Category Archives: Beryl

How to launder money

OK, time to think like a criminal! Let’s say you are a syndicate boss for the Chinese triads in a North American city like Vancouver, Los Angeles, or New York; your job is to get a huge, fat stack of cash to your jefe in Hong Kong.  The money you have, millions of dollars of it, was obtained nefariously and you need to not only conceal its existence, but also be able to move it out of the continent to Asia without anyone knowing such a transfer was taking place.  What do you do, and how do you do it?

Easy, put all that wealth on your wife’s (or girlfriend’s) fingers, in her ears and around her neck and no one will even think twice when she walks through airport security. Using a proxy to bid, you purchase one of a kind jewels from a prestigious auction house; your Christie’s, your Sotheby’s, your Bonham’s, etc…  You purchase said jewels at one of these public auctions so that everyone is now aware of how much they sell for and the items have now established a price precedence that can later be advertised.


What exactly did you purchase at auction?  Well, it has to be able to be worn.  So large items like paintings, sculptures, and antiques are all out of the question.  Fine Jewels like large diamond rings, jadeite necklaces, and south sea pearls are what you are looking for.  If one blue diamond ring, or one emerald pendant can be worth several million dollars this is a lot less messy to smuggle out of the country on a flight than the uncouth method favored by amateurs of strapping gobs of cash to one’s body like in The Wolf of Wall Street.

This is how dummies try to conceal the source of wealth. Don't be a dummy.
This is how dummies try to conceal the source of wealth. Don’t be a dummy.

Not only is the risk greater because it is less conspicuous, but it is much harder to argue that cash strapped to your body or stuffed into your briefcase was a family heirloom, or a gift from a lover.  This is exactly what customs and the TSA are trained to look for, but everyone has a wedding ring on their finger, so they ignore these.

In 2009 the economy took a dive and dragged down some rather large players in the scheme game.  Everyone knows the name Bernie Madoff, but Mr. Madoff wasn’t smart enough to actually have made-off with anything.  Others just as awful, but who put a little more thought into their getaway, where able to flee with much of their wealth intact.  Here in Seattle we had our own terrible white collar criminals in the Mastro family.

The details of what the Michael and Linda Mastro did are available on the web, but in short, the Mastro’s developed land, took out loans to do such, and then squelched on about $600 million in loans and skipped town when the real estate market collapsed.  They did all the normal white collar things; set up off shore accounts with dummy corporations in Belize, transferred ownership of all their fine things like their Rolls Royce and their home to said dummy corporations, and then moved to France.  It was this move to France which was almost genius as they put 40cts of diamonds onto a couple of Linda Mastro’s fingers and hopped a flight to Toronto and then on to Paris.  Like I said, “almost genius.”  These two didn’t bother moving to a non-extradition country with their millions of dollars in gems, so in 2012 French authorities arrested them and sent their wrinkly butts back to the states for trial.

Enough about the failings of the Mastros, so now back to you and your triad organized crime wealth and your future success  You need to get $5,000,000 from North America to Hong Kong, what are you buying?  Well, looking at what is up next for auction at Christie’s we find that the the June 16th “Important Jewels” auction in New York has several items that would entice even the most obtuse money launderers.  Well, just purchase the $2,000,000 sapphire ring (lot 232), the $2,000,000 art deco diamond pendant (lot 227), and the $600,000 diamond ring (lot 231) and you’re pretty darn close to $5 million right there (bidding wars are your friend because it drives up the value at the next auction).


Now that you have your fine jewels and you have put them on the fingers and neck of yourself or your loved one, you need to then charter a private jet to fly you to Hong Kong, because really, who wants to wait in the TSA line like a commoner and then go through regular customs like some poor schlub?  Not you, you’re an important criminal!

Now that you are in Hong Kong you need to turn these gems into cash.  Well, just head to one of the offices of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or Bonham’s in Hong Kong and put the same pieces of jewelry back up for auction!  The auction houses don’t care so long as they get their commission, and the fact that these items sold recently for an extravagant amount of money means that their perceived wealth is already fresh in bidders’ minds.  A few weeks later you get cut a check for your (almost) $5 million and present this to your triad boss and get a nice promotion and pat on the back.

People don’t realize this, but there is more wealth tied up in just diamonds alone than all of the stock markets combined.  Not every family owns stock, but almost every family (at least in the first world) owns a diamond.  Jewels have been a way of obtaining and moving wealth for thousands of years.  The Maharaja in India, the crown Jewels of England, the entire reason everyone and their mother has tried to invade and control Burma for the past several centuries, all has to do with maintaining and creating wealth via pretty things.  If someone has the jewels, you need to get the jewels.  If you need cash, you either sell them or pawn them, and I don’t care how rich you are; if you need to put a million dollar ruby up as collateral on a loan you just pawned the sucker.


