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Now, on 7th of Pod, Slate's Slow Burn podcast tackles whether to give white supremacist David Duke a voice. One of the things we thought about is how much we care about David Duke as a person vs. what he meant, what he espoused, what he stood for. I'm Matt Clark and my new podcast, Servant of Pod goes deep with the people who make podcasts. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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Previously on California City. Knapp believed with all his heart that God gave him the vision for the city. I feel like I lost hope. He's lost connection with reality. If you profit at the expense of people who are being duped, then you're evil. There's an evilness to that. In California city now, Mendelsohn was a mythical figure, but from the outside and now he's seen small time like a regional player, not someone anyone outside of Southern California would have heard of.

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But it turned out someone was paying attention. Hello, Emily.

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Ralph Nader, New York lawyer. Ralph Nader, legal adviser to the United States Senate inspired legislation is just since the 1960s.

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Ralph Nader, Ralph Nader is the green Ralph Nader charged today. Hi, Ralph. How are you? Good. I can't believe you're into this land development story. What's going on with journalism in California? What do you mean? Well, they don't usually pay attention to this.

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Oh, well, that's good. That's good. Ralph, can I first just have you introduce yourself? Yes, sir.

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Ralph Nader. Being called consumer advocate and worse names before Ralph Nader ever heard about California City.

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He was busy becoming famous for something else. Car safety. In 1965, Ralph published an exposé of General Motors called Unsafe at Any Speed. He accused them of knowingly manufacturing dangerous cars. His work is the reason we have seat belts in cars. So not surprisingly, GM didn't care for Ralph. He had cost them a lot of money. And so they had him secretly followed and they investigated his finances. They even hired women to try to seduce him.

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But Ralph was on the DuSable. He sued GM and won nearly half a million dollars. He used the money to hire a bunch of Ivy League law school grads, men mostly with close shaves and boring ties. People called them the Nader's Raiders, and Ralph was their fearless leader.

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Ralph Nader, who started the massive concern for auto safety, says the public wants mandatory air bags. Now, show me anybody in this country who would rather go into steel and glass in a automobile collision instead of a cushion airbag after the seatbelt victory.

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Ralph started looking for something else to blow the lid off of. And he decided on development and land sales in California. He'd worked in Yosemite once summer earlier in his life. And like we all do when working in a national park surrounded by beautiful nature.

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I began to absorb the rampant land development, the lack of zoning, the conflicts of interest, the corruption and misuse of eminent domain, the huge subsidies, tax subsidies given to these developers.

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So Ralph decided to unleash his raiders on land sales in California.

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Well, I was one of the first native raiders back in the 1960s. I started working for Nader in 68 right after he published on Sacredly Speed.

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Ralph put Bob Velma's in charge of the project and two of Bob's researchers stumbled upon California City and they went there to see what was really going on.

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There was exaggeration going on. He's if he had settled, it was how much of a asset. So you in a sense, you could just say, well, OK, they they they were overly optimistic. Hindsight is 20/20, blah, blah.

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When the Nader's Raiders went to California City, it was barely a city at all.

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There was no doctor, no dentist, no drugstore, no clinic, no Taylor, no travel agent, no bakery, no bookstore, no liquor store, no veterinarian, no mortician, no high school, no intermediate school, no college, no standard oil.

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Union, Oil, Shell Oil. Mobil Oil or Texaco station.

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In 1971, the Raiders published their findings about California City in a bunch of other things in this little paperback with a yellow and red cover. They called it The Politics of Land. And I read it one night while I was cooking pasta. Oh, my God.

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OK, so the it is over. This is no ordinary real estate scheme. Mendelsohn isn't trying to sell land and the public isn't really buying the land. They're engaged in a grand illusion of creating wealth. Mendelsohn has a dream and the buyers believe the developer's dream is capable of providing them with a pot of gold. The art of creating gold from base metals has long eluded our grasp. But N.K. Mendelsohn has perfected the art of turning desert dust into gold.

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But only for himself. Oh, my God. Such a nerd.

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Anyway, so the Raiders were horrified by the way Nat Mendelson salespeople sold land. It went like this. You'd see an ad in the paper for a real estate training course. You'd attend a dinner party to hear more about it.

