Tag Archives: michael van der merwe

Article VII: On the Ground in Africa: Not Much Better by Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and social venture lawyer

Article VII:  On the Ground in Africa:  Not Much Better.

By:  Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and Social Venture Lawyer

July 17, 2012

 

With social venture projects in Africa, there is generally a team of social venture partners on the ground who are responsible for managing the project and the day-to-day operations.  For example, I’m currently working with an organic farmer in community farming projects in Africa, where there is a local non-profit organization with six full-time workers (providing free seeds and education to the local community), a for-profit farm manager (providing oversight and management to the community farmers) and the local community providing land and workers.  These are the project managers and workers who run the project on the ground.  Every organization, including the United Nations, USAID and the World Bank work with local partners on projects in Africa.[1]

 

With the initial farming social venture, the mining project and the tourism project, our local project manager was Michael van der Merwe and his brother, Pieter van der Merwe.  Whenever funding is needed on the ground in Africa for the social venture projects, there is a team of people who become financial partners and others who generally work on the projects.  In our projects, the funding partners were part of limited liability companies in the United States or a United States non-profit corporation.  The funding project company was managed by Pure Africa and funds were loaned to the social venture project in South Africa.  Those loan funds were then managed by the social venture project manager and invested into the project or used to pay project fees and expenses.  Finally, the financial partners would receive loan documentation and social venture project ownership for their loan to the social venture project or, in the case of funding provided by a US non-profit corporation, like Earth Conservancy, the funding was sent in the form of a grant.

 

The loan funds would then be under the control of the local social venture project manager, who had the responsibility of managing those funds to complete the projects and then repay the loan.  At Hole in the Wall and on the Wild Coast of South Africa, our local partner was Bossie Bosman, who was one of the founders of the social venture work at Hole in the Wall and other projects.  Like with Michael van der Merwe, funding for the Hole in the Wall project was generally wired from the United States to Bossie Bosman, who had responsibility of managing those funds, completing the project and repaying the loan.

 

Although we had sent considerable funding to Michael van der Merwe to secure rights to the three projects and to conduct due diligence, purchase reclamation bonding for the mining project and scoping and other costs, the Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund and Pure Africa along with our nonprofit social venture partner, Earth Conservancy, did not want to do any projects with Michael van der Merwe.  There was a lack of business reporting, a lack of accounting and most of all, Michael van der Merwe maintained close ties with Wextrust Capital.  As stated before, a private investigation report was later ordered for Michael van der Merwe, which confirmed that he was not a man to trust[2] as he owned seven or more luxury homes in Pretoria, Waterkloof, Waterkloof Ridge, Midrand and East London, an office building in Midrand, a dozen or more luxury automobiles, motorcycles and other toys and his brother, Pieter, built a 20,000 square foot mansion.  This list doesn’t include the assets, which were given to the girlfriends of van der Merwe and Shereshevsky.  The Fund and Pure Africa did not want to risk any further involvement with Michael van der Merwe.  Despite his claims of profitability and viability of these projects, the decision was made to drop them and it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan capital sent to him that will likely never be recovered.

 

In 2009, after a lengthy private investigation to locate loan funds sent to Michael van der Merwe on behalf of our financial partners, my brother and I confronted Michael van der Merwe at his luxury oceanfront home in East London, South Africa.  I asked Michael van der Merwe,
“what did you do with our financial partner’s loan capital and my money?”  A nervous van der Merwe said, “I am in the process of selling the tourism project and I will repay all of your loan money to you and your financial partners.”  In blaming Wextrust Capital, he said, “Joe [Shereshevsky] was a thief and we all lost money.”  When asked directly about his luxury cars, luxury homes and his brother’s mansion that were all paid for with cash, he said that he “bought them with money given to him by Joe Shereshevsky and Wextrust Capital.”  With promises of repayment from van der Merwe, we left after an hour-long meeting.  Of course, we all waited for years for a promised repayment from Michael van der Merwe that never came.  Naturally, when I was asked by our financial partners about the repayment of our loans, I could only pass along what van der Merwe told us many times:  that the projects were being sold and that he would repay all of loan money to us.  This – we found out – was one of many lies told to us by Michael van der Merwe and his brother – Pieter.  The fact is – they stole the loan money of our financial partners (and of Wextrust Capital’s investors) and used it to buy an estimated ten million dollars of luxury homes, cars and other items for cash.[3]

 

Again, this was another significant negative action that made us change our entire business strategy and move on to other projects.  Thus, Hole in the Wall and the Wild Coast projects became our principle focus.[4]

 

The Fund managers, Rick, Lou and John, along with Pure Africa, wanted to have someone “on the ground” in Africa and since my brother, Steve, has a passion for missions work, I suggested that he go to Africa to watch over the developments.   Steve traveled to Africa in the summer of 2006 with promises of an annual salary plus living expenses.  With all of the interruptions, bizarre and criminal conduct and the aggressive bad press campaign, it was very difficult to locate funding partners.  Everyone was turned off by the negative press campaign.

