Ruminant With A View
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“Nemo Me Impune Lacessit/None provokes me with impunity”
The Men in Black don’t call first. They’re soft-spoken and dead-serious, and they show you their badges politely, but they show up, when all your cars are in the driveway, unannounced. And, then, they come in, invited, sit down, and begin to ask you the questions derived from the information they’ve amassed. About your longtime “friend,” and former publisher (and, before that, former employee, at The Athenian magazine), a man whose “real” name, whose birth name, you have never known, and may not know for some time to come.
Ironically, the man’s most recent publishing venture, www.OfficialWire.com, for which I was listed as Editor-In-Chief for two years, has, as its epigraphs: 1) Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, or None provokes me with impunity; and 2) Lying is the greatest of sins (Alfred Nobel).
And Greg Lloyd Smith, aka William Victor Bernson, III, (aka Jennifer Monroe, aka Dr. Tobias Bernstein, etc., etc.), as his many victims will attest, is the very embodiment of both slogans: he is quick to anger, attacks anyone presuming to question or check him with vigor and venom . . . and almost everything he says one may presume to be a lie.
Bill is a con-man, a sociopath, and I suppose I knew this almost from the beginning. But I was the sociopath’s best buddy. I was the conscience that walked outside his body. At least, so I imagined. I, too, was conned; and conned myself. I’m not proud of it now.
His autobiography, Footnotes To A Scoundrel [sic], written under one of his legion of aliases, Brian Richards, and currently unavailable for sale (Will a sequel, or a more accurate prequel, be written from prison, I wonder?) depicts him, as well, as a sinner of the first water—a man who has left women, children, business partners, creditors, et al, in the lurch since he conceived his first scam, conned his first mark, deceived his first wife. Back there in Boston, MA, I’d guess, from his accent and vocabulary. (“Hiya,” was his preferred greeting.)
Google him now, under Greg Lloyd Smith, and you will find some 843,000 entries, a few of which attempt pitifully to flesh out the “man no one has actually met,” the man I, in fact, met, in 1989, in Athens, and worked with on “Greece’s English Language Monthly.” At the time, all I knew for sure was that Bill was very, very bright (with an IQ I’d place at 180-190), very, very funny, and involved with a very, very pregnant Englishwoman, whom he would shortly marry. One of the only photographs I have of him where he’s facing the camera—a telling fact, that, in retrospect—is of the couple and their new baby, sitting on my Laura Ashley sofa in the Greek capital.
The only other extant and recognizable photo of him that I know of dates from 2006, on Mykonos, where he and I were working on OfficialWire, and where he was living with his Greek wife, Katarina, and their three small children. What happened to “Wife Number One”—if, indeed, she was Wife Number One—I do not know.
In fact, as I told the Men in Black, I know only what “Bill” told me; only what he allowed me to know. He talked a blue streak to me, always, and is on record as saying I was his “Necessary Evil.” (My husband saved all his e-mails over the years.) I suspect, like most sociopaths, he needed one confidante, one person with whom he could be his best self. And he needed, always, my editorial skills, as many of his online ventures involved churning out a lot of copy, fast and clean. I wrote for his online –zine; my writer-friends wrote for me for his online –zine; Bill’s publishing company, Origin of Books, brought out print-on-demand and Kindle editions of several of my books.
For a while, our working relationship actually worked. OfficialWire was read. I imagined the other writers and I were doing good work.
During those years, though, I didn’t know how dark was his dark side.
Certainly, Bill would every now and then try to rope me into working, hard, for him, without pay (on W3Rez; and Mayside—a business that developed surveys for clients; for a fledgling clone of Bikram Yoga he called Hot Yoga), but I was not to be conned.
On occasion, too, I witnessed his anger at those who crossed him—against: Drossoula Elliott, one of the owners of The Athenian; a pair of Mykonian brothers who ran a car rental firm (when they reneged on a contract with Bill, he directed their online business to a porn site); Jeff Bezos, the founder of www.amazon.com, whom Bill took on in the Greek and US courts; and a member of the UK House of Lords who, Bill claimed, had conned him out of the ownership of a bank (a story detailed in Bernson’s second book, Crooked Knight, also currently unavailable).
I suspect both Footnotes To A Scoundrel and Crooked Knight will soon become collectors’ items, and Bill’s life and fast times the subject of a film along the lines of “Catch Me If You Can.”
Apparently, and I don’t believe the FBI lies, even while deposing the innocent, the charming, funny sociopath I once knew in Athens is now behind bars in England (or Wales, his last known address). And, since he is wanted in at least four countries that I know of, myself, I think he will remain behind one set of bars or another for some time to come.
Though it is very, very hard for me to believe it’s all come to this . . . .
I told the FBI what I knew, when they asked what I knew, because, when I became a Reiki Master and a practicing Yogini, I swore a vow to tell the truth. I don’t necessarily always volunteer the truth, and I had long assured Bill that, unless he abandoned Katarina and the children or injured me and mine, or anyone else I knew, his secrets would remain with me. I weighed the man’s rather puerile rages and rants against the welfare of three small people he obviously loved and, then, even when he turned on me and fired all my authors, from one day to the next, taking my writing, my archive of work for OfficialWire, and my books down from amazon . . . none of it seemed sufficient cause to out him.
But, outted he was, though the Men in Black would not say how, or even, precisely, where and when. For my own good. Too, they asked that I not “reach out to him,” or to his family. No worries, I said.
I don’t know what his last-known wife knew. I don’t even know if she knew she was not married to “Greg Lloyd Smith.” Bill spun me an elaborate tale about losing his case against Bezos in the US courts and assuming a dead man’s identity to escape imprisonment. (Having little love for Bezos, and a lot of respect for a man who bought up amazon.gr, toyota.gr, fiat.gr, etc., etc., etc., before Bezos thought to do it, himself, I believed Bill’s story.)
So, had I the power to do so, I’d give Katarina the benefit of the doubt. I’d let her go back to her family in Greece, and bring up the children in a peaceful, normal environment. Even if she did figure out she was married to a monster, what could she do, with three children to care for? And to whom is, was, she in fact married?
To many he has burned, I now know Bill has been a monster. But, just as surely, I also know he was born a sociopath, and had no choice in that matter. As I told the Feds, if the decision were in my hands, I’d pack him off to prison for his crimes, but I’d allow him to, somehow, use his intelligence working for the US Government, as opposed to simply filthy lucre.
Like the protagonist played by Leonardo di Caprio in “Catch Me If You Can,” Frank Abagnale, Jr., Bill has great gifts. Seemingly devoid of formal education (I imagine the nuns kicking him out of parochial school in Boston in c. the eighth grade, and him living by his wits after that), he carved out (and trashed) several million-dollar empires during the time I knew him.
With his mental acuity, inventiveness and brilliance—and in the care of a gifted shrink—is there not some way this man could better repay his debts than by rotting in a series of dark cells, plotting escape and revenge?
I cannot imagine Bill confined for life. I’ve never seen him not beat a system set up to contain him. That’s both part of the glory of this aging enfant terrible, and the worry. If only just his dark side might “go away for a long, long time,” leaving the light free to play, we’d all be safer.
(Bill Bernson photo by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring/Copyright, Elizabeth Boleman-Herring/No use without specific, written permission.)