Bilked in Boston
This fall, good times appeared to be getting better. Not only was WBIX expanding to 24-hour-a-day broadcasting, but Brad, 50, and Bonnie, 37, were selling the station to Christopher Egan, son of billionaire Richard J. Egan, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, for $7 million. On Nov. 10 the Money Couple celebrated their seeming good fortune with a lavish party overlooking Boston Harbor. The next day their world collapsed. Brad lay in an intensive care unit after apparently attempting suicide. He was also in big trouble.
"Over the last 20 years, almost, I've stolen millions of dollars from clients," he said in a taped confession express-mailed to his wife, his mother and the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others. "I'm sick. I'm literally a psychopath.... I'm going to hell."
More imminently he may go to prison for perpetrating a classic Ponzi scheme: Bleidt allegedly took money from about 140 of his 300-plus investors, deposited enough to cover their usually small cash withdrawals, and kept the rest. When one client recently asked him to wire $1.5 million, he knew the game was up, "because the money's gone," he said. "I stole it. I used it to buy a radio station."
On Nov. 22, Bleidt appeared in a Boston federal court on charges of mail fraud for allegedly bilking clients out of tens of millions of dollars; many of them were seniors he'd met through membership in the Masons. "These people's life savings are lost and their retirement plans are ruined," says U.S. attorney Michael J. Sullivan. It seems even those closest to him had no idea what he was up to: Bonnie, who has not been implicated, claimed she'd only learned of his fraud when she heard the tape. "Brad is obviously a very troubled person," she said in a statement. "I can't tell you how much I wish I had some idea of what was going on so that I might have acted to prevent it."
While her career as one half of the Money Couple maybe in shambles, her problems pale beside those of her husband's investors. Edward Yaeger, 71, a retired oil truck driver, and his 73-year-old wife, Evelyn, lost their entire 3335,000 life savings to Bleidt. And the timing couldn't have been worse: Evelyn has steep medical bills for a thyroid condition and macular degeneration, from which she's going blind. "He's a snake in the grass and I could stomp on him and not feel a thing," she says of Bleidt. And yet, Ed admits, the drawling, West Virginia-born Bleidt could charm paint off the walls. "I'd almost give him my money tomorrow. He could probably talk me into it."
Grandparents of six, Walter and Loretta Pohle invested about $600,000—roughly half their savings—with Bleidt. "I can't stop shaking inside," says Loretta. But the hit they took was as much personal as financial. "I feel like I lost a friend," Walter says.
The smooth-talking Bleidt graduated from the University of Kentucky and in 1980 married his first wife, Denise, now 48, a nurse. They moved to Massachusetts, where he started two small financial services firms. The couple had three children (Christian, 22, Taylor, 21, and Travis, 17), but the marriage dissolved in 1995. In divorce papers Denise characterized Bleidt as an abusive alcoholic who once broke two of her ribs.
They were in mid-divorce when Bonnie Kirchner signed on as a financial planner for Bleidt's company. Bonnie and Brad wed in 1999 and began making inroads into Boston-area media, she in TV news, he by signing a 2001 agreement to operate—but not yet own—WBIX. Soon they were on air as the self-styled Money Couple (though Bleidt left the show earlier this year). This past January Bleidt managed to pony up a $3 million down payment to buy WBIX for $10 million—though his fund-raising methods are now painfully apparent.
At the Nov. 10 bash, recalls station spokesman George Regan, Bleidt "seemed a little depressed." He left the party alone at about 10 p.m. The next morning, he appears to have sent out his taped confession. At 10 a.m. police responded to a call at Bleidt's rented home. Apparently he'd tried to take his life—he had a neck injury so severe he was airlifted to Boston. Later Bleidt was admitted to a psychiatric ward at Massachusetts General Hospital. There, on Nov. 19, he was arrested.
His victims look forward to his punishment. But despite their fury, some view Bleidt with conflicting emotions. "I'm glad he didn't die," says Loretta Pohle. "I'm glad he's alive to see what he has done to people who liked and trusted him." Then, in the next breath, she tearfully manages some compassion. "If you think about what we've all lost, it doesn't amount to anything compared to what he has lost."
Richard Jerome. Tom Duffy and Anne Driscoll in Boston
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