John McAfee Redux

Belize is a wonderful country, and a great place to enjoy a vacation. Personally, I admire John McAfee for his sense of adventure and his enthusiasm at identifying and taking on challenges. And I found aerotrekking to be a hoot. But let's not lose sight of the central issue: Did McAfee invent, market, and implement a sport that was fundamentally dangerous, and which caused the death of one of his customers? If so, and a court orders him to pay damages, should he honor that obligation?

It seems commenters on the pro and con side are doing a fine job debating the merits of my story themselves. But a few facts are worth clearing up, if only to show that some of the semantics at play are a diversion from the central question. 

  • McAfee says I didn't talk to his lawyer about another suit. I saw paper on that suit and was aware of it. But I traveled via land, air, and sea to talk to McAfee himself. Who better a source on all things McAfee than McAfee?
  • Whether McAfee pays rent or a mortgage on a $1.5 million home is irrelevant to the idea that he's still a man of means. Further, that he would build a seawall on the property suggests either that he owns the property or has money to burn improving someone else's land.
  • McAfee and Belize Realtor Chris Berlin, who has a lot for sale for $435,000 next to McAfee's, debate in the comments the reported value of McAfee's lot. McAfee has two lots the size of the one Berlin has for sale next door. And a Realtor not associated with McAfee confirmed the $1.5 million price during the original reporting of this story. Some commenters have suggested Berlin is an alter ego of McAfee, but he's a real guy. We talked to him.

It's important, though, to note that McAfee is a notorious trickster, who's no stranger to sock puppetry. Over dinner one night, I reminded McAfee of a story he told me back in New Mexico. When he and his fellow aerotrekkers had first set up camp there, he had told me, one of their favorite aerial routes was over the wooded canyons surrounding the nearby resort town of Portal, Arizona. Unlike most of the arid scrubland that they flew over, Portal was well settled, and its residents were not happy about being buzzed at random hours by low-flying planes. Soon, a grass-roots movement to ban the aerotrekkers was underway. McAfee decided that what he needed was a distraction. So at midnight one Sunday, a confederate snuck into the Portal post office and posted a notice announcing that the town would be the site of an upcoming national paintball convention. The sign cheerfully promised that hundreds of burly outsiders would be converging on the area to spend a weekend storming through the forest in camouflage gear, paintguns blazing. To reinforce the conceit, McAfee had already set up a fake organization with a detailed web site.

The ruse had its desired effect. By the next morning, a conflagration had erupted that spiraled into legal threats and letters to the editor (the town's postmaster of 30 years still remembers the paintball threat). After the controversy had raged for weeks, McAfee invented another group, a national organization of lesbian bikers, who also announced an upcoming convention in Portal. More outrage ensued. The movement to ban aerotrekking, if not forgotten, was, for a while, the least of the town's concerns.

So, shenanigans and land price debates aside, here's the bottom line. McAfee's beach house is just one of his assets, whose total value we don't know and may never know. (Want another source for him owning big chunks of land in Belize? In addition to my own reporting, Here's CNBC talking about the 22 acres he owns in the jungle.) McAfee promoted the idea in the U.S. media that he had lost all his money in the crash. My article makes the case that his U.S. holdings were not wiped out by the crash but were moved by him to Belize so that he won't have to pay a judgment. Indeed, McAfee told me that he expects a judgment made in the US to be difficult to enforce in Belize, as I reported in the article.

McAfee could cut to the chase quickly by answering plainly this question, which he may choose to do in the comments below: If a court rules against him in the wrongful death suit, will he pay the judgment?

Read more from Jeff Wise.

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  • Carlos Marrero

    "If you keep comin' back you know you lost the fight."

    I have to ask why certain parties doth protest too much? Hopefully, just because they know people are stupid and will believe anything, which will benefit them.

    I also see a connection between anti-virus and anti-bacteria, but perhaps that is another stor-I mean, expose. Ha.

    Honestly, this guy lost his nephew. And unless you are as bad of a nephew as I am to your uncles, I'm sure he is quiet hurt enough already. How much money is that other guy's life worth? 10's of millions of dollars? C'mon, man. And why does someone's life value go up so drastically when the defendant has money?