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You learn you could make a bunch of money selling land in this place called California City. You'd take the course and you'd buy a piece of land yourself, and then you'd persuade your friends and family to come check it out. It seemed so similar to what Ben Perez said. Marion Decru told him, buy land yourself and then make your money back. Referring your friends and family. I decided if I was going to understand Silver Saddle sales strategy, I needed to know what preceded it.

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I needed to know how Nat Mendelsohn's sold so much empty desert land. I needed to know how he got big, so big. He attracted the attention of Ralph Nader. So I tracked down one of Nat's former salesmen, a guy who spoke sales, not English.

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And talking to him was as close as I could get to being in one of Nat sales offices.

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Almost as good as hearing the pitch myself. And I gotta say, it's pretty genius. I'm Emily Guerin. Welcome to California City. Episode three.

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Certainly company. Hi, this is Emily, the reporter calling back for Don A. Thanks. I found Don Kirkendall because on his company's Web site, he listed that he'd been a land salesman for gnat's company almost 50 years ago. OK.

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Hey, Don. Sorry that took so long. We he was proud of his first real job.

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It was a weird thing to include on your resume. If you know what happened to Netz company, I mean, it's not like putting fixer for Rudy Giuliani on there or anything, but it's still not the best look.

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Listen, you don't sell the stake. You sell the sizzle. That's what sales are about. Then make it obviously a sell in a car. Sell the stock or some other piece of property in in the Mojave Desert.

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Don talks like he was letting me in on a little secret. He once said, hey, listen. Thirty eight times in a single phone call. He calls his assistant babe, and he calls himself a dirt peddler. No shame. We were dirt salesmen. We were. We were peddlers. We were all dirt guys. Don taught me a lot of new words, but Silver Saddle would call referrals. Don called ups. UPS are people with Silver Saddle called land banking.

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Don called a dirt deal. Well, that's what they're called in the industry. We did. They're just dirt deals done. Never stopped defending the dirt deals he did for Nat Mendelson. He feels really grateful to get to California City, to the student program, which is his term for the real estate training course that not used to sell so much land. Don took the student program in 1970 and it saved him from his dangerous job at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant outside Denver.

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I'm not totally sure what he did there. He wouldn't tell me because he had a top secret clearance, but it had something to do with plutonium. I didn't know it. The real estate transsexualism was from a search warrant when that when I went into the student program and they trained me to be a salesman and they taught me how to take up. They taught me how to close. And they taught me an invaluable, invaluable lesson. I've never been unemployed.

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I've had a job my entire life. I'm. I'm doing the same thing today. I was doing 50 years ago and looking for the next meal.

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It was 1970. And by that point, Nat had been selling land in California city for just over a decade. He had 3000 salesmen and more than 24 offices all over the world. Hawaii, Texas, Illinois, Germany, Mexico, the Philippines and Seattle, where Don ended up moving. Don and the other salesmen placed ads in the local paper. I found some of them. Our business is good. We need additional real estate sales people earn ten thousand dollars or more this year.

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Let us explain. Attend a free evening or daytime meeting. The meetings took place at fancy modern places like the Jack Tarr Hotel in downtown San Francisco. The building was blue and white glass and there was a three sided rotating sign on top so that as it turned, you could see the words Jack thaat hotel. There was air conditioning in every room. There was an outdoor skating rink and there was a parking lot full of heavy American cars. The company would fly salesmen like Don in and at 8:00 p.m. they would get up on stage in the Pacific Heights room and say something like this.

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You could be a kirkendall. You could be you could be making atomic bombs for Dow Chemical right now, or you could be making four or five thousand dollars a month like Kirkendall. Yeah, you can do it, too. Hey, listen, if I can do it, you can do it. Don loved putting on his suit and addressing the crowd a shining example of what could happen if you took Nat Mendelsohn's student program. If you were impressed by the pitch.

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If you thought you could be a Kirkconnell to the next step was to take the course. And then you were expected to buy a piece of land in California city or in sales speak by phone. We call to a lot. You know, lots do a lot. That's what we got to say. Listen, if you go to work for Clarets K tomorrow at NorthPark Lincoln, are you going to be driving a Chevy? Probably not. Probably not.

