On December 2, 2010, Dikembe Mutombo gathered a small group of men in a New York City hotel. He told them of an opportunity that could earn up to $20 million in a matter of weeks. His main audience was Kase Lawal, the CEO of Houston-based energy company CAMAC, and Carlos St. Mary, a former West Point football player and a trader in West African diamonds. Mutombo asked them to put together $10 million to buy, from dealers in Kenya, an unusually large amount of gold: 4.5 tons. That haul could be worth three times as much if Mutombo, Lawal, and St. Mary could arrange for it to be transported out of Africa and re-sold on the international market.
Mutumbo, though a humanitarian, presented this purely as an investment. The retired basketball star is also the titular CEO of the Mutombo International Group, a small outfit that mostly invested in retail around Atlanta. The gold must have seemed like an irresistible opportunity.
It should also have seemed too good to be true. “Immediately when you say you’ve got 4.5 tons, you pull back from the table,” recalls St. Mary, who frequently buys diamonds in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. “I work in places where if people have 10 grams of gold they run down to my office front so that they can sell that. I couldn’t fathom 100 kilos, 10 kilos, let alone 4,000 kilos.”
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