The life of the TR Wright III pilot could be compared to that of a modern-day James Bond, managing to survive a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, driving luxury and jet-set cars around the world all over the world. by donning the best designer clothes and accessories.
But the extravagant lifestyle – often detailed in magazine-worthy images on Instagram – would come to an abrupt end when federal investigators learn he was funding his larger-than-life lifestyle through an elaborate series of fraud schemes. insurance.
Authorities surrounded Wright in June 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas as he walked through the hotel lobby with a briefcase.
“It was pretty surreal to open that briefcase and see this shot of this guy posing as a James Bond character coming out of Trump Tower in Las Vegas with a briefcase with $ 70,000 in cash, two guns, a car title and a burnt phone, âsaid Constable James Reed, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, CNBC’s “American Greed” in a new episode aired Monday night at 10 p.m. ET / PT. “I don’t know how to describe it except it was TR.”
Wright, then known simply as Ted Wright, was born in the sleepy little town of Port Kent, New York, located along the shores of Lake Champlain.
âIt’s gray. It’s depressing. It’s still overcast,â Wright later told âAmerican Greed.â âAnd the people over there, they’ve never left the area. So from this far away. As I can remember, it was like as soon as I could get out of here, that’s the plan.
But before escaping, Wright would learn a valuable lesson in sales and marketing while working at a kiosk in the local mall.
âYou have marks. And, whether it’s Coca-Cola or Apple, or yourself, being able to market a brand and make it successfulâ¦ I meanâ¦ people are brands. So I think that was a first lesson, âhe said, noting that he had also discovered he was a natural salesperson.
He had finally left New York City in his early twenties after following a girlfriend to Kemah, Texas.
âAt that time, the business he was starting and growing was to find boats that had been torn apart by the storm and he could fix them and then he would sell them,â old friend Raymond Fosdick told producers.
Wright also obtained his pilot’s license, a move that would be a central aspect of his subsequent plans.
While working to establish himself, he continued to buy boats, planes and cars at the lowest possible prices, then repair them for minimal costs and sell them for maximum profit.
âI like to negotiate. So I think that’s the deal that I really like, âWright said. “I guess what turns me on.”
Wright first went under Reed’s radar in 2014 when a Cessna Citation plane he had flown in the small airport in Athens, Texas, exploded in flames a few days later, leaving the plane charred .
Investigators immediately suspected arson and confirmed their theory after discovering grainy surveillance footage showing a person approaching the plane on the night of the fire and opening the cockpit door before a giant fireball engulfs both the aircraft and the aggressor.
âThe individual then stumbles from the ground around the wing of the plane. Looks like it’s on fire and heading for the wooded area behind the plane, âReed said.
Investigators believed the person was “either dead or seriously, badly burned” and began to search local hospitals and morgues, but were unable to identify a suspect.
Reed also spoke to Wright, who claimed he was only hired to fly the plane, and told investigators its owners were in France.
But when Reed looked at Wright’s background, he was surprised to find that this wasn’t the only unusual event in Wright’s past.
Wright and Fosdick both made national headlines in October 2012 after their small plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico and they spent hours in the ocean waiting for rescuers to spot them .
During an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Wright said the couple flew from Texas to Florida when a fire broke out in the cockpit and they had to make a landing. emergency in the ocean.
But the story never went well with Reed.
“It was the realization that there was something more to this and at this point the investigation, for me, became” I have to find out what’s going on who these individuals are and what are they doing “”, did he declare.
Over the next several years, as Reed continued his investigation, Wright was busy enjoying a lavish lifestyle and marketing himself online and on Instagram as a wealthy businessman. He posted pictures of himself on an exotic vacation, driving expensive sports cars and posing beside his many planes in a custom flight suit embroidered with the word “boss.”
“He had, I think, a lot of adventures,” Katy Vine, editor of the Texas Monthly told “American Greed.” “He’s had a few roaring years, a lot wilder than most people in a lifetime.”
He got married and posted pictures alongside his gorgeous bride as they traveled across the United States and across Europe.
âI think we wanted to project some sort of international mystery man, James Bond, ‘Mission Impossible’ type character. It was almost a caricature of it, âFederal Prosecutor Nathaniel Kummerfeld said. âYou know, he ran into all the stereotypes, but it was almost too much. It was almost like made for Instagram.
Investigators would eventually find that Wright’s extravagant lifestyle was funded by a series of carefully crafted insurance scams.
Wright had created a variety of shell companies designed to hide the fact that he was the real owner of the companies. He would then buy a boat, plane or car under one of the companies he owned and create documents showing that he sold the item for a much higher price to another company, which he was also. owner, according to “American Greed”.
“It’s a paper trail that if the insurance company or someone does their due diligence, they see a notarized, stamped and sealed official bill of sale from an airplane receiver and trust and lawyer which shows, “Oh, no, they paid a lot for that,” Wright would later explain the pattern on the show. “So that takes the red flag out of the equation, I guess.”
After the item was damaged or destroyed, Wright collected an inflated insurance payment. According to investigators, the ploy was the real motivation behind the plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to a federal indictment obtained by “American Greed”, Wright willfully crashed the plane into the ocean to destroy it and collect insurance payment while the plane lay on the ocean floor.
He had bought the plane for $ 46,000, then insured it for $ 84,000, nearly doubling his payment. His financial gains became even greater after convincing Fosdick to press charges against him for the crash, secretly raising an additional $ 42,000 from the subsequent settlement for himself.
A similar plan was drawn up for the plane that burned down in Athens. Investigators say he bought the plane for $ 190,000 and then insured it for $ 440,000, which he recovered after it was engulfed in flames.
A court would later determine that he had collected $ 988,554.83 in insurance claims over the years; although Wright himself claims the real number was closer to $ 30 million or $ 40 million.
Fosdick told “American Greed” that he was unaware of the planned crash in the Gulf of Mexico until the plane was already in the air.
âOnce he thinks about it, I pretty much know it’s going to go down,â he said, later adding, âIt’s a pretty traumatic event. Whether it’s on purpose or not or whatever. either, it’s always a very traumatic event in a lifetime.
While he declined to speak about the Athens fire, prosecutors said Fosdick later confessed to starting the fire in an attempt to help his friend complete the project.
âEven to this day, I don’t really have any friends and wanted a friend,â Fosdick said of his decision to participate in the programs. “I wanted a friend, basically, and I wanted to do, you know, part of something and that [was] easy for him to pick on him. He didn’t care about anyone or anything. It was a question of money in his pocket.
The cookie crumbles
Fosdick would later agree to cooperate with authorities in Wright’s case and in May 2017 Wright was indicted in Texas on conspiracy of wire fraud, wire fraud and arson.
He was sentenced to five years and five months behind bars after pleading guilty to wire fraud and arson conspiracy in December 2017.
Even behind a jail cell, Wright said he had no regrets except for his occasional partner.
âI can’t say I regret doing it, but I regret the way I did it,â he said of the 2012 crash in the Gulf of Mexico. âIf I could do it again, I would have been alone. I mean, if you commit a crime with someone you can’t trust who ends up being a rat, that’s a problem.
Fosdick also pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and arson conspiracy for his role in the crimes and was sentenced to three years and three months in prison. He was released in 2020.
For more on Wright’s quest for a lifetime of adventure and wealth, tune in to âAmerican Greedâ Monday at 10 p.m. ET / PT on CNBC.