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Doomsday village developer gets prison for money laundering in New Jersey

A self-described visionary, who was allegedly building a $300 million luxury doomsday village in Texas, was sentenced to prison for conspiring to launder money on behalf of a Colombian drug cartel.

Trident Lakes development map.
Trident Lakes development map.Read moreTRIDENT LAKES (custom credit)

A self-described visionary, who allegedly was building a $300 million luxury doomsday village in Texas for the One Percent, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for conspiring to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of a Colombian drug cartel.

John Eckerd, 55, previously pleaded guilty in Camden to a count of conspiracy to launder $200,000. Co-conspirator Anthony Romano of Union County, N.J., was sentenced in September to 54 months in prison.

Eckerd, of McKinney, Texas, was behind Trident Lakes, an underground development marketed as a five-star post-apocalyptic playground.

The project — with subterranean condos, a 18-hole golf course, and a network of tunnels and stables for horseback riding — was advertised as having DEFCON 1 preparedness and was purported to be able to withstand catastrophic events ranging from viral epidemics to nuclear war.

However, it did not withstand an investigation by the FBI.

Despite numerous news articles that marveled at the scope of the project, construction never proceeded beyond the erection of a 50-foot statue of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, holding his golden trident. It is not clear how many investors were snookered out of $500,000 to $1.5 million membership fees.

According to court papers, in September 2017 Romano met with a undercover agent in Cape May who claimed to be a former narcotics trafficker. The agent told Romano that he had “large sums of cash from past illegal narcotics activity” that he needed to launder. Romano accepted $10,000 in cash and wrote a check to the agent for $9,400.

Later that month, Romano discussed placing and layering the agent’s money with the help of Eckerd, who would be able to launder illicit proceeds through the doomsday project. All it would cost was a 10% commission. Romano and Eckerd deposited the cash into a shell company bank account in Union County.

In February 2018, Eckerd and Romano held a phone conversation that was recorded by federal agents. The drug cartel needed $100,000 to be processed and wanted to complete the transaction in Texas. Eckerd warned that the highway between Houston and Dallas was heavily trafficked by police and recommended taking a “prop job,” a single-engine aircraft, rather than risk being stopped.

Later that month, in another recorded conversation, Eckerd and Romano met with the undercover cartel agent in Texas. The agent told Eckerd that the Colombians wanted to launder $1 million and would soon bump up the request to $2 million a month.

As Eckerd schemed to turns millions of dollars into respectable revenue, he worked on Blood, Sweat & Cheers, an autobiography recounting his sagas, scandals, and successes. In 2004, NASCAR had sued him and his production company for marketing a pornographic video called “Racetrack Girls Go Nutz,” which his company touted as the Girls Gone Wild for stock car racing fans.

“His brain was born to storm,” Eckerd’s promotional website reads. "His DNA saturated in unconventional wisdom.

“Whether the next light bulb over his bald head is a revolutionary invention or a monumental implosion, neither will be destination nor deterrent. Merely a brief exit ramp along his life’s unique and unceasing freeway.”

Eckerd’s exit ramp is taking him for the next 15 months to Seagoville Federal Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison west of Dallas. U.S. District Judge Renee M. Bumb on Wednesday also sentenced Eckerd to serve three years of supervised released and render 200 hours of community service.