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Financial Crime: Man jailed in Texas doomsday condo money laundering case faces new charges in giant tire Ponzi scheme

For John Eckerd, a legal apocalypse has struck again.

The Texas man who was previously jailed for laundering drug money through a doomsday-themed condo development project aimed at those preparing for the apocalypse, has been hit with new charges of allegedly stealing $50 million in a different giant tire Ponzi scheme.

Eckerd, 58, of Dallas, was indicted this week along with Afif Baltagi, 45, of Houston, on charges of running a scam in which investors believed they were financing the purchase of enormous tires used on mining and earth-moving vehicles, but which prosecutors say was a fraud.

More than 50 investors in multiple states were duped in the alleged con, which prosecutors say Eckerd had run between 2012 and 2018. One investor lost nearly $13 million.

Eckerd and Baltagi couldn’t be reached for comment and it wasn’t immediately clear if they had yet retained lawyers in the case. Messages left with attorneys who represented Eckerd in prior legal cases weren’t immediately returned.

Prosecutors say the scam revolved around the purported sale of the highly-specialized construction vehicle tires — known as off-the-road tires — which can stand a towering 14-feet high and weigh over four tons. The largest can sell for over $100,000 a piece. 

According to court documents, Eckerd and several co-conspirators would approach investors saying they had access to heavily discounted tires which they would then sell at full price to buyers that they said had already been lined up. Eckerd and the others allegedly promised returns of up to 20% in 180 days or less.     

To further entice investors to hand over their money, Eckerd and the others would fly around on private jets and present themselves as highly-successful businessmen. Investors were sometimes taken to Baltagi’s employer’s tire yard to make it appear as if the tire sales were real.  

But prosecutors say almost no tires were ever bought and sold, and Eckerd and his cohorts kept much of the money or used it to pay out earlier investors.

In many cases, prosecutors said Eckerd would pay back people who had made small, trial-run investments to convince them to invest more money. Then he would claim that a problem had emerged with the deal and often would stop returning investors’ calls.

Eckerd and Baltagi face up to 20 years if convicted on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. Two Ohio men have previously pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing.  

Eckerd has a long and checkered history of connection to controversial and sometimes criminal schemes. 

In 2019, he pleaded guilty to offering to launder money for an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer. Eckerd said he could wash the money through a $300 million condo development project he was running outside of Dallas called Trident Lakes that marketed homes complete with underground bunkers and tunnels that purportedly could withstand a nuclear attack.   

Homes were to be sold for over $1 million, and the development was to include an 18-hole golf course. 

Prosecutors say it was really a front for money laundering and little was ever built, aside from a marble fountain at the property’s entrance and a 50-foot statue of the Greek god Poseidon. 

In the early 2000s, Eckerd was sued by Nascar for attempting to film a series of “Girls Gone Wild” knock-off, soft-core porn videos called “Racetrack Girls go Nutz,” at racing events. 

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