Paul Pantone: Salt Lake Weekly: Fuel Injected Lunatic
Fuel Injected Lunatic
Inventor Paul Pantone hoped to save the world. Now, will the world save him?
By Stephen Dark
Led by a bailiff into Judge Royal Hansen’s 3rd District Court in West Jordan on June 7, Paul Pantone’s shuffling gait might have been caused by a broken big toe—gone untreated for more than year and a half—rather than by his wrist and ankle manacles.
The 56-year-old’s tall frame was stooped, his face, gray and long. He sat down between his two lawyers and looked up almost in bewilderment as Hansen called the hearing to order, the outcome of which Pantone has been awaiting for the 16 months of his incarceration in the state mental hospital.
A broken toe isn’t Pantone’s only ailment. He has untreated Hepatitis C, persistent migraines, skin rashes, rotten teeth and infected gums. But all this, it might be argued, pales beside what he fears will be the impact on his health if the hearing’s outcome goes against him.
What Hansen has to decide is whether or not the Attorney General’s Office can forcibly medicate Pantone to make him competent for trial.
The state wants Pantone competent so he can be sentenced on two charges of securities fraud, to which he pleaded guilty in October 2004. Concerns over Pantone’s ability to understand legal proceedings after his plea agreement led Hansen to commit him for evaluation Dec. 12, 2005, to the male forensic unit in the Utah State Hospital, which lies at the base of the east bench in Provo. But, because of the lack of available hospital beds, he spent the next three and a half months in Salt Lake County Jail before he was admitted. Four hospital staff evaluations found him incompetent. Related to his treatment, court documents state, “He exhibits grandiose and persecutory delusions, complicated by a personality disorder and a history of substance abuse.”
The only way Pantone can be sentenced and justice can be served, according to the AG’s office, is if he takes antipsychotic drugs. Pantone and his supporters fear the medications will erase his memory, turn him into a zombie—or even kill him.
Pantone’s voice, as far as talking to the press, is silenced by hospital regulations designed to protect patients’ privacy. The only clue to Pantone’s current thoughts is from his younger brother Rocky, who lives in Tennessee and talks to him regularly on the phone.
“I try to talk to him, help him stay calm,” he says. “He’s confused, he’s up and down. … He’s pissed and hurting. … If I read him right, he’s extremely scared; he doesn’t want to be medicated.”
This institutionally imposed silence must be frustrating to a man who, for decades, hawked inventions to a highly skeptical world. Extraordinary Technology magazine publisher Steve Elswick says Pantone’s a very accomplished inventor. He’s also, Elswick says, outspoken and egotistical. “You’ve got to be somewhat egotistical to believe you can do something everyone else says is impossible.”
Not everyone. Alternative-energy obsessives scattered across the United States have long followed Pantone’s litigious battles with ex-partners and his largely undocumented claims for his 20-year-old invention, Global Environmental Energy Technology (GEET), with fascination. And then there are those seeking to get rich quick by investing in a device that Pantone claims offers, when attached to an automobile engine, not only clean exhaust, but also double or even triple the gas mileage (see sidebar, p. 22).
With gas prices reaching all-time highs in 2007, the idea of severing this nation from its imported oil dependency is inevitably a seductive one. Which is why, for members of the Paul Pantone Defense Project, Pantone is “an American energy hero … suffering horrendous prosecution promised by a powerful political machine determined to make him ‘go away.’”
Along with substantial anecdotal evidence from friends, teachers, students and investors that the device does reduce emissions—within limitations—a number of Pantone’s supporters say they have witnessed a GEET-modified engine run on a little gasoline, water, cat urine, Coke and pickle juice while in a closed room for several hours without suffering from ill effects.
But their claims don’t stop there. Supporters say disgruntled investors have conspired to frame Pantone with false fraud charges in order to steal his patent. Assistant Attorney General Richard Hamp, who’s pursued Pantone through the courts since 2003, isn’t impressed. “I’ve seen a number of conspiracy theories,” he says. “I haven’t seen anything to prove any of it at this time.”
To the state, and the inventor’s many detractors, Pantone is a con man who swindled investors with a fanciful idea that never came to fruition.
Whatever the forces that brought Pantone to his current plight, follow the trail he’s left through court documents, the Internet and interviews with former associates, and a picture emerges of a man who, for all his best intentions, seems to be incarcerated by his increasingly desperate attempts to breathe life into his invention as much as by the hospital’s locked doors.
What seems to consume him now, however, is the state’s unyielding insistence on drugging him with powerful antipsychotic medications, even if the end result may be only that they then set him free.
