Locked away in France's Bastille prison in 1785, the Marquis de Sade wrote a tale so dark and twisted it helps explain why the term "sadism" is derived from his name. The 120 Days of Sodom, which details rape and torture, was thought lost when the French Revolution erupted in 1789. The manuscript survived, however, and as Joel Warner writes at Esquire, it has re-emerged again at the center of what is alleged to be the largest Ponzi scheme in French history. It revolves around Gérard Lhéritier of investment company Aristophil, who began buying up rare manuscripts and letters and offering investors a chance to own shares of them. These investors would be able to sell them back after five years, and independent brokers promised big returns. Sales boomed, and after Lhéritier announced he'd acquired The 120 Days of Sodom for $10 million in 2014, it was sold to 420 investors for $15 million.
A year later, Lhéritier could only watch as his company was dismantled and his fortune seized by investigators over accusations that he deceived 18,000 clients out of $1 billion. Authorities said Aristophil had refused to repurchase clients' shares. Lhéritier's lawyer says future deals were never guaranteed and it was brokers who went back on promises of hefty returns. But "maybe if I hadn't touched the [Sade] manuscript, Aristophil would still be here," Lhéritier tells Warner from a villa in Nice, where he's awaiting a criminal trial. If convicted of charges including fraud, money laundering, deceptive marketing practices, and breach of trust, the villa could be Lhéritier's last home before he finds himself behind bars, just like Sade. Click for the full story, which suggests Sade's work will end up in France's National Library. (Read more Longform stories.)