Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” Honoré de Balzac

“I am a decent man who exports flowers.”  Pablo Escobar

“No court will put me in jail because I have so many children. Someone has to take care of them  so a judge wouldn’t do that.” Jeffrey Lynn Cassman a.k.a., Mark Lassman

Honoré de Balzac, Pablo Escobar and A Common Criminal

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. And God knows, despite all the religious rubble of our colonial town, Antigua is one giant glass house full of flagrant, lawbreaking reprobates — beautiful, lawbreaking,  romantic, deranged and damaged reprobates of which most are good company and even better friends.

So it is with both caution and with resounding, glass-breaking exuberance that I cast this first stone. Let the shards fall and boomerang where they may.

On the morning of October 7th, over a cup of coffee, we were greeted with the news in the Central America edition of El Diario, that one of the more dubious denizens of Antigua, one Mark Lassman had been arrested in the Parque Central and was being deported back to his beloved US of A, where, more than likely, he will be incarcerated for a stint of, say, 10 to 20 years. At least by us, he will decidedly NOT be sorely missed.

Mark Lassman, who it turns out, was really Jeffrey Lynn Cassman, had been on the run for 2 years with his wife and 10 children and had been living for the better part of that time just outside of Antigua, in Ciudad Vieja.[1]

We all knew Mark, a.k.a. Jeffrey. Some viewed him with indifference, others with affection, and still others with a take-it-or-leave-it loathing — which leaned heavily towards loathing and a hope that he would just leave. We, at La Cuadra, were solidly amongst the latter of the latter.

His alleged crimes in the United States consist of securities fraud, mail fraud and theft, and, of course, being on the lam; and until his capture in Parque Central, he was wanted by the FBI and on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s 10 Most Wanted List.

According to The Nashville Business Journal the facts are roughly as follows:

Cassman, 34, a former Republican candidate for Tennessee State Representative in 2000 and president of Cassman Financial, had convinced clients to give him money which was to be invested in tax liens and other “guaranteed” and “fool proof” investments. Cassman then used some of the money for personal investments, and set up a Ponzi scheme wherein investors were paid bogus returns that came from funds of later investors. The amount of money he made off with varies in different reports, but is estimated to be about $400,000.

Casssman was indicted for his crimes, and in February of 2008 signed a consent order agreeing to pay restitution and fines for defrauding five claimants which included his in-laws. His father-in-law is reported to have said, “I’ve got more respect for Bernie Madoff. At least he’s paying for his crime.” Cassman also agreed to surrender his licenses to sell investment securities and insurance. A state warrant was issued for his arrest in early December of 2008. He agreed to turn himself in, but instead decided to high-tail it out of the country.

Shortly thereafter, Cassman, his pregnant wife and their 9 children slipped out of town, heading first for Mexico and later to Guatemala.

Ok, so these were his crimes up north. And the Lord knows that plenty of folks around this town also have some issues in their past. And as I said, we at La Cuadra are generally a champion of the outlaw (hell, we’re responsible for a brand of booze not so innocently named Ilegal) so why are we hurling a rock in the middle of a glass palace, laughing and saying, “Hasta la vista, pendejo.”?

We’re doing so because Jeffrey Cassman was a common criminal, not an outlaw. And there’s a real and meaningful difference, even if it is as subtle as the difference between irony and sarcasm, or Mexican food and the stuff we serve at Café No Sé.

To begin our character assignation, let’s start here, in order of least to worst.

Crime One: The man wore pleated Khaki pants (need we say more) into which he tucked collarless white shirts and over which he sometimes wore an open sports coat of the used-car-dealer sort. This should have been anyone’s first tip-off.

Crime Two, He also smoked cigars, but not in the “Ahhhhh . . . I love a good cigar” way. Rather, he smoked them in the look-at-me and, I’m-a-big-swinging-dick kind of way. He was the kind of guy to poke a cigar at you while talking, rather than genially offering you one. And you knew, or at least should have after spending a few moments with him, that this was no big swinging dick. Rather, he was just a DICK.

