Hank Lee

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.

Postby erdnasephile » 03/31/12 08:10 PM

Just received this from Mark Stevens:

"At what cost - for a cheaper price? I don't have to detail the situation. My guess is you're already aware of it... And as unfortunate as "it" is, it's not something we want to blitz too much... That stated, it should be mentioned - that "trust" is a benefit worth a lot... It's not an add on or an option when you check out - (like selecting insurance), but make no mistake it has tremendous value.

We at SME never wanted to be the biggest, never wanted to be a carnival sideshow selling anything and everything at close to the our cost. We want to sell quality magic at a fair price, using the profits (which I assure you are not what you think and sometimes not) to re-invest in keeping our business alive...

Our goal is to focus on those clients, that value integrity and quality (with respect to both products and services). We can't be all things to all people. At the end of the day, we hope that people who share similar value's will "vote" with their dollars, euro's and pounds, and Yen by choosing Stevens Magic Emporium - knowing you can buy with confidence.
Mark Stevens - SME"
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Postby JHostler » 03/31/12 09:42 PM

the Larry wrote:And by another take on human behavior and risk assessment: once a crook always a crook.


And once a speeder, always a speeder... once a cheater, always a cheater... once a bed wetter, always a bed wetter... once a jerk, always a jerk - right??!?! Everyone screws up. Some just do a better job of it.
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 03/31/12 11:25 PM

I spoke to RG in person today in Atlanta while at the Gathering for Gardner. As I was told, at multiple steps along the timeline of the legal proceedings RG apparently offered to settle the whole matter for pennies on the dollar. It is utterly incomprehensible to me why this went all the way to federal court with so many other less expensive and less personally damaging options on the table. (I can only speculate that HL thought he could hide behind fraudulent documentation and get away with it. Perhaps there are other reasons, I don't know. That is purely my speculation.)

At any rate, RG is pleased at least to have the matter resolved satisfactorily. He and his lovely wife are expecting the birth of their child on July 1. They are a delightful couple.
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Postby the Larry » 03/31/12 11:45 PM

HL didn't screw up 'once'. He screwed up hundreds of times over the course of years. Can people change and get their act together? Yes, but it happens very seldom after such a behavior has been established over that amount of time and magnitude. In business when you loose your integrity it is gone. It will never come back, no matter what you do or say, because there is always that lingering feeling that no matter what is done or said, one day he is bound to do it again.
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Postby JHostler » 03/31/12 11:47 PM

All - As "RG's" physical address is included on page 5 of the Stipulated Statement of Facts linked above, masking his name makes about as much sense as hiding the word s***t from folks who have no idea what a shift is. His identity is no secret.
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Postby Harry Lorayne » 03/31/12 11:58 PM

I'm awfully sad about this, and I do wish you'd stop referring to Hank as HL!! HL. (Seriously.)
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Postby the Larry » 04/01/12 12:15 AM

Ok, we will call him by his full first name Harry L. Better? :-)
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Postby CraigMitchell » 04/01/12 03:19 AM

I feel sorry for the family and staff. The situation is tragic all round. I just can't see how he intends to continue the business in its current form. Besides the PR fall out ( would you trust your payment details with them ? ) what bank would continue to offer them merchant account facilities ? Amex, Visa and Mastercard would be hard pressed to continue to offer them the ability to process cc transactions when you have admission of guilt of mass credit card fraud.
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Postby IrishMagicNews » 04/01/12 08:30 AM

Without wishing to de-rail this thread... While in the process of trying to find out who RG was I came across the following video. In it he gives a tour of his house. Quite a cool place. The man seems like a really nice guy to boot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM109_EbMcs
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Postby Terry » 04/01/12 09:24 AM

I used to have the same self-righteous attitude toward those who broke the law until I became the IT Branch Manager for the KY Dept. of Corrections.

There are individuals who through one stupid act cause great pain to everyone around them. But they are tried, convicted and sentenced. They serve their time and are released. Their debt to society is paid according to the law.