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So what is that? It's a tool. If you're going to sell a Chevy, you'd better drive one. It was like when Mary Ann told Ben she owned that model home near Silver Saddle, it gave the impression that she believed so deeply she was willing to invest herself.

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It was just kind of common sense. And just like Mary Ann did with Ben, Don and the other salesmen would suggest that the students recruit their friends and family to come down to California City and buy a lot. So the students would come up with a list of names of potential ups and they'd bring them these people they were closest to to a seminar where Don would stand behind a podium and pitch them on California City. And if they were intrigued, Don would book them a flight on a chartered jet to the hottest new city in Southern California.

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When Don worked there in the early 70s, the company spent almost a million dollars a year on flying people down to take a look.

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They'd fly into SeaTac and we'd load them up with our Seattle people. We fly down to Portland, pick up our Portland people, fly down to Los Angeles. We'd put them on buses and we drive about that California city and we'd dump them out of the truck and we'd take we'd give them to the the up the up guys at California City and they'd take them out and show them the property. The buses parked in a huge parking lot in downtown or what they promised would one day be downtown.

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The UPS climb down the stairs and walked into the sales tent where they were greeted by a bunch of folksy salesmen. There was a map of the city tacked up on a board and the salesman told the UPS to just pick out a street they liked Darwin Drive, Da Vinci Place, Gold Rush Avenue, and then they'd walk over to a row of shiny black Cadillacs and drive off to be sold. A dream. Nat had an army of salespeople and Catherine effort, that woman who thought it was a profit.

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She was one of them. And not to gossip, but a woman who knew her back then told me that Catherine had a nickname in those days. They called her the Barracuda. Katherine used to love driving out into the desert with a couple of ups in the back of her Cadillac, just picture it. She drives past the model homes and their tumbleweed yards past the sailboats, tacking on the artificial lake past the edge of downtown and through 17 miles of empty desert.

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She drives to the top of Gallileo Hill. Nat Mendelson had named the Hill himself.

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He admired Galileo, a man with big controversial ideas who was deemed a heretic and confined to his house for the rest of his life, but was later redeemed by history.

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I imagined Catherine parking the Cadillac on top and getting out her red hair whips her face in the wind. The ups climb out to the man, raises his hand to his four head to block the sun, and the wife clutches her skirt so it doesn't balloon. Catherine looks at them and says, everybody has a dream.

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Everybody has a desire to get better than they are today. Everybody has a family. They want to see kids go to college. The one thing that people always seem to put on the backburner because it's out of their reach is real estate.

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Real estate is the basis of all wealth, period, worldwide basis of all wealth. Kings, queens and wars are fought over her. If she's dirt, someone's going to die for that piece of dirt. That's just the way it is.

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California city is sandwiched between three major freeways. They will someday be six and eight lane freeways.

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Today, that's not quite there. But where California's city is is what will give her her value. If you can't see the vision, you can't see the dream. Don't buy it.

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If all you see is vacant land with a few roads, you don't get it. If you see another van eyes or another and see snow or another Salt Lake City, then you've got the vision.

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If you've got the vision. If you don't have the vision, don't bother.

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That was like very convincing what you just did. Do you know why? Why?

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Because I believed in. I still believe in the prerequisite to any kind of sales. I don't care what it is.

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You gotta believe in your product. After the tour, they drove back into town and the UPS had a decision to make. Was California city the right investment for them or not? I mean, they were so young. They were children, really not that different from Ben Perez. They rented cramped apartments and the kinds of neighborhoods where everyone wishes they lived somewhere else. The most valuable things they owned were their cars and their engagement rings. But here was this opportunity to invest.

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They could pay for the land in installments 200 down and 30 bucks a month.

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Maybe they'd retire there. Or maybe they just sell the land to put their kids through college. But it wasn't all hopes and dreams that convinced them to buy. There was pressure to the people who'd invited them out to California City, where their friends, their family. It's one thing to disappoint a salesman. It's another thing to let down your brother or your cousin. Just think of all those awkward birthdays and Thanksgivings. It is so much easier to just say yes than to say no.

