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"I can remember the exact moment. I'm in the back of the room watching them pop Champagne to toast this software that didn't exist," he continues. "For Don, it was all about raising the money and spending the money. That's all that mattered."
Weir rarely left his office, Fort continues, except to greet prospective investors. According to media reports at the time, the Moses project raised about $9 million from 165 parties — many of them private individuals who were clients of Huntleigh.
"That's what really hurt me," Fort says. "Don was preying on rural people, elderly people, people from his church. It got to the point where they'd ride up the elevator with Don, then ride down with me, and I'd say, 'Don't do it.'"
By early 2000 Moses had failed. A pair of investors took control of Huntleigh, and Winkelmann and Weir relocated their offices a few blocks away to their new company: HFI Securities, Inc.
On one occasion, Fort reveals, he wondered aloud to Weir whether Moses had been a fraudulent operation from the beginning. Weir responded that he cheated no one and, as a manager, had a right to make bad decisions.
"There's a fine line when you trust your money with someone," Fort says. "Did he make tactical mistakes, or were there other issues? I think he was just taking as much money out of there as he could."
During their heyday, the Don Weir clan lived in luxurious home in Town & Country, a six-bedroom brick house with four white pillars in front. Around back, their one-acre lot bordered the woods of Queeny Park.
They bought the house in 1999, the same year Weir began extolling the virtues of precious-metal coins to his clients. He offered to buy the coins and then hold them while they appreciated. And the clients — from Texas and Tennessee to Colorado, Michigan and Missouri — trusted him.
Over the next several years, some invested tens of thousands, others hundreds of thousands. A St. Louis-area client and close friend of Weir's had more than $1.1 million in coins added to her portfolio between 1999 and 2005. (She asked that her name not be included in this article.) One Tennessee couple, Mike and Sherri Miller, went so far as to sign up for nearly $4 million.
Bryan Schopp remembers accompanying Weir on New Year's Day 2006 to purchase a large metal safe. "Don never said why he wanted it," Schopp recalls. The following year Weir was warning of "gargantuan cracks" in the country's economic foundation and "impending trouble with the U.S. stock market." But Chinese precious-metal coins, he wrote to another Tennessee couple, Peter and Michelle York, were enjoying a "spectacular bull market."
He assured the Yorks that all coins purchased for clients were stored in a secure vault off Lindbergh Road. A safe-deposit box was designated for each client, Weir promised.
According to Albert Watkins, Jim Winkelmann's St. Louis-based attorney, Weir followed protocol with his coin trading. He registered it with financial authorities as an outside business activity unconnected to HFI. Yet Weir issued many clients coin-investment statements on HFI letterhead. He told the Yorks, for example, that their coins had appreciated by more than a quarter of a million dollars, effectively doubling in value.
Peter York is an executive at the Nashville-based EMI Christian Music Group, a record label whose artists include Amy Grant. "I thank the Lord," Weir wrote to him, "that you and Michelle granted me the leeway to dramatically reshape your entire portfolio."
In e-mails to other clients, Weir would sometimes conclude with the phrase, "In His Grip." According to Mike Kennison, associate pastor at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Creve Coeur, those words are understood among believers to mean, "I live under God's control and in His care."
Says Watkins: "The way Weir played on people's religious affinities was particularly distasteful."
Kennison says Weir and his family would often sit up in the balcony during Sunday church services. "He was very private and did not talk much to the other attendees," the pastor says, adding that Weir was active in his faith. He led Bible-study groups for high school students, through the church and on his own. He also donated money, Kennison says, to help the church's youth group go on missionary trips to Juárez, Mexico.
Don and Babe sent all five of their children, including two adopted from Russia, to Westminster Christian Academy in Creve Coeur, where yearly tuition now exceeds $11,000. Friends say the family planned a special vacation each time a child graduated from high school.
At the time, Weir was a regular at Scotsman Coin & Jewelry Buyers in Creve Coeur. The shop's owner, Jay Woodside, says Weir would stop in ten or twelve times a year, mostly to sell Chinese coins for several thousand dollars.
One day, Woodside set up a donation box near the shop's front door to collect funds for a friend who'd suffered an aneurysm. Weir was there and asked for details. Before leaving, Woodside says, Weir discreetly slipped a $500 check into the box.
On another occasion, Weir pulled the shop owner aside. He informed Woodside that another customer near the counter was using foul language and thought he should know about it. "I like Don quite a bit," Woodside says, denying any knowledge of where Weir was storing his coins. "He acted professionally at all times, and I could see how people trusted him. I did."