Saul Foos: The larger-than-life agent who lost everything

Just before Saul Foos was sentenced to prison in 1995 for stealing millions from some of Chicago’s biggest broadcasters, he told the judge: “When a man loses his honor, he’s a dead man. That’s me, I’m a dead man. I chose the coward’s way out.”

So when a friend called the other day to say that Foos, 73, had passed away earlier this year, it was in some ways as if he’d lived the last 17 years as a ghost. His death went unnoticed in the media.

For close to two decades, no one was a bigger wheeler dealer in this town than the brash lawyer and talent agent whose client roster read like a who’s who: Wally Phillips, Larry Lujack, Harry Caray, Tom Joyner, Doug Banks, Fred Winston, John Records Landecker, Robert Murphy, Jim Ruddle, Don and Roma Wade, Tim Weigel, Chet Coppock, Jim Tilmon, Dick Kay, Dave Baum, Warner Saunders, Bob Wallace, Bob Dearborn and Irene Mojica, among many others.

They not only trusted Foos to negotiate their contracts and handle their legal affairs, but many of them entrusted their savings to him, too. “We will offer complete personal services — from contract negotiations to safe, sound investments — all personally geared to your situation,” read a 1974 ad for his firm in Billboard magazine.

They saw how he threw lavish parties, drove a Mercedes, owned a 48-foot yacht and had homes on the Near North Side and in New Buffalo, Michigan. They heard about the new swimming pool he was building and the $12,000 emerald necklace he bought for his wife on a Caribbean vacation. So when he invited his clients, employees, neighbors, relatives and fraternity brothers to cut themselves in on the good life and let him invest their money in his deals, more than 100 jumped at his guarantees of big returns.

Among celebs who turned over large sums to Foos were Landecker, Winston, Murphy, Banks, Mojica and the Wades. Two station managers who negotiated talent agreements with him — Marv Dyson and Harvey Pearlman — trusted the guy so much that they invested with him. Fashion designer Becky Bisoulis did, too.

But it was all an illusion — a Ponzi scheme worthy of Bernie Madoff.

Foos later admitted he never invested any of his clients’ money. His elaborate descriptions of commodities trading, tax-delinquent real estate purchases, radio station deals and renovation projects were pure fiction. For 13 years, he simply used money from later investors to pay dividends to earlier ones. By the time the scheme collapsed, he had stolen more than $20 million. Of that, he paid out $13.3 million as “profits” and lost $7.2 million.

It started, Foos told investigators, because his own investments (including a restaurant in Beverly Hills) had gone bad and he needed to cover the losses and put three children through college. “I made a grievous mistake by starting to use other people’s money,” he said. “Before I knew it, it had gone on and on and it was impossible to stop it.”

Forced into bankruptcy and disbarred, he pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to five and half years in prison, and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution and serve 300 hours of community service. After he was released, he sold used cars for a while, but otherwise lived the rest of his life in obscurity.

The last time I talked to him — just before his sentencing — he sounded like a broken man. Gone were the bluster and bravado that many had found so irresistible. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he told me. “The party’s over. I feel really sorry that I hurt people. I know I was a bad guy and I have to accept punishment.”


A programming note: I'll be taking a break for a few days to spend time with family. Barring a news emergency, I'll see you back here November 26. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)