American Greed Episode 73: Union Bu$ter/The Fool's Gold

Case File

Union Bu$ter

The Sandhogs Local 147, a New York City construction union, whose workers build tunnels and underground passageways, entrusts Melissa King for overseeing union benefits to ensure their retirements. Instead, King uses the workers funds to cut herself checks to the tune of $42 million. The union workers unwittingly foot the bill for King's household staff of maids, security guards and a personal chef. She racks up a $7 million American Express bill and buys her daughter's way into the high-end world of equestrian jumping – spending nearly $5 million on horses and horse-related expenses. The union finds out, but not before many of its members see their accounts reduced by $50,000 to $80,000 and are forced to return to the tunnels to continue working during their golden years.

The Fool's Gold

Carl Estep is a smooth-talking ladies-man who looks for love and money, all to fund his phony gold scheme. The Montana conman spins tales of riches saying that he has hundreds of 55 gallon drums filled with 'gold concentrate' and all he needs is cash to pay for refining the gold ore to make millions. But the only thing in those drums is dirt. When one lovelorn retired investor, we call "Valerie," loses $220,000 to his scam she informs the FBI and wears a wire to so the feds can see him in action. "Valerie" who thought she met 'Mr. Right' and wanted that money to fund her retirement now finds herself back at work with her savings gone wanting revenge.


  • Living High on the 'Hogs

    Melissa King feeds her insatiable spending habits by embezzling millions from the New York Sandhog Union's retirement fund she was entrusted to protect. Her security guard, Richard O'Keefe sees the extravagance firsthand.

  • Who Are the Sandhogs?

    The Sandhogs Local 147 is a New York construction union whose workers build tunnels and underground passageways. Watch them in action here.

  • Beware of the Man with the Ssilver Tongue

    Carl Estep is a smooth-talking ladies-man who looks for love and money, all to fund his phony gold scheme. "Valerie" thought she found 'Mr. Right' until she met him in person ...


  • No Happy Hour Allowed

    Rich O'Keefe explains how Melissa King kept her employees from finding out about her scam.

  • FBI Sting Operation

    FBI undercover video of Carl Estep's pitch to investors.

  • Melissa King is believed to have spent more than $5 million on her and her daughter's love of horses. Here are some of the horses she bought using Local 147 funds.

  • Carl Estep convinced many investors his barrels contained rich concentrated ore using this assay, which investigators later determined to be fake.