Aggie Alchemy

John Bockris was known around Texas A&M as a chemist interested in "weird science." Joe Champion gave him all he could handle.

But Bill Telander was not Andy Brooks. He had the goods on Joe Champion: he knew about the federal warrant on the South American gold scam. Telander notified the FBI, salting his story with a tidbit about how Champion was going to sell his nuclear know-how to Third World dictators. Telander then recruited a news reporter to set up a phony interview for Champion with another reporter.

It was a B-movie scene that December 1992 afternoon in the bar at the El Presidente Hotel -- which, not two months before, had been the site of Joe Champion's greatest triumph. When the dozen or so agents from Interpol, the FBI and the local judicial police surrounded him, Champion was too drunk to plead his case. He was taken to the airport and put on a plane to Phoenix, where he was met by Maricopa County sheriff's deputies.

With Telander under investigation and Champion in jail, that should have been the end of the Philadelphia Project. But A&M did nothing to stop John Bockris, who was trying to find another backer. In January 1993 he sent a letter to Nancy Meachum, one of Telander's lawyers, saying he planned to check out a recipe used by a man named Patel at Mid-States Recycling, a Chicago-area company that Champion claimed had pulled gold from mercury.

Incredibly, Bockris told Meachum that A&M considered the project "fairly reasonable. SO LONG AS THERE IS NO PUBLICITY, YOU CAN WORK ON THIS SUBJECT, I have been told from the President to the Department and by several executives in between." Then Bockris offered a beautiful insight that would have brought tears to the eyes of a con man like Joe Champion:

"If you talk quietly and confidentially to a wealthy man and explain frankly and honestly the ... evidence (incomplete), you might get his scientific advisor to recommend an investment, particularly if you use me."

Bockris also sent two letters to Bruce Blumberg, Champion's public defender in Phoenix. He said there was "no doubt" that Champion had produced gold. And, he added, if "Champion's work is finally confirmed, I would certainly think he would be a person I would nominate for a Nobel Prize."

Then there is Bockris' letter to Tracy Potter at the South African embassy. Potter says it was followed by several phone calls from Champion's girlfriend, Maggie Sacharski, "pleading with us to take it seriously and invest."

Finally, in late April 1993, Bockris reverted to the strategy he had used with his hydrogen-fuel and cold fusion "breakthroughs." He proposed going public. He wrote A&M chemistry department head Mike Hall, admitting a lack of solid data. But, he insisted, he feared "being left behind. Our position ... at the forefront of the field is one I do not wish to neglect." Bockris went ahead and wrote a scientific paper on the Project and listed as co-author one "Joe Champion, University of Guanajuato, Mexico." The paper was never published.

The Philadelphia Project was finally halted with the indictment of Bill Telander, which forced A&M to freeze the Project's remaining funds. Telander has since pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, admitting that he used $7.8 million bilked from 380 investors not to trade currency, but to fund an extravagant lifestyle and to finance "other personal investments."

Was one of those investments a $200,000 gift to the A&M Development Foundation to start the Philadelphia Project? Telander never admitted it. But some of Telander's investors received a 12-page prospectus on the Philadelphia Project that projected first-year earnings of $34.5 million. Investors also related a meeting with Roger Briggs, a general partner to Telander, who reportedly said the Philadelphia Project could net $11 million in two weeks.

But the final word came from Telander himself. Sheila Babbie, one of the Telander investors, says Telander walked out of a recent criminal hearing and said he still hoped to return to her some of her money. How? From the sale of Philadelphia Project technology.

But of course, the Philadelphia Project only began with Bill Telander and his dirty money. It was allowed to proceed, tearing a course of financial and personal ruin, because one man's greed and arrogance led him into the orbit of another, who had become too foolishly convinced of his own legitimacy.

John Bockris and Joe Champion continue to walk the same twisted pathway in the name of science. In November 1993, the story of the Philadelphia Project finally surfaced, forcing A&M into a series of inquiries that Bockris refused to cooperate with. There have been demands for Bockris' resignation, and 23 of A&M's 28 distinguished professors have asked the school to revoke his title, comparing the Project to "mining green cheese from the moon."

Bockris, meanwhile, calls it merely "unconventional" and continues to insist that Joe Champion is onto something worthy of the Nobel Prize. And while Bockris fights for his reputation, Joe Champion is serving a five-year sentence in Phoenix for the South American gold scam. He continues to believe that he can turn mercury into gold and has threatened to use what he now calls "The Science" to ruin the precious-metals industry. He has written and published 20th Century Alchemy, a layman's guide to making gold.

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