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Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation

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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,320 ratings  ·  203 reviews
A rollicking story of greed, financial corruption, dirty politics, over-the-top and under-the-radar deceit, illicit sex, and a brilliant and wildly charming con man who kept a Ponzi scheme alive perhaps for longer than anyone else in history.

It was a time of unregulated madness. And nowhere was it madder than in Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. Speakeasies th
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Kindle Edition, 353 pages
Published by Algonquin Books (first published May 19th 2015)
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Jon I read the book, but I don't think you'd have a problem with the audio at all. Dean Jobb's writing style is so straight forward. The action and events…moreI read the book, but I don't think you'd have a problem with the audio at all. Dean Jobb's writing style is so straight forward. The action and events are what one follows, not the names. (less)
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Carol
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My sincere thanks to Netgalley for providing the e-galley of Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation due to be published May 19, 2015 by Algonquin Books/

“Something for Nothing.” “Nothing for Something.” There is something seductive about that quote which fits Empire of Deception to a tee. Con, sting, fraud, double-cross, swindle, scheme, cheat, deception, no matter the word you use to describe the crime, Leo Koretz is a master of t
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Melania 🍒
3.8|5

• Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge - 19. A book of nonviolent true crime •
David Eppenstein
This is another colorful story from the history of a city whose history is as colorful as a 4th of July fireworks show. The story is about the Bernie Madoff of Roaring Twenties Chicago, Leo Koretz. While I am a life long resident of the Chicago area and a devotee of Chicago history I must admit never having heard of this story before reading this book. The fact that the scandal was about greedy rich people being bilked and the scandal breaking shortly before the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder ...more
Art Taylor
My review here originally appeared in The Washington Post.

The first chapter of Dean Jobb’s comprehensively researched and enthralling account of the life, times and crimes of Leo Koretz begins in June 1922 at Chicago’s posh Drake Hotel. An elegant banquet celebrates “Oil King” Koretz, the “New Rockefeller” whose Bayano Syndicate, a timber business turned oil empire, has made many of his friends and associates filthy rich. A “fine vellum” booklet at each place setting offers a satirical bio of t
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Don LaFountaine
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Author Karen Abbott states it's " A rollicking tale that is one part 'The Sting', one part 'The Great Gatsby', and one part 'The Devil in the White City', and that is an accurate description of this tale.

Though the book reads like a fictional novel, it is about the true story of a man named Leo Koretz. He was a man who swindled millions of dollars from family, friends, and business associates in Chicago in the 1920's, about 80 years before Bernie Madof
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Donna
I found EMPIRE OF DECEPTION so incredibly fascinating I really couldn’t put it down (I did have to because of work, stupid work). Jobb wrote it in such a captivating way that it sucked me right in and held me with this almost ridiculous story of a non-Ponzi Ponzi who made Ponzi look like a Girl Scout.

Creating his scheme years before Ponzi ever did, and continuing years after he was caught, Leo Koretz effectively wrote the book on corruption and deception. Not only did he scheme peopl
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Jeffrey Fossi
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I recently received Dean Jobb's Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation for free through Goodreads First Reads. I was looking forward to this true story of Chicago, and corruption in the 1920's!

This book surprised me in every way, and it was an excellent read. I loved the author's very detailed descriptions of every nuance of Chicago in the 20's. I enjoyed the comparison of an obscure con man, and the law. This book
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Jay R. shepard
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks Algonquin and Goodreads!

I found the book "Empire of Deception" an amazing read. Author, Dean Jobb, painted a telling portrait of the life of swindler Leo koretz in the roaring 1920's of Chicago, a time of prohibition, the mob and political corruption. A well researched narrative and captivating storyline about a man comparable to the likes of Ponzi and Madoff. Recommend it to anyone who likes a great true story.

