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— And what of Prider? On December 19, 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged four Virginians with running a prime bank scam, by which promoters promise fantastic returns through rapid buying and selling of foreign financial instruments, but never, ever come through. In spring of 1998 -- about the same time Vassallo was dealing with Prider -- one of the Virginians went to Prider, who claimed his program could make 300 percent a week. Yes, a week. If the Virginians would plunk down $500,000, Prider said he could provide a "statement of account" worth $10 million. Prider failed to perform, of course.

There are questions about Presto's accounting. In August of 1999, as he prepared for an audit by Pannell Kerr Forster, acting chief financial officer Kenneth W. McNerney complained to Vassallo that "I have never been given access to any books, records, contracts, equity reconcilement, or ledgers at any time in the past years, and therefore I take no liability for its appropriate content, legal accuracy, or adherence to accounting principles." The Pannell accounting firm resigned the account, according to San Diego managing partner-audit Robert Sporl. He refuses to say if he talked with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Prominent San Diegans Ernie Hahn and his father Ron, who own and run the Sports Arena, are major Presto investors. Ernie went on the board briefly. "There was a long list of companies that Bobby said were in the process of auditing the books," says Hahn. "The concession was the only good asset, and we [board members] couldn't get information on it. If Presto has a concession, there is a serious company to be run."

But could Bobby Vassallo run a serious company? Investors and former insiders say his credibility is low and his memory weak -- a deadly combination. I learned that one reason that several National Basketball Association players got Presto stock is that they had invested in oil wells with Bobby, and the wells had failed completely. So he gave them Presto stock. I cannot find evidence that Vassallo actually got rich in the oil business in Texas, as he claims.

Vassallo and his two lawyers would not respond to phone calls or faxed questions. Davis, Prider, McNerney, and Ziegler could not be reached for comment.

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