BIG NURSE RULES
If the truth about Pantone lies somewhere between the extremes of shunned technological prophet and modern-day snake-oil showman, that same truth is partly obscured by his interminable efforts prior to hospitalization to pitch his device as the savior of the industrial world and himself as a victim of corporations, oil cartels and other dark forces. Which is perhaps why Free Energy News, an Internet site bringing together alternative-energy enthusiasts, gave Pantone its “Big Talker” award.
But all that talking takes on a different meaning at his current address.
“Some guy walks in and says ‘I’ve invented a device that runs on water and was given to me by an angel, and I’m here to save the world’ sounds a little loony,” says Jason Kirton, who taught the theory and practice of GEET during one of Pantone’s numerous attempts to set up an institute dedicated to his technology. But that, Kirton says, is what Pantone believes his mission on earth to be: “To save the world from our oil habit, from killing the planet with pollution—that’s why he thinks he was given this technology.”
Make such statements in a mental hospital, and a man will inevitably be written up. One state hospital nursing assessment, quoted in a psychiatric evaluation of Pantone by his personal therapist, read: “Paul continues to decline psychotropic medications. He has made several delusional statements during the last month. He stated that there are people who want to keep him locked up because of the trouble his inventions would cause for the gas and car industries.”
In addition to Pantone’s mental health issues, supporters are also concerned about his physical health. Indeed, his lead advocate George Gaboury believes Pantone is dying from medical neglect, in part because the hospital is not treating his Hepatitis C. Mark Williams, a former Utah State Hospital psychiatric technician who worked there for six years, expresses surprise. “I’ve never seen anyone denied medical care,” he says. Others argue that at least some of Pantone’s medical conditions pre-date his time in the facility and that his mental problems are leading him to refuse treatment.
“It’s part of his disease that he thinks he’s all right,” Hamp says.
Whatever the reasons behind his appalling physical condition, that Pantone has never been deemed by the hospital staff a danger to himself or others—excepting, perhaps, his estranged wife Molley Feichko, who’s still waiting for a violated protective order charge against Pantone to be adjudicated—is sufficient for Gaboury to argue his prolonged incarceration is a miscarriage of justice.
“Paul probably cut corners, done things you and I wouldn’t dream of to keep [his invention] alive,” Gaboury pleads. “But perhaps there should be some forgiveness.”
IN PAUL WE TRUST
Born in 1950 in Detroit, Pantone moved with his family to California when he was a child. After he quit high school at age 16, he left home and worked as a carpenter. He told a Marin Independent Journal writer in California in 1984 that a leg injury ended his career as a woodworker and turned him from a backyard fiddler into a full-time inventor. But, in his unpublished autobiography Life of the Inventor, he claimed it was due to meeting a mysterious, possibly celestially connected woman in 1975 known as Mrs. Cunningham.
He “built a 25-caliber ‘log splitter,’ the perfect ‘toy’ for anyone who had firewood to split,” he wrote in his unpublished memoirs. He also dreamed up powdered paint which, he wrote, only required adding water and stirring. But he later claimed, after TV commercials for the paint were broadcast, threats from several companies forced him to abandon that invention.
Undeterred by his claimed run-ins with the paint industry, he decided to take on even bigger bullies—the automobile and energy conglomerates. In 1979, he started building a “fuel system which would not allow any pollution to leave the engine,” producing his first working prototype in 1983.
Pantone’s invention proved controversial from the start. In his autobiography, he wrote about how the first time he tried to tell someone about his invention, prophetically, the outraged automotive-supply storeowner swung a tire iron at him. “As I began telling him of using 20 percent used engine oil and 80 percent water as fuel … he put his hands in the air and screamed. “Stop! You f—king con artist. You’re trying to sucker me into giving you money. You stupid moron. I’m an engineer. I know that is physically impossible.”
Future attempts to convince oil companies and engine manufacturers about the possibilities of what he then called an endothermic reactor met with similar examples of disbelief. In his memoirs, he recalled, during a group conference call with Texaco chiefs, one of them laughing. Pantone wrote that the man said, “I can’t believe I fell for this! You guys got me good. April Fools!” then hung up, followed by the rest of the executives. Pantone hadn’t realized it was April 1. Texaco gave him the cold shoulder after that.
Along with the laughter, he wrote in Life of the Inventor, came million-dollar offers to buy his technology as well as death threats from “a representative from a foreign oil company.”
TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
Among the predictions Pantone wrote on his Website he received from the curious Mrs. Cunningham was that an “angel would stand beside him.”