 

One of the first issues Steve encountered was with our local social venture project manager, Bossie Bosman.  Shortly after arriving in South Africa, Steve soon discovered that Bossie Bosman has misappropriated funds designated for the Hole in the Wall project to buy a new Landrover LR3 for cash in his personal name at a cost of $100,000 – a devastating blow – as the funds that he misappropriated were supposed to be used to pay the contractual wages for the local community workers, for my brother and the project managers.[5]  It was six months worth of budgeted expenses stolen by Bosman to purchase a Landrover for himself.  Ultimately, Bossie Bosman was reported to the police in South Africa and he was voted off the Board of Directors of the social venture project.[6]  Angry, Bossie Bosman then became the ally of Dr. Batte and Dr. Stiner and they corresponding regularly in their bad press campaign and coup attempt, which commenced in April, 2007.

 

 

The beautiful oceanfront and riverfront project at Mdumbi Bay

 

As our projects on the Wild Coast were moving closer to launching, they had great potential and we received many assurances that the Hole in the Wall and Mdumbi Bay projects would lease out in quickly.  This meant millions of potential dollars of revenue for the social venture projects and for the local community.  With these funds, all investors could be repaid and the local community would receive a large windfall of profits that they could use to build schools, medical clinics and other needed facilities.

 

However, despite great potential projects, the intentional damage and interference by Batte, Stiner, Bosman and others killed the project at Mdumbi Bay (see photo above).  In June, 2007, the project at Mdumbi Bay was ready to commence marketing by Fresh Properties in East London, South Africa.[7]  There were multiple meetings and conference calls between the marketing company, the financial partners and Pure Africa.  The project would entail the long-term lease of 46 home sites and a small tourism lodge.  On or about June 14, 2007, Fresh Properties set a meeting to discuss the current status of the Mdumbi Bay Marketing Plan.  In this correspondence, Mark Trow of Fresh Properties lists “definite potential cash buyers” for 39 of the 46 lots, with names of the buyers listed next to the lot they had chosen, which represented over $6 million in social venture project revenue.[8]  However, several anonymous phone calls were made to the South African government claiming that we were trying to “sell” the land instead of “lease” the land to potential buyers.  This immediately stopped the marketing effort and in November, 2007, we switched real estate sale companies to Sotheby’s International Realty.  Once again, we were so close to a social venture project success before the proverbial rug was pulled out from under us by Bossie Bosman, Batte and others.[9]

 

Bosman, Batte, Stiner and others then began to utilize the blog of Jeff Brown, a hotel owner and opponent of any development (other than his) at Hole in the Wall.  Jeff Brown told my brother that he will do anything he can to stop the development at Hole in the Wall and he became the bulletin board for all of the aggressive bad press, libel, slander and false information against the social venture projects and me.  They coordinated with Jeff Brown because he could post all of their information anonymously and he has sent it by automatically generated email to our investors, donors and the general public to discredit the social venture projects and me.  They have even utilized the blog to post supposed messages from my children and others – of course – all anonymously.  The unfortunate consequence of the Internet is that it is practically impossible to stop someone overseas from posting false and defamatory articles about you.

 

Hole in the Wall was another social venture project with great potential.  Our professional team provided great endorsements of the project.  On May 6, 2008, Lofty Nel, a Principal with the firm of Sotheby’s International Realty provided a letter to the project, which reads:

“Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty are extremely proud and honoured to be granted the exclusive mandate to market Pure Africa Development LLC Hole in the Wall project on the Wild Coast in South Africa.  Marketing of the project has commenced by word of mouth with the official launch of the project scheduled for the end of May, 2008.

 

The development comprises 51 Ocean front homes in a gated estate at the Hole in the Wall, a national landmark in South Africa.  Earth Conservancy have also been appointed to manage approximately 5000 acres of pristine land adjacent to the project as part of a conservancy.  This will ensure that the amazing views and natural beauty of Hole in the Wall will remain intact for guests and owners at the Hole in the Wall development.”[10]

 

The 51 lots were priced for long term lease at an average price of $120,000 for a total projected revenue to the social venture project of $6 million.  The project was on the verge of success.

 

 

On September 1, 2008, Russell Linde, South African real estate attorney of the law firm of Smith Tabata provided Dinning and Pure Africa, LLC with a legal opinion letter which states:

“We act on behalf of the aforesaid Pure Africa, LLC as majority shareholder of Incopho Wild Coast Development Projects (Pty) Ltd.  Incopho, in turn, is the majority shareholder of the project company, The Reserve at Hole in the Wall (Pty) Ltd.  Our firm has represented The Reserve at Hole in the Wall project on behalf of Pure Africa since 2007 as legal counsel.  We also assisted in the referral of the project auditor, Charteris &  Barnes, auditors.

