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"He told me that it was just what he was looking for, that he could sell three a day at $6,000 a pop," says Noernberg. "Typically I don't take someone at his word, but he was so excited and urging us to go full-steam ahead. I figured I could take time doing the due diligence or strike on this while it's hot. Unfortunately, I chose the latter."
Noernberg would not do his homework for several more months. By then, he says, his playhouses filled half the space in the showroom, the store had yet to open, and he was quickly losing patience. When Wichman became obsessed with placing a Maserati in the showroom -- a move that would have further delayed the store's opening -- Noernberg reached his limit.
"He wanted the Maserati dealer in Chesterfield to give him a car to drive at no charge if he would display another one in the showroom," remembers Noernberg. "He said if they only gave him one car he'd drive it home every night and park it in the showroom in the morning. At that point I realized this guy is a total cuckoo bird, and I needed to look into his history."
(Graham Hill, co-owner of St. Louis Motorsports, confirms that Wichman tried to get the dealership to provide him with a Maserati last year but says he never seriously entertained the offer. "I was dumbfounded," Hill says. "I was like, 'Why would we show it in your store? We just finished building a dealership!'")
News that Wichman at the time had incorporated and dissolved seven businesses in Missouri hit Noernberg like a sucker punch.
"I felt sick to my stomach," says Noernberg. "I developed an entire product line for this guy. He got me hook, line and sinker."
Wichman says the dissolved businesses mean nothing.
"People do that when they're entrepreneurs," he says. "I've had a lot of businesses I've never done anything with. Incorporating a company just means you're setting up a shell."
For Noernberg, Wichman's track record was reason enough to leave. Within a few days of the discovery, he says, he arrived at the showroom with a tractor trailer and the escort of the Town & Country police. With the cops serving as referees, Noernberg says he packed up his items and left.
Since then Noernberg has set up a Web site (stlouisfunstuff.com) to try to unload the playhouses he built for Wichman. He says he also is planning to file a lawsuit against Wichman in the next several weeks.
Per usual, Wichman maintains he's the victim. He says Noernberg stole his ideas and relays a fantastical story of how Noernberg made vague threats against him.
"He sat me down in his office, took out a bottle of whiskey and said some of the most disturbing things you can imagine," says Wichman. "He said he stored weapons for the FBI in his warehouse because he had super clearance. He said he knew people, and if he wanted to destroy somebody, he could call a few people and get all kinds of damaging information and destroy them. He had ways of cleaning up his own record, so if they ever checked him out they wouldn't even question him. They would think he was sane. Last thing he said was he was good at manipulating cops and could get them to do anything he wanted them to do."
Noernberg says the story is patently untrue.
"My company has had contracts with the FBI and the Secret Service to pack and ship evidence," says Noernberg. "But the only threat I ever made against him was when I told him he's lucky I didn't bust him in his lip. And that threat I made right in front of the cops when I was packing my stuff and leaving."
On the morning of March 11, 2004, a few days after Noernberg moved out, the Town & Country police responded to an emergency call to Wichman's store. During the night vandals had broken out several windows and left the ominous message: "Go back where you came from."
Wichman maintains the threat was racially motivated and directed at an Asian sales associate working at the store. Noernberg, who was on vacation in Florida at the time, believes the message was directed squarely at Wichman.
As it turns out, Noernberg wasn't the only one with a beef against Wichman. Enter again the Amish, who may yet cause Wichman's greatest unraveling.
Virtually blacklisted from the Amish community in Arthur, Illinois, Wichman in 2004 turned his sights to Lancaster County, an Amish community of some 25,000 people in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"He seemed legit, but in hindsight there were red flags that flew up immediately," says Stolzfus, speaking in the heavy Dutch brogue typical of the region. "He talked about what a Christian he is. But a Christian shouldn't have to tell others what type of person he is. We're supposed to see that."