    As someone before me mentioned, holding the ball is what really matters. And not just in our ever so just laws but in life, the world, the universe, and beyond. So, fuck that other guy. But, also fuck anyone who doesn't pay what they owe. And again, I don't mean what they owe due to laws, but what they honestly feel they owe. Clearly, this McCarefree guy is ballin' and I'd say any amount of money would probably better serve the rest of the world in his hands than, well 99.9% of others. At least something would happen.

    McAfee-keep it up. Keep living life, as most people don't ever choose to.

  • Jason Howell


    Apparently I'm not getting that. Would you be willing to copy/paste the answers again so I can see what you mean? For example, why did you choose to leave out the fact that John is only one of the many people included in the wrongful death lawsuit? That, as far as I can see, wasn't answered and is fairly important.

    And, can you understand how, to some people, your article could be seen to cloud certain issues that didn't completely support your overall conclusions? And that simply including more information would have presented readers with a slightly more balanced perspective?

    I understand that your article can only be so many words since web-based publications have a very limited ability to scale but, and this is just a question.... Could you maybe have left out the part comparing John to a fictitious slightly insane questionably benevolent murderer with a deity complex and instead used some of that precious space to include the words, "named as one of 53 defendants" or "wasn't present on the day it happened" or "a little basic research shows that the seawall was there before him" or "actual real-estate listings for that area differ substantially from these numbers"?

    Would that have been too much? Or were you maybe worried that your article wouldn't be quite as salacious if you did that?

    These questions haven't been addressed at all that I can see. All I see is that you are simply pretending that they aren't valid questions.. I believe that is known as 'pulling a Cheney'...

  • Jeff Wise

    Tom and Jason,
    Respectfully, I feel that between the story and the subsequent comments all these questions have been more than adequately addressed.

  • Jason Howell

    In all seriousness though. Jeff: "I saw paper on that suit and was aware of it" is a pretty weak statement of knowledge. Now that I have seen the suit filed against John et al in Maricopa are you and I equally versed on the topic? Different suits but the same idea. Can you tell us what your 'awareness' of the suit was at that time?

    Also, Why did you choose to leave out the [very important] fact that John is only one of many people included in the wrongful death suit?

    Would you at least be willing to agree that, without the comments posted here, your article could be seen by some to cloud certain issues that didn't completely support the overall direction you chose to go?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Jason Howell

    Maybe John McAfee IS Jeff Wise!! Wait... Maybe the only person posting here is John McAfee and we are all just aliases!! Am I John McAfee?! No, I can't be, otherwise I would be sitting in a gorgeous house on the beach with a hot girlfriend instead of getting ready to go to the office--again.

    *gasp* Has anyone ever seen John McAfee and Osama bin Laden together? My god!! He's an evil genius!!

  • Wendy Auxillou

    Who knows, maybe the joke's on us?

    People go to court all the time. It's a normal part of life if you're in business and you've lived long enough ... which is why all the over-the-top psycho-drama just seems a little contrived.

    Maybe Mr. McAfee and Mr. Wise are in cahoots together to stir up some publicity in anticipation of Mr. Wise's imminent move to Belize? Comin' to join John soon, Jeff?

    Wendy Auxillou
    Amazing Belize, LLC

  • Tom Hilton

    P.S. To make it easier. I guess I want to know whether you asked him things like:
    - What does he feel is his exposure in the suit? (i.e. are there other defendants that share his risk, how might a possible judgment be divided up between the defendents, etc.?)
    - Does he feel responsible in any way (did he own the plane, or run Southwest Aerotrekking or get money from it etc.)
    - Does he intend to pay if a judgment is issued?

    Things like this.

    You obviously had to in order to write the article you wrote. But it be comforting to hear you say it.

  • Tom Hilton

    Hi Jeff. Thanks. I guess what troubles me most is a post that Mr. McAfee has been making in other forums. Your article was largely about a lawsuit and Mr. McAfee's reaction to it. You said, in response to why you didn't dig deeper into McAfee's side:

    "McAfee says I didn't talk to his lawyer about another suit. I saw paper on that suit and was aware of it. But I traveled via land, air, and sea to talk to McAfee himself. Who better a source on all things McAfee than McAfee?"

    This understandable. Yet McAfee claims that in the 5 days you spent interviewing him, less than an hour was spent on the lawsuit. There's no way to find the truth of this unless you confirm or deny it.


  • Jason Howell

    Tom: Nice. Very Nice.