Drug dealers, organized crime syndicates, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, corrupt politicians, all of them, buy and sell fine jewels to launder huge amounts of wealth all the time.  So, when it is your turn be smart and don’t tape cash to your body; it is undignified.

Don’t sell out your country, literally.

Congress want to sell off all the land owned by the federal government.  Up yours, Congress!

Map of Federal Lands
This map shows just where our lands are.

The largest landholder in the United States are the very citizens of the United States.  We own, at last check, 28% of all the landmass of the entire nation.  That’s about 636 million acres or just shy of 1 million square miles of land.  If you look at a map of the United States showing federally owned and controlled lands you will see that said ownership is disproportionally distributed to the Western states starting at the Rockies on over to the Pacific.  There are some big reasons for this:

1) None of this land was originally granted to individuals via the King of England.  Most of the borders of East Coast states are the way they are because they were originally land grants to individuals from the King of England.

2) Mountains are hard to settle.  Mountains have resources but it also sucks to try and live there if all the technology you have at the time is a mule and a shovel.  When the original homesteading was taking place during the Western expansion of the mid 19th century people didn’t homestead the mountains simply because its hard to farm a mountain.

3) The desert doesn’t grow crops.  Try as we might, salty soils with no rain don’t grow food.  So, like the mountains, the deserts of the Southwest were not homesteaded.

This is OK, though.  Thanks to the 1872 Mining Act citizens of the United States are allowed access to federal lands.  It is here where we fish, hunt, hike, camp, rock hound/prospect, hold music festivals, and just enjoy the splendor of nature.  This is why camping and hiking in the west is so much better than camping and hiking in the East.  Unlike the East coast we aren’t trespassing anywhere to get to all the good spots.

As America moved West people staked mining claims, temporary renewable rights to minerals found in a particular location.  As these mining claims grew into operational mines we would see temporary, tough-to-live-in, boom towns pop up around them.  As the mineral resources waned so did the towns (leaving behind my beloved ghost towns).  Only in the rare instance, when a mine may produce valuable ore for years to come, could the claim owner petition the US government for a deed to the land and assume ownership of said real property.  The US government would then charge the company or person a nominal fee to buy the land from the Feds.  This was known as a “patented mining claim”.

This system of obtaining real property was allowed up until 1994 when the Brush Wellman Corporation (now known as Materion), submitted a land patent application to assume somewhere near 4 square miles of land.  This chunk of real estate contained somewhere in the neighborhood of (in today’s dollars) $50-150 billion dollars in beryllium.  Essentially 90% of the of the world’s supply of this extremely rare, extremely useful, and extremely valuable metal.  How much did Brush Wellman pay for tens of billions of dollars in minerals owned by you and me? About $41,000 (in today’s dollars).  When the American people found out about how hosed we got on the land deal a roar echoed through Congress and a moratorium was established.  Since 1994 no one has been allowed to patent a mining claim staked on federal lands.

Fast forward twenty years and I give the you 114th Congress.  These people truly suck.  The Republicans enjoy a large majority in the House and control the Senate.  They accomplished this thanks to the gerrymandering of districts by Republican controlled state legislatures.  Thus, Republicans control the House despite losing the general election by 1.37 million votes.  What is one of the major things the 114th Congress want to do with their ill-gotten majority?  Sell everything we own.

It is starting small.  Essentially, Congress thinks that by turning all control of current Federal lands over to the states in which these lands are found then it will be easier for oil and gas, mining, and logging companies to then grease the palms of state legislatures to purchase vast quantities of state lands.  The states do not have the resources to manage these lands as evidence by my own state (Washington) relinquishing control of dozens of state parks to city governments.  If states do not have the budgets to manage the lands they have now, how are they going to manage the tens of millions of acres of new land they suddenly have thrust upon them by the federal government?

The ploy is simple, Congress wants to sell your lands to corporations who donate heavily to their campaigns.  if we allow them to do this, we’re screwed.  Why?

Here is why: The 1872 Mining Act allows us access to federal lands.  If the lands are no longer federal our outdoor activities will no longer be protected by this Act.  There is a moratorium on selling federal lands, but there is no moratorium on selling state lands.  Congress is out to screw us over, and the moment we have a president in the White House who agrees with them and refuses to veto their sly moves, we boned.

Tell Congress to back off and leave our lands alone!

Congress wants to sell off our lands
What Congress wants…

The Rare Gem Series: Bixbite (Red Beryl/Red Emerald)

Found in two places on Earth, Western Utah (the Wah Wah Mountains and the Thomas Range) and the Black Range of New Mexico, bixbite is among the rarest gemstones on Earth.

