HUSTISFORD -- He's the "kind of guy who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos." That's how an elderly Wisconsin couple describes the man who promised them amazing returns on their money, but left them in a desperate financial bind.
Timothy McQuiston has a lot of big ideas, but they always seem to cost other people big money. His latest venture? Fortune cookies shaped like tacos and cannolis. He tapped friends and acquaintances for millions of dollars in loans, but after seven years and a host of excuses, they have almost nothing to show for it.
When it comes to first impressions, McQuiston usually makes a better one than this.
"Why don't you stop and talk to me?" FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn called out, as McQuiston hustled from his car to the front door of his office building. "What do you have to hide?"
Jim and Carol Frank met McQuiston after the 2008 stock market crash slashed their retirement savings.
"There was a lot of anxiety about what we were gonna do to make that money last," said Carol Frank. "Whatever was left of it."
McQuiston was looking for investors to help launch 'Lucky Taco LLC' -- a maker of taco-shaped fortune cookies.
"It was a very clever thing, wrapped in plastic," Carol Frank said.
He was offering 12 percent interest for a one-year loan -- far more than any other investment they could imagine, especially in the midst of a sudden recession. The problem was, the Franks didn't have much to lend. They are retired and live on Social Security. So McQuiston turned his eyes on their quaint farmstead near Allenton, about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
"He said, 'Your house is paid for, isn't it?'" Carol Frank said.
McQuiston convinced the Franks to take out a $100,000 mortgage against their home, which was completely paid for. He used the money to buy a new cookie machine for his shop in Hustisford, a small village in Dodge County. Before long, he was back, asking for more.
"Another one-year loan," Carol Frank recalled.
They gave him another $35,000. And $30,000 more after that.
"We were like babes in the woods," Carol said.
"Trusting," her husband added.
For a while, McQuiston paid the Franks interest on the loan. But one year came and went, and he failed to pay the principal. Then two years. Then four. Then six.
"He never seemed to be making a lot of cookies. Do you remember that?" Carol Frank said.
"No, right," Jim Frank said.
They would've been even more worried if not for the collateral that supposedly protected them.
Little did the Franks know just how tangled a web 'Taco Tim' was weaving.
"Once he gets the money, you never hear from him again," said Stan Johnson, another early investor. He loaned McQuiston $95,000.
Bob Bieser coughed up $114,000.
"He says, 'You want to get in on a new machine I gotta buy?'" Bieser recalled.
Bieser, Johnson and the Franks had no idea they were business partners. That is, until a woman named Myrna Rae Hoehne came along.
"And he said, 'I have a woman from Texas that's interested in buying my business,'" Carol said.
Myrna Rae runs a bakery in San Antonio and earlier this year, she was looking to buy Lucky Taco.
"And I said, 'Oh, thank God, our prayers are answered," Carol said.
But before she would agree to a deal, Myrna Rae wanted to know how much money McQuiston owed and to whom.
"She asked for the list of investors and Tim gave it to her," Bieser said.
Over the course of several emails, the debt grew from $700,000 to $1,000,000 then $2,000,000.
"She starts looking at this list and going, 'Oh my God! There's 18 people on here,'" Bieser said. "And she started calling them."
Myrna Rae found that Lucky Taco owes 18 investors roughly $2.6-million dollars.
"I was flabbergasted!" Stan Johnson said.
"And we practically fell on the floor. We couldn't believe that," Carol Frank said.
"Nobody knew about each other. Everybody thought they were the only person doing this," Bieser said.
Instead of buying the business, Myrna Rae reported McQuiston to police. The Dodge County district attorney declined to prosecute, suggesting it might be a civil matter. So Myrna Rae turned to the FOX6 Investigators.
McQuiston ignored repeated requests for an on camera interview. And when FOX6 tried to reach him in person, he quickly fled, literally driving over grass to get away. Just minutes after he left tire tracks in the lawn outside his business, McQuiston called and asked for another chance to tell his side of the story.
"My intent is to get everybody paid," McQuiston said, when he finally sat down in the FOX6 studio in Brown Deer.
