Swindle in Swanton, VT
Byors said he’d traveled in China and Saudi Arabia cutting deals, and that Swanton was the only place in the world that possessed this grade of marble — that it was prized not only for its color but for its hardness and durability, “almost gem-like.” Later, he agreed to buy land in the town’s industrial park for his marble museum, and maybe a hotel, too. He even contacted the Discovery Channel about producing a documentary on the history of the marble industry.
“It sounded quite grandiose and aggressive for Swanton, but we had a responsibility to pursue it, to do what we could to maximize the town’s tax base,” says Thompson. “It seemed too good to be true. I thought, ‘Wow! This could put Swanton on the map.”‘
Much of the Marble Man’s past is shrouded in mystery, but this much is known: He said he came from Massachusetts — from Marblehead, of all places. He said that his father and his grandfather were in the construction business on the North Shore. He worked for a time in the family business, specializing in ductwork, but he didn’t get along with his father and struck out on his own.
In the early 1980s, when he was in his mid-twenties, Byors was a student at a carving studio in Proctor, Vermont, a hub of the marble industry. In the early 1990s, he was a hair stylist, with a salon in Swampscott, Massachusetts, with his own line of hair-care products that he peddled to area salons.
“John had a lot of artistic ability,” recalls Frank Macrina, a Salem hair stylist. “He had marble busts that he had sculpted for sale in his salon.”
Byors eventually gave up his hair-products business, and “disappeared,” says Macrina. About eight years later, in 2000, Byors reappeared and announced that he owned a quarry in Vermont.
“He asked me if I knew anybody who was interested in doubling their money,” Macrina recalls.
Macrina introduced Byors to a friend, Mark Pasquale, who owns Halftime Pizza, a bustling restaurant in Boston, across from the TD Banknorth Garden. Pasquale loaned Byors $50,000.
Byors based his business in the heart of downtown Burlington, Vermont. He also ran an art gallery and rented an office upstairs and a marble showroom in suburban Williston. Byors told Pasquale that the money wasn’t just in the blocks quarried for decorative use in elegant homes and fancy buildings, but in the marble waste left behind. The smaller stones could be ground into dust in crushing plants and used in molds to make columns, table legs, fireplace mantels, and other objects.
Any skepticism about who would spend money on expensive marble evaporated when Byors uttered the magic word: Dubai. The wealthy Arab enclave was in the midst of an extravagant building boom, carving whole cities and playgrounds for the rich from the desert. Opulent hotels, skyscrapers, condos, and palaces were going up, and there was an insatiable appetite for marble. Byors would return from trips to Dubai with stories about meeting princes and attending horse races.
About a year later, Pasquale and Macrina took a ride up to Swanton, in a freak autumn snowstorm, to look over Pasquale’s investment. Byors showed him the workers cutting the marble, the crusher turning the excess marble into dust. Pasquale noticed that Byors’s cell phone kept ringing, and that he’d often check the number and not answer. But he was a busy man, and Pasquale was so impressed with the operation, and the volume of stone that was being quarried, that he rolled over his $50,000 investment.
“You’d walk by the rock, uncut, unfinished, but think, ‘Here’s a solid investment,”‘ says Pasquale. “He talked about meeting us on an island, having cocktails, playing golf.”
One time, frustrated that he wasn’t being paid faster, Pasquale screamed at Byors when he found out that he’d bought a $90,000 Land Rover. Eventually, Byors repaid Pasquale’s $50,000, then borrowed another $125,000 and made Pasquale a partner in his expanding empire. Byors said he faced such a high demand for stone that he was going to buy a second quarry in Canada, and still another one in Oklahoma, where, Byors said, the outlaw Jesse James had buried some of his loot.
“One time I said to him, ‘John, you’re buying quarries, doing all these things, can we settle on a price [for my investment]?'” Pasquale recalls. “He said, ‘What do you think is fair?’ I said, ‘You tell me. I feel guilty — you’re doing all the work.’ He said, ‘Three million.’ I said, ‘Fine.’
“Then I asked, ‘You’re so generous — what are you going to be making?’ And he said, ‘Twenty, thirty times that.’ That’s what I wanted to hear.”