Instead of this trial of public opinion, let the legal system do it's job.

There is an old saying, "Let those without sin cast the first stone."
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Postby AJM » 04/01/12 10:50 AM

Terry

I don't understand, is it self righteous to believe that those who break the law should be punished, via the legal system, for their crimes?

I'd also be interested to hear how the role of IT Manager at a Corrections Facility changed your own self righteous views.

Andrew

P.S . I think the old saying you paraphrase originated in the Good Book itself.
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Postby the Larry » 04/01/12 10:59 AM

Terry, I could agree with you if Hank Lee would have made two or three fraudulent credit card transactions of a few hundred dollars and if he would have admitted to them when asked by R.G. or at the latest when the investigators showed up on his doorstep.

However, Hank Lee has made hundreds of fraudulent charges over the course of several years in the amount of at least $560,000 and then like a hard boiled criminal he tried to obfuscate and hide his criminal actions for months when asked about them. Sorry, but I have no soft spot for such people in my heart.
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Postby Bob Cunningham » 04/01/12 10:59 AM

As one of the most intense critics of Hank in this thread, let me say something positive about him.

Last night I revived an e-mail from Hank asking if I had personal issue with him and if so could he do something to address it. I have to say, I admire the hell out of that!!!

Confronting your critics and asking if you can "make amends" takes great personal courage.

This does not change my mind at all about doing business with Hank. He has a LONG, LONG way to go to earn back the trust he has squandered. And currently, I would rather let Charlie Sheen give me relationship advice than give my credit card to Hank. But I am impressed that he reached out!
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Postby Oddly Bent » 04/01/12 12:40 PM

Everything about Hank Lee at the Cafe seems to have magically disappeared.
Never did any business with him, too far away. Hard to see how he can make a comeback with pay pal and credit card companies having issues with the business.
Another brick and mortar biting the dust. Sad for the industry and his loyal customers.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 04/01/12 01:06 PM

That was pretty weak to delete the Hank Lee thread on the Magic Cafe. I don't what they were reason was, but it wasn't too bright of the person who did it.
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Postby Gordon Meyer » 04/01/12 01:15 PM

The thing that is most surprising to me is that $560K (more, actually, when you add in legit business) for a magic shop didn't raise some red flags somewhere. It has been a lot of years since I worked in a magic shop, but that kind of cash flow would have been astronomical at the time.
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Postby poboymagic » 04/01/12 02:58 PM

This parody of the Hank Lee logo seems to capture the mood:
http://www.themanxcomic.com/category/comic/
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 04/01/12 03:46 PM

RG's dad was Owen Garriot.. the first ham radio operator to operated from space and Richard was a space tourist a few years back.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/01/12 05:31 PM

Times are very tough for brick and mortar magic dealers, and ALL magic dealers. The desperation brought on my the possibility of economic catastrophe sometimes leads men to criminal acts, or suicide. If Hank Lee is guilty, then a little good old pity might be in order. There's a difference, albeit one not readily seen (and many would refuse to recognize) between stealing money to keep your business float and stealing money to buy sports cars, a fancy house, and drugs.

I do not know the details here, but I will give Hank Lee the benefit of the doubt and hope that he was doing this just to keep his business alive and pay his bills. If he is found guilty, or has already plead guilty, then he will face the punishment of the court. After that punishment he will have paid his debt to society and will be able to start anew. He also has a family, and they must be in our thoughts as well.
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Postby Andrew Charles » 04/01/12 05:55 PM

Richard Kaufman wrote:Times are very tough for brick and mortar magic dealers, and ALL magic dealers. The desperation brought on my the possibility of economic catastrophe sometimes leads men to criminal acts, or suicide. If Hank Lee is guilty, then a little good old pity might be in order. There's a difference, albeit one not readily seen (and many would refuse to recognize) between stealing money to keep your business float and stealing money to buy sports cars, a fancy house, and drugs.

