The Long Con
Phil Ferguson pulled off one of the biggest frauds in Indiana history, duping clients out of millions of dollars and staying one step ahead of the law.
If you’re trying to escape your past, there have always been two options: You go South, or you go West.
Phil Ferguson went West.
Ferguson, the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in Indiana history, with ill-gotten gains estimated at $14 million, wound up with a bullet in his head on a ranch in Eastern Oregon after twelve years on the run. The law had finally caught up, and he took his own life.
But for 10 years as a fugitive he was Roy “Vernon” Cox of Burns, Oregon, beloved surrogate father and honest, penurious rancher (if a bit too enamored of the wrong sorts of ladies), and he left behind people who refuse to think of him as a criminal.
Aside from the holes he left in a lot of people’s bank accounts, the story reveals Ferguson’s legacy to be a cryptic, rambling 70-page manuscript stored in a Portland house where Bush lives with his wife and about 10 others. The book seems to be simultaneously a death note and a treatise on how to make tons of money trading commodities. The Bushes also named their baby after Ferguson’s alias, Vernon, and induced birth so the kid would have Ferguson’s birthday.
And as for the location of that $14 million? Still a mystery
The day Phil Ferguson killed Vern Cox, late spring was turning to summer in “The Big Empty,” an expanse of high desert in Eastern Oregon where the earth stretched lonesome and wide. By midmorning, temperatures near the remote outpost of Burns, the Harney County seat, were in the 70s, even as the Steens Mountains clung to their snowcaps off in the distance. Center-pivot irrigation systems watered fields of alfalfa. Sagebrush filled the unworked land. Here, a man could see things coming for miles: people, possibilities, trouble.