And before we move on to his other crimes, if any of you are offended that we’re writing about Mark this way, we’ll remind you that HE WASN’T MARK. He was a con-man, and while we hadn’t figured out the exact nature  of his scam, we noted pretty damn quickly that something about him just didn’t pass the smell test. Things did not add up. It was hard to put your finger on: someone so recently to town, looking for investments and investment partners, so quick to give advice on the ins-and-outs of Guatemala before he himself had adapted to his new environs. He was intelligent, had presence, but carried an ill-at-ease sense with him. He could be momentarily cordial, but then was almost immediately aggressive, sneering, ready to tell the rest of us how to live. And while we endured him, the air and joy and levity would inevitably get sucked out of the room when he was around. He took pleasure in making others uncomfortable. The last conversation our Editor-in-Chief had with Jeffrey was in front of Café No Sé. Jeffrey inquired why he’d been getting the cold shoulder and our Editor said, “Because, Mark,  I just don’t trust you.” And he was right to feel this way.

We also take aim at him this way because we have certain friends whose days he made rather uncomfortable, and, well, we stand by our friends.

But back to the alleged crimes:

Number Three: It’s an infraction, maybe a misdemeanor, to be retiring holier-than-thou bloated blowhard. But it’s a felony to be an in-your-face-, holier-than-thou hypocrite.

Mark / Jeffrey professed, loudly and often, his worldview and core beliefs. Anyone who knew him knew of his Conservatism and his Catholicism. He wrote about these beliefs with some regularity in his blog, Guateliving, in which he endlessly ragged on La Cuadra, and in an attempt at humor, compared us to Lenin and Stalin.

Gosh, what an idiot. Comparing us to the Beetles? I always thought we were more like Jagger and Richards.

His conservatism was standard issue Talk Radio: jingoistic, simplistic free-market rant, peppered with the usual scapegoats for all the world’s ills. If everyone would just be like him (hard working, righteous and religious) then the world would be a much better place. And if our enemies got a big nuke up the ass for the effort, then Pax American could reign triumphantly once again.

That we don’t believe in any of that crap isn’t the point. The point is that Jeffrey Lynn Cassman didn’t believe it either!

You can’t claim to be an up-from-your-boot-straps success story, as you did, if you stole your money, shithead. Your pride in your financial success rings a hollow if you jacked that money from your father-in-law and made off with the retirement savings of some old-folks you knew. You can’t claim to love your country and then willingly break laws that are there to protect people from avaricious pricks LIKE YOU.

Ahhhhh . . . now I feel better. It’s fun being righteous and throwing a few stones.

Of his Catholicism, there were reports that he attended services regularly, that he preferred Latin mass, and was perhaps Opus Dei. That he missed out on the message of compassion of the New Testament, or “Thou Shall Not Steal” of the Old speaks for itself.

So in the Kangaroo Court of La Cuadra we convict him for the crimes of lacking style or having a better story. We convict him of having a calculating rather than a romantic heart. We find him utterly guilty of lacking in a spirit of generosity (it ain’t charity, if you’re donating someone else’s money, it isn’t hosting a party if you drained someone else’s bank account to buy the barbeque sauce) and we suspect that he was planning to (or perhaps already had) conned some of his “friends” in town.

The difference between a criminal and an outlaw is subtle, but maybe it’s best understood this way. Outlaws might live by their own rules, but they have empathy and a code of honor. Criminals, on the other hand, see innocent people as an opportunity.

When an outlaw moves on down the road, they’re missed. Romantic stories are told about them years down the line. When a common criminal leaves, there’s exasperated relief.

In the FAQ section of his blog, question number 7 reads: “No one ever retires early to Guatemala, obviously you are hiding from something or running from something, what is it?”

His answer was the hot weather in Phoenix and the 60-hour-work weeks.

Now we know.

Vaya . . .

[1] I can’t help but think of the Groucho Marx witticism where a man told Groucho that he had 10 Children. “Why so many children?” Groucho asked.  “Well, I love my wife,” the man answered. Groucho paused but a second, then said “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while!”

  1. Loved the pun on his sartorial style!!! I didn’t trust him, but I didn’t imagine his felonies were so egregious. I figured maybe he had lost a great deal in the economic crash and had hauled away with some money to start a new life elsewhere or something. It was suspicious that he was always looking for “mules” to bring him stuff and could never take the trip to the US himself for his coveted US-goodies, so I thought perhaps he was just broke and didn’t want to admit it. It would be an amusing morality tale, if it weren’t that he was dragging 10 innocent kids around! Ah well. C’est la vie, right?
    PS: I would argue that a man who really loves his wife would think twice about foisting 10 kids on her!

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."