Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crazy Villainous Schemes Involving Insurance Fraud: Diablo Edition

Amazing Spider-Man #607 by Joe Kelly, Mike McKone & Adriana Melo

Yesterday, we posted a short profile of the former construction tycoon and current owner of The DB, Dexter Bennett. We had mentioned that 20 years ago or so, Bennett had a falling out with his business partner, Bernie Mayer, which had caused him to resign from his position with the company. The falling out had to do with some mysterious backdoor deal that Mayer had made with an unknown party in order to acquire cheap materials.

It turns out that this shady dealing involved one of the most convoluted and ineffective villainous plans I have ever witnessed throughout my history of reading comics. Now, comics are no strangers to intricate and sometimes nonsensical plots, especially by weaker villains. But this one has to make a list somewhere. There should be a Guinness Award in the Marvel Universe for such things--and this would certainly win one.

The charmer you are looking at in the panel depicted above is Diablo. Diablo is typically a Fantastic Four villain but has decided to make his way over to the Spideyverse in this instance. He is equipped with the ability to transmute elements, which allows him to create various materials and potions in order to perform actions largely outside the realm of modern science. He can create sleeping potions, hypnotic powders, and things like that. Basically, he is one part alchemist, two parts crazy evil scientist. The catch? Most of his creations only last for a temporary amount of time before they explode, disintegrate, or just fade from existence.

In this plan, Diablo had used his talents to create a whole bunch of steel, which he then sold to the Bernie Mayer at extremely cheap rates. Suspecting that something was amiss, Dexter Bennett did not support the deal. And this was incredibly astute of him for it turns out that this steel was geared to explode in exactly 20 years from the time of its creation. That's right, this plan would take 20 years to live out...

Indeed, Spidey. Why did that psycho go through all this trouble of making and selling 20,000 tons of steel and sitting around for 20 years until it was rendered useless? And then attempting to murder the owners of the construction firm he sold that steel too? (By the way, this is what led Spider-Man to his tail in the first place).

The answer is a major insurance ploy. Diablo had concocted a scheme to sell faulty steel to Bennett and Mayer, knowing that they would then use that steel to construct a major office know what, let me outsource this to Spidey and the Black Cat:

OK, so here is where the insurance comes into play. Go on...

Wow. Were you guys as blown away by that as I was? Let's recap what we have just learned about the bulk of Diablo's diabolical insurance scheme in terms of what I imagine to be his to-do-list:

Diablo's Evil To-Do List:
1) Create 20,000 tons of faulty steel set to expire in 20 years.
2) Sell 20,000 tons of faulty steel to famous construction company
3) Somehow get involved with / start forty different, unconnected small businesses and secure permit for a seemingly innocuous NYC office building
3) Persuade this construction company to use this steel for construction of seemingly innocuous NYC office building
4) Take out massive property insurance policy for all forty businesses.
5) Wait 20 years.
6) Find and kill owners of famous construction company from 20 years ago and hide their bodies so as to make them appear suspicious for the impending destruction of seemingly innocuous office building.
7) Watch building get destroyed.
8) Somehow collect on over $9 billion of insurance money, without bearing any of the suspicion since it would all be placed with those greedy, corrupt construction folks.

If I'm reading this plan right (and admittedly the details are a bit vague, so I'm making several assumptions here), then there are so many things that are so exaggerated and elaborate that it's hard to believe Diablo is any sort of scientist (even if it is an evil alchemist). Even Doctor Octopus's ludicrous schemes have some semblance of logic. This is just plain silly.

First, let's talk about this insurance policy. Spidey and Black Cat throw around the term "catastrophic," but this is not to be confused with catastrophic health insurance, or high-deductible health plans, designed to cover, well, catastrophes in health. No, this seems like Diablo or these companies or whoever merely took out a whole bunch of property insurance policies that cover things like magic steel explosions.

One thing that confuses me about this is the payoff of $9 billion. That seems like an awful lot of money to me. As a comparison, following the attacks of 9/11, the insurance companies paid out up to $4.6 billion for the World Trade Center's destruction. And this was after a trial in which the insurance companies, in an effort to pay less, argued that the collapse was caused by one incident, whereas leaseholder Larry Silverstein claimed it was two, distinct attacks. Note that this was only about $5 billion AND it was for two different events AND it was for the WTC, two of the tallest buildings in the entire world. The fact that Diablo stands to collect $9 billion seems highly suspicious to me and it's a wonder that it did not seem so to anyone else.

Second, how is it exactly that Diablo got himself in a position to collect all of this money? The building in question, according to Black Cat, contains "forty separate small insignificant operations carrying wicked huge insurance policies." She also mentions that the companies are "seemingly unconnected." To me, this suggests that there is, in fact, a connection and that this connection is clearly Diablo. So then is the implication that Diablo created forty different small businesses for the purposes of later destroying them and collecting insurance checks? If he did not physically create them, then he must be somehow involved with their management and finances such that he serves as the insurance policyholder. Either way, there seem to be forty semi-phony companies that exist to pay Diablo off. And what's more is that these businesses have had to operate consistently and earn profit for over 20 years. That's quite a lot of work for one supervillain and frankly I didn't realize that Diablo had the business sense to keep it going. AND we're in a recession. Jeez!