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This is how Nat sold so much land. He made you sell it was going so well. Mendleson decided to open up two additional cities. Colorado City, Colorado, and Cochiti Lake, New Mexico. Three cities. Thousands of salesmen. Tens of thousands of ups who would spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Carla Nemeth was shown a map of how California city would look fully built out. She thought it was so exciting. She bought land just to be a part of it.

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Well, this was a bus. I'm not ever going to be able to get rid of it. Her salespeople said she would definitely make her money back.

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And then some she did it. A salesperson told June Soga Suara The California city was a golden opportunity that she'd make millions once an international airport was built, but there's no sign of an airport. A salesperson told Gary Lindsay that California city's population would double in two years. He was gonna get rich quick when the aerospace industry moved in. But that never happened.

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No, there's no buyers for it. Nobody wants it. I suppose you could give it away.

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But Kelso, a salesperson, told Kathryn Jean Esca she'd be able to sell her 43 hundred dollar lot and make a profit. And she did end up selling it to Habitat for Humanity for one dollar.

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I don't have any illusions that it's worth what we paid.

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So people complained. They complained to reporters. They complained to lawyers. They complained to the state. Attorney General Don Kirkconnell said he never heard these complaints until he talked to me. And when I told him, he brushed them off.

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If even if there were a thousand people that sued. It would be a fraction, a minuscule amount of the people that actually participated in the programs and people that bought property from them.

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But when I asked him about the way he sold land, his tricks of the trade, he got defensive. He had just wanted to ask the last thing you said. You learned a lot about sales from working in California City. And I was wondering if you have any specific examples of tactics that you still use.

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Tactics. Yeah, strategy. Tactics. I don't know. What would you call it?

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Implicit. I think you have the wrong impression of salespeople. They didn't teach us to be fast pitch guys and close this guy would with his fingernails on the table or something in the back room. I mean, when you look at a guy and say, listen, we're going to sell you some California city property, we're gonna put you on a plane. We're going to take you to California. We're gonna put you in a hotel for a night. We're gonna take you out to the Antelope Valley.

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We're going to let you walk on this piece of property. And, John, if you don't like it, you don't have to buy it. I mean, well, how can you be more transparent than that?

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What makes you think I have a bad impression or the wrong impression about salespeople?

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Well, because you keep talking about the student program and you keep in. Obviously, you've read that a lot of people didn't like the student program and in that they didn't work for them. That I had. And believe me, I know that I was there.

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I guess I've read I actually haven't necessarily read the people liked it or didn't like it. I've read that they were promised things that weren't true.

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Well, I don't know. Again, I don't think any of that happened in the northwest of. But Don Kirkendall did have doubts of his own, specifically about why Nat Mendelson chose to build California City in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

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Why did that pick that spot? But hey, listen, it just knows that I wasn't the kind of guy that was going to sit back and second guess a guy like Nat Mendelson. I mean, I have a 25 year old kid, you know, with no college education. And, you know, I never asked those kind of questions. There's a lot of reasons why people don't ask those kinds of questions. I used to be a reporter in the oil fields of North Dakota where 25 year old kids with no college education put up with 16 hour days, deadly roads and toxic fumes because they were raking it in.

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The golden handcuffs. An oil worker once told me, when you're making that kind of money, you'll do anything to keep it coming. But Katherine effort was a different story. I think she didn't ask Nat Mendelson those kinds of questions because she didn't have them. She seemed willing to do almost anything for him. Moved to California, pose in a bikini. Maybe even bend the truth a little. She had proof of some of the things she said.

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But some of her stories, too, seemed over the top, like specifically her story of meeting that Mendelson in California City in 1958.

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So I called her younger sister, Susan, to fact check it. And Susan said, please, por favor. I could hear her rolling her eyes. Susan's theory is that California city became so important to Katherine later in her life. She inserted herself into its inception.

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So I asked Katherine, did you make up that story?

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No. No. And the reason that she has no knowledge of that is I don't think I'm going to tell somebody I'm getting on an airplane, a nine months pregnant. I want to get on the airplane with somebody they don't know. I told my mother, I said, Mom, I'm going to fly out of California. I'll be back tomorrow. She said, You can't fly. Well, now let's bring up a book I call my baby bump, but also leave me alone.