Based upon a review of the documentation, The Reserve at Hole in the Wall is an oceanfront and oceanview real estate development consisting of 50 stands and a small hotel.  The Reserve at Hole in the Wall is being marketed by Lofty Nel of Sotheby’s International Realty in East London, South Africa.

The original documentation for this project dates back to September, 2004.  For this letter, I have reviewed the following:

The Final Scoping Report dated September, 2004;

The Review of Documents relating to proposed Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall developments by East Cape Development Corporation and the Development Bank of South  Africa;

The Ground Lease by and between the Kwa Tshezi Community and Earth Conservancy dated February 6, 2006;

The Lease Agreement between The Government of the Republic of South Africa through the Department of Land Affairs, the Kwa Tshezi Community and Incopho dated February 2, 2006;

The Record of Decision from the Department of Affairs, Environment and Tourism dated August 10, 2005 authorizing Incopho “to construct 50 single storey chalets, a central restaurant, a curio shop and amenities and association infrastructure at Hole in the Wall, KSD Municipal Area.

The Lease Agreement between The Government of the Republic of South Africa through the Department of Land Affairs, the Kwa Tshezi Community and Incopho dated June 21, 2008 which is a 30 year renewable lease at the option of Incopho for up to 90 years and continuing thereafter.

It is also my understanding that Title Deed to the land comprising the Hole in the Wall development is forthcoming to the Community in the next 6 months or longer from the Government of South Africa and the Department of Land Affairs.

Based upon a review of this documentation, Incopho has a valid lease with the Government of South Africa and the Kwa Tshezi Community for up to 90 years or more.  Under South African law, Incopho through The Reserve at Hole in the Wall (Pty) Ltd. can sublease the 50 stands to interested sublessees for rental payments over the term of the lease or the rent and lease may be prepaid.  It is my understanding that sublessees can “purchase” or sublease one or more of the 50 stands for an up-front payment of rent or with 10% downpayment of rent and the balance of the rent payments over 10 years at 12% interest.

It is my understanding that Sotheby’s International Realty will be acting as estate agent in the “sale” of the 50 subleased stands to the general public.  A separate company,  Villager Homes, will be constructing homes on the 50 subleased stands under separate written agreement between Villager Homes and the stand “purchasers” or sublessees.

Finally, when Title Deed is ultimately vested with the Kwa Tshezi Community, it is planned that the 50 stand sublessees may have the opportunity to convert their lease to Title Deed ownership of their stand.”[11]

 

By June 2008, all architectural designs, engineering, lot layout, utilities and infrastructure plans were completed and a contract to install all utilities, roads and services to The Reserve at Hole in the Wall were completed.  These steps made it possible for marketing of long term leases for the 51 lots by Sotheby’s International Realty.

 

In May, 2008, Sotheby’s began to issue marketing materials for Hole in the Wall and in September, 2008, Hole in the Wall was listed as a “hot property” in Conde Nast Home in South Africa and Media Press Releases were issued.  Sotheby’s also went to great expense to create glossy brochures to begin marketing and they also launched a marketing website for the Hole in the Wall project.

 

Then, the aggressive bad press campaign team started their bad press campaign in South Africa. This was the most difficult interference that resulted from the aggressive bad press campaign was the anonymous phone calls from this coordinated group to our real estate professional team.  At the launch of the Hole in the Wall project and then at the second marketing launch of the project at Mdumbi Bay, Sotheby’s International Realty received several anonymous phone calls from Virginia in the United States and from one or more individuals in South Africa stating that the projects were false, that they did not exist and that I was not someone to be trusted.  The callers also threatened to take the matter to the newspapers to discredit Sotheby’s and the social venture projects.  In discussions with Sotheby’s, we were told that a new development, especially a social venture development, is a delicate matter and you only want positive information for the general public to view when seeking to spend money on a new oceanfront resort.  The decision was made to halt the marketing campaigns and try to regroup under a new development company.[12]  This interference also cost us R25,000,000 or $4M from The Development Bank of South Africa.[13]

 

When another marketing project called The Wild Coast Explorer Club was preparing to launch in the Fall of 2009, similar anonymous phone calls were made to Pam Golding Properties, the real estate company handling the development and launch of this new project.  The callers again threatened to take the matter to the newspapers and to tarnish the name of Pam Golding Properties if they continued to represent the project.[14]  Sadly, again, this malicious, bad press campaign had succeeded in stopping a very promising project.  The Wild Coast Explorer Club had received endorsements from our law firm, accounting firm, real estate professionals, home builders and many others but marketing a new project cannot stand up to bad press – even if it is false.[15]

 

Each time a project was halted by the malicious and negative actions of Batte and his coordinated bad press campaign, we had to stop everything and try to work on a new project that hadn’t yet been attacked by this group.  However, each time the task grew harder and everyone on the social venture team was tired of the negative attacks and the disappointment and damage that resulted from the negative attacks.  In 2010, my brother had to return home penniless as he too was paid only a small fraction of the salary and living expenses he was promised by the social venture projects.