I do not know the details here, but I will give Hank Lee the benefit of the doubt and hope that he was doing this just to keep his business alive and pay his bills. If he is found guilty, or has already plead guilty, then he will face the punishment of the court. After that punishment he will have paid his debt to society and will be able to start anew. He also has a family, and they must be in our thoughts as well.


That's easy to say, I guess, when you're not the one who got ripped off. Hank Lee has been doing stuff like this for a LONG time. (I got ripped off by him on my first (and last) order as a poor, 18-year-old college student -- and that was before he would have been feeling much pressure from online magic stores.) And I'm not alone:

http://www.mylovelyassistant.com/dealers/view/42

Somehow I don't think he needed that half-a-million just to keep his head above water. If you do need to rip off your customers in order to keep your business afloat, then perhaps you have an untenable business plan. And if that's the case then he should have submitted a resume at Arby's like a decent human rather than steal from other hard-working people.
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Postby the Larry » 04/01/12 06:43 PM

Wow, so stealing is now fine to keep ones business running. Like it really matters why he stole. Mr. Kaufman how is your business going? Can I really trust you with my credit card for the Genii renewal? If you have a shortfall perhaps you are tempted to double charge it, too?

I am almost as shocked by the attempts to excuse Hank Lee's crime than by the crime itself. I don't know what a magic shop makes in terms of profit these days but $560k over 3 years sounds an awful lot. Do not forget that these $560k were pure profit for Hank the thieve. He didn't ship any products. He simply pocketed the money. Think about it. How do you charge $560k over three years? That is $3600 per week. So Hank the bastard sat down every week and said ok let's steal another $3600 - and he did that for 150 weeks. Or maybe he charged $15k per month. Whatever the case. It is an awful lot. Give me a break. I hope he gets locked up and goes out of business.
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Postby pilotpete » 04/01/12 07:17 PM

Hmmmm....and there's me thinking that Busby was the guy everyone had a downer for.
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Postby Oddly Bent » 04/01/12 07:23 PM

I have been away a few hours and since then a cupola threads have magically reappeared at the Cafe. One challenging the person that has been deleting threads. Not a smart move on that persons part if it is Mr. Brooks that is authorizing the removals. That is a good way to get yourself banned. Perhaps there is legal reasons posts are being removed, after all, Levy was advertising on the site.
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Postby J-Mac » 04/02/12 12:29 AM

Sorry but I can't see any reason to excuse such a crime. Over half a million dollars stolen? I dont care what his reason was for stealing it, business, family... There is simply NO excuse! None. If the business is that tough, then get the heck out of it. But please, do not try to justify what this man did. He is a common criminal and should pay with jail time, period.

It never fails to amaze me how some folks can be so accusatory toward less serious offenses and yet offer understanding for a $500K+ theft. Incredible.

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Postby Joe M. Turner » 04/02/12 12:42 AM

I think there is a world of difference between being willing to examine potential motivations for crimes and actually morally excusing them. Nobody here is excusing or justifying the crimes that were committed.

I don't like it when people put words in my mouth - I can only imagine the Chief Genii feels the same. I suspect we all do.

Just sayin.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/02/12 02:14 AM

No, "theLarry," I did not say it was fine to steal to keep his business running. I only posited that as a possible less terrible motive than what his other motives might have been.

It appears he committed a serious crime and if guilty he will pay--as he should.
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 04/02/12 03:29 AM

Everyone is opposed to stealing half a million dollars. Talking about why it happened isn't a gesture excusing it. It's just a more interesting discussion than variations on the insipid and obvious theme that stealing is wrong.
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 04/02/12 03:33 AM

Jim: What are some of those less serious crimes that there's a generally "less accusatory" attitude toward? Or is it just people who don't restate the obvious, that stealing is a bad thing, not a good thing?
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Postby Ryan Matney » 04/02/12 04:00 AM

I've purchased from Hank Lee since I was 11 years old. I did not buy as much in the last few years becuase I felt his shipping was usually high compared to other options but still I bought stuff fairly regularly.
The business has been a part of my magic life since almost day one and he was always helpful and fair with me.
First catalog I got, and most of my books came from there.