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What? Oh, well, I have always been my auditor. Okay. My mother was an alcoholic. If you think she would have told you. Call me. So, I mean, it's like. Oh, what did I. What was I doing? Nobody has ever asked me. Emily, what did you do between the time you were 15 and 20? Nobody. No. Okay. Absolutely nobody. I got my real estate license. Oh, I travel.

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I fall things, did things and got paid for things that most people only worry about getting paid. So, you know, it's like, you know, I mean, I kind of figured my sister would just simply say, well, I don't think she will fall. All right. Why? Cause she wasn't even talking to me. Talking all.

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Yeah. There were other things that didn't add up. Katherine told me she was taking classes at Northwestern University, but when I called the registrar, I couldn't find her. She told me that Nat sent one hundred and seven purple and white orchids to her fourth wedding. But later she told me they were actually white roses, baby's breath and a single black orchid. And I think the reason that the details are important to me is because it had a lot of the things that you told me and that other people told me that happened a long time ago.

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Like they're kind of hard to fact check. They're kind of hard to verify. And so if I get the sense that there's, like inconsistencies in what people say or if or if someone close to them says, no, that didn't happen. Does that help them? No, but. But does that make sense, though, that it might cast out on, like, other things?

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Oh, of course. In fact, checking with Catherine, she said Susan had always been jealous of her. That explained the inconsistencies. And normally, I wouldn't include such an unreliable person in a story. I would do just what Katherine suggested. I'd exclude her. Cut her out. Delete her. But if there's one thing I learned from spending so much time in California city, it's that it is full of unreliable narrators. You can't tell the story honestly and exclude them.

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When the Nader's Raiders published their big expos, they are not Mendelsohn in California city. In 1971, they accused Nat'l of committing fraud. They called the way he sold land in California city. The Big Lie. But it wasn't their job to stop him to do something about it. That was up to someone else.

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Ladies and gentlemen, like your new parent, Donny. Ralph Nader of the West.

[00:25:11]

That's after a break. Money messes with everything, especially these days. This is uncomfortable, tells those stories like how the economic downturn affects romances and friendships and how getting laid off or having to lay people off can change the way you see yourself.

[00:25:33]

This is uncomfortable as a weekly show for Marketplace about life and how money messes with it.

[00:25:39]

The show is funny. A little tense and just a little uncomfortable. Like talking about money is in the first place. Subscribe to. This is uncomfortable. Whatever. You get your podcasts. My relationship to Ken Dani is complicated, but he is the closest thing this story has to a hero. He came closer than anyone else to stopping the scam. He was 29 when he did it. A young, cocky lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission in the 1970s.

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He had wavy brown hair that reached to his collar and John Lennon glasses. He worked out of a shiny skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, pitting corporate America where it hurts worse.

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And that's in their pockets.

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Ken didn't have a poster of Ralph Nader on his wall or anything, but the way he talks about him. It seems like he should have. He was Ralph Nader of the West. He was a modern day Robinhood take from the rich and give to the less rich.

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The Navy, the small guy and gal and his sheriff of Nottingham was Nat Mendelson, the genius that I see that in quotes of the original land development scheme was created by a white collar crook name, Mendels Mendelson.

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As far as I can tell, the FTC began investigating California City just after the Nader's Raiders report came out. By the time Ken started there in 1973, his boss already had a massive file on that in California city and he brought it to me, dropped it on my desk.

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I had no idea what it was. It was it was a file about, oh, two feet high, really. And it was it was a lot, lot, lot higher after I got done with it.

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The FTC had issued a cease and desist order. Stop making false and misleading statements, stop running deceptive ads or else we'll take you to court. Now, it was Ken's job to be the enforcer for an FTC jargon. Do a compliance case.

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Compliance cases were generally considered kind of a humdrum go through the motions, make sure this and the other things going on.

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Yeah, to Ken, there was nothing humdrum about it. They had not ceased or desisted. They were still running ads making claims like major industry is moving to the analog valley. Employment is good. The community is growing. The future is bright. Of all the deceptions cited by the FTC, Ken was most impressed by gnat's student program.