 

With regard to the negative attacks, there are emails, correspondence and witnesses to corroborate and confirm everything that I have said here today.  Additionally, in February, 2012, I filed a $30 million civil RICO lawsuit against Batte, Stiner and the group responsible for the aggressive bad press campaign in Suffolk Circuit Court in Virginia.  The goal is to recoup the social venture revenue lost to their libel, slander and interference and to complete one or more of the social venture projects, repay the financial partners and provide jobs and profits to the local Xhosa community.  It is no wonder that they have filed false reports and charges against me because they have to try to justify their negative actions and cover up their own wrongs.

 

Finally, many of you may say, the government is accusing you of using funds to buy a luxury home and cars.  In 2006, with my consulting contracts in hand from Pure Africa and Earth Conservancy, I was able to put a down payment on a nice home (along with significant financial help from my family) with a large mortgage.  In 2008, after learning that all of our money was stolen by Michael van der Merwe and Bosman and the interference by Batte and others, Pure Africa and Earth Conservancy were unable to pay me and my home was sold in a short sale per an agreement with the bank so that we could avoid foreclosure.  I sold or had two cars repossessed to pay the car loans.  The real difference between my compensation and van der Merwe’s and Bosman’s theft is that I was paid a fraction of the consulting fees promised to me by written consulting agreements and my home and cars were bought with bank financing like most people – not with stolen cash like the van der Merwes and Bosman.[16]

 

The next and final article in the series is: The Malicious Lawyers:  Lying, False Claims, Threats and Insa


[2] In the Investigation Report of Michael van der Merwe dated April, 2008, it is noted that the Lion’s Walk project was sold but the funds never went into the company nor were taxes paid.  We are still trying to recover our loan funds from Michael van der Merwe.

[3] There are many more sordid and salacious details to the stories about Joe Shereshevsky, Wextrust Capital and Michael van der Merwe and their rampant thievery and fraud but those stories will have to be told in another Article or series of Articles.  The real question is:  where are the Volvo loaders, trucks, excavators and other moveable equipment from all those mining projects?  Each mining project had approximately $5M of equipment and in my last conversation with van der Merwe – he said he and Wextrust Capital had seven mining projects.  That is perhaps $35M of moveable equipment that may be unaccounted for and likely liquidated by the van der Merwes at or about the time of the Wextrust Capital scandal.

[4] See Status Report of Fund dated July 2007 and September 2007.  Article 7 FN 4 Fund Status Report July 2007

 [5] See Minutes voting Bossie off the Board and Bossie Crimes letter.

 [6] We were also told later by local community and governmental leaders that Bosman was a hated man in the local black communities because it was widely known that he was a mean and malicious police officer in the Apartheid era and treated the local people very harshly.  It was also rumored that Bosman was present and participated in the beating death of black student peace advocate Stephen Biko in Port Elizabeth.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Biko

 [7] See Fresh Letter.  Fresh Purchasers are Waiting

 [8] See Fresh 39 Cash Buyers email.  Fresh Cash Buyers for 39 lots

 [9] The $6 million of revenue from the sale of the lease lots at Mdumbi Bay would have paid all project costs, paid back the financial partners of Mdumbi Bay project and generated a significant profit for the local community and our social and financial partners.

[10] See Letter from Lofty Nel of Sotheby’s International Realty.  Article 7 FN 10 Sotheby’s Endorsement Letter copy

[11] See Opinion Letter of Smith Tabata Law Firm.  Article 7 FN 11 Pure Africa (Opinion Letter for Hole in the Wall

[14] PGP Email

[15] Endorsement Letters  White and Case and Grant Thornton Endorsement

[16] The completely false and slanderous news articles written about me state that our financial partners invested or donated $2.9M and I kept $2M.  Actually, most of the financial partners were recruited by Dr. John O’Neil, Rick Lally, Lou Dommer, Granville Batte and Dr. McTavish.  Of the $2.9M, approximately $800,000 was sent to Michael van der Merwe, Bosman and our project managers as loans and was managed and spent by them presumably on project expenses, $900,000 to the law firm trust account of attorney Gerhard Dreyer for his mining projects with Granville Batte, approximately $250,000 was used to repay loans and settle disputes by financial partners and the balance was used to pay company expenses such as rent, consulting fees for me and others, travel, repayment of loans and other business costs and expenses.  From 2005 to 2010, I was paid less than half of the consulting income I was contractually promised by the social venture projects.  In 2011 and 2012, I continue to work with social venture community projects in Africa on a volunteer basis without any compensation.  I live off consulting income from tax consulting with energy companies, teaching them to utilize tax incentives to become more environmentally-friendly and emitting less pollution.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Article IV: Cocaine, Ecstasy and Swingers: Social Ventures in Africa by Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and social venture lawyer


Article 4:  Cocaine, Ecstasy and Swingers:  Social Ventures in Africa?

