Kenny Boys Long Con
All along Ive been thinking I had heard this stuff somewhere before,
but the where didnt click into focus until I came across
Carol Elkins story the other day.
Ms. Elkin, an energy analyst at Enron for five years, told News Channel 2 in
Houston that she was regularly assigned to make a show of working on a fake
trading floor set up at headquarters.
It was an elaborate Hollywood production that we went through every year
when the analysts were going to be there to impress them to make our stock go
up, she said.
They would build out the sixth floor of 1000 Smith in what I called a
Hollywood set ... with big, 36-inch flat panel screens and the teleconference
They would ask us to go alternately, in like hour shifts, down to the
sixth floor and sit and pretend that we lived and worked there.
The amateur cast was instructed to look busy while the rubes just in from
Wall Street were paraded through. No trading occurred, however. The Enron
people on the phones were just talking to each other.
It was the Big Store con all over again, something I
had first come across in the seminal work in the field, Yellow Kid Weil:
the Autobiography of Americas
The Yellow Kid, born in Chicago in 1877, didnt invent the Big Store,
which was an extension of the older Long Con. But he brought to its fullest
flower during the bull market that ended in 1929.
In the first stage of the Big Store con, the roper befriends the
mark and lets him in on a sure-fire insiders scheme for making
big bucks in the market.
Then the roper takes his man to the Big Store, a busy brokerage. Professor
David W. Maurers 1974 book, The Confidence Man, describes the scene:
Conservative, substantial-looking businessmen, brokers with cigarettes
always alight, financiers, all buy and sell stocks and securities in very
large blocks ... It is a first-rate replica of a brokers office, with the
staff of brokers, board-markers, clerks, etc., and with tickers and
stock-board rapidly reflecting the ups and downs of leading issues. Mr.
Savage does not realize that the entire setup is fake, or that all the
customers are shills, carefully made up and instructed in their parts.
When Mr. Savage shows up the next day to collect his winnings, he finds
nothing but an empty suite of rooms. The Big Store has vaporized, along with
the cash he had invested in a sure thing.
Despite the similarities, though, there is a significant difference between
Kenny Boys Big Store and the Yellow Kid Weils.
I was particular, Mr. Weil wrote in his 1948 autobiography. I
took money only from those who could afford it and were willing to go in with
me in schemes they fancied would fleece others.
The Yellow Kids theory was that anybody crooked enough to go into
business with somebody like him should go on trial alongside the con man
and be subject to the same punishment.
Unhappily the Kids notion had no legs. Like celibacy programs, Just Say
No and the Golden Rule, it looked good on paper but never really caught on.