a few grand more. Inside of a couple months Frank had entrusted Stuart with $165,000. About that time Steve realized his father had been duped. He was devastated by the thought that his father’s retirement nest egg had evaporated, and he convinced Frank to cut his losses and walk away. Three years later, though, Steve received a phone call from Ernie Williams, an elderly man in Phoenix who had since become one of Stuart’s unsuspecting operatives. Williams—who authorities say has participated in at least two other advance-fee frauds over the last decade—believed the story of the inheritance implicitly and succeeded in luring Steve himself into the scheme. It’s hard to say why he allowed himself to be sold by Williams; even he isn’t sure. (“You’d think we were all people who came out of a mental hospital, the way we dealt with this,” Steve says now.) And in the second half of 2008, Hyde roped in eight other investors from the Bay Area with one goal in mind: If he could raise enough money for Stuart, maybe he could will the inheritance to come through, and his father could straighten out his finances. In retrospect, Hyde can identify the warning signs that something was amiss—the fact that the money supposedly came from Nigeria was the biggest red flag—but at the time he simply chose to ignore them because reality was too devastating to accept. “You get emotionally attached to your money,” he says. “You don’t want to believe you’ve been taken.”
Some of Stuart’s victims were so overcome by an obsessive need to cash in, so driven by a fear of losing what they’d invested that even when presented with irrefutable evidence that they were being conned they refused to aid the investigation. On Christmas Eve in 2008, Special Agent Baker sat in an unmarked car in the parking lot of the Whatcom Educational Credit Union in Bellingham and watched Stuart buy oxycodone with cash he’d just received via wire. Then, as if he believed he was invisible, Stuart crushed up the little white pills and snorted them in plain sight. If there was any doubt he’d morphed from victim to victimizer, that transaction erased it. Baker would later learn that Stuart’s addiction to pain-killers, which began as early as 2003, had become a $1,000-a-day habit.
The money that paid for Stuart’s Christmas Eve fix came from Jonathan Binns, one of Hyde’s recruits. But when Baker called to relay what he’d seen, Binns blew him off, positive that Baker was meddling or—even worse—trying to track down the money for himself. Besides, Binns thought, Stuart was too focused on giving back to the community to waste his inheritance on drugs; he would often call Binns at 3 in the morning and wax on for hours about all his philanthropic plans for the money. And Binns was positive that anyone who loved the Lord the way Stuart said he did was incapable of screwing his friends and neighbors. Today living in an apartment in Reno, Nevada, and getting by on a military pension, Binns knows better. “I was an asshole to Baker,” he says. “In fact, I’m going to email him or call him and apologize. He was just trying to get us our money.”
Even without help from the victims, though, Baker collected enough evidence to obtain a search warrant in July 2009. And what he and other agents dug up in Stuart’s home confirmed what his bank records only hinted at. All told the scam netted him at least $3.8 million, although Baker says the total may be more than $5 million. Retirement accounts were drained. College savings gone. Some, like Binns, lost their homes. Yet Stuart hadn’t spent the ill-gotten funds on luxuries: Records obtained from local casinos showed he and his wife put a large chunk of the money—more than $2.2 million—into slot machines, one coin at a time. Much of the rest went to feed Stuart’s addiction to oxy and nicotine. Baker says the Stuarts burned up $500 to $800 a month on cigarettes.
At 9am on July 16, 2010, Baker and agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement once again descended on Stuart’s trailer in Blaine, this time with an arrest warrant. Just as he had in 2009, Stuart answered his door dressed in nothing but briefs. And just as he had in 2009, Stuart submitted without a fight. The only drama came as Baker led him to his sedan in front of the trailer. Stuart, hands bound, suddenly collapsed into the agent, moaning and insisting he was having a heart attack. Baker, who’s also an EMT, was dubious. But he took Stuart to a nearby hospital anyway, where doctors released him into the agent’s custody and pronounced that his heart was fine.
“I’D LIKE TO SAY that I know what I’ve done is wrong.”
