Gary Stone was an aggressive businessman. On his path to Branson he lived life urban. He felt he had something to offer to the business's of Branson - or so he advertised holding seminars to help small businesses grow.
Promoting his "extensive" business experience, he was able to talk a few people into giving them an equity stake in their proprietorships. These were businesses suffering from lack of growth. The quick talking Stone promised solutions.
From a dozen interviews around Branson it became clear, a contract with Stone was less a deal with a business messiah and more a contract with the devil. After the details of Stone's contracts were scrutinized many decided they didn't want to deal with him. This is when Stone's minions presented themselves.
One particular incident involved the creation of an organization to promote business development in Historic Downtown Branson. No contracts were signed but a bill appeared. When the business owners decided Stone wasn't a good "ambassador of their needs" an e-mail from an attorney with a Beverly Hills PO Box appeared.
I started investigating Stone after receiving a phone call from my mother who was in tears crying,"… if I let this guy do this to me, I'll never be the same." Her business was called "Urban Edge" and featured hipster urban apparel. At the time, she was the only store in the Branson area to carry such brands as Lucky Jeans.
I called Donald Ross, the most visible artist in Kansas City and friend, to design the interior just a couple months before. The walls were painted with a modern interpretation of Biblical principle. One of Ross's paintings took the front page of the Branson Edge for nearly a year. One of the characters he painted was from a children's book Ross authored.
The character was an outlaw gangster who was told by an angel to give away his guns and carry a camera. At the time, my personal life was in transition. I was in the process of laying down my guns and picking up a camera. I quickly learned the camera is a weapon itself deterring the corrupt. Evil doers hate truth, which is what a snapshot reveals. Pure, unadulterated.
However, a contract wasn't inked and a meeting of the minds not quite complete - Stone went through a rapid process of changing business licenses at Branson City Hall and rerouted credit card companies.
We estimate Stone embezzled over $5,000 in cash and merchandise before help was solicited.
When Gary Stone started playing the "riot act" we took out the cameras. He started backing off. I called in Mike Cooper who assisted with backup. The shop was in the Branson facility owned (at least at the time) by HCW. Though the city of Branson moved with haste transferring the business license, HCW moved slower and the lease contract was never signed (two hours later it would've been). I spent the day stopping the paperwork transfer and learning about Gary Stone's endeavors.
I heard whispers about Stone's activities with a gentleman named "Willy". The whispers "Poor Willy" were never heard by this print shop business owner, as least throughout an hour long discussion he sang Stone's praises.
Experiments show if you drop a frog in boiling water he'll jump out quickly - saving his life. If you place the same frog in luke-warm water and boil it slowly - the frog will boil to death.
We never wrote about Gary Stone because of two reasons. The first is because we were too close to the story. Because family members were involved we didn't view ourselves as objective reporters. The second reason was for Willy's sake. Though we don't know Willy well, we know him through reputation. We felt reporting the incident could harm his business.
Loosely, behind several other posts, we published a warning to alert the underground. We used the name John Stone, a Springfield area blogger and friend who passed this year to issue the alert. A local realtor, Charlie Gerken, was given the opportunity to sell Gary Stone's house.
A stream of phone calls flooded Gerken's line. Gerken pulled the for sale sign from Stone's house to save his reputation. Understanding Stone was liquidating assets we though it appropriate to warn the public.
A defense against slander and libel lawsuits is "truth." This is why we don't worry about these kinds of legal actions.