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I could tell he thought it was important because he explained it to me nine times for g o o l right l o t t o l two a lot. His ingenious scheme was the tool, right? T o l lot. And the way he swindled these folks originally was first of all, it was for real estate for these people to get a real estate license. They wanted to become real estate agents themselves. And in order to do this, the Mendelson's scheme was you need to buy your own property.

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You see, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, because when you want to sell future property, you can say, see, this stuff is so good. I bought my own property as well. So that was a lie. That's fraudulent. Absolutely fraudulent because it's been a switch. For Kent to figure out what was really going on, he needed an inside man. So he made his own group of Nader's raiders. And he had them pose as UPS. He'd send them to hotel ballrooms and they'd sit there next to overflowing ashtrays and take notes as salespeople made their pitch.

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They'd ride the bus out to California City. They'd listen to the spiel from the top of Gallileo Hill.

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Close your eyes and imagine the lights of Los Angeles. This is what this area is going to look like in the not too distant future.

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The more 10 learned, the more he respected how good the salespeople were. And to be clear. Ken was speaking about them as a group. He said he didn't know the salespeople people I talk to and he didn't name any names.

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A good sales person is a work of art. I mean, those folks are something else. It's in their DNA. They'll tell you that that they not only sell the product, they sell a. That's their language, not mine. What that means is this, again, before we cut off, we're doing fine.

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I'm sorry. I'm keeping track of the time. We're good. Good.

[00:30:26]

Good. A tree on what we all share in humanity, which is our wishful thinking. Empirically, I've seen it's proven time and time again that people, the most intelligent people, the most emotionally stable people, are in an incredibly vulnerable position, vulnerable to work, to a shyster, to a drugstore, to a grifter. All these con artists, they or artists are utterly aware of that psychology.

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Ken investigated for a year. He had enough evidence that the company that had founded was still breaking the law and thousands of people were still getting swindled. It was time for a confrontation. Time to negotiate a punishment. It was time to put a stop to the scam. Or at least to try. OK, so it's nineteen seventy six at this point. Now, Mendelssohn didn't even own the company anymore.

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He had sold it a few years earlier to generate more cash and then he'd resigned and moved to Texas. The company's new name with Great Western cities. And it was owned by a pair of very rich brothers, also from Texas. The Hunt Brothers, they made their money on silver and oil. And what you need to know about these guys is that their family was the inspiration for the TV show Dallas. There is still one of the richest families in the world.

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So they never cared about California city. It was a pimple on their butt. So Ken flies to Denver. He goes to the Great Western Cities headquarters. It's in this historic building with arched windows, carved granite pillars and a boardroom table that Ken said was like a mile long. Ken and another FTC lawyer sat down in the dead center of that massive table.

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On the opposite side of the with was Ivan Erwan, the hunt's personal lawyer, Ivan Erwin, a man who'd gotten rich helping even richer men get out of legal trouble.

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He died in twenty eighteen. On Ken's left set another one of the hunt's lawyers. He's still alive, but he never returned my calls or e-mails. And on Ken's right, a guy.

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Who I later found out was former FBI and I could see a pistol in his shoulder holster inside his entreaties to me, so why? He was clearly there to try and intimidate me.

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We were doing well just to clarify. So would he, like, radically open his jacket? You could see the pistol. Well, I wouldn't say periodically, let's just say I had a clear vision of the pistol in his shoulder holster. Cheers. And this guy had zero effect on me when I was fresh back my chair and put my pointy toes. Cowboy boots, brown tan boots up on the table. It was always on his side of the table.

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The guy was supposed to intimidate me. And Ivan Erwin quickly caught on that that game. That game wasn't working with this young attorney. I can't confirm this story, but I love it anyway. Just picture it. This West L.A. boy wearing cowboy boots to a big negotiation. So the Texans don't push him around.

[00:33:57]

Ken knew that the hunts weren't really to blame for what was going wrong in California's city. They inherited the problems when they bought Great Western cities a few years earlier. To put it in literary terms or not, legal terms of Mendelssohn or C, he has 60 seconds remaining. Fred Wilson was the evil genius and and the brothers of Dallas were the for want of a better way of putting it before you cut off the honest, greedy, honest, greedy bunch that got stuck with the bill.

