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This is an early, rough draft excerpt from Paton’s book. The content that follows is subject to change.
As I followed the kind and established city attorney from Meridian, Miss. for ten blocks from his office to the city’s police department, it was apparent that my life was going to change. As he slowed down in front of the police station around 6 p.m., he pointed out to the window to let me know I was in the right place. Then, a final hand gesture, which seemed to signal both “goodbye” and “good luck.”
I parked and walked into the police station, and calmly stated to the clerk that I had an urgent need to speak to the police chief or other high-ranking officer, then handed her my storm recovery business card. When she asked the nature of my problem, I replied coolly and calmly that I had inside information about local officials who had committed fraud for more than $5 million, having to do with Hurricane Katrina and a FEMA-backed debris clean-up contract in Lauderdale County, Miss.
I also mentioned to her that I was the person who secured the current city cleanup contract for $2.5 million, and had moved 25 people and heavy equipment into town from Greenville, S.C. as manager of the project. Which, in so many words, meant that I was a very important person.
After waiting for the longest hour of my life, I finally was able to sit with a “youth resource officer.” (It might be convenient for me to point out that said resource officer drew the shortest straw in having to deal with me, after my entire life was scrutinized online and otherwise by someone far outranking me. That isn’t necessarily a fact, but is typical of the paranoid thoughts I’m having as I write.)
When I suggested meeting with not only him, but also another local FBI agent, they steered me in another direction. I’m not sure exactly if he thought I was crazy, or even felt that I was making perfect sense, but when I started dropping names of possible conspirators, from head county administrators all the way to Governor Haley Barbour, I could sense a controlled fear in his eyes.
After 30 to 40 minutes, I’d told him all the details of my last two weeks and had also run my mouth about everyone I knew and suspected of illegal activities. I then mentioned to him that I had everything documented on my laptop and had already written e-mail drafts detailing these activities to Michael Chertoff (Head of Homeland Security) and then-FEMA Director Michael Brown (Who, interestingly enough, resigned the next morning, Sept. 12, 2005.) I also told him of other large storm debris contractors whom I felt were “up to no good,” such as Ashbritt of Florida, who days earlier had hired former Army Corps of Engineers Director Parker and had almost instantly been awarded a half-billion dollar contract from the Corps to perform cleanup closer to New Orleans.
At some point, I realized that I wasn’t going to experience a breakthrough with this officer, and that he must be stalling me for some reason. I then looked the officer in the eyes with a piercing intensity in direct contrast to my previously calm demeanor. I then asked, “Am I safe in this town?” With no change to his own demeanor, he said, “If I were you, I would leave Mississippi tonight.”
In my own mind, I took this to mean a threat from a cop that I was going to be killed. This thought of being shot or abducted overwhelmed me so much that I asked him to simply walk me to my car. He obliged, and we walked without a word. As we stepped out of the police station, I took note that it was now dark outside. I then thought to myself, “I’m probably okay in this parking lot. But if I drive up the hill to my apartment, I might get killed. I hopped in my rented Crown Victoria with Louisiana tags, headed east toward Interstate 20 and a few turns later I was on the highway.
The scope of it all was astounding. Within a two-hour period, I’d gone from a successful contractor, standing up for what he rightly believed in, to a broken man experiencing disabling paranoia.
Though not fully delusional, my thoughts were racing at warp speed. Should I be engaged, I decided, I would need sturdy means of protection.
Pulling into a Wal-Mart outside of Tuscaloosa, I used the last of my cash to purchase a 12-gauge black Mossberg shotgun.
I remember wondering if I was going to pass the FBI background check, due to the fact that I’d been taking lithium then for two and a half years, and thinking that authorities would have access to my medical records and know of my Bipolar 1 diagnosis. Minutes later, the purchase went through. I celebrated with a box of buck shot.
After having the (rather large) sales clerk walk me to my car, I began preparation. Though I couldn’t remove the magazine plug to load five full rounds, it was probably for the best. I’d only need to fend off one or two attackers, I surmised, and three shots would certainly be suitable. I piloted back to the highway and began thinking of my next move.