By:  Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and Social Venture Lawyer

July 7, 2012

As you have read in the prior Articles in this Series, for years my goal, vision and passion was, and still is very much so, to help dozens of needy communities in Africa by helping them to create jobs, hope and a better future.  But, as you have also read, unpredictable and unfortunate situations, such as the fraud of Wextrust Capital, created obstacles and roadblocks, which necessitated a change in partners or strategy or the direction of the project to ultimately accomplish what I have hoped for and worked toward for many years.  Each new change of direction however added a year or more onto each project as it took time to locate new partners, rebuild relationships and hold community and governmental meetings in Africa to communicate the new strategy with our social venture partners.

What do you do when people who you thought you could rely on for professionalism, honesty and integrity demonstrate the complete opposite and instead get in the way of the goal of helping others or your dreams?  Think about it – do you just give up on that dream?  Does it just become a thing of the past?  Or, do you pick yourself up and know that you can overcome any challenge (big or small) by making some changes so you can ultimately fulfill that dream and vision?  What you are about to read is one of the many challenging obstacles that created a course for change in the goal of helping the people of Africa.

Since I no longer had a job after quitting Wextrust Captial, having witnessed Joe Shereshevsky reveal himself as a man only too eager to sexually harass women, commit all manner of fraud and indulge himself with prostitutes, I needed to find a new job.  Furthermore, I wasn’t the only person hurt by Wextrust Capital – many of us had lost time, effort, money and ownership in the three social venture projects.  While I had to find a job, we all wanted to continue to move forward with our vision, not willing to give up on the people and projects we’d invested so much in.  We all wanted to continue to move forward with our vision of helping the local people of Africa with social venture projects and we all immediately started over – not willing to give up on people in need and on social venture projects that we had all worked so diligently on.

I was hired by a company in Fairfax, Virginia in March 2005 at an annual salary of $250,000 plus bonuses.  All of my spare time went toward working on social ventures in Africa.  Earth Conservancy, a non-profit that I consulted with over the years, opened an office in Alexandria, Virginia and employed four full-time consultants and several web designers and grant writers.  I was asked to coordinate the office in my spare time and to oversee the launch of a fundraising and social venture campaign for Earth Conservancy and Sunpoints Southern Africa to help rebuild the social venture projects.  Based upon the hard work of these consultants, I was asked to draft a treatise and power point presentation for the United States Department of State on the subject of for-profit/non-profit ventures entitled “Beyond Micro Enterprise,” and was invited by the State Department to speak at the World Africa Growth Opportunity Act Conference in Dakar, Senegal and Washington, DC in 2005 and 2006.

After losing projects to Wextrust Capital, the social venture partners still had the opportunity to resurrect portions of the first three projects as Wextrust Capital’s main pursuit was diamond mining.  So, once again, we were in need of other financial partners.  Having two venture capital firms fail to provide the agreed upon help to the local communities and fail to live up to the promises and agreements made to Sunpoints and the social venture partners, the group discussed raising the needed funds through friends and family to avoid the problems and shortcomings of the Wall Street Investment Banking world.  Unfortunately, as you will see, the friends and family option can also be full of challenges and perils.

In 2005, I was discussing my social venture work with Dr. John O, a doctor and former client (“John”).  He was fascinated with the social venture work and wanted me to meet two of his friends, Richard L. and Louis D (“Rick” and “Lou”).  Both MBAs, Rick was a Business MBA and Lou was a Finance MBA – both very valuable skill sets for any business or social venture project and they operated a successful business.  They seemed like the perfect fit and they truly embraced the idea of helping the local communities in Africa. At that time, the social venture partners were seeking to resurrect several community projects including:  Honingklip II, a mining project adjacent to the one taken from us by Wextrust Capital, Sunpoints Farm, a farm project, and Lion’s Walk Lodge a planned tourism lodge.  These projects were controlled by Michael van der Merwe and his brother, Pieter van der Merwe, as the social venture partners. Other social venture projects including amazingly beautiful properties on the Wild Coast of South Africa, which were started by Bossie Bosman as the social venture partner.

After discussing the non-profit and for-profit model of social ventures, Rick, Lou and John said that we should form a company to develop these projects and raise the necessary funding, which they calculated was approximately $10 million. In helping to conduct due diligence, enter into contracts and scope out these potential the projects in 2005, the three men donated money to Earth Conservancy as charitable donations.  The donations were used to pay due diligence costs, development expenses, operating expenses for Earth Conservancy, consulting fees, business expenses, travel and entertainment expenses and personal expenses pursuant to written Consulting Agreements and Business Plans.[1]  All funds that were wired to South Africa in 2005 for the scoping of these potential projects were sent to two South African social venture partners: Michael van der Merwe and Bossie Bosman.

