Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Crime story: Toledo's 1983 brokerage fraud inspires new thriller

A massive brokerage fraud in Toledo a quarter-century ago helped to inspire a new novel, Armageddon Conspiracy, by John Thompson (Harbor House, 288 pages, $24.95).

Mr. Thompson, a Toledo native, says the collapse of Toledo's Bell & Beckwith brokerage in 1983 - because of a $47 million embezzlement - helped him formulate some of the plot of his book, published this fall.

His father, the late John E. Thompson, was one of seven partners of the ill-fated brokerage who were bankrupted by the fraud committed by Edward P. "Ted" Wolfram, Jr., who served 10 years of a 25-year federal prison sentence.

But more than anything else, his father's death in 1991 at the age of 66, shortly after retirement, "was a lesson," said Mr. Thompson, 58, who now lives in Charleston, S.C., after his own retirement as a Wall Street sales executive. "I said to myself, 'Boy, if I'm ever going to [write a book], I'd better do it now.' "

His novel is a fast-paced story of international intrigue, smuggled handheld nuclear missiles, and a plot by terrorists to kill the president of the United States.

The hero of the story, Brent Lucas, is an undercover agent working for a large Wall Street brokerage whose accounts include $850 million invested by an Egyptian peace advocate, who is murdered. The money is diverted to Muslim terrorist organizations and Lucas is framed to take the blame for the theft and for several murders committed by leaders of a fundamentalist Christian sect, one of whom heads the brokerage Lucas works for.

Largely, the book's title and theme were inspired by a 60 Minutes TV segment about the leader of a radical Christian group, "who looked like an average grandfather, calmly explaining that he wanted to [help perpetuate] strife in the Mideast to hasten the coming of Armageddon," said Mr. Thompson.

He recalls that the man's reasoning was: "If we have peace in the Mideast, Jesus won't come back."

Mr. Thompson soaked up lots of Wall Street lore in his job as a mortgage and sales administrator for Salomon Brothers (now part of Citigroup).

But he also learned a lot from his father's experience at Bell & Beckwith.

"For my father, Bell & Beckwith was a personal devastation," Mr. Thompson said. "He lost more than $1 million. He lost about everything he worked for all of his life." And, he added, even after the brokerage collapse, his father, who went on to work for another brokerage, "was constantly being called in to meet with the bankruptcy attorney and to produce reports. He was watching his life being disassembled."

He said his the elder Mr. Thompson was dogged by "the feeling of how did he let this happen, why didn't he see it coming?"

The younger Mr. Thompson attended Ottawa Hills schools until his sophomore year in high school. He finished his education at a boarding school in Massachusetts and at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he studied English literature. His honors thesis was his own book of poetry.

"I wanted to write," said Mr. Thompson. "My intention always was to find a way to write." So, when he left Salomon Brothers more than a decade ago, he began writing fiction in earnest. He said his latest effort took just over a year to produce.

Sales are going well, after several favorable reviews, he said, and the first edition by Harbor House, in Savannah, is sold out. A second edition is to be published by Joggling Board Press, of Charleston, in January. And he is working on a sequel, The Hong Kong Deception.

Mr. Thompson, his wife Julia, and a daughter also have a mountain home in Hawley, Pa. "It's a getaway, and old hunting and fishing club," he said.

He is currently on a national book tour and hopes to have several book signings in the Toledo area next month.

Contact Homer Brickey at: homerbrickey@

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