Stephanie
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Engaging and well-researched. Reads like a narrative, but is high interest non fiction. Great story of the man who out-Ponzied Charles Ponzi.
Debra Komar
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book features a larger-than-life character that is wonderfully rendered by Jobb. In lesser hands, this swindler might have been a caricature, but here he is a living, breathing, sometimes despicable human. Nicely researched, well paced. Chicago is as much a character as any of the players and its nice to see. Comparisons to Erik Larson are inevitable but I think that is mostly the setting. While Larson hit a home run with "Devil in the White City," he has since overworked his two-story coun ...more
Nancy
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never read (actually listened to the audio book) a book and shook my head so often. Definitely a story of deception and thievery. The fact that it really happened makes it even more incredible. I kept saying "You can't make up this stuff" or "truth is stranger than fiction."
Maggie
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grabbed the ARC from this at ALA Midwinter. An intriguing story ably presented.
Nate Hendley
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Empire of Deception tells the astonishing true story of Leo Koretz, possibly the most audacious con artist of the 1920s.

Bored with practising law in Chicago, Koretz set up something called the Bayano River Syndicate then set out to find investors. He claimed the Syndicate owned vast swaths of valuable timberland and oil wells in the Central American nation of Panama. Investors could receive astonishing annual returns up to 60 percent.

It was all a lie. Koretz did not control any land
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Monica
Apr 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of one of the greatest turn of the twentieth century scams, the longest, earliest and 'most successful' pyramid 'Ponzi' scheme ran by Leo Koretz in Chicago, started and continued even before and after Ponzi ran and was exposed for his much less ambitious scheme. Truth is indeed more fascinating than fiction and in early 20th century Chicago, it seemed all was possible. With oil speculation rife, the promise of easy fortune was everywhere and Leo Koretz was just the guy to realise the p ...more
Ronnie Cramer
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating account of a mostly forgotten con man from 1920s Chicago. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks an editor at Algonquin who "recognized the parallels between Leo's story and the rise and fall of his nemesis, Cook County State's Attorney Robert Crowe." Ironically, this rather forced "parallel" is the weakest part of the book in my opinion. I suspect it was an attempt to make the work seem more Erik Larsen-like.
Carol Lynn
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well written, I just kept turning the page.... Still thinking about how Bernie Madoff is so close to an exact copy, and how the subject of the book had his scam in place long before Mr. Ponzi. Quite glad I read!
Curtis Cunningham
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting storytelling and an eye opening look on a part of hidden history
Kevin
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My take-away:

If you're going to choose a fake name while on the lamb, with the same initials as your real one in case you have some monogramed items - maybe practice that new signature a couple of times.

And don't take bespoke suits to the tailors that had your real name sewn in...
WILSON KORIR
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Book!
Lisa Hunt
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars for this one. Very interesting story of a guy who pulled off (for a while) an amazing Ponzi scheme in Chicago in the 1920's. True story and it reminded me of a scaled down Erik Larson book. The story was very good and well researched. I would have liked maybe more "color" about the times...there was some, for sure, but it is such a fascinating period that there could have been more. Overall, a great read though.
Erwin
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting examination of a major financial fraud that has been all but forgotten. Very interesting parallels developed as well with the Bernie Madoff fraud.
Lynn
Today's post is on Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation by Dean Jobb. It is 336 pages long including notes and index. It is published by Algonquin Books. The cover has Chicago skyline on bottom with a picture of the people in the high life on top. The intended reader is someone who likes history, true crime, and interesting stories. There is no sex, no language, and no violence in this book. The story is told in third person ...more
Laura
Sep 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book needs to be made into a movie!

I first heard about Empire of Deception when I read a review of it in our local paper as the story has ties to Nova Scotia. When I read the description, I knew I had to read the book!

Empire of Deception is about a man name Leo Koretz from Chicago in the 1920s. Over a period of 20 years, Leo creates a scheme where friends, family members and associates invest over $2 million with him for stocks in rice fields in the mid west, and then land/oil in Panama.
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Amanda Mae
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, crime
I won an ARC from Goodreads.

