That’s what Marybeth Shank must’ve thought to herself when she told spouse Mike Shank to get an upfront, in-full payment when Henri Zogaib in late-2006 sought to pursue the 2007 Jim Trueman “gentleman racer” award offered by the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.
A few months later, Zogaib cited divorce proceedings among other distractions when he bowed out of his Mike Shank Racing No. 6 Ford-Riley ride - and John Pew stepped in to team with Ian James - but Zogaib’s check had long before cleared the bank.
Unfortunately, it since appears the money to cover that check may have come from other racers, at least in part, as Zogaib allegedly convinced investors that he could provide rates-of-return in the neighborhood of 30-and 40-percent but which authorities now believe only involved schemes that, at best, would pay existing investors with new, incoming funds from other similarly duped investors.
A familiar story of late and perhaps most famously made known by New York and Palm Beach Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff, at the time there’s no way Shank would or could know such nefarious activity was being undertaken.
One person who appears to have been aware of the apparent scheme is a Zogaib business associate, Paul Bellanca, whose Ormond Beach, Fla., home, along with Zogaib’s Ponce Inlet, Fla., condominium, was searched Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents.
As is Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet and Ormond Beach are located in Florida’s Volusia County, where NASCAR and the Rolex Sports Car Series are headquartered.
With charges yet to be filed, Zogaib, 36, (at left, in sunglasses congratulating Ryan Dalziel at Laguna Seca) and his business associates are nonetheless at the center of a criminal investigation launched in August 2008, hardly more than a couple of months after a Daytona Prototype victory Zogaib scored as Ryan Dalziel’s co-driver at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Most anyone at that race or watching SPEEDtv’s race coverage couldn’t hardly help but notice Zogaib soon bailed after starting the Peter Baron owned and prepared SAMAX car in which Zogaib bought a 2008 ride.
Peter Baron was at the helm of that race-winning SAMAX car and he spoke Thursday evening of how concerns started to arise in his mind while undertaking a private, cross-country plane ride to the Laguna Seca race with Zogaib (in sunglasses below, talking with Baron).
“He already was into me for some money and every time I brought up the need for cash flow he kept saying he’d had some short term working capital tied up in a condominium project, or a bank failed to get the payment out or just all sorts of reasons.
“It was on that flight – he took the team and some friends, too – that I overheard him talking about his school days (at Seabreeze High School) in Daytona Beach. Yet, he told me he’d been schooled in a Swiss boarding school and that’s where he’d met his various worldly, money making contacts.
“When I heard him talking about the ‘good old days’ in Daytona, well, that’s when my heart started sinking. While Henri and whoever partied on the way to Laguna, I didn’t. That was one of the longest airplane flights I’d ever been on. All I wanted to do was get to the track and win.”
“By the time we got to The Glen six-hour I was paying for just about everything with cash. The credit cards had been maxed and no funds to speak of in the bank.”
With an assist from third-driver David Empringham at the Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen, the all-but-limping SAMAX No. 2 BMW-Riley posted a 15th-place finish overall before heading for The EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, despite the distractions and the crush of creditors. The team, appearing at the Mid-Ohio race with an overused Dinan BMW engine, ran for 10 laps before it expired.
“You know, I just wanted to believe in the guy,” Baron said. “Maybe it was hoping that I hadn’t been hoodwinked; maybe it was believing in my fellow man and giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to believe I was doing (the latter). Whatever it was, it wasn’t looking good. That’s for sure.”
Heading to the next race less than two weeks later at Daytona International Speedway’s annual midsummer race, the Brumos Porsche 250, the gig was almost up and might’ve been if not for Zogaib needing to play the part of an hard-living, fast-driving and international jet-setting financier in front of his “home” crowd.
“We got there and nobody would sell us anything. I went to Henri and said, ‘Look, Pirelli won’t sell us any tires and there are other suppliers who won’t do business with me because they haven’t been paid,’ but Henri just said something about his divorce causing issues, that he wanted to hide all the income, assets and money he could from his soon-to-be ex-wife but that he’d scrounge some money from his friends and he did.”
After a 17th-place DP finish, Porky Pig couldn’t have said “That’s all folks” any better.
Today, on top of all but losing his SAMAX team, $45,000 owed in payrolls and a mountain of debt he continues to pay down, Baron had also “invested” more than $400,000 in Zogaib’s iron-ore Ponzi scheme.
Now relegated to driving a tow truck between his job at Orbit Racing as Daytona Prototype Team Manager, Baron is left to slowly, but surely, pay off the debts.
“Most of my creditors, between the economy and knowing what happened with (Zogaib), understand and have been working with me,” Baron said. “It’s tough, though, because my balloon’s been popped just when i thought everything was going well for me.”
“At least it happened to me when I was 40. I can recover. Imagine what it’s like for a retiree who trusted him with a life’s savings and has nothing now. Sure, I’m not terribly happy with my position, but I feel really bad for those people,” Baron said.