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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.