Eric Brauss Joins the Ranks of Great US Fraudsters
Eric Brauss was a reminder of the glory days of Dallas when big money was king and the streets seemed paved with gold. Born in Germany, Brauss immigrated to Canada and began to invest in real estate. Before age 40, he had already made $1 million. In 1981, he relocated to Dallas, where he began snatching up real estate from failed savings and loan companies. His profits soared, and before long he and his wife, Christine, joined the ranks of the Dallas elite. Brauss enjoyed a good life. He invested in wine, watches, and cars. He once paid $29,000 at auction for two boxes of Cuban cigars, which he kept in his Canadian humidor. The couple was a lynchpin of Dallas humanitarian efforts, and they were two of the biggest supporters of the arts in the city, particularly the Dallas opera.
Then he dropped the bombshell. Having reported a net worth of $28 million the previous year, in 2009 several investors sued him over $6.08 million in unpaid debts. Brauss promptly closed his real estate company and fled to Brazil. After he left the country, it was discovered that he actually owed approximately $200 million in debts to investors and Las Vegas casinos.
Following in Some Fraudster Footsteps
When the economy collapsed in the early 2000’s, America’s elite were in serious trouble. While scandal was not limited to the 2000’s, dozens of high stakes financiers took any steps necessary to save their businesses, often covering their tracks with masterfully planned paper trails. However, as the economy spiraled downward, these schemes were exposed. Consider these four high profile frauds that came to national attention just at the time Brauss was preparing to flee to South America:
- Jeff Skilling and Enron:
Perhaps the most notorious scandal of the 20th century, Enron’s bankruptcy was the biggest in US history at the time. Convicted on multiple felony charges, Skilling is currently serving his 24 year, 4 month prison sentence.
- Mark Madoff:
Madoff is a name synonymous with the financial upheaval of the early 2000’s. After confessing to his sons, the man behind the largest Ponzi scheme in history was handed a whopping 150 year prison sentence.
- Bernard Ebbers and WorldCom:
Ebbers was responsible for the largest financial scheme in history, until Madoff’s fraud was revealed several years later. After losing investors $100 billion, Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He began doing time in 2006.
- Dennis Kozlowski, Mark Swartz, and Tyco International:
CFO’s Kozlowski and Swartz took more than $100 million in personal bonuses from the global holding company before being indicted in 2002. In fact, in January of this year, Kozowski was released after 11 and half years in prison.
Is Brauss’ Death Just Another Epic Scam?
Having heard about these men and their lengthy prison sentences, it is little wonder that Brauss fled to Brazil. According to the correspondence he kept up with the Dallas Morning News, he claimed he was not a fraudster but a victim of the bad economy. In South America, he continued to lead a life of luxury, even marrying a Brazilian woman, Maria Isabel Carvalho Silva, who was 26 years his junior. Late last year, however, attorneys received a copy of Brauss’ death certificate, stating he died at age 70. While most believe that this signals the end of Brauss’ Hollywood-like rise and fall, others believe his death is another elaborate fraud. The news came just weeks after Brauss made an agreement with federal prosecutors, and he had made plans to return to the US. Even more suspiciously, the certificate lists no cause of death. For now, prosecutors are treating this as a closed case. However, the government retains the right to re-indict Brauss – just in case his quiet demise is actually the beginning of another dramatic scheme.