[00:34:30]

It feels to me like in this story there, there's people who you think are good guys and then they're bad guys. Are there people who you think are victims and then they're perpetrators? You're a really good journalist. Has anyone ever told my mother? Just kidding.

[00:34:50]

Eventually they settled the case. There would be consequences. A punishment for scamming at least seventy three thousand people out of hundreds of millions of dollars. There were four main parts. One great Western city salesman had to stop telling people that land in California city was an excellent investment. Two, they had to put a warning label on all of their California city contracts and brochures, a little white rectangle with a black outline and blocky fun like you might see on a cigarette carton.

[00:35:23]

It said, quote, The value of this land is uncertain. Do not count on an increase in value. Three spend 16 million dollars building paved roads, power, water and sewer lines. In other words, the things they'd said were already there.

[00:35:41]

And for a nearly four million dollar refund to everyone who had bought land since 1972, the L.A. Times called it the largest consumer refund in the history of the FTC.

[00:35:53]

Sitting in first class on his way home from Denver can pop some champagne to celebrate afterwards. California city fell apart. First the company and then the place. Sales dropped from almost 58 million to 14 million in just five years. The number of sales people plummeted from 3000 to less than 200. It turned out that vacant Mojave Desert land one hundred miles north of Los Angeles was nearly impossible to sell without deceiving people about its value. So no more deceptions meant, no more sales and no more sales meant no more money to prop up California's city.

[00:36:38]

I mean, the place had always been a company in town. The company paid to pave the roads, to plant trees, to subsidize the Shakey's Pizza in the bowling alley. And without the development company, the town withered. The oleander bushes that lined California's city boulevard got scraggly and wild. The grass on the par three golf course turned brown to Lakeshore, enclosed in weeds crept along the cracks in the parking lot. Eventually, even the waterfall went dry.

[00:37:10]

In February of nineteen, four, great Western cities declared bankruptcy. Nine months later, Nat Mendelson died. He had a heart attack after a round of golf and drove into a tree. Obituaries ran in papers around the country. Some told the truth. Some sold the myth. Nat Mendelson, developer of controversial California City, died Sunday. Nat Mendelsohn, the father of California city, the man with a vision for a city where an average American could live in a country club atmosphere is dead at 69.

[00:37:45]

He is survived by his wife, Helen, his daughter Janet, and five major masterplan communities. Survivors include his adopted child, Alex Mendelsohn. Many of the people who'd bought the dream and the empty land, they got their money back. Ken Doney was a hero, a consumer protection hero. The Ralph Nader of the West. But if you look at the rest of Ken's life. He was nobody's hero. In fact, anyone else would consider him a villain.

[00:38:22]

Do you really think that anybody could just snap and kill their wife?

[00:38:31]

You have 60 seconds remaining. That's next time on California City. California city is written and reported by me. Emily Guerin, our win champion Knicks, and James Caan did our sound design, production and story editing. Mike Kessler is our editor. Fact checking and additional production by Gabriel Donatello's mixing by our engineer, Valentino Rivera. Original music by Andrew Eappen. And thanks to Shannon Starkey for talking to me about the architecture of California city. Jayne and Ron Olson, Center for Investigative Reporting, helped make California city possible.

[00:39:19]

Ron Olson is an honorary trustee for Southern California Public Radio. The Olson's do not have any editorial input on the stories we cover. California City is a production of Aliased Studios. L.A. is where I was born and raised. For years, it's where I've documented life in this city, not the pop culture headlines, but the stories of people and communities that hardly get recognized.

[00:40:08]

Copy cowboys. Good morning.

[00:40:10]

I brought Ali where ever I traveled to around the world as a journalist, and now I'm back home.

[00:40:18]

And I said, look, look at those cowboys. There are black cowboys. I taught him how to do everything that he knows. You can imagine like being exercised from your home when you're a baby. And then all of sudden you just get released into the world.

[00:40:34]

Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe made people feel as confident as he was. How do you dress? Like, you know, like a casual gangster?

[00:40:43]

No, I. I'm Walter Thompson. Hernandez. This show is about trying to understand what it means for me to call L.A. my home from Alley Studios. This is tough when you love. Listen, wherever you get your podcast.