If you were a wealthy man in Chicago in 1920, a man who fancied himself financially savvy and uniquely clever, there was one venture you wanted in on: the Bayano River Syndicate. It was the talk of choice society, an investment opportunity built around a parcel of land in Panama that was filled with endless money-making prospects—timber, fruit, rubber, and veritable lakes of the liquid gold that was oil.
It was also exclusive. For most, even the wealthiest among the Chicago set, it would take begging, pleading, and promises of a significant financial commitment to wheedle some shares out of Bayano’s architect, Leo Koretz. But the supplication would be worth it. Bayano was an investment that paid out returns well above the average.
It was also one of the earliest Ponzi schemes in American history.