On the for-profit side, Rick, Lou, John and I agreed to form a company called Pure Africa Management so that the four of us could all keep track of our consulting time and expenses and be reimbursed for that time and expenses as money became available from investors or from the potential project cash flow.  This was all documented in the voluminous Private Placement Memorandum and other documentation of the newly-forming Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund, managed by Pure Africa Management.  I was asked to work full-time on the documentation, business plans and power point presentations.  John said that he would set up meetings at his home or at the office of Rick and Lou and they would invite their friends and colleagues to explain the projects to them so that they could raise the $10 million of necessary funding.  Rick would handle business administration and community relations in the Hampton Roads area and Lou would be the Chief Financial Officer and manage the funds and books of the business including the preparation of financial statements.

Before taking any outside investment, all four of us agreed that a due diligence trip to verify the existence of the projects, review the documentation, meet the South African social venture partners, meet the professional team including Sotheby’s International Realty and Smith Tabata Law Firm was necessary and prudent.  In January, 2006, we traveled to South Africa to view all projects and determine which projects to focus on.  In taking this trip, I was again asked to work full-time as a consultant for Pure Africa Management and the Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund, LLC starting in February, 2006 by Rick, Lou and John.  In accepting this position, a Consulting Agreement documenting my consulting compensation was agreed to and signed.  Like everyone, I had bills to pay and personal obligations like child support, housing, food, car payments and more plus I would be leaving a lucrative job to focus on more risky social ventures start-up projects as a consultant.

The three men assured me that they would raise the necessary funds to pay my consulting fees of $250,000 plus all expenses for me to work full-time.  My employer did not want me working on African projects and instead wanted all my time and effort devoted to their company.  When I went on the due diligence trip in January, 2006 and committed to full-time work with these three men at Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund, LLC, I would be leaving a good job.  However, I was excited by the new consulting work and the help from Rick, Lou and John on the social ventures and with this newly forming endeavor, we headed out for South Africa.

The trip was truly amazing at first and we visited the tourism site at Lion’s Walk Lodge, where  Sunpoints Southern Africa had secured a contract to purchase this farm in 2004 and a financial partner was needed to help build a tourism lodge there.  We also visited a possible diamond mine claim at the Farm Rugalatte named Honingklip II[2] and the Sunpoints Farms, large operating farms in the Free State of South Africa.[3]  We then flew to the Wild Coast of South Africa to view the project at Hole in the Wall and other sites.[4]  Hole in the Wall is a National Heritage Site for South Africa and it is truly beautiful.[5]  The trip was going very well and Rick, Lou and John seemed to be excellent business and financial partners to grow these social ventures for the people of Africa and provide the necessary funding.

But, as always, circumstances change and the entire project would have to be radically altered by what I and two other trip participants refer to as “The Trip from Hell.”  Once we were at the Wild Coast, we set up camp in Jeffreys Bay, a world-renowned surfing town located a few hours from the Wild Coast.  The first night, we ate at a local Mexican restaurant, as it was the only restaurant that was open.  When we were getting ready to leave after dinner, I noticed that John was gone.  I asked Rick and Lou “What happened to John?”  They replied, “he went with a guy he met at the bar to get some party supplies.”  “What party supplies? – Africa is a dangerous place at night and he left with a total stranger,” I said.  I was genuinely worried and concerned for John’s safety.

Later that night, I went to the room of Rick, Lou and John to check if John had returned.  On the glass dining room table, I witnessed several bags of white powder and lots of pills.  I asked “what is this?”  John said he “bought eight grams of cocaine and 100 ecstasy pills to make the trip more fun.”  Shocked by this, I said to John and the other guys: “this is so wrong – first, because you bought drugs, second, because this is Africa and you could go to prison and third, we are on a business trip to help represent our social venture partners and this is not the way to help others in need.”  Laughing off my comments, John asked after he snorted a long line of white powder, “do you guys want to do some coke with us?”  Disgusted and dismayed by John, three of us declined and went back to our own rooms leaving John, Rick, Lou and one of our companions in their room with their newly-acquired drug cache.

Back at my room, we all discussed what we had just seen.  I worried most of the night and the rest of the trip.  I did not even want to be in he same vehicle or lodging with these guys.  Thoughts of Rick, Lou and John going to jail in South Africa for illegal drug possession, harming the other members on our business trip, going to the hospital for a drug overdose and other concerns about their conduct plagued me for the rest of the trip.  I was awoken later that same night by sounds outside my third floor balcony so I jumped out of bed and ran to the balcony door.  There was Rick and Lou trying to break into my room by climbing from balcony to balcony some twenty feet or more above the ground. I said, “what in the world are you guys doing?”  In an excited and intoxicated state, they said, “we want the car keys to go get some food and drinks.”  “At two o’clock in the morning?”  I asked.  I told them to “go back to bed because we have a schedule to keep tomorrow morning” and with that the men laughed, took the car keys and left.

