The Post-Standard from Syracuse, New York on May 21, 1961 · Page 53
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The Post-Standard from Syracuse, New York · Page 53

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Syracuse, New York
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Sunday, May 21, 1961
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Page 53
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This Week FROM THE FILES OF THE FBI Tlie suave con man persuaded tlie lady he was just back from Venus, with ** * · · ^ V * Invention worth millions. His story may sound cockeyed to you, but it -was $6O,OOO to nim.-- before the FBI caught up By J. EDGAR HOOVER WASHINGTON, D.C. T he successful crime of a confidence raan depends on convincing his victims that huge profits will flow only if strictest secrecy is maintained. There is always a reason. In the case of Harold J. Berney and his "Venus swindle" it was that, in addition to executives of a highly respected manufacturing corporation, only the White House and a few top government officials knew of Berney'$ association with the planet Venus. Until a duplicate of the priceless Venutian ' 'Modulator" jcould be * milt in Pittsburgh, no word must leak of the negotiations. An investment -now would literally rocket spaceward once the technological marvel was in production. tions were sent on March 2 to FBI field offices in Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore, Portland and New ^^. ^ Orleans, all areas where Berney had operated. They alerted these offices that Berney was back in business again. Then we returned to more interviewing of Pauline Eva Bock. The story she unfolded maki one of the weirdest cases in FBI files. Y O U C A N ' T B U R Y T H E T R U T H ! No flights to Venu* * * The FBI learned of this interplanetary fraud on February 28, 1957, when the Washington Metropolitan Police -told us they had been investigating a swindle perpetrated by an ex-convict named Berney. It appeared that he had violated a Federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation of stolen property valued at $5,000 or more, and this brought the FBI into the case. In fact, Berney had.swindled a Washington woman I shall call by the fictitious name of Pauline Eva Bock of almost $40,000. In the course of this confidence game he had * certainly traveled extensively, though we placed no stock in those two adventurous flights to Venus! Miss Bock was first interviewed by the FBI on Saturday, March 2. She identified photographs of Harold Jesse Berney as the man with whom she had been doing business. But she had not seen Berney since , October 5, 1956, when he left Washington for Pittsburgh where, so he told her, the.Westing, house Corporation was at last prepared to concentrate on building the Modulator. Of course, Berney was never in touch with any official at Westinghouse, a fact Miss Bock could easily have "discovered by a call to the corporation's offices. But she was sworn to secrecy and she had confidence in the swindler, in spite of his silence for five full months. r Based on this first interview and other angles swiftly uncovered by the investigation, commumca- The FBI expects a tall story when it investigates a confidence game. But despite the awesome claims of the con man described in this article, we did not feel that it would be necessary to send any agents into outer space. A massive, swiftly launched investigation quickly ran this alleged interplanetary traveler to earth--and disclosed a fairly commonplace background for so imaginative a swindler---embezzling, bad-check writing, fraudulent-securities selling, and three prison terms. The saddest fact about the case is that a simple i. inquiry by his victims would* have disclosed Harold Berney's criminal record. But the Washington woman who invested nearly $40,000 in his preposterous scheme, and the Delaware couple whom he bilked of $22,000, respected his repeated warnings of the importance of secrecy. To any trusting citizen approached by a persuasive stranger with a get- rich-quick scheme, I recommend pondering .the case of "The Swindler From Outer Space/ 9 U Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation television antenna. This was. apparently an honest enough- enterprise, and Berney induced Miss Bock to put $500 in the. business. The following March, he formed the Telewand Corporation under Delaware law to manufacture and sell antennae, television, radio and electronic equipment* Miss Bock was made secretary and treasurer of both these corporations, though she performed no duties. Berney was married and had .two children. Miss Bock met the wife and knew the family planned to vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Del. the following summer of 1953. Our investigation disclosed that Berney turned the vacation into a profitable business trip as well. That summer Berney tried out the plan he was to develop in colorful detail later for Miss Bock's ears alone. To a Rehoboth Beach couple, he described the patent he held on a "box unit ' which manufactures its own power by drawing energy from the atmosphere." He said, "Westinghouse is going to buy the invention. If you invest now, you'll triple your money 1 Berney quickly charmed the couple into giving him $10,000 in cash; $10,000 more was raised by mortgaging their business. The following January they gave him another $2,000 "to help mee v t business expenses, 9 ' with Berney promising he would quickly repay the money.. The Rehoboth Beach pair saw Berney for the last time in the summer of 1956. He still had their §22,000. ·· It began in the fall of 1952, when Miss Bock first met Berney. Berney was 54 at the time, five feet eight, a -slender man with hazel eyes and gray hair. By trade, he was a sign painter, but he was more of an artist than this would indicate. After he came to Washington on his release in 1949 from an embezzlement conviction in Florida,. he was engaged to paint a bank mural in nearby Maryland. But Berney was not-working, as : a sign painter .or an artist when Miss JBock met him. JEehad recently Flight of fancy By the fall of 1954 Berney needed money again, and his vivid imagination really took flight. Soon he began revealing confidentially that he was on friendly terms with the rulers of Venus. Berney fed out the story in bits and pieces over the winter of 1954-55 to Miss Bock. And by the spring of 1955 he was ready to set in motion the big Venus swindle. Now .he revealed to his eager listener that when he JeffrWashsngtoB the previous.January~he had made a secTfiftFipTo H6ustonVTexa^7iac6mpanywith a group of: Westinghouse.officials; "In-Houston-they had met formed -the. Abexney. Corporaticn-tO-taanufacture a-^.:.two.men-wiiaconducted.them-to ajnilitary air base. 8 THIS WEEK Mogozioe/Moy 21, 1961

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