Any idiot can make money,” says Glenn Turner, 39, who made—and lost—$169 million in five years. “I’ve proven that.” It was a rare moment of modesty for the eighth-grade dropout whose evangelical hucksterism has made him an Orlando, Florida institution—albeit a bankrupt one.
These have been trying times for the sunshine wheeler-dealer. Last August, he and seven associates went on trial on 27 counts of mail fraud and conspiracy. But late last month, after 228 witnesses, 1,500 pieces of evidence, and 20,000 pages of testimony, the case ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. A retrial is scheduled for August.
Although Turner says he is nearly broke, his hyperthyroid optimism remains undiminished. “They broke me financially,” he says, “but they haven’t broken my attitude. As long as you’ve got your attitude, you’ve always got a chance to recover.”
What Turner wants to recover can only be called an empire, although it was built on quicksand. Seven years ago he took a bottle of mink oil and a borrowed $5,000 and parlayed them into a cosmetics cartel, Koscot Interplanetary Inc. He peddled distributorships to thousands—and optimism to all. Some made handsome profits, and they called him a saint. But others plunged into debt and accused Turner of being a slick-tongued con man. The government agreed. “Sure I am,” admits Turner cheerily. “I con people into believing in themselves.”
Some of them still believe in him, too. On his first day back in the office after the mistrial, Turner was greeted by the cheers of his 40 Koscot employees, all that remained of the 600 he had once needed at his Orlando headquarters. His first decision was to announce a party. “Bring your swimsuits and a covered dish,” he told them with surprising frugality. “I’ve got no food.”
At his peak Turner lived in orchestrated flamboyance, wearing boots made of unborn calfskin, dressing in one of 70 neon suits, a rhinestone American flag in his lapel. He crisscrossed the country in a white private jet. Currently, he and his wife and four children live in a three-bedroom apartment built into a $100,000 stable which is part of Turner’s six-acre estate. Turner’s dream, a four-story, $3.5 million, 41-room castle, vulgarly reminiscent of a French chateau, which he began two-and-a-half years ago, lies unfinished. Money for its completion is tied up in bankruptcy. Padlocked, too, are his motorcycle and a 20-passenger boat moored on the private lake nearby. Yet there are some amenities—a fleet of smaller motorcycles, a flotilla of paddleboats, four horses, five dogs and a pair of rabbits. Also on the grounds are a barbecue hut, a tree house and a $200,000 two-bedroom boathouse. It is occupied by John and Greg Rice, twin dwarfs who once accompanied Turner on promotional tours and who now devote their time to helping with the children. “Everyone should have a pair like them for their youngsters,” says Turner proudly. “They don’t smoke or drink.” (Neither does Turner).
In his optimist’s way, Turner can even find good things about his legal tangles. “I’ve spent more time with my family in the last eight months than I have in five years,” he says. Four-year-old Lisa gets special attention. Two of his sons, Johnny, 11, and Richard, 10, have become star motorcycle racers, with Turner cheering them on every weekend. Fifteen-year-old Terry, evidencing some of his father’s acquisitiveness, has been earning as much as $90 a week in the orange groves. Turner’s wife Alice, a country girl who prefers jeans, has adjusted easily to the recession in the Turner fortunes. She came from a family of 14 siblings, and Turner says, “She worked as a maid for $3 a day to earn money for her high school ring.” She also teaches the three boys at home through a correspondence school. Turner doesn’t have much faith in public education since he feels it stresses what children cannot do. “I don’t want them exposed,” says Glenn W. Turner, “to that negative attitude.”