That “angel” he came to believe was Molley Feichko, a Price, Utah, resident. Theirs, it seems, was at the beginning a grand love story, Pantone even giving Feichko partial credit for his invention. But along with sharing a passion for helping mankind, whether through GEET or Feichko’s alternative-health products, which include a purple plate which she claims takes away pain, they also shared a taste for heavy drinking and, she adds, for a while, drugs.
When Pantone met Feichko in 1995, he was living in Salt Lake City. Gaboury says Pantone moved there to be closer to one of his sons. It’s also home to another controversial, if not debunked scientific discovery—cold fusion.
Pantone moved into Feichko’s Price home several months later and set up a demonstration engine, which they nicknamed Ol’ Blue. When he ran it on crude oil, Feichko says, “The lack of emissions was amazing.” Her father was convinced enough to buy 120 acres to house a factory to build Global Environmental Energy Technology devices. Feichko says they later fell out over the percentage of royalties her father wanted. “Every time it seemed to get to a point where it was going to succeed, then [Pantone] would bolt and run off into a different direction,” she says.
The post-Price direction in 1997 was a three-year, 45-state road trip in a Pantone-adapted Suburban Chevy to demonstrate the technology to the American public. “A dog-and-pony show” is how Feichko describes the road trips now.
Pantone’s hope that thousands would greet them across America often ended up with a dozen or so curious onlookers in those towns where they were allowed to set up. They toured state fairs, gun shows, survivalist conferences and science conferences; they visited Christian schools and talked up their invention on Christian radio shows, then hit the liquor at night. On one live radio broadcast, Pantone proposed to Feichko. They were married shortly after onstage at the 1998 Extraordinary Technology conference (then called Exotic Research) in Salt Lake City, surrounded by adoring inventors.
“It was like a fairy tale,” Feichko says. But, as if foreshadowing the dark times to come, when she looked at the marriage certificate, she saw it stipulated the bride had to be Caucasian. The man who married them, she found out, was a white supremacist.
JUST BECAUSE I’M PARANOID…
Jason Kirton, who drives a horse carriage in downtown Salt Lake City most evenings and plans to be a helicopter pilot, taught Pantone’s theories for several years. From 2000 on, Pantone tried to set up schools in Colorado, Idaho and numerous locations throughout Salt Lake City. The majority of the West Valley City-based institute’s students Kirton taught, he says, were from survivalist and isolationist communities. “They were leery of the U.S. government and the powers that be.”
Pantone appeared to share some of his students’ paranoia. “It gets pretty deep the amount of conspiracy Paul believes in,” Kirton says. But, he continues, while Pantone was convinced OPEC, conglomerates and greedy associates constantly conspired against him, what truly haunted the inventor was his inability to refine his fuel-and-environment-saving device.
“He was more the thinker than the wrench-turner,” Kirton says, adding that, arguably, Pantone didn’t understand his own invention. “In his own crude way, he’s been trying to figure it out.”
After a while, Kirton started to wonder why Pantone wasn’t keeping better control of the company’s finances. Kirton would go weeks without getting paid, he says. When Pantone got money, “he’d buy this chintzy little angel for Molley to get back into her good graces,” he complains. Kirton reached a conclusion with which many Pantone acquaintances agree: The inventor was a dreadful businessman.
But cash flow wasn’t the only problem. His technology was simply too crude to live up to the grand promises Pantone made for it, Kirton argues. This was particularly true when it came to accelerating an adapted car engine, Kirton finding that, typically, that would kill the engine: “We never had the engineering to take it to the level it needed to be to make it a success. And so that was the excuse Paul used to explain why we couldn’t get the efficiencies out of it we wanted.”
In 1996, University of Utah mechanical engineering associate professor Kuan Chen told the Deseret Morning News, that all Pantone’s claims seemed to “violate all the basic rules of science.” Retired Brigham Young University professor Joseph K. Young, who conducted emission tests on a Pantone-modified engine in 1995, recalls the results. “I wasn’t astonished by it,” he said.
Whatever the questions about the technology, Kirton says those Pantone turned to for financial support also helped undermine the project. “GEET definitely could [have changed life on this planet] if it was able to be fully utilized,” Kirton says. Investors saw the potential for making billions of dollars from the technology, he says, but had one question—“How do I get control of [it]?”
Pantone isn’t greedy, Kirton says, but he is financially incompetent. That, combined with emotional issues with his wife, couldn’t have helped his invention’s development. “Their relationship was very rocky, off and on,” Kirton says. “They probably separated three or four times when I knew them … That was part of the drama and part of why he couldn’t focus on his business.”
That the Utah Securities Division issued several cease and desist orders in 2002 and 2003 couldn’t have helped his concentration much either.
