Ben Mezrich’s “Straight Flush” Literary Fraud, Part 8: The Ridiculous Lifestyle Justifications
This time out, let’s veer away from the tedious but factual evidence presented in this lengthy series’ previous posts, all of which reveals the massive literary fraud of author Ben Mezrich in his faked “true story” of the rise and fall of Absolute Poker, Straight Flush.
Instead, let’s share a little bit of insight into what makes Ben the Writer tick — the way he manipulates his readers into somehow believing that the Absolute Poker thieves were good people. After all, that’s Mezrich’s real job; if he can’t make the likes of Scott Tom and Brent Beckley sympathetic, then the book’s a flop. Along the way we’ll toss in a few real facts as well, just to contrast with Mezrich’s fraud.
The apex of the AP frat boys’ hedonistic parabola had to be AP’s sponsorship of a gray Ferrari driven by former NETeller CIO Jeff Natland (who managed not to be indicted when NETeller was targeted by US feds only months later) into the Gumball 3000 rally, a global tour and neverending party that ended up with a party at Hugh Hefner’s Los Angeles Playboy Mansion. One AP insider wryly commented about Mezrich’s failure to offer any sort of justification for what company wags referred to as “Scott Tom’s $500,000 festival of alcohol,” while ignoring the harsher reality as well.
This Absolute Poker party scene, mostly in Costa Rica but at times spanning the globe, ran for several years and was paid for out of AP’s corporate coffers. Nightly bottle service at San Jose’s most exclusive clubs was just one facet of the myriad extravagances paid for with other people’s money, but the sobering reality is that the party activity drained millions and millions from AP’s bottom line, and was itself a significant contributing factor to why there was no money left when the piper finally came calling.
It’s a shameless exploitation by writer Mezrich of his readers’ expectations, most of whom will never learn that the vicarious thrills they’ve paid for in purchasing this book aren’t real. Instead, Mezrich just plays to base instincts, the facts be damned.
Examples abound in Straight Flush, which features multiple episodes of the frat boys’ alcoholic exploits across the globe. Here’s Mezrich at his most purple, over-describing a blotto and barfing Brent Beckley stumbling around the innards of the Monte Carlo Casino:
“The party had been beyond extravagant: a buffet that seemed to go on for miles, offering everything from piles of stone-crab legs the length of baseball bats to vats of beluga caviar that could have filled a sandbox; four working bars staffed by a half dozen staggeringly beautiful bartenders, all amazonian Eastern Europeans who looked like they’d stepped off the set of a James Bond movie.”
And all on their best behavior, except for Beckley, who is “out-of-his-mind drunk… after the fifth shot of sambuca had hit the back of his throat.” After suffering through Straight Flush passages like the above, Beckley shouldn’t be the only one struggling with gag reflexes.
2006 in particular was a year of extravagant spending by the AP boys: the Gumball 3000 rally, which spanned several weeks; the Monte Carlo fete; and Hilt Tatum’s Paris wedding, among way too many other similar trips from that span of the company’s existence.
Hilt’s December 2006 wedding to St. Petersburg (FL) socialite Sarah Bennett is mentioned only in passing in Straight Flush, it being another of the many tales in the book whose real truths swim barely beneath the fiction Mezrich spreads. The wedding, originally scheduled for Florida, was quickly rescheduled for Paris after the October ’06 signing of the UIGEA, as the company’s execs feared that any trip into the States might result in their arrests.
The whole lead-up to the Tatum-Bennett wedding was itself quite public, as Bennett’s mom, Lennie Bennett, wrote a year-long series on the wedding in addition to her regular literary duties as art critic for the St. Petersburg Times. As one would expect, the real reason why the wedding was hustled over to France never quite made it into the SPT features.
Meanwhile, even as the AP frat boys took these steps to stay away from possible incarceration, what they told to their customers had a wholly different flavor. This is the link to the full press release the company issued immediately following the signing of the UIGEA, in which the company essentially thumbed their corporate noses at the US Congress, writing in part:
“We are confident that our business, and that of our partners and suppliers, will be unaffected because while the U.S. Congress’ efforts potentially could block transactions conducted within the U.S. banking system, many of our payment providers transactions are done within the framework of the international banking system, which the U.S. Congress has no control over.”