    Jeff/FC: You could at least respond to those very clear points. Even Faux News wouldn't .. wait... never mind, yes they would. Try to be just a little better than the worst the business has to offer guys. The run to the bottom is always easier than the run to the top.

  • Don Peeples

    yep, even John (if its him) has expressed "no harm no foul" the concept of article appears to have been: former software tycoon has run off to a jungle paradise to escape & party & perhaps hide assets (and who says you have to drink booze or do drugs to party ?). look people have doing that for a long time. I found this story doing Google Fast Flip, and I read the NY Times story last year (9/2009) about McAfee. I read alot of different sites. I also have an associate that now lives near to where McAfee used to own his New Mexico property. Hell that area is way out in the boon-docks, and far too many rattlesnakes to suit me. This has been interesting to some extent, but simply a diversion from pushing a hi-tech stone up the pyramid day in and out. :-) Yep no one will be reading a Teddy Roosevelt like bio about me. And I also realized the job of being a philosopher king wasn't going to pay the mortgage. Of course post 2008 I wish I hadn't bought the dang thing in the first place :-) But hell I can adopt a Zen like attitude as easy as the next person, I won't be taking any of this with me.

  • Jason Howell

    John: Jeff and FC are definitely at 'fault' here. Their supposed role is to provide solid, unbiased information that readers can rely upon when making decisions. This idea that "it's ok because they have a job to do" is a fallacy along the lines of "It's just business". It's not OK, and it's not just business. They are writing things which will potentially be read by tens of people. What if one of those people happens to be the person you ask to invest in your bio-projects? Their leeching off of your name is no different than the various lawsuits you have mentioned; they are both trying to use a known name to make money that they don't have any claim to. It's just a different kind of leech.

    Chris: "Can't we all just get along" - Rodney King

    If any of my comments come off as terse or heated I apologize. I am having fun with the discussion. I have no ball in this game at all.

  • Tom Hilton

    What a great Read!

    I’ll honor Mr. Mcafee’s request and direct my comments directly to Fast Company rather than Mr. Wise.

    It’s clear you’ve been had. Mr. McAfee has cleverly waited for the right moments, as this story has simmered, to drop various enlightening pieces into the pot with the skill and timing of a master chef. Here are the facts that seem unassailable:

    1.You state, unequivocally, that Mr. McAfee’s is a “hard partying playboy”. Mr. Wise has now admitted that he knew that Mr. McAfee did not drink or take drugs and is not a playboy.

    2.You tell how Mr. McAfee is not being a good Samaritan in giving away his boat, and in fact did it as a bribe. The facts apparently show that that story could not possibly be true. We don’t know if Mr. McAfee gave away the boat as an act of philanthropy, but he apparently didn’t do it as a bribe.

    3.The thrust of the story is about a huge lawsuit against Mr. McAfee. Yet court records offered up by Mr. McAfee show that he makes up only 3% of the defendants (not mentioned in the story), that there is a valid countersuit by a third party (not mentioned in the story), and that he had nothing to do with the business, Southwest Aerotrekking, that was actually selling rides to the gentleman who was killed (not mentioned in the story).

    4.You claim Mr. McAfee has more money than the $4 million that he publicly states. None of your evidence points to this, unless there’s some miraculous “new math” that you’re using. Saying “$1,000 here, $5,000 there, it all starts to, well, add up”, is, quite frankly, piss poor evidence to come from a business magazine.

    5.You imply that Mr. McAfee moved to Belize to avoid this lawsuit. Given everything that has surfaced since, then this, even to unsympathetic eyes, now seems improbable.

    Then there are all of the broken facts that you put forward, like the seawall that you claim Mr. McAfee built. Yet the seawall was plainly visible in a photo put forward from the Internet Archives from a time before Mr. McAfee moved into the property, etc, etc.

    You have obviously instructed Mr. Wise to continue the charade as evidenced by his last post saying he stands by the facts of the article.

    Do you truly believe your readers are that naive?

  • Don Peeples

    there would be no pyramids in Belize or Eygpt without someone hauling a large amount of stone :-) perhaps the precent credit rule could apply there as well.

  • Chris Russell

    This crap makes me sick...

    My Lord people will you leave the man alone! There has never been a statue erected to a critic and I find it rather idiotic and offensive that the poster a few days ago referenced that John McAfee was bipolar based upon his personality traits...

