Editorials

I was a friend and victim of Rick Siskey. Should I have known?

Courtesy of Matt Olin

My family is caught up in the Rick Siskey Ponzi scheme. So last month, when there was a preview of the soon-to-be-auctioned merchandise at his Sharon Road mansion, I decided to attend.

In part, I was curious what it would feel like to browse the extravagant offerings of a fraud-funded marketplace – to wander from room to room, scanning the abundance of gaudy objects that we unwittingly helped this guy amass.

Already, I can hear some of you saying, “You should have known.” It’s ringing in my ears – loud enough that I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to write this piece. Seems as though I care about what you think of me.

Set aside the current financial chaos of my family being ensnared in such a case. Set aside the fact that we considered Rick a “friend” for three decades. Should I have snooped around for clues on those afternoons he would have me over to his garage(s), talking classic cars? Should I have sniffed an agenda when he would offer us his courtside Hornets seats to catch a game? Should I have questioned his motivations when he’d surprise me with a beautifully mounted news article about a new position I had accepted?

What do you think of me now? That I’m a bad judge of character? That I’m oblivious to the signs trotted out before me?

Heck, we miss signs all the time. Mere days before he’d end his own life, Rick invited my Dad over to somewhat awkwardly (and now, insinuatingly) regale him with an acoustic rendition of “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” – a song he had recently learned on the guitar. Throughout the private performance, the collectible model cars Dad had gifted him years ago sat behind him on a shelf. (BTW, during the auction preview, I spotted the model cars. Each one was tagged with its own lot number. I turned to Dad and quipped, “There they are; let’s buy them back at the auction tomorrow.” He laughed. Sort of.)

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Olin

Set it all aside. Should we have known? I imagine it might be easy for you to say “yes.”

But when friendship blends with business over the course of an adult life... when you have hits and misses, and quarterly reports seem to be in order… when legitimate investments mix with what now appear to have been fictional ones… when memory mingles with reality… it becomes increasingly difficult to truly know if we “should have known.”

Maybe clarity will come with time. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. Then again, it might be 2020 by the time we finally learn what was real, and what was not.

Until then, I’m becoming more present to our human preoccupation with how we think we’re perceived by others. I’m convinced that was a driving factor in Rick’s treachery. And while the rest of us may not be running multi-million-dollar Ponzi schemes, I think we all might have a touch of Rick in us – whether we’re staging Instagram photos from our got-it-so-good lives, or covering up our discontent with new clothes and cars, or dishing out inauthentic answers to a casual “How’re you doing?” If any of this is ringing true, we should take a deeper look.

But you know, in all those years, I never snooped. I didn’t sniff. I didn’t question. Last month, though, as I roamed rooms packed with bid-ready items, I decided to do it. Yup, I snooped.

More than 500 items ranging from a Bentley convertible to a 5-carat diamond ring were on the block Thursday as auctioneers sold off the former possessions of the late Rick Siskey, the Charlotte businessman accused of operating a long-running Ponzi

I slipped into an ornate wood-paneled study and found myself feverishly opening random drawers and doors. Maybe I was looking for the clues I had missed for so long. Maybe I was seeking evidence that his evildoing was as calculated as I now believe it was. My investigation was coming up empty until I opened a corner cabinet and made a discovery – seemingly, the only things in the entire house that weren’t tagged. Probably because no one knew they were there.

A stack of 45s.

I pulled them out and began to flip through. The titles struck me. “Low and Lonely,” by Don Gibson. “No In Between,” by Johnny Adams. “The Edge of a Dream,” by Minnie Riperton. “Lonely Lonely Man Am I,” by Jimmy Ruffin.

Suddenly, an imagined scene rushed into my head. It’s late at night, his family asleep upstairs, and Rick again drops the needle onto one of these worn-out ditties. Mid-song, it dawns on him: “For all the effort that I’ve put into controlling how the world sees me, I can’t fool myself. I know the truth.”

As for me? Sure, I still care about what you think of me, and I’d like to change that. I’m going to start by not reading the comments section.

But Rick probably will, wherever he is now. So, have at it.

Charles Ponzi didn’t invent his eponymous pyramid scheme — but he lent star power to one of the oldest scams in the book. He also believed that his plan could have become a legitimate business.

Matt Olin is producer and host of Creative Mornings/Charlotte. Email: mattolincreative@gmail.com

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