VIDEO VAULT: Conman James Ray Houston ran for Nevada Governor to help with his scams
LAS VEGAS (KSNv) —
His aliases included Rex Rogers, Midas Mulligan, Jay Orlin Grabbe and Sun Ray Star. But here in Nevada in 1974, con man James Ray Houston went by his real name as an exciting candidate for governor.
“I thought he was great. Of course, talking with the guys there and they all thought it too,” said Dave Williams, who had fond memories of his time working in a print shop used by Houston.
“Fliers, and kind of campaign material,” remembered Williams in 2012. “We farmed out the buttons or anything that might have to do with the campaign. We pretty much did everything.”
It was a three-way race, with Democratic incumbent Mike O'Callaghan facing a challenge from Republican Shirley Crumpler and Independent American James Ray Houston. But did Houston really expect to win?
“No, I think it was to create other scams down the line.” Mused Rodney Franklin in a 2012 News 3 interview. “’Look at me, I'm running for governor. I must be honest or the newspapers and that would expose me’.”
Franklin had been hired to run security for Houston in 1974, initially for a precious metals scam.
“The big thing was when he wanted to offer everybody stock in his company,” said Williams. “And that was the Western Pacific Gold and Silver Exchange, I believe.”
The stock represented silver stored in a bunker in Cedar City, Utah. Or if you already had your own silver, Western would offer to “guard” it.
“We don't want someone sneaking into your house and stealing your 1000 ounces of silver,” grinned Franklin. “So if you put it in our vault, we'll only charge you $30 a month for that.”
Houston's most outrageous scheme was outlined in his self-published book "Countdown to Depression". He would become governor, and make all Nevadans wealthy.
But Franklin knew there was no actual silver.
“And I don't think I worked there two or three weeks when I went to the Attorney General's office and said, ‘You guys need to know about this,’” said Franklin.
The AG didn’t bite. Neither did the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Then Franklin met with a couple of reporters working for Hank Greenspun.
“Harold Hyman and I became good friends. And Lou Dolinar -- Lou was at that time with the Sun.”
On election eve, a front-page story by the two investigative reporters exposed the whole scam.
O'Callaghan predictably won. Rodney Franklin laid low, fearing retribution. Houston fled under indictment, but a Nevada Fish and Game warden recognized the gap-toothed grin on a flight to Florida.
Houston was brought back and tried, but acquitted.
“The Assistant U.S. Attorney did a horrible job of prosecuting,” observed Franklin.
Unbelievably, Houston started a new scam with a penny exchange, while suing the paper that had brought him down.
“The lawyers tell me that I will own the Las Vegas Sun,” boasted Houston at a 1980 press conference. “And from a legal point of view, they have to destroy James Ray Houston and my business associates so that I may have to stop my cash flow.
The penny exchange went nowhere, and Houston was soon busted in California as a phony talent scout.
It was a shock to those who initially saw him as a very impressive, young, would-be governor.
“I was really surprised,” sighed Williams. “Everybody was. It was kind of a surprising thing.”
Houston eventually fled the United States, and decades later was indicted along with his son and three others in an international lottery scam. He turned himself into authorities in Costa Rica in 2011 and died the following year in a federal prison at Terminal Island, California.
James Ray Houston had remained a con man until the very end.