The next morning we were late for our scheduled activities so three of us went to check on John and the others.  John and a travel companion came out to open the door and we went into the kitchen and sat down – trying to get everyone up and moving.  Scantily clad and with white powder and crusty snot outlining their noses, the travel companion told us that “we stayed up most of the night partying” as this person drank directly out of a two liter bottle of coca cola and burped loudly.  John just seemed groggy and out-of-it.  Needless to say, the three of them and a companion proceeded to party for a week straight, while being late to most of the scheduled meetings.  They stayed up all night and slept most of the day.  Their partying and behavior was so obvious and embarrassing that Bossie Bosman and our local partners asked me to never bring them to the local community projects again. The embarrassment was only heightened when one of the men, apparently too intoxicated to get up, simply went to the bathroom in his bed, which cost us $500 in damages from the lodge owner.  I also received bar bills for thousands of dollars of drinks from the places we stayed from their late night drinking and partying binges that they simply did not pay.

Do these seem like the type of people you would want working with you to you help you accomplish your goals and vision?

Because the local people are working with us on a trust relationship, I was told that we cannot have Rick, Lou and John representing the social venture partners in front of the local chiefs, the tribal council, the community and the government.  I was shocked and embarrassed and I did not know what to do at that point.  What would you do if you were working with a poor community in Africa who is counting on you and the social venture partners to help them with their most valuable assets and you find out that some of the people on your team were using drugs and acting inappropriately?

Furthermore, unbeknownst to me, John and his wife were swingers and near the end of the trip, he said, “I think my wife would like you and your wife, so would you be interested in swapping wives when we get home?”  Stunned by this question, I said to him that my wife and I loved each other and we were not interested in that lifestyle.  However, I was stunned and amazed at this turn of events:  I just left my job to start a new company with these three men and now I am in the middle of a complete mess.  This is one aspect of social ventures that I did not expect to encounter:  cocaine, ecstasy and swingers.

Upon our return to the United States, I had to begin making plans to slowly distance myself from my new partners and yet at the same time, we were already setting up a new fund, The Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund that would be operated by Pure Africa Management with project ownership to be held by Pure Africa Holdings.  John had already invited friends and colleagues to meet for presentations on the Fund on several occasions in late 2005 and early 2006.  One of the first investors into the Fund was a long time friend of John and also a friend of Rick and Lou.  His name was Dr. Allan Stiner of Norfolk, Virginia.  After one of these informal gatherings organized by John, Dr. Stiner told the Fund that he wanted to invest in the social ventures because he had just inherited millions of dollars from his father and had money to invest.  At Dr. Stiner’s request, a Private Placement Memorandum documenting the potential projects and the risks inherent in investing in projects in Africa, a Subscription Agreement and other legal documents were provided to Dr. Stiner for he and his legal counsel to review.

Pure Africa Management agreed to allow Dr. Stiner to invest his $250,000 into the Fund in February, 2006.  In February, 2006, in a meeting with Dr. Stiner at his home, he reviewed the legal documents one final time and signed the Subscription Agreement.  However, in making his investment, he had one other request:  he would only invest his money if Rick, Lou and John had no access to it as he was aware of the bad behavior of the group in South Africa the month before.  Dr. Stiner read the substantial Private Placement Memorandum of the Fund and he signed his Subscription Agreement (both legal documents which detail the risks of the project along with background information).  Dr. Stiner then gave me a check written out to me personally as the Fund had not yet set up its bank accounts.  The $250,000 was deposited into the Sunpoints Southern Africa bank account as the Fund had acquired all of the Sunpoints Southern Africa projects in South Africa including its bank account. With these funds, my outstanding invoices were paid for the time and effort I had put into the social venture projects and necessary project and business expenses were paid.

Based upon the strange events of The Trip from Hell in January, 2006 and my recent departure from my paying job, I was paid as a consultant pursuant to a written Consulting Agreement with the Fund through its bank account in Sunpoints Southern Africa for a large portion of my 2006 pay because I was feeling very uncertain about my future with Rick, Lou and John.  Furthermore, since I was the only person working full-time, the Fund managers knew that I was relying on my consulting pay to relocate from Washington, DC to the Virginia Beach area.  With my consulting pay and funds loaned to me by my family, I was able to purchase a home in Suffolk, Virginia.  With my two children and the hopes of having additional children and/or adopting children, my wife and I bought a five-bedroom home in a nice neighborhood where my children had many friends and an area that was very safe and close to my children’s school. [6]

By mid-2006, the Fund had five investors who invested a total of $545,000, one of whom was John and the others were his friends and colleagues, whom he invited and recruited into the Fund.  Lou prepared financial statements and balance sheets and Rick prepared status reports for the Fund investors.  I provided needed help from the business plan writing and coordinating with South Africa and US legal counsel.  However, the Fund was dysfunctional because of the prior serious actions by John and others and the inherent mistrust caused by their potentially criminal actions.  Furthermore, the drug use, partying and lack of professionalism had ruined their reputation with the social venture partners.  I was forced to adapt and change the projects already underway and restructure midway or have all of us lose everything to financial partners once again.  At my request, we all agreed that the Fund would stop raising money for the foreseeable future, in my mind, to protect other financial partners against any further potential loss or negative actions.