He's been around a long time and done a lot of trade. I can't begin to excuse the crime but geez...forgive me if, like Richard Kaufman and Joe Turner, I wonder about the motives and thought behind it.

I can imagine how easy it would be to make a bad/illegal choice and then be in over your head and need to keep doing it. If you read his newsletters, he had a lifestyle, collge for kids, etc etc. Maybe his family did not realize the shop was not funding everything.

I don't know...sucks for everybody involved.
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Postby mrgoat » 04/02/12 05:05 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:It appears he committed a serious crime and if guilty he will pay--as he should.


Hasn't he admitted it and pleaded guilty?
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Postby Tom McDonagh » 04/02/12 07:00 AM

CC theft is very widespread. On Fox News a man advises checking your cards activity daily. I've had to dispute a number of charges that were not mine.
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Postby the Larry » 04/02/12 07:17 AM

Or Paypal which shields your credit card information. For me that is the real lesson in the Hank Lee story. I will from now on try to use Paypal for all my online purchases. It makes a lot of sense if you look at it through this story. Once RG switched to Amex the theft began. I guess an Amex card also communicates you have money and might not be checking every transaction.

Why the outrage over Jeff Busby who stole $20k or maybe $30k by taking money for a publication which he did not publish, but all the 'nice talk' and 'it is understandable he had kids and family' stuff when Hank Lee stole 20 times that amount? Why there is not a lot more outrage is puzzling.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/02/12 07:52 AM

I guess part of the difference is that Hank Lee has friends that go way back in our field and was generally seen as a decent guy, as opposed to Busby, who--even when he was actually shipping the stuff you paid for--was always an arrogant high-handed and generally unlikeable person to deal with.
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Postby rickfishercolon » 04/02/12 08:42 AM

This is not only a sad time for Hank Lee but for magic and magic dealers everywhere. In an era on 'online' only purchases it has made it tough for magic dealers to survive let alone thrive. This has given the magic industry a bit of a black eye but one that will eventually heal. It is a lesson to not only us dealers but it also shows how the economy is still challenging especially for the magic industry.

Most of us remember when we bought magic with a personal check for our catalog purchases - because that was the only way you could buy magic - or go to the physical location to see it and buy it.

There are hundreds if not thousands of online folks who want to be magic dealers - no inventory - they just rely on the wholesalers to be their 'warehouse' - this is a dangerous scenario and some wholesalers will sell to anyone because they too need the cash capital to keep afloat these days.

I see it every day - more junk - more crap flooding the magic marketplace - I see and hear of magic shops closing and now the convention business is in trouble....I count five closed just in the past few months. Everyone is having to re-evaluate not only where they buy magic but what kind of magic is available to buy. Magicians are very leery of the quality and substance in magic these days. It's a valid concern for sure. The horror stories are aplenty.....

It will be interesting to see what the ramifications to the magic industry will be once the dust settles over this latest situation. We can only hope that as dealers and as customers we can take away important lessons learned and move forward. Perhaps in the long run the magic industry will be stronger and more competent for it.

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Postby Q. Kumber » 04/02/12 09:14 AM

It's hard to think that the staff had no idea that something fishy was going on. There must have been endless emails and phonecalls to the premises from disgruntled customers over non-delivery of goods and excessive postal charges.
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Postby the Larry » 04/02/12 09:43 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:... and if guilty he will pay...


By his own admission he IS guilty of $560k credit card fraud and obstruction of justice (lying to federal investigators). He is a criminal and deserves to be treated as such.

To me the 'Mr. nice guy' criminal, as Hank Lee is portrayed by some, is even more dangerous than the obvious crook. Hank Lee robs you blind with a smile and a handshake.

