Swindle in Swanton, VT
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.”
Tatiana Bechard was working at a bank outside Burlington when she met John Byors. The Russian-born woman, vivacious with curly blonde hair, was coming off a traumatic divorce from her husband of more than 20 years. All her life she had scrimped and saved, hoping to build a comfortable cushion for retirement while raising two daughters, and now her divorce had left her feeling financially and emotionally unmoored.
It was the fall of 2003, and Bechard was the head teller at Charter One Bank in Williston. Byors, glued to his cell phone and casually dressed in shirts and baseball hats bearing his VMIG (Vermont Marble Investors Group) corporate logo, was one of her biggest accounts. That winter, after Bechard had left the bank to work for a software company, she ran into Byors at a restaurant, and he began talking to her about his marble business.