The Phantom King: The web trail
The June 2012 Spree cover story, "The Phantom King of Buffalo," details Michael Wilson’s brief, flashy journey from owner of Western New York’s largest homes to a wanted fugitive. The bulk of the story came together from interviews, court documents, Freedom of Information Act requests, cross-referenced property records, and other well-tested tools of journalism. But like any modern concern trying to make a name for himself, Wilson and his New Frontier firm built an online identity.
It was vague, awkward, and alternately surreptitious and grandiose , but Wilson's web archives are an interesting addendum to what we know about Wilson, New Frontier, and the alleged millions of dollars in play for nine months.
In other words: this is the web-based research that didn’t fit into an already pretty long text. I hope it fits better here, and provides more depth on an already rich story.
In late November 2008, Michael Wilson’s New Frontier Trust posted a public website—after New Frontier had already taken what prosecutors claim was millions of dollars in unregistered, unsecured investments. It no longer exists at newfrontiertrust.com, but I snagged a few screen captures a few years ago, when I was interested in New Frontier but not yet deep into research.
Here’s New Frontier Trust’s home page. There is one logo, the New Frontier name written in a staid, business-minded serif font, and an image of snow-capped European mountains. In the main content area, there’s a slightly incongruous widget that serves up financial news headlines, and tracks blue chip stocks in electronics, energy, healthcare, and other established fields.
(Click on any of the images below for a larger image view)
If you clicked the link for “Company Info,” you’d read that “New Frontier Trust is one of the largest Private (sic) holding companies in North America and is headquartered in Buffalo, NY.” Clients should expect “complete anonymity,” “superior customer service,” and an individual “Wealth Manager” assigned to their needs.
On “Become a Client,” New Frontier Trust explained that it “does not solicit clients,” and relied instead on referrals. You could, however, inquire about their “Sponsoring Service” via email.
Note, at the bottom of every web page, a statement that “New Frontier Trust uses only FDIC insured institutions.” To say the least, that runs counter to the nature of private placement investments, and to the nature of all the charges against Michael Wilson.
Michael Wilson’s 10-hour Wikipedia existence
At 12:27 a.m. on June 30, 2008, a user going by “Ds981” created a Wikipedia entry for “Michael H. Wilson (Chief Executive Officer- New Frontier Corporation).” This was around the time that Wilson was touring and negotiating the Russo family’s Boston State Road properties, and, according to prosecutors, the beginning of Wilson’s allegedly fraudulent financial transactions. But it was well before anybody knew Wilson’s name in connection with the homes or his New Frontier business.
The Wikipedia entry cites Wilson as “an American born businesses entrepreneur, primarily known as the Chief Executive Officer of New Frontier Corporation, one of the largest privately owned corporation's (sic) in North America.” It claims New Frontier, “using several shell LLC’s (sic) to minimize exposure,” purchased Buffalo’s Tishman and Rand buildings. And a “Statler Rumors” sub-section suggests Wilson would purchase the Statler Towers from Bashar Issa (a similarly young and out-of-nowhere figure obsessed with buying big things in Buffalo who ultimately flamed out) and bring in The Wyndham Hotels chain as a tenant.
Less than an hour after Ds981 (potentially Wilson’s friend and business partner, David Smith) created the page, it was flagged for deletion for failing to establish the significance of Michael Wilson. Within ten hours, the page was affirmatively deleted, but exists on Deletionpedia, a site that automatically archives articles deleted from the collaborative encyclopedia.
George Possiodis’ empty online life
Perhaps the most interesting part of the allegations against Michael Wilson involves George Possiodis, an investment manager for New Frontier who signed papers, sent emails, angered customers, and appeared at an employee dinner—and didn’t actually exist, other than a voice Michael Wilson affected, according to prosecutors and people who worked for Wilson.
But George Possiodis did exist online, kind of. One George Possiodis registered a LinkedIn account with the title of “Investor Relations at NFT.” Possiodis never garnered any connections at all on LinkedIn (no small feat, that), not even to his fellow New Frontier partners.
Possiodis registered a similarly bereft account at DocStoc, a business-minded document viewing and sharing tool. David Smith, meanwhile, sought investors for New Frontier on the “Go Big Network”
Somebody registered ZodiakCapital.net on June 18, 2010. That was just about one year after the FBI raid on New Frontier’s offices and Michael Wilson’s mansion. It was two months after a brokerage account was opened in a Buffalo-area office for a “Zodiak Capital.” And the site was registered and posted less than a month before Zodiak Capital’s dealings with an investment client led to frozen bank accounts and federal charges against Michael Wilson’s brother, William Wallace Wilson, who allegedly worked under the name “William Wallace” and utilized his and Michael’s mother in much of the paperwork.
Here is Zodiak Capital’s website, as captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine in December 2010. None of the inside pages were captured; the site went offline when its registration expired in a year’s time. The central image is a bit of stock art, often found in searches for terms like “hedge fund trading”.
James Brown’s murdered son-in-law
It is very difficult to track down New Frontier’s clients. As noted in the main story and a sidebar on private investments, most of New Frontier’s transactions involved unregistered players, vaguely named holding companies, and investors not eager to see themselves associated with failed deals. But one all-but-confirmed investor maintained a rather high profile.
Darren Lumar, a notoriously showy and deeply indebted Atlanta businessman, was married to legendary singer James Brown’s daughter, and used that fact to further a high-wire lifestyle. Lumar was seemingly a principal with Community Diversity Corporation, along with other Texas-based investment ventures. On Oct. 10, 2008, Community Diversity Corporation wired $285,000 from a Wells Fargo in Texas to what it thought was Wilson’s attorney, which was then later re-sent to the escrow account for Wilson’s mansion purchase, according to court documents.
Lumar was murdered upon pulling into his garage on Nov. 6, 2008, shot five times by a hooded assailant. An Atlanta Magazine story details Lumar’s extravagant life and mysterious death. Lumar’s murder came less than one month after Community Diversity Corporation invested with New Frontier. It is, however, most likely just a gruesome coincidence. As stated in the Atlanta piece, “Darren Lumar had burned so many people that it was hard to tell which one of them might have arranged his death.”
Other principals from Community Diversity Group, and all but one of the other investors named in court documents, could not be reached for comment. The author of the Lumar profile, Thomas G Lake, wrote in an email exchange about the Community Diversity investment that “From all appearances … (Lumar) sounds like the same guy.”