What we should not forget is that Hank Lee didn't just steal $560k from RG. A theft of that magnitude doesn't start cold turkey. He stole from many other customers, small amounts here and there, didn't ship something, overcharged another, double charged the third, sold second hand items as new, copied products himself and sold as original... Over 37 years that could mean thousands of small claim frauds. So Hank Lee could have easily stolen a million or more during his 30+ years as magic dealer.

Consider the damage he has done to magic. Consider the 13 year old whose initial magic purchase was with Hank Lee, who ripped him off. That poor lad probably was disgusted to the point of not pursuing magic at all. That potentially is a damage of tens of thousands of dollars to the magic community as a whole, just from one kid he ripped off. Potentially there are hundreds of cases like it.

Consider the damage he has done to other magic shops who will be damaged simply by generalizations like "All magic dealers are crooks." And "Why should I buy magic at all if dealers steal - I will steal it myself and illegally download the book or DVD from a pirate website."

By my accounting Hank Lee has damaged the magic community by several million dollars. Nice guy eh?

On top of that damage the "El Harvey's" of this thread who somehow try to rationalize what has happened simply provide the rationalization arguments for the next thief in our community who is waiting just around the corner. You guys are actually making the whole thing even worse not better.

For me personally the common sense response to the Hank Lee case are very simple:

+ I will never purchase from Hank Lee, ever, no matter how low his prices are, no matter how many promises he makes. There are many other dealers who deserve my business and they will get it.

+ Any business who supports Hank Lee, runs his ads, supplies products to him will also be avoided. Anybody who does business with a criminal and supports his business is no better in my view than the criminal himself.

+ No more credit cards online for me. Paypal is much safer. Their dispute system is also a lot more convenient than making a charge back through your credit card.
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Postby jimvines » 04/02/12 09:55 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:If Hank Lee is guilty, then a little good old pity might be in order.


As someone who had to pay his own way through college delivering pizzas to those who were on the "daddy scholarship", I'll have a hard time working up any pity for Hank Lee.

On the other hand, by all accounts RG earned his fortune honorably. My pity goes to him.
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Postby Joe Howard » 04/02/12 10:02 AM

The staff had nothing to do with this. Don't put them in the same sinking boat with Hank.
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Postby Roger M. » 04/02/12 10:36 AM

Joe Howard wrote:The staff had nothing to do with this. Don't put them in the same sinking boat with Hank.


That's a definitive statement.........something that seems dangerous to make without absolute knowledge of the facts.

I'd be tempted to refrain from making any statements that do, or don't incriminate anybody else in this matter.

Also it would be wise to remember that human nature being what it is, if there is anybody else associated with Hank Lee who IS guilty of a crime it's highly unlikely they're going to step forward and just admit it........so there remain a lot of unanswered questions, and it would still seem unwise at this point to continue to do business with the Hank Lee operation.

Half a million dollars is a lot of money, a sum that would be difficult to not only hide, but also difficult to explain to a bookkeeper that knew what your yearly grosses ought to be.

Some have made the point that it would be difficult for any employee of Hank Lee's not to know that something was going on, although it's certainly not impossible that "Hank" did this all on his own without any assistance, and without raising any flags.

Regardless of your take on the entire matter, the actual Hank Lee online store would seem to be a terribly unsafe place to purchase magic from until all the facts are on the table, and those that committed illegal acts are separated from the Hank Lee operation.......and even then it seems a difficult choice to make (unless you trust that every criminal always gets caught).

It would also seem an absolute impossibility at this point in time to make definitive statements on what did, and what didn't happen beyond what is already on the table as it relates to "Hank" himself.
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Postby Joe Howard » 04/02/12 10:55 AM

The staff had nothing to do with the crime.

"those that committed illegal acts are separated from the Hank Lee operation"

That would be Hank.

I didn't say anything about continuing to shop at Hank Lee's. In fact, why anyone would even consider it, is beyond me.
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