    I'll give you a hint...if those are proof that he is bipolar then I guess I am bipolar as well and so is every other person who had a dream to accomplish something worthwhile and of long lasting impact...I'll give you another hint go read Think and Grow Rich and read about others who have pursued their dream and see if they fit the bipolar description...

    I love how people try to criticize this mans dream while they themselves are signed up for the 40 year program working day in and day out 9-5 unwilling to step out and take a risk and pursue their dreams...but they would rather work for another man's dream...not doing anything but wasting space and using oxygen...

    "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

    It makes me disgusted all these people posting on here are a litmus test for the makeup of America...where we live in a nation that a woman can sue Mcdonalds cause their coffee was hot, and a person can sue a fast food chain cause their food made her fat...Where has personal responsibility gone in this country?

    Was he flying the plane? Did he own the plane? Nope...Yet people play the blame game and fail to take responsibility for their own actions or admit to themselves that people in their family screwed up and at least admit that to themselves instead of pointing the finger at someone else and saying "It's all his fault! Get him!"...I am 26 and I have enough God given common sense to know and understand this....

    "The love of money is the root of all evil" And I know broke people who love it a whole heck of alot more than the fact they base every decision they make in their lives on the dollar bill...

    I commend you John for pursuing your dreams and taking person responsibility for your own actions and nobody else's...


  • Wendy Auxillou

    After reviewing this "article" and thread, who can blame Mr. McAfee for wanting to escape all that state-side psycho-drama?

    Brilliant move, Mr. McAfee! Welcome to Belize.

    Wendy Auxillou
    Amazing Belize, LLC

  • Don Peeples

    "If a court rules against him in the wrongful death suit".
    I would assume this would be a civil suit, and that a jury would be called.
    If I have any insight as to how a jury in Arizona would rule regarding a case involving two grown men climbing into an Areotrike, and subsequently losing their life in a tragic accident, and as this suit is claiming others misled them as to the danger, I suspect a jury's findings would not be to the plaintiff's advantage.

    I once sat as an alternate on a jury case where a young man had been injured in a police ride-along. And ended up with a badly damaged arm. In his civil suit he was asking for $500K in compensation/damages from the rural county that had allowed the police ride-along program. In fact his own brother was the officer driving the patrol car. The jury of retired elderly people did not rule in the plaintiff's favor. I was not in the deliberations, as I was only an alternate. However the county's attorney had done a very good job of depicting the injured young man as a complete slacker who was only filing the suit to get a large sum of money. The jury was largely comprised of people who most likely had never even earned that much in total wages prior to their retirement. Point being. Maricopa county Arizona has a large population of retired people. But on the other hand, since the "deep pockets" in this case, isn't the county, but a "wealthy" entrepreneur. They might feel differently. Yet as pointed out each plaintiff is held responsible for the Percent that they were responsible.

    Perhaps that is the question Jeff should have asked.

  • Jason Howell

    Oops. Sorry. Didn't see that the comments had gone to a second page.

    Jeff: Do you think it's possible that the way you presented your information was more damning than the actual information?

  • Jason Howell

    Absolutely. I hope that their follow up (which, for all I know, may not be an apology but a vindication of their facts) is given as an article which will show up in RSS feeds and other such headlines instead of as a comment on this article.

    Can anyone from FC confirm that a follow-up is to be expected?

  • John McAfee

    And I have a request of all commenters: Jeff Wise is in no way at fault here. I said in all my earlier posts - I like Jeff very much and have considered him a friend. And his honorable nature has been proven by his admission that he has never seen me drink or take drugs.

    The printed press industry is in a shambles. We all know they are struggling to survive. An expose sells more copies, pure and simple, than a dull article about yet another company springing into exisyence. The blame here is not with Jeff, who, as anyone who has ever worked for someone else knows, must do what he is told. People are out of work. Many are going hungry. I would do the same as Jeff: follow orders.

    And Fast Company can't be blamed either. It is a dog-eat-dog field. You have to do whatever is necessary to survive. The error is not an error of intent - it's an error of judgment. Anyone who really knows me would know, without a doubt, that while an expose could possibly be made of my current existence, an expose about me as a hard partying playboy, Third World Country bribing, fugitive from justice is not the right one. If some magazine out there wants to do the real expose, I could probably find one for you, with a little work and a lot of thought. Just an offer.