This was quite a fast-paced read, separated into three acts: the setup and enactment of the swindle, the unraveling of the scheme and the instigator's escape, and then how we was caught and the aftermath. I'd actually never heard of Leo Koretz before, a contemporary of Ponzi, and the author insists that if Koretz's scheme hadn't lasted a long as it did, they wouldn't be "Ponzi schemes" but "Koretz schemes." Having lived in Chicago, I very much enjoyed all
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Prince William Public Library System
Before Bernie Madoff, (before Charles Ponzi, really) Leo Koretz bilked family, friends and acquaintances out of millions of dollars. This book is a fascinating read about an unassuming man who charmed the life savings out of people in Chicago during the 1920s. Starting with fictitious rice farms in Arkansas and expanding into a non-existent timber plantation in Panama, Leo fooled investors for over 15 years. When it all came crashing down, he went on the lam to evade capture. This is a well-told ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Chicago in the 1920s.....that most sinful, colorful, and beloved of cities where "things were happening".......gangland murders, graft, corruption, the Leopold/Loeb case and one giant scam that has almost been lost to history. Smooth talking lawyer Leo Koretz set up the biggest Ponzi scheme in history (until Bernie Madoff came along) and then preyed upon his own family (even his mother) and close friends, taking entire fortunes without any remorse.

Koretz set up a fake oil company in
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Koen
This is a great book, reminiscent of Larson’s The Devil in the White City and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
We all know the story of Charles Ponzi and how his name lives on to this day for a fraudulent investment scheme where "the operator pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operator by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator." Well, Ponzi played his swindle for about a year before got caught.
The protagonist of this story, Leo Koretz, operated
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Kate  K. F.
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Empire of Deception is a fascinating and well researched book about Leo Koretz, a swindler of the 1920s in Chicago who's been eclipsed by others like Ponzi. Jobb's book has a strong narrative as he parallels Koretz's life with Robert Crowe, the attorney who took him down and was connected to the corruption of Chicago politics. As someone who enjoys reading true crime and history tied to a specific time and place, this was a great read.

There are mentions of the horrible violence of th
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Florence
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The name Leo Koretz does not evoke the same recognition as that of Charles Ponzi in the pantheon of famous swindlers. Leo, however was a master at separating people from their money. He didn't prey on widows and orphans. He chose affluent friends and associates and even family members who were greedy for more booty. They begged him for a share of his fantasy oil-producing enterprise in Panama. He even cheated his own mother. How low can you get? This is a frolicking tale of greed and deception a ...more
marcia maslin
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A most entertaining and highly absorbing account of Leo Koretz's life and times. Dean John's completely captures you from the first page to the very last page. The historical and amazing biography of this deceitful and diabolical crook is told so beautifully with just the right portrayal and so very mesmerizing facts. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history with the drama of this man's life.

Fabulous story and absorbing account of one of history's biggest swindlers. I
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I’m drawn to fascinating people and events that have been overlooked or forgotten – hidden gems tucked away in the attics of history, stories waiting to be told. Ideas and inspiration can come from a footnote in a book, a museum exhibit or a reference in the news. I discovered the subject of my latest book, Empire of Deception – Leo Koretz and his amazing oil swindle in 1920s Chicago – while doing research ...more
“Nothing was as it seemed in Leo Koretz’s make-believe world of mysterious syndicates and Panamanian oil fields. Accounts written long after his death added fresh layers of myth and distortion, but I was determined to learn the truth about a larger-than-life figure who rarely, if ever, told the truth. The real story of the man who pioneered and mastered the Ponzi scheme, is so gripping – and, at times, so incredible – that it needs no embellishment. And it’s a story woven into the fabric of the corrupt politics and gang warfare that plagued Chicago in the 1920s.” 3 likes
“Con men need a battery of traits to win their victims’ trust and lighten their wallets. Chicago’s Leo Koretz had them all. They must be good actors and Leo, acting the part of a savvy financier who hobnobbed with a mysterious syndicate of millionaires, delivered a magnificent performance. They must be likeable, and everyone liked and trusted the generous, wisecracking, charming Leo. He could have been a top-flight lawyer, a business leader, or perhaps a powerful politician. He chose, instead, to become a master of promoting phony stocks.” 3 likes
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