It’s my belief that if there is a perfect scenario for a Bipolar 1 tempest to be stirred, it’s when a man with actual accomplishments and truthful reasoning skills encounters a puzzling situation.
Up until this point, I actually believed that I was operating functionally (at a high hypomanic level, albeit) but beneath the zone of psychosis.
At this point, I believed that my car most likely had a tracking device on it and that my phone calls were surely being listened to.
To test this, I decided to dial a few of my most trusted friends, seeing as I was down to a list of only three or four people I trusted to believe and help me. The first was to my closest lifelong buddy, Shaun, a chief pilot of a top executive’s G2 corporate jet.
I attempted to locate the nearest airport by pulling off the highway and asking a local where I could find a small private strip equipped to handle a G2 corporate jet. If I could have wired Shaun $10,000 for fuel, I may have a different story to tell, but that wasn’t the case.
Shaun attempted to wire me some funds via Western Union, but I was unable to receive them. Which wasn’t exactly convenient, seeing as how my grandiosity was kicking into high gear.
Even in my manic state, I realized the severity of my personal situation. In less than a year, I’d burned through a few hundred thousand dollars that I’d made on previous storm work, and now I was flat broke with a $1700 mortgage and more than $1800 going toward child support and alimony.
When it was apparent that I wasn’t about to escape the “good ol’ boy” South via private jet, I resorted to calling both my Alaskan commercial fishing boss as well as the standing Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, Loren Leman to ask them for advice. After a brief description of my predicament, Leman advised me that it might be a good move to drive to Montgomery to visit Alabama Governor Bob Riley. He then would help me get in touch with the governor’s office.
By this time, it was close to midnight on Sept. 11, 2005. I considered Loren’s advice, but decided he didn’t have enough knowledge of my industry to realize just how dirty and crooked it is. And yes, even governors get in on the action sometimes.
So I started the drive, and around 30 miles southwest of Birmingham, I was debating on whether or not to drive back to my home in Greenville, S.C. or head straight to Washington, D.C. As I played out the decisions in my head, I passed a cop driving unusually slow in the right lane. A massive lump welled up in my throat, but I managed to maintain a calculated two to three miles above the speed limit.
But sure enough, within a minute or so, I had blue lights tailing me along a semi-deserted stretch of Interstate 20. My fight or flight response kicked in and I made the decision not to stop, in the event that the officer in pursuit had been hired to assassinate me. I wasn’t so afraid to take him on as I was afraid that if I won any ensuing shootout, I’d have a hard time proving that the officer was employed to kill me.
I floored it.
10 to 20 minutes later–during which I lost track of time–somewhere between five to ten cops were trailing me in a blaze of blue lights that lit up the midnight sky like firecrackers. I weaved through traffic and whipped around semis at close to 130 miles per hour, my foot nailed to the floor.
At a certain point, I saw what looked like patrol cars from multiple agencies pulled onto the highway in front of me on the off ramp. At this point, I felt safe and had no fear that a lone assassin cop would kill me, then say I pulled a gun first. Here, there would be too many witnesses.
Immediately, I turned on my dome light and piloted the steering wheel with my knee. Then I put both my hands in the air and came to a slow, controlled stop in the left shoulder behind the patrol car in front of me. The butt of my shotgun was wedged between the console and the passenger’s seat, with the barrel resting on the dash.
Within seconds, several guns were pointed at my head, merely one foot from my window. I still had my door locked, so they were unable to open it and pull me out of the vehicle. One officer exclaimed, “He’s got a shotgun!”
Though my hands had been raised the whole time, I calmly and deliberately took my right hand, moved it across my body and unlocked the door. My left arm stayed raised, never moving. Immediately, I was grabbed and thrown to the pavement. My last memory was that of my car drifting forward on the asphalt. I never even placed it in park.
I was a 29-year-old man, arrested for the first time in his life after a high-speed chase outside of Birmingham, Al., who ten days prior landed the biggest job of his life doing post-Katrina storm cleanup. After one week in jail, I was transferred to the C6 south floor of the University of Alabama’s psych ward. My life was forever changed, but believe it or not, with the help of God, it was all for the best.