On December 9, 2011, Scott Stuart stood before Judge S. Robert Lasnik on the 15th floor of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, awaiting sentencing. Since pleading guilty in July to nearly $4 million worth of wire fraud and multiple counts of willful failure to file a tax return, he’d lived at his home in Blaine, working briefly at a local refinery and then as a substitute school bus driver in the Ferndale School District. He faced up to 21 years in prison, although Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma requested a little more than seven. Wearing a dark striped dress shirt, pinstripe suit coat, and gray pants, he kept his head down for most of the proceedings. His comments to the court were brief: “I’m truly sorry and remorseful.”
Drew Vandenberg, the entrepreneur from Canada, was in the courtroom with his wife, having made the nearly 15-hour trip to speak at the sentencing. They were the only victims to appear. “A handshake is good enough for me,” Vandenberg said in an attempt to explain why he trusted Stuart. “I’m upset, but I’m glad I’m here today. Hopefully my wife and I can go home with a little relief.”
They didn’t go home with as much relief as they’d hoped. Although Stuart was ordered to pay restitution to the tune of $3.8 million, no one, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Warma, had any illusions that Stuart would ever be able to repay his victims. But what stung the Vandenbergs was the relatively light sentence that Judge Lasnik handed down: 60 months in prison. And his ruling was influenced, at least in part, by the findings of Dr. Richard Adler, a psychiatrist hired by Stuart’s defense attorney, Michael Filipovic. After his arrest in 2010, Stuart continued to insist that the story of his father’s inheritance was true, leading Adler to conclude that Stuart suffered from a delusional disorder. An MRI revealed Stuart was born with a brain deformity that, according to Adler, hindered his social judgment and reasoning. It wasn’t until after Stuart was arrested and ordered to begin taking antipsychotic medication that the veil lifted. “I can’t believe I did this,” he reportedly told Adler.
But Stuart never showed signs of a below-average intellect while conferring with his victims. “He lies so well, he makes you believe what he’s saying,” says Steve Hyde, the San Francisco man whose father paid Stuart $165,000. “Every time you asked him a question, there was never a hesitation. He never looked like he was struggling for any kind of an answer. He looked like he was totally, completely confident in what he was saying.” Hyde says Stuart even discussed getting involved with financial trade platforms, which are complex, legitimate investment opportunities typically only available to well-heeled, accredited investors. One of Hyde’s friends who had worked in the finance sector for more than a decade was so convinced by Stuart’s apparent investment acumen that he eagerly forked over $12,000 for the inheritance scam.
And then there’s Stuart’s father, Holloway, whose supposed work overseas sent Scott on his quixotic, $45 million quest. If Scott truly believed that his father built an oil pipeline in Nigeria—as his attorney insists he did—then his delusional disorder was severe. Holloway worked most of his life for Uniflite, a Bellingham boat manufacturer. The closest he ever got to Africa was in the 1970s, when he traveled to Thailand for business. And he died in Burlington, Washington, on February 24, 1990—more than two years before the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation supposedly issued him a contract.
LATE LAST DECEMBER, MORE THAN TWO WEEKS after Stuart was sentenced to prison, Steve Hyde let slip that efforts were still under way to collect some money. How much, where it came from, where it was, how he knew about it—he wouldn’t say because he didn’t have “permission” from the people working to acquire it. He knew it sounded ridiculous, but he wasn’t willing to give up. “I guess you just don’t want to admit that you’ve been completely screwed.”
Two weeks later Jonathan Binns called from Reno. He too had been keeping tabs on the efforts Hyde alluded to, but he’d grown frustrated with the lack of progress. Since July 2010—when Stuart was arrested—Will Mayfield, a man in the Bay Area who at one time had helped Stuart recruit new investors, had claimed to have a bead on millions of dollars in Hong Kong and London. (This money, he said, was completely separate from Stuart’s fake inheritance.) In an email dated June 29, 2011, Mayfield said he had documents that proved the existence of the funds. “Please understand that I am only doing what I can to get our money back without further delay…” he wrote. “I gave everything I owned to Scott Stuart and I want my money back and want to see everyone else paid as well.” Binns says Mayfield tried and failed to secure a loan from an Indian tribe in December 2011 to pay to move the money to the United States, but he doesn’t even know whether to believe that anymore.
The only thing Binns is sure of now is that he’s through contributing. He gave his last $1,500 to Mayfield last summer.
*The names of Scott Stuart’s victims—Drew Vandenberg, Steve and Frank Hyde, and Jonathan Binns—have been changed for this story to protect their privacy.