An Irish Bernie Madoff

Quinn's horse Grey Swallow won the Irish Derby

Before Bernie Madoff, there was Thomas F. Quinn.


Who was also known as Robert Dzigi, Pele Lechien, Tasos Douros, among other aliases quite exotic for an Irish kid from Brooklyn.

Back in November of 2009, just four months after the world famous Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, Thomas Quinn was spending time in Ireland. This was not unusual. Quinn, after all, owned a racing horse named Grey Swallow, which won the 2004 Irish Derby (pictured above). When he flew into JFK airport last November, federal authorities greeted Quinn.

They were charging him with crimes related to a telecommunications fraud ring which may have fattened Quinn’s bank account by as much as $50 million.

Believe it or not, for the 72 year-old Quinn, these charges were fairly minor. During a career that international authorities claim has spanned decades, conservative estimates suggest that Quinn has swindled people out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“During his swindling career, Mr. Quinn helped run a giant boiler-room operation out of a villa overlooking the French Riviera, had a champion racehorse and was alleged to have helped former financier Martin Frankel pull off one of history's largest insurance frauds,” The Wall Street Journal noted in a March report.

“U.S. authorities say he stole an estimated $500 million total.”

The Journal added that Quinn’s record “includes three SEC injunctions and two federal criminal convictions,” adding that a federal judge once called Quinn "incorrigible" and that his professional life appeared “to be devoted exclusively to securities fraud."

However, while Bernie Madoff caught the attention of the world and was sentenced to a century and a half in prison, Quinn, thus far, has remained out of the public eye. He has also served only about six years in prison.

Following his arrest after his trip to Ireland, Quinn was taken to a prison near Dallas where he is awaiting a trial which is slated to begin in February 2011.

Quinn could face up to 20 years in prison. Given his colorful career, it should not be surprising that Quinn has pleaded not guilty. Quinn’s life of (alleged) international crime is all the more astonishing given his humble blue collar Irish American upbringing. He grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s. “The only son of an Irish-American truck driver,” as The Wall Street Journal put it.

Quinn attended Catholic grammar schools and eventually moved onto St. John’s University. This is the same path an entire generation of outer-borough Irish Catholics used to become upwardly mobile lawyers, politicians or other movers and shakers. Quinn was clearly ambitious, not to mention accomplished.

So, whereas many of Quinn’s fellow Irish Americans would have moved onto careers with the New York City police or fire departments, Quinn seemed interested in something on a much more grand scale. Quinn was admitted to the New York bar in 1962.

Within a few years, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Securities and Exchange Commission was looking into Quinn’s investment schemes. By the 1980s, Quinn was wheeling and dealing from a posh French villa complete with a waterfall and view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Authorities allege he was selling worthless stocks to naïve investors.
By 1985, Forbes Magazine was reporting that Quinn “was behind a scam” which brought “worthless companies public” in the Unites States and sold shares to “Europeans who can be as transfixed as we are by the American dream.”

French authorities arrested Quinn in 1988. A year later, The Economist magazine dubbed Quinn “the billion dollar brain.” It seemed like the end of the ride for Quinn. A 1993 conviction, however, resulted in no additional jail time beyond the time he’d already spent in French prison. In the 1990s, Quinn’s name was once again was linked to various fraudulent schemes, including the notorious case of Martin Frankel, a Connecticut businessman who “ran one of the biggest insurance schemes in history,” according to the New York Times.

Now, again in prison and awaiting trial, authorities must be wondering if this, finally, is the end of the road for Thomas F. Quinn. It is not the first time people have believed this. Contact at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan.

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