Thousands of Dominicans are seeking an immense treasure they believe is rightfully theirs—but it's an ocean away under lock and key, Bloomberg reports. Enter Johnny Portorreal Reyes, a charismatic 65-year-old lawyer who represents many Guzmáns and Rosarios, two families with similar legends of ancestors sending gold to Spain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Last year, Portorreal said he'd found over 12 bank accounts in Switzerland and Spain holding billions of their dollars. Last April he announced that some of it had finally arrived in the Dominican, sparking near euphoria among clients in his Santo Domingo office. But no one saw a dime, and Portorreal indirectly admitted that the funds may never have made it. But "there is no money without me," he warned.
With clients' frustration rising, local media portrayed him as a scammer and federal authorities launched an investigation. After all, Portorreal hasn't shown proof of people's inheritance. He has also reportedly earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients, who by one count tally 29,300. Behind all this are poverty-stricken Dominicans, mostly Rosarios, who recall once living on land rich with gold. When dictator Rafael Trujillo took power in 1930, they say, their land was stolen, forcing them to flee or become poor. Now Canada's Barrick Gold Corp. is running the gold mine but doesn't share profits with mining communities as per Dominican law, the Guardian reported last year. Into all this despair stepped Portorreal, who denies any wrongdoing. "Didn't they doubt Jesus Christ?" he says. (Read more fraud stories.)