Born to a store keeper and his wife in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania 1853, Maynard Bixby would go down in geological lore.  Maynard graduated from Lafayette College in 1876 where he studied law and later moved to Wilkes Barre with his siblings and worked as a bookkeeper.  On a what seems to be a whim, Maynard packed up and started travelling the American Southwest.  He mined ore in Colorado and Arizona for a couple years, moved to Chicago, and later New York, while working for Western Electric.  In 1884 Maynard hopped on a ship and set sail for London where he went rock hounding in Europe for six months or so.  After marrying in 1888 Maynard again set sail to gather minerals in Europe and upon his return to the states found himself in Denver by 1890, and then Salt Lake City a few months later.

Maynard Bixby started prospecting and exploring the Thomas Range of Utah staking the infamous “Maynard Claim” which is still worked to this day for beautiful specimens of topaz.  Bixby is credited with two discoveries there: bixbyite and bixbite.  Bixbyite is a black, shiny cubic mineral that consists of manganese and iron; it in itself is rare, but the stone we care about is the simarly named bixbite.

In 1904 Bixby discovered tinny little crystals embedded in the matrix of ancient, chalky rhyolite on his topaz claim.  He figured it might be a form of beryl (other forms of beryl include: emerald, aquamarine, and morganite), but he wasn’t too sure. Bixby sent some specemins to W.F. Hillebrand, a geochemist at National College in Washington DC, for identification.  Hillebrand confirmed Bixby’s suspicions and declared that the mineral was indeed a beryl and was also a new discovery and named it “bixbite”.

Bixbite is a usually very tiny; a red colored beryl that often looks like an itty-bitty stop sign.  It only forms in silica-rich rhyolite.  The red color comes from manganese substituting for the normal aluminum found in the crystal structure of other beryl varieties.  Some believe that the manganese is the result of high concentrations of water in the rhyolite that may have come from the Earth or from the lava erupting under surface water like a lake or inland sea.  Water breaks down manganese very easily.  You can see the evidence of this if you go through Southern Utah and through Redlands or Bryce Canyon.  On the shear red cliffs of the canyon walls you will see black metallic streaks staining the rock.  This is manganese leaching from the sand stone via rain water leaking through the fissures of Earth.

When molten Earth is left to ooze and cool at its own pace there is plenty time for like minerals to find each other and crystallize.  The size of the crystals will often depend on many conditions ranging from the actual amount of the molecules in the host rock, to the time the magma/lava is allowed to cool, to whether cracks or spaces form allowing for the exchange of gasses and water.  Decent-sized gem quality examples of bixbite are really only found in one place at the Ruby Violet Mine that lies in the Wah Wah Mountains to the West of Milford, UT.  Bixbite is so rare that it is estimated that for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds that are discovered only one bixbite is found (and it is not very likely that it is even gem-quality at that!).  When it comes to gem-quality stones only one is three million women on Earth will ever be able to own a quality stone larger than 0.8ct.  That works out to about 11,000 stones total.  Ever.

Hey, ladies, I own two! *wink*

The first question I am asked by someone when I tell them about a mineral is “how much is it worth?”  Well, let’s start small and work our way up.  A micro-sized specimen, something stop sign shaped and about 1mm across will net you about $50.  That same crystal still in the matrix of the host rhyolite and you may find yourself getting a $100 from collectors.  IF you are fortunate to find a chunk of rock with several small crystals you may get hundreds of dollars.  When it comes to large crystals with good habit (the hexagonal shape for which they are known) thousands of dollars is to be expected.  Gem quality stones are another animal entirely.  Finding an eye-clean stone is next to impossible so don’t even think about ever seeing a flawless example anywhere, but a stone that is nice and gemmy, kind of Jolly Rancher looking, rough will get about $500-$1000 per carat, that same stone when cut will demand over $6,000 per carat.  The largest bixbite ever found is 54cts and butt-ugly, the largest cut stone is from the Ruby Violet claim and is right around 8cts and worth more than your house (a faceted stone’s value often climbs almost logarithmically with the size of the stone; imagine this stone being worth somewhere around $50,000 per carat due to its size and rarity).

In 2010 I traveled through the Thomas Range and the Wah Wahs and found some very small  examples of bixbite and a boatload of topaz.  I have my suspicions that in a neighboring range in Western Utah lies virgin rock that is ideal for the formation of one of the Earth’s rarest minerals.  Maybe sometime next year I’ll be able to detonate some TNT in my chosen mountain and see if all my research pays off!