There is no doubt that Diablo's plan focused entirely on making money. There is no Joker-like sensation of foiling the superhero and there is no seeking of power and fame here. This is strictly about stealing dough and being rich. I realize that many villains are not too effective in this area, but there are much more obvious ways that Diablo could have pulled this off that would not have involved waiting 20 years and the operation of 40 small businesses as a prerequisite.

Here's an idea: Make and sell more steel! This is a guy with the power to make things that nobody else can make. And he's demonstrated that he is capable of selling these things. So, um, why not just keep doing that?

How about this one: Make money from your businesses! Again, Diablo has some sort of financial connection to these 40 operations, whether he physically owns them or has somehow persuaded them to pay him lots of money. He is clearly at the very least a shrewd operator, since these businesses have been profiting for over 20 years and the collective insurance payout between them has amassed to $9 billion dollars. The guy can just make money legitimately, but instead he decided to spend two decades trying to see the fruition of a plan that is as faulty as the steel with which it was based on.

As Spidey mentioned, it turns out that behind all this convoluted foolishness, Diablo is nothing more than a simple crook. And the real tragedy is, he's not even a good one.


Will said...

Just another point on the insurance, even if he had property insurance (and less say it was limited to only catastrophic losses versus some other type of losses, in order to keep the premiums nice and low - which would be suspicious) and was insured up to $9 billion (not unheard of for a tower of insurance to reach really big numbers, but that is WAY high), in the end (as Silverstein discovered and you pointed out), you can only collect replacement or repair in most insurance company. Property insurance is not life insurance that is payable for full value at time of loss, it covers the cost to repair or replace the structure. It is hard to believe the building we see at the end was worth anywhere near $9 billion, so Diablo probably overinsured and would've gotten only a fraction of the limits.

Also, why buy the insurance policy in the past. Most property insurance is occurrence based and cover a policy period, meaning you can recover for losses suffered during the policy period. He could have avoided a ton of premium payments by waiting to insure until the year of the loss (which he knew). Alternatively, maybe he found some crazy 20 year policy period policy, but that wouldn't have been cheap regardless of the age of the building and renewing each year meant the policy premiums likely went up reflecting age of the building.

I only wish they showed you the Reservations of Rights letter sent by his insurers who denied coverage for many reasons, including because he probably had a crime exclusion and Diablo's very acts made it appear like a crime rather than an act of God.

Michael T said...

Or create 20,000 tons of gold, pop into one of those GoldBuyer places, and collect a cheque for (if I've done the arithmetic properly) $640 billion.

ShadowBanker said...

Will - Yep. That's exactly how I understand property insurance as well, so the whole thing rang an alarm in my head. It still puzzles me how Diablo is collecting the insurance checks (or plans to). I mean, I really don't imagine he put his name (or at least his real one) on these insurance policies. He probably has some kind of in with these business owners, but still...

Michael - Yep, instant $.

Adam said...

If you think about it from the supervillain's point of view, this isn't such a bad idea. I think that it's possible to make $9 billion, and that there isn't an immediately obvious way to make more than that with alchemy.

First off, creating more steel or gold is unlikely to make $9 Bil. The total supply of gold in the world (thank you google) is 1,555,210 kilograms (171 tons). That works out to something like $13 billion dollars. Lets say you double the supply of gold and sell it pound-by-pound. The demand for gold is finite, and the more gold that enters the market, the cheaper each pound gets. I think it's safe to assume doubling the supply would halve the value. By the time you reach $9 billion in gold profits, you've spent way too much time manifesting gold. Inflation in a market is a big worry for anybody who wants to make it rich with alchemy.

I actually think it's possible to get $9 billion out of insurance fraud, though, especially with "wicked huge" policies. (I assume that wicked huge implies that the limits on the policies (unlike those on 9/11) had virtually no limit)

If all the employees were fake "shell" employees, the worker's compensation insurance alone could be $2 billion (50 employees X 40 companies X $1 per "fatality").

I think that property insurance would be a necessity. For fraud purposes, he could insure each of the companies for some priceless artifact that is necessary for the function of the business, or on any number of things.

I'm not sure that this is the best way to make money with alchemy (and evil), but it isn't all that bad.

Rick said...

Here's an idea: Make and sell more steel! This is a guy with the power to make things that nobody else can make. And he's demonstrated that he is capable of selling these things. So, um, why not just keep doing that?

Never mind steel: The fact that the things he makes will go away after a while is a selling point for the right materials.

The first option is to make material for objects which are disposable. If you are going to throw something away within a year, do you really care if it is going to turn into fine sand in five?

Even better, would be to make things that cause problems if they were to stick around. Even Dr. Helen Caldicott would have few problems with nuclear power if the waste was simply going to go *poof* after about a decade.

ShadowBanker said...

Adam - Very interesting points especially about the supply of gold. One thing though: insuring a priceless artifact that is vital to the performance of the company (one company?) seems like a task. I mean, this would require some major justification. If you're enjoying some obscure gismo that the company is theoretically useless without, I think that warrants insurance companies to investigate this material. It might arouse suspicion.

Rick - Actually I'm not clear as to whether Diablo's inventions just go "poof" into the wind or whether they leave behind some kind of remnants that might affect the environment negatively. This might stir some controversy from environmentalists!

Rick said...

I freely admit to speculating regarding how that bit of Diablo's powers work. I suspect that Marvel doesn't actually know either.

Even if there are environmental issues WRT the expired materials, that still leaves situations where the normal material would be worse.

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