Pantone’s troubles with the state, according to court documents, dated back to summer 1999, when he met Kaysville businessman Jon T. McBride. In January 2000, Pantone used his technology as collateral to secure a $200,000 investment from McBride, who says he represented a Bahamian investment operation called Lombard & Associates, a business of which there are no records on the Internet.
“My impression was [Pantone] was a poor inventor who was ready to rock and roll,” McBride says. Lombard & Associates put up $100,000 before deciding Pantone had not fulfilled his end of the agreement. McBride asked the friend at GEET who had originally introduced him to Pantone for an accounting of their money. He found, to his surprise, that rather than it disappearing into Pantone’s pocket, most of it had actually gone into developing the product. McBride, it might be added, is not without his own legal problems, with a $1.5 million federal tax lien against his assets and an August Utah District Court date to discuss why he hadn’t responded to two IRS summonses.
A few months after Pantone’s deal with McBride, Pantone offered stock in his GEET company to George Gladic. In August, Gladic put up $25,000 after Pantone promised he could get his money back after one year. Gladic has yet to see a cent from that investment. Pantone made no mention to Gladic of McBride nor the fact there was pending litigation against the inventor and another of his companies.
Court documents list four investors Pantone deceived or misled in connection with the offer and sale of investments in GEET, including at least one to whom he signed over the patent to his device. Their testimonies formed the basis for the state’s prosecution of the inventor for selling securities without a license, leading to his guilty plea for two second-degree securities fraud felonies.
One eyewitness to Pantone’s final months of freedom before Hansen sent him to the state hospital is “Scott Nelson,” the pseudonym of a student who paid $1,000 for a week of GEET classes at a West Jordan location in 2000. Nelson doesn’t want to give his real name because he’s concerned about reprisals. “I think someone’s ticked off at [Pantone] and has some real pull,” he says.
Four years after Nelson took the class, he ran into Pantone when the inventor was living with wife Feichko in a large house in east Sandy.
The blinds were drawn, Nelson says, and each time he visited he had to call ahead so as not to spook Pantone’s wife. What surprised Nelson most was Pantone’s physical state. Four years before, he’d been clean cut and energetic. Now, “he looked like he was 70 years old, haggard, worn out, a wino about to fall over and die.”
Nelson gave Pantone $2,000 to market his technology but later learned he spent it on rent. “He definitely wasn’t honest with me where the money was going,” Nelson says. “He was living higher on the hog than I thought was appropriate.”
For all the inventor’s noble aspirations at the beginning, it ended up quite perverse, Nelson says. “[Pantone] deceived himself a lot by not being honest with people. … The last five years, he just got in this deep hole. He got paranoid. People were either trying to rip him off or had plenty of reason to be mad at him.”
Nelson pauses and considers Pantone’s struggles. “The frustration of having your whole life around [GEET], so close,” he marvels.
A “Sell” hearing is named for a Texas doctor who fought his state’s attempts to forcibly medicate him all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For Assistant Attorney General Richard Hamp, Sell comes down to one thing: “It’s about weighing [Pantone’s] interests versus the state’s.”
Pantone’s loyal supporters put it another way: The Sell hearing pits their hero’s health, sanity and even life against a legal system itching for its pound of flesh.
Standing between Pantone and the order for involuntary medication on June 7 were two men: public defender Loren Weiss and an attorney hired by Pantone’s supporters, Justin Heideman. The latter unsuccessfully sued the Utah State Hospital several times on behalf of various institution employees. Hospital director of forensic and safety services Don Rosenbaum did not return phone calls seeking an interview for this story.
In April, Pantone’s defenders requested that Heideman replace Weiss, but Judge Hansen refused. Weiss is Pantone’s ninth lawyer on the case. Hansen instead allowed friend-of-the-court status to Heideman, which meant the Provo-based lawyer could make arguments but not directly represent Pantone.
On the afternoon of the Sell hearing, Heideman watched from a third-floor window as Pantone’s top ally, George Gaboury, got out of a car.
“George has invested his whole life in this,” he said.
In the courtroom, Pantone sat down between Weiss and Heideman and the hearing began. The inventor anxiously looked at the public defender’s paperwork at times, occasionally scribbling notes to Heideman.
State psychiatrist Cynthia Vitko took the stand. She explained that Pantone’s psychotic delusions meant he became suspicious of his lawyers to the point that he believed they were working for the attorney general.
“There’s a greater than 70 percent chance these medications could help Mr. Pantone,” she concluded.
Prosecution and defense discussed Pantone’s Hepatitis C-weakened liver, which will have to process the drugs through his body, and the long list of potential side-effects the anti-psychotic drugs can induce, particularly tardive dyskanisia, which can lead to involuntary body movements.
