By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By RFT Staff
By Keegan Hamilton
By Gavin Cleaver
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
A regular churchgoer, Weir used the cash to send his children to an expensive Christian school. He also spent large sums of the money he bilked from others on family cruises and ski trips to Canada. Then there were the home improvements, including a backyard pool and a kitchen remodel on his Town & Country dwelling, whose value exceeded $1 million.
Some of the loot he gave away freely, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Schelp, making so-called "Robin Hood payments" to friends and acquaintances he thought needed it.
Weir has pleaded guilty to one count of felony mail fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 22. He faces a prison term of six to eight years. At his court hearing, he said he suffered from depression and bipolar disorder.
Weir is an eccentric man, rife with contradictions. He has a brown belt in martial arts and is an avid collector of Nazi, Russian and North Korean memorabilia. He purloined millions from old friends, but could be quite generous with strangers. He was devoted to his family, but he also had affair with his high school sweetheart. From dozens of interviews and review of official documents, what emerges is a portrait of someone who, over the years, enjoyed a life that others often paid for.
And now the bill has come due.
"Don was one of the cheapest guys I've ever known," remembers Jim McKee, a classmate who ran cross-country with Weir at John Burroughs School in Ladue. "You'd go out and get a six-pack of beer, then you go through hell trying to get him to pay his 80 cents."
Weir, who declined to be interviewed for this story, grew up on Sherwood Drive, a well-heeled corner of Webster Groves. His father had risen to the rank of Army colonel in World War II, and later became a renowned radiologist at Saint Louis University. "There was a lot of pressure on Don to be a doctor, but he never seemed to be into it," says Jeff Fort, who met Weir in seventh grade at John Burroughs. "Don's dad was kind of harsh, and Don was the only son."
As an undergraduate at Creighton University, Weir abandoned pre-med and took a different path. After marrying Marguerite "Babe" Hill in 1975 and finishing graduate school at George Washington University, Weir got his first taste of the perks of the financial world.
Employed in Mercantile Bank's international department, he traveled often to Latin America in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "He bragged about the fact that he was representing Mercantile," says Fort. "He'd go to these countries with huge loan packages. They'd pick him up in limos and wine and dine him. He was like the gringo Santa Claus of Central America."
Weir then thrust himself into high-profile business dealings. In 1986 he and partner Jim Winkelmann created Longrow Securities, a relatively small firm. Ten years later they bought Huntleigh Securities Corporation, a reputable brokerage company three times the size of Longrow.
They moved their headquarters to 8000 Maryland Avenue, one of the most prominent structures in Clayton at the time, and had the words "Huntleigh Financial Center" emblazoned across the top of the building. "It was hot times in the old town when those two took over," recalls Juli Niemann, then a board member at Huntleigh.
According to Niemann, "WinkelWeir" — as the new owners were referred to within the firm — ushered in a "freewheeling, free-spending time" at Huntleigh, which until then had been conservatively run.
The partners created a subsidiary company called Moses.com. The goal was to develop an online platform where customers could manage their retirement plans and trade securities for a monthly subscription fee.
The idea attracted many boosters, including the burly Jeff Fort, whose grandfather cofounded Malt-O-Meal. Fort invested $50,000 in Moses and was hired in early 1999 to help out with operations and security. Fort says that as investors poured in money, Weir and Winkelmann transformed the seventh story of the building on Maryland into the "Moses floor" almost overnight. Nearly $2 million in computer hardware was purchased, and a team of software developers was brought in from out of state.
Fort claims Weir began to show signs of paranoia and was very concerned about security, demanding video surveillance of his basement parking spot, as well as biometric hand scanners to control access to Moses' operations.
"Don never told me about any specific threat," Fort says, though there was one exception: As Y2K approached, Weir asked Fort to collect estimates on emergency generators for the roof of the building. "I had an unlimited budget for security. No one ever asked me for bids." Fort maintains he was asked, however, to root through the trash of the public-relations firm that promoted Moses to see if they'd been over billing.
Meanwhile, the developers weren't achieving workable software. "They had all these clown programmers who were supposed to be the smartest kids on the block," Niemann says. "But when you went down there to the seventh floor, they were throwing spitballs. It was like one huge frat party."
In late 1999, according to Fort, staff members were notified that Moses was ready for its media rollout. "That was news to us in operations and development, because it didn't work," he says.