Then Michel's own paycheck bounced. "I wanted it to work out so badly," Michel says. "I told myself, 'He's going to pay me back.'" Then the paychecks of other staffers bounced, too. Refusing to lose faith, Michel used his personal funds to stanch some of the bleeding.

"My credit-card debt was going through the ceiling," he says. "I had contributors breathing down my neck. Everything was dangling by a thread."

Then, on May 17, 2011, Michel woke up to smoke wafting into his bedroom and flames licking the ceiling. He survived unscathed, but the freak fire that burned down his home rattled him.

Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Steve Truesdell
Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.
Steve Truesdell
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.

"I wondered, 'If Matt is not paying my paychecks, what else isn't he paying?'" Michel phoned his health-insurance carrier. He says he learned that he'd lost coverage months earlier.

Mathison admits that there was "a small gap" in coverage for Michel.

"The fire was the world's biggest reality check,'" says Michel. "I needed to get my life together. I thought, 'Where has all this money gone?"

Investor Richard Riney was wondering the same thing. The previous fall he'd given Mathison around $100,000 to acquire GolfBuzz, a social-media platform that could host online content for magazines such as Avid. Mathison told the investor the deal was basically sealed. However, by the spring of 2011, Mathison had nothing to show for it.

In mid-April of that year, Riney demanded all documentation relating to GolfBuzz.

According to court records, Mathison first offered Riney only a "series of lies and half-truths" for not having it. He finally admitted that the "deal" had "fallen through," and agreed to return the money. But each time they scheduled to meet up at Riney's bank, Mathison failed to show or canceled at the last minute.

Riney accused Mathison of trying to obtain credit in Riney's name without his knowledge or consent. Mathison hit back by changing the locks on the office doors and locking Riney out of the computer system.

Finally, the investor gave Mathison a hard and fast deadline of April 29, 2011, to return the GolfBuzz investment. When Mathison missed that deadline, Riney hired attorney Chris McDonough to file a temporary restraining order to shut down the magazine and demand a full accounting of Avid's finances.

If only it were that simple. The process server tried multiple times to serve a summons at Mathison's residence, then wrote to the court: "Defendant / his adult family member refused to open the door."

Riney was shut out — for the moment.

Matt Mathison got his first look at a publisher's lifestyle while living in Dallas in the mid-2000s. At the time, he was spending a lot of time swinging clubs on the manicured greens of the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas — home of the HP Byron Nelson Championship, a stop on the PGA tour. There he came to admire fellow member Craig Rosengarden.

Rosengarden owned the AvidGolfer magazine chain that had branched out from Dallas to establish sister publications in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Colorado.

One day Mathison approached him about opening up shop in Atlanta, where he'd spent part of his childhood. Rosengarden liked the idea. The publisher says he offered to provide the new magazine's content as long as Mathison sold ads and kicked in some start-up capital. So Mathison gathered funds from other club members and headed east.

The Georgia incarnation of AvidGolfer debuted in March 2006 at a launch party north of downtown Atlanta. Some five hundred well-wishers attended. Rosengarden says his partner swore the gala wouldn't cost a dime. Yet within a month Rosengarden says he was opening bills from the restaurant that hosted the event, from Heineken (which provided beer) and from the PR company that organized it. Combined, these bills ran into the thousands, he says.

Then Rosengarden examined the magazine's bank account. He noticed that the company had paid for Mathison to hire a dog-sitter and get his house cleaned.

Mathison says today he doesn't recall any misunderstandings about the launch party, or about his personal expenses being covered by the company. "All I can say about it is that the relationship didn't work out."

After only a few printed issues, Rosengarden decided to sever all ties to Mathison. But soon the publisher's phone started ringing. Other club members told him they'd lent Mathison money and couldn't get it back.

One of these golfers was David Pfaff. Pfaff had put $100,000 into AvidGolfer in Atlanta, and Mathison had signed a promissory note to repay him. However, according to a lawsuit Pfaff filed, Mathison failed to deliver over and over, despite "repeated promises" and a "myriad of excuses."

Eventually, a mutual friend of Mathison and Pfaff agreed to lend Mathison $100,000 to make Pfaff whole. Mathison took the money but never paid off Pfaff — nor repaid the mutual friend. Pfaff won a default judgment against Mathison for the full amount, but has yet to collect anything.

"We've all lost money in business," Pfaff tells Riverfront Times. "Not every project turns out rosy. But you just feel violated by this guy, because the lies don't stop."

Mark A. Du Pont, a real-estate developer in California, tells a similar story. He, too, met Mathison on a Dallas golf course and invested in his Atlanta edition of AvidGolfer.

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