McQuiston blames his lack of success on equipment that never worked right. He also blames his own health problems -- he had heart surgery a few years ago. While he was out, there was no one to pick up the slack. You see, Lucky Taco is a one-man operation.
Bryan Polcyn / FOX6: "So you have no employees that are doing factory work?"
Tim McQuiston: "No."
Polcyn: "Sales? Deliveries?"
Polcyn: "This is just you."
But while he wasn't selling many cookies, he did manage to keep landing new investors.
"Where you could possibly, possibly burn up that much money, I don't know," Johnson said.
McQuiston: "I guarantee you it was a lot of money."
Polcyn: "Where did it go?"
McQuiston: "Well, it went to pay rent. It went to pay utilities. It went to pay for trade shows."
Actually, McQuiston failed to pay rent for so long, the building owner sued him for $131,000.
And court records show he owes nearly $1,700,000 in civil judgments including $800,000 to a former partner in an auto parts business and $165,000 in delinquent state taxes. Debts he never disclosed to investors.
"They didn't ask, you didn't tell," Polcyn said.
"Right," McQuiston said.
McQuiston is now trying to gain traction with a new, cannoli-shaped cookie. He's using Lucky Taco's machines, but selling the cookies under a new name.
Polcyn: "Did you ask them for permission to use these machines for Cookie Concepts?"
McQuiston: "I don't have to."
"They're not obligated to pay me anything. So he scammed me on that!" Bieser said.
And then, there's the collateral.
Bob Bieser believes he owns the cookie machine known as the Fazni-5000, but in April, McQuiston gave the Franks a document saying the machine belongs to them. And just four days after that, he filed a form called a UCC with the State of Wisconsin assigning interest in the Fazni-5000 to Black Stallion LLC.
Polcyn: "Now why would you do that?"
McQuiston: "That was, uh, a misunderstanding."
Black Stallion is connected to another Lucky Taco investor -- Port Washington Dentist Dr. Dan Witkowski.
Polcyn: "How would that be mistakenly filed?"
McQuiston: "He wanted his interest protected. I grabbed a piece of paper, wrote down some information, and on the back side of the paper there was typed information regarding something else. It was not supposed to have been done that way."
Witkowski declined our request for an interview. But after we started asking questions, the UCC was terminated on October 14th.
By then, McQuistion had already filed another UCC assigning the Fazni-5000 to a fourth investor in Florida.
Polcyn: "Was that one a mistake too?"
Polcyn: "So that one's on purpose."
"It's an absolute scam," Johnson said.
"It's criminal!" Bieser opined.
"Definitely criminal," Carol Frank argued.
Of course, that's their opinion.
Polcyn: "Should you be held criminally responsible?"
McQuiston : "No."
McQuiston says he just needs more time to make things work. That, and another investor.
"Either find an investor that will come in and help with this project," McQuiston said, "Or find someone to turn it over to."
"It's important that he is stopped from doing this," Carol Frank said.
It may already be too late for Jim and Carol Frank. They're about to lose their home.
"It's kind of, like, tearing my heart out," Jim Frank said, tearing up and turning away from the camera.
They want their story to serve as a warning to others before the next investor comes in with hopes of making a fortune, but left with little more than crumbs.
FOX6 Investigators watched the Lucky Taco facility on four separate occasions, all weekdays. Never once did we see a shipment of cookies leave the facility. In fact, Lucky Taco LLC is no longer even registered to do business in Wisconsin.
McQuiston says he is still selling Lucky Cannolis. We found a few bags for sale at a gas station in Ashippun, not far from Hustisford. McQuiston says his biggest order right now is about 10 or 20 cases of cookies, a far cry from the big orders he promised investors when he took their money.
Hustisford police say investors have the option to sue McQuiston in civil court. However, some of those who spoke to FOX6 say there is little point, since McQuiston already owes so much money to others. In addition to the $2.6 million he owes investors of Lucky Taco, he owes $1.7 million in court judgments, for a total of more than $4 million in debt. The cookie equipment is worth a fraction of that.