We get two kinds of phone calls about James Webb: People who are about to hand the self-described "real estate entrepreneur" large sums of money, but Google him first; and people who write him six-figure checks, start to wonder when—or if—they will see the huge returns he's promised, and then Google him.
Unfortunately, the latter far outnumber the former. This week, it was an attorney in Florida, who represents yet another disenchanted investor in the schemes of the Raleigh businessman we profiled way back in 2004 ("Smooth operator").
"Do you have any idea where he might be?" he asked hopefully. "I'm trying to locate his assets." Good luck with that, I told him.
Webb convinced a lot of people from the Triangle to California that he could renovate housing in blighted neighborhoods Down East, accomplish a noble social goal and turn an enormous profit all at the same time. Problem was, for the people who ring us up—still, nearly three years later—their money disappeared, and eventually so did Webb.
Several regulatory agencies in North Carolina disciplined him, and California banned him from soliciting investors there, but so far, that and dozens of civil lawsuits in several states are the only retribution he faces.
A lot of Webb's investors are hoping to pick up their phones one day and hear federal law enforcement on the other end.
There are some calls that journalists are just happy to field. Monday, I heard from an outraged citizen who'd read our piece about the Buckhorn flea market. Incensed by county officials' efforts to shut down the predominantly Latino enterprise, he is mobilizing community groups to fix the problems or relocate the market. That passion and energy coming over the wire is one of the reasons we do what we do here at the Indy: spotlight issues in a way that inspires someone to make a difference in their community.
The flip side, though, is that sometimes, the glare of that spotlight makes readers—and once in a while, the people we write about—uncomfortable.
Last week, our Pink Triangle cover package profiled several transgender residents, including one who took serious umbrage with how we told her story (see this week's Back Talk). The cover image, of a man in transition donning a bra, offended some business owners enough that they asked our distribution manager to remove our boxes from their premises.
This week, columnist Hal Crowther and a handful of other talented local writers offer their take on freedom, patriotism and what it means to be an American (see "Summer soldiers and sunshine patriots").
Be moved, be outraged, be glad there's a free press. And let us know what you think; the phone lines are open.