In the late 1960s a group of Wall Street investors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey met a fast talking Chinese entrepreneur at a business forum, Willard Wong of Wong Investments. Wong told this group, who was headed by the late Paul Koether of Princeton, New Jersey, that he could make them millions of dollars in an Hawaiian leisure venture firm and to come out to Hawaii to see for themselves what he had in mind. Paul Koether was a very successful private investor who had a reputation for successfully raising money for start-up firms on Wall Street.
Willard had his initial investment group convinced he would make a good partner with nice rooms and buffets at the Hawaiian Village Hilton waiting for them when they arrived in Hawaii. What Willard had in mind was to raise money to develop a resort Hawaiian leisure firm with lavish motels and hotels to compete with established firms along Waikiki beach such as the Hilton and the Sheraton. He had a hurting retirement community in California which he said he could throw into the deal to help make it fly. And he had his eye on a couple pieces of property in Honolulu to acquire if the deal went through.
The firm had a target of raising $15 million in an offering which cleared the SEC without too much trouble. There were some delays with some telephone calls into Senators in Washington, DC alleging racism to get the deal on the move after some initial tie ups. But the deal finally cleared. The market crashed on the opening day of PLE whose investors from the states and Hong Kong, where most of the board members were located, had to settle for $5.5 million in the offering instead of the promised $15 million.
On the first day of trading PLE surged from a few dollars to over $12 with the initial investors who each had 100,000 shares of stock at a par value of 1 cent feeling like they were doing alright since a million dollars in the late 1960s went a lot further than it does today. Than on the first few days of trading PLE stock crashed and Willard Wong, who held over a 50% interest in the firm so he could maintain control of PLE, began threatening to close the stock. Just a few days after a $5.5 million dollar check was delivered to Willard Wong from Wall Street he shut down trading in PLE.
The initial investors began to threaten lawsuits and Wong settled for $1 per share, or $100,000 for the 100,000 share holders group. This may have cost Wong about a million dollars with him essentially keeping the remaining $4.5 million for himself. Over the years Wong bought the Seashore motel, which is just off the beach in Honolulu, and a nice condo along the Ali Wai in Honolulu with his profits. Some initial investors held onto their stock certificates with the group he settled with feeling they were misrepresented and got a bad deal. Even in the 1960s $100,000 could not go very far without a lot of other sources of income. Still, when enquiries were made about PLE Wong evaded them. It is said somewhere along the line he may have died from a rare form of pancreatic cancer, although some have speculated Willard may have set up a funeral in Honolulu and a fake death certificate to get SEC investigators off of his back for what some have alleged was the stealing of the $5.5 million from the PLE public offering.
Well, everyone has to die sometime anyway and in any event Willard’s surviving sons, Millard and Jordan, and his daughter, Wilma, have often been seen around town in high priced Mercedes to drive up to their magnificent homes in Palolo Valley on Oahu which investments from the PLE money helped them secure. It is said Willard’s late wife, Mary, may have died. Mary was never really very happy anyway even though PLE’s investments helped make her wealthy too, since people all over Hawaii knew about Willard’s girlfriend from Taiwan which he put up in an extravagant condo in Honolulu with money rolled over from the PLE deal. And so if you were an investor from PLE it is not suggested you fly out to Hawaii to check things out after all of these years unless you can pay your own way, because the answer from the Wong clan to enquiries about PLE has been hung up telephones with no Aloha spirit shown as interested investors are now left stranded at the Honolulu airport to make their own plans.
Mandel News Service