Hamp’s closing argument was simple. The court had found Pantone incompetent, and that medication was necessary to render him competent and it would be likely to do so. The defense, he said, wanted a 100 percent guarantee that nothing would go wrong under the antipsychotic treatments—such a guarantee would be impossible. The state’s compelling interest was clear—ending a trial and ensuring Pantone paid restitution of $178,000 to victims of his fraud.
Weiss argued that, however slender the statistical possibility was that the drugs might have adverse side effects, Pantone didn’t want to take them. “We’re talking about a man who doesn’t want to run those risks,” he said.
When Heideman stood up, he directed Hansen to the Supreme Court’s Sell opinion. He pointed out forcible medication was essentially for ensuring a defendant could assist his legal counsel during his trial. In Pantone’s case, the trial had already taken place. All that remained was for him to be sentenced. Why, then, he argued, should the court proceed with medicating Pantone against his will, when the only result would be Hansen sentencing him to probably four months for the securities fraud charges and then releasing him for time served?
Hansen wasted no time in weighing the arguments. Seconds after Heideman sat down, he swung straight into his decision. “The court finds the state’s met the criteria and the requirement for the Sell analysis,” he said.
He then encouraged Pantone to assist the state hospital in his own treatment—which apparently meant by not resisting it—adding that, outside of the ruling, he was asking him to do so.
Then, he wished Pantone good luck.
Pantone shook his head slightly, as if numb with disbelief.
“I can’t believe it,” Gaboury said, gripping the gold-leafed railing with white knuckles. “Oh, God.”
An apprehensive Pantone shuffled to the holding area, accompanied by Weiss and Heideman. It would only be minutes until he was transported back to the mental hospital.
“Will they force me to take pills?” Pantone asked softly.
Weiss and Heideman explained they’d probably administer an IV.
“Which, at the end of the day,” Heideman later said, “means they’ll hold him down and stick a needle in his arm.”
ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
For truest believer Gaboury, inventors are too precious a commodity to suffer the abuse he believes Pantone is going through. His suffering “tears at [the supporters’] hearts,” he says. He wants to establish a nonprofit to financially protect the Pantones of this world so they won’t have to sell their souls to the devil in order to realize their dreams.
“Let them do R&D, teach and not have to worry about funding and persecution,” Gaboury says.
Such a setup would surely appeal to Pantone. After all he has gone through, whether at his own hands, those of the state or unnamed conspirators, he’s had enough of his long struggle to bring his invention to the world, says Kirton, once a proselytizer for Pantone’s theories. “He just wants somebody to take the technology, run with it, pay him a stipend and let him be a thinker again.”
That prospect looks dim at the moment. On July 13, Assistant Attorney General Hamp asked Weiss and Heideman to approve the order requiring the Utah State Hospital to medicate Pantone. Once the judge signs the order, then the only recourse left is the Utah Court of Appeals. The inventor’s support group recently paid Heideman out of their own pockets part of the $25,000 he needs to appeal the case.
“If he doesn’t win the appeal, they’re going to medicate him,” Heideman says.
For now Pantone resides, like Alice, on the other side of the looking glass, whiling away his days hoarding candy his supporters send him through Heideman, because it’s the currency of barter at the hospital.
While Pantone languishes in the mental hospital, his invention idles in its own limbo. Several investors claim ownership of the patent, but none seem to be doing anything with it.
Preston, Idaho, realtor Robert Fackrell leased a facility to Pantone for one of his schools. Pantone ended up owing him back rent and signed over the patent to him, he says. “What I have is worth nothing without an additional investment of $5 [million] to 10 million dollars,” he says. What Fackrell then says sounds like a qualified refrain Pantone perhaps got sick of after so many years of trying to get the world to acknowledge his technology. “It does appear to reduce emissions [and] extend run time on gasoline engines, but you have to stand there and control the air mixture. The controls on this are really difficult.”
Ask Fackrell what he proposes to do with the patent, and he cautions that if someone wanted to buy it from him, there were no guarantees it wasn’t encumbered by other ownership claims.
That said, if they still wanted it, all they had to do was “get out the checkbook, and they can have it.”
For Pantone’s younger brother Rocky, all the inventor has left from his 20-year struggle to turn his dreams of GEET into a reality is his mind. Whether he’s competent or not, no one questions Pantone’s intelligence. “They’re tearing his body to hell,” Rocky says about the hospital’s alleged lack of medical care. “Eventually, what you get from that is rage.”
Heideman wonders how that rage will sit with Pantone when, and if, he exits the hospital’s rabbit hole.
One thing is certain, he says. “He’ll need anger-management classes when he gets out.”