Once again, I had just left a high-paying job to work full-time on social venture projects as a consultant for Pure Africa Management and the Fund and now, I was faced with an uncertain future:  a new home and social venture projects that did not have a reliable funding source or a reliable management team.

While the events of this story seem outlandish or unbelievable, there were seven witnesses to the cocaine, ecstasy and swinger Trip from Hell (including John, Rick and Lou).  One witness stated, “it was the worst trip I have ever taken in my life.”  Another witness said that, “I was initially excited to see three professional men like Rick, Lou and John getting involved to help the needy in Africa but I was deeply saddened and disturbed when I saw this unethical behavior by three professional men who were husbands and who had families acting in such a reckless manner by taking drugs and partying in an out-of-control way.  While on the trip, I was scared to be anywhere near them because they were carrying such a large amount of drugs and acting so childishly and unprofessional.  Later, I was hurt that these men not only let down the poor people in Africa and potentially ruined the vision of the company because they misrepresented the company, the projects and they gave the people of Africa a negative impression of Americans.  In meeting with government officials, Sotheby’s, the local chiefs and the community, it was embarrassing to have them in meetings because they looked hung over and unprofessional.”

If you do not believe me, then perhaps legal counsel will ask them on the witness stand under penalty of perjury to tell the truth.  If they do not do so, then there are four witnesses who can testify to their actions.  Once again, the social venture projects needed a funding partner and a management team and, unfortunately, the next partners were equally as challenging in their behavior and more devastating to the projects than anyone else.

Again I will ask, what would you do in a situation like this? Give up your dream? Give up the opportunity to help thousands of people have a better life?  Or, do you pick yourself up and know that you can overcome any challenge (big or small) by restructuring and making some changes so you can ultimately fulfill that dream and vision and protect others from the negative actions of a few.

The next article in the series is:  Murder-for-Hire, Aggressive Bad Press Campaign and Other Distasteful Actions:  Social Ventures in Africa?


[1] See Letter from William Brown, Ph.D to Asst. United States Attorney, Stephen Haynie acknowledging my consulting agreement at Earth Conservancy and payment of consulting fees, and personal and business expenses.

[2] See  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDRhTrs7PyM&feature=channel&list=UL  Social venture partners, Michael van der Merwe and his brother Pieter van der Merwe, take us on a tour of the Honingklip I Diamond Mine and show us the adjacent site of The Farm Rugalatte named Honingklip II.  Funds were sent to Michael van der Merwe in 2005 to secure the mining claim and necessary bonding so that due diligence could be done on the potential mining project.

[3] See Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxE7zjXsgTo&feature=channel&list=UL  Social venture partners Pieter van der Merwe along with the farm manager take us on a tour of the Sunpoints Farms in the Free State Province of South Africa.  As working farms, the goal of this social venture projects was to educate the local people in modern farming methods and to operate profitable farms.  Funds were sent to Michael van der Merwe in 2005 and 2006 to sign contracts to become a social venture partner in this existing farming operation.

[4] See Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OysOjCVKXB0&feature=channel&list=UL After the local leaders and our Xhosa community social venture partners greeted us with traditional dancing, Rick, Lou, John and I were escorted around The Cliffs at Coffee Bay golf course by social venture partner, Bossie Bosman.  The golf course is owned by the local community and they leased it to Earth Conservancy and Pure Africa so that the golf course could be renovated.  World renowned golf architects and other golf experts were flown in to prepare a plan to renovate the golf course in 2006 and 2007.  Ault Clark and other golf experts commented that The Cliffs at Coffee Bay was similar to Pebble Beach with cliffs and sweeping ocean views.

[5] See Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-9E-8qtpW0&feature=channel&list=UL  Social venture partner, Bossie Bosman takes us on a tour of the Hole in the Wall project.  Hole in the Wall is a National Heritage Site for South Africa and it holds significant cultural value for the Xhosa community.  As one of the premier natural tourist sites in South Africa, Hole in the Wall is regarded by Sotheby’s and other professionals as a major tourism lodging site.  Funds were sent to Bossie Bosman in 2005 and continuing to allow for Earth Conservancy and Pure Africa to become social venture partners at the Hole in the Wall project.  With 50 oceanfront lodge sites and a hotel site, the plans at Hole in the Wall would allow for up to $6M of lodge lease income and continuing revenues from the hotel site.  The project is structured with 45% ownership by the local Xhosa community.

[6] When Rick, Lou and John first set up investor presentations in 2005 and early 2006, I was working full-time for Trident Systems, Inc. for $250,000 plus bonuses and I was also working as a consultant for several social venture companies.  In February, 2006, I was hired as a consultant by the Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund and I was also a consultant for Earth Conservancy and other projects.  My combined consulting contracts were designed to provide me with $350,000 or more of income as and when funding was available.

Article 4 FN 1 Letter from William Brown to Mr. Haynie

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized