Thirty years ago, he sold precious metals, South African coins and gold bouillon to wealthy Richmonders.
In recent years, he pushed a lifestyle of luxury to jet-setting customers around the world.
Until this summer, his company, Unusual Villas and Island Rentals, helped broker rentals of luxury villas in exotic locations such as Bali, St. Barts and the Galapagos.
In stark contrast to his business life, Greer, who made local headlines in the early 1980s for running from the FBI in a high-dollar fraud case, lived in apparent squalor in Richmond in recent years.
“He was living like a hermit, a dirty hermit,” Greer’s attorney John Luxton told a federal courtroom Wednesday. “This is not a man who was living the high life.”
A glimpse into Greer’s life was revealed Wednesday when Judge John Gibney Jr. sentenced him to five years in federal prison for defrauding 18 Unusual Villas customers out of more than $600,000. The sentence came 30 years after Greer was convicted of fraud related to his previous company, Virginia Gold and Silver Trading Co., resulting in four years behind bars.
Greer’s current troubles began when he was arrested Feb. 2 by the Richmond Police Department and charged with grand larceny in connection with taking a customer’s money and not holding up his end of the deal.
Those charges were later dismissed to allow federal law enforcement to pursue a case that eventually found numerous victims and indications that Greer had been skimming off the top of a business that for many years had been legitimate.
According to the government’s case, Greer would solicit vacationers and villa owners through the Unusual Villas website. He often required vacationers to put down sizeable deposits that were supposed to be refunded.
The case found he commingled customers’ funds to enrich himself and to pay off previous business expenses, including money owed to other renters, according to court records. In some instances, he simply kept the money, the charges stated.
Court records list 18 victims who are owed between $3,300 and $69,000 each. Greer eventually pled guilty.
Greer lumbered into the federal courtroom Wednesday wearing a faded blue prison-issued jumpsuit. He’s in his late 50s, is overweight and has diabetes.
Greer has been in a federal prison on the Northern Neck since mid-summer, when his bond was revoked.
At the hearing, he listened to one of his victims, Theresa Pisanelli, detail how his scam has affected her life.
“I’m here today because it seems if he’s allowed to do it again, he’ll do it again and again,” Pisanelli told the judge.
Greer also looked down at his hands and teared up at times as his attorney Luxton and Gibney described a man living in filth and in a fragile mental state.
Luxton during the hearing passed photos to Gibney of Greer’s home and car.
After looking at the photos for a moment, Gibney described what he had seen.
“Essentially [the photos] show Mr. Greer’s living arrangements are an awful mess,” he said. “It’s like one of those television shows you see about hoarders. It’s just a disaster.”
Luxton said Greer, who ran the Unusual Villas business out of his West End apartment, isn’t living in a “fancy Dan house” or “living the life of Riley.”
Investigators wore hazmat suits when going in to search Greer’s home, Luxton said.
Then there’s his car: an early ’80s aqua Mercedes with a license plate that reads “STBARTS”. Perhaps a luxury purchase for Greer at one point, but no longer.
“Words really can’t describe that vehicle,” said Luxton, hired by Greer’s father, who traveled from his home in Shreveport to attend the hearing. Greer began to tear up when Gibney addressed his father, complimenting him for supporting his son.
Throughout the case, Luxton said he began to notice something amiss with client’s mental state. He described Greer arriving at the wrong time for meetings and showing up ill-prepared. He was far from a sharp businessman who navigated the world of high-end villas.
“He’s certainly not mentally insane, but something’s not right,” Luxton told Gibney during the hearing.
Then it was Greer’s turn to speak.
Allowed by the judge to sit while speaking because of diabetes-related foot problems, Greer thanked the U.S. attorney who worked the case, the FBI and Luxton.
He spoke initially in a shaky, hushed tone, holding back his emotions.
“I’m just in really bad shape,” he said. “I’ve been living like a hermit.”
His volume comfortably increased as he began to talk about his career.
“I’m an idea man,” he said. “Some people have said I’m one of the best marketing men they’ve ever met.”
Greer said his business peaked in 2007 but was damaged by the economic downturn. That forced him to get rid of staffers who helped keep his back office in check.
He then began to break down.
“I want to tell all the people who lost money, I apologize for that,” he said.
“I hope to pay back the money,” he said, choked up, “as soon as possible.”
Finally, Gibney explained his rationale for the sentencing. He clearly wasn’t convinced that Greer’s apparently distressed existence was reason for leniency.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people who steal things wind up with nothing,” Gibney said.
He also commented on how the suggested sentencing guidelines for such white collar financial crimes seem low compared with, for example, the young adults he sees in federal court getting 10 to 15 years for selling crack.
“He was raised with every advantage,” Gibney said of Greer.
Greer went to boarding school at Christchurch School and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond.
“He’s fine when things are going good. When things aren’t going good, he steals,” Gibney said. “It’s important to send a message to keep others in this position from doing the same kind of thing.”
Gibney recommended that Greer be put in a federal prison facility that can provide him medical care and mental health care.
“He’s a physical wreck, as Mr. Luxton so accurately put it,” Gibney said, causing Greer to tear up again. “And mentally, something is missing.”
Luxton said he and his client have no plans to appeal the sentence.
“It could have been up to 20 years,” Luxton said when reached by phone after Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t think Mr. Greer and I can find any fault the sentence.”
Once he’s out in 2017, Greer is forbidden from conducting any sort of business that involves the Internet, holding the funds or property of another, or having any fiduciary capacity.
The mystery in Greer’s case is what happened to all that money.
He clearly didn’t spend it on a nice home or a car. And Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Brumberg said the government’s investigation has not recovered any funds for victims.
“No one knows where [the money] is,” she said. “It was frittered away.”