Charles Ponzi (seated) on verge of his deportation via the SS Vulcania
After Charles Ponzi’s 1934 deportation from the US, he mostly faded from American newspapers. However, in 1937, The New Yorker where-are-they-nowed him in an almost sympathetic article. Journalist Russell Maloney’s profile depicted the man as a dissipating alcoholic living a threadbare existence in Rome. Ponzi was idling his life away with gambling, drinking and of course plans for entirely new get-rich-quick schemes. Maloney also provided this fascinating tidbit:
“[Ponzi] talks sometimes of connections high in the Fascist administration, and during the recent campaign against Haile Selassie help himself in constant readiness to go to Ethiopia to handle relations with the foreign press.”
Ponzi would indeed eventually cajole Italy’s fascist government into a foreign appointment… but not before tried his hand at writing.
The Rise of Mr. Ponzi
Foremost among Ponzi’s post-exile moneymaking ideas was a hagiographic autobiography of his American adventures. He originally called this work Meet Mr. Ponzi. Speaking of its commercial prospects, Ponzi said, “I don’t think that I’m under an illusion if I state that twenty-five thousand copies ought to sell in New England alone.” So confident was Ponzi in imminent resurrection that – despite lacking a publisher for Rise – he started a sequel entitled The Boston Merry-Go-Round. Things didn’t go as he planned.
Though Ponzi eventually self-published his memoirs, sales never materialized. In fact, the only press Ponzi’s book garnered were “financing difficulties” getting his books printed.
Brazil. Don’t Call It A Comeback.
Through his nephew Attilio Risso, Ponzi befriended Bruno Mussolini, pilot and son of Benito. It’s said Ponzi was introduced to the Italian dictator as a successful international banker. This bizarre intersection of the lives of two historic, yet doomed Italians is – for me anyway – deliciously absurd. Il Ducé himself reportedly was impressed enough to make Charles Ponzi the General Manager of the Linee Aeree Transcontinentali Italiane in Rio. LATI, as it was known, was Mussolini’s state-owned airline connecting South America back to Italy. As such, LATI was a vital supply source for the war efforts of Axis powers.
LATI’s vast network of air routes
Mussolini’s new airline, with Ponzi as its initial GM, would soon become a vital smuggling conduit for Nazi gold, tungsten, diamonds and spies. For a spell, Ponzi was back in the money and living the high life. He reportedly had use of one of Mussolini’s limos and a posh mansion on Ipanema beach. Incredible!
Ponzi briefly got to live like a baller again
It’s a story for another post, but LATI eventually failed. Allied intelligence forces duped Brazilian dictator Getúlio Vargas into believing that LATI and his political enemies (the Integralists) were jointly plotting a coup d'etat. Ponzi likely discerned what was happening in some form because he made an attempt to offer Brazilian authorities secret information. Vargas canceled LATI’s rights to operate and by extension, Ponzi’s last grasp of the good life.
Ponzi, after LATI, lounges on a Brazilian beach with his memoirs.
All Downhill From Here
It’s hard to find information on Charles Ponzi’s last years. Someday I hope to perform research in Brazil’s national archives. (I’ll need an insider’s help there I’m sure.) One previous tidbit was unearthed by Elizabeth Carcelli, in her book “O mundo da violência: A Policia de Era Vargas.
In English, Google translated this text as:
"One case of persecution applicant was registered by Carlo Ponzi, on May 26, 1942, intended to draw attention to the work of Müller police. According Ponzi, on the morning of April 16, he was arrested at his home by two researchers from the Security Police and Social Policy, and taken to Police Headquarters on charges of having made strong campaign against the chief of police, commissioned by others. There, by order of a cabinet official Müller, such Filedelfo, had been detained incommunicado in tank stuck on the ground floor of Central for 23 days. Was closed, isolated in a solitary cell and wet, although he was under medical treatment, forbidden to read, write, speak, shaving, bathing, etc.. except to give his signature to the necessary vouchers for food. Skillfully, the office of Chief of Police of the Federal District had informed family members and searching for Ponzi attorney, there was no news of his whereabouts. His release was only possible because his health had deteriorated too much.”
A few other stories seem to confirm this article. They refer to Ponzi having LATI’s secrets beaten out of him. With Brazil digitizing it’s National Archives, I finally have hope that more information surrounding Charles Ponzi’s bizarre final years will finally surface.