Sante and Kenneth Kimes: A Life of Crime
A Capital Caper
The scheme cooked up by Ken Kimes and put into motion by Sante involved making money from the 1976 American Bicentennial. It was called "The Forum of Man." While that sounded grand, all they were really trying to sell were giant posters of state flags that extolled the 200th Birthday of the United States. They thought that simply by being seen in the right Washington circles and by being photographed in the right places, the government would put a poster in every classroom in America and sell the excess through post offices. They estimated that there were 250,000 such schoolrooms and at ten dollars each, well, do the math.
Ken Kimes needed credentials and he began addressing civic groups on patriotism. He also began calling himself "the honorary bicentennial ambassador of the United States" and said he would soon be traveling throughout the world to let other countries know about the forthcoming celebration. But an official sanction was needed, and it wasn't long before the brazen pair showed up at the White House to meet with Patricia Nixon.
Ken and Sante had forged a memo on White House stationery that supposedly was to Mrs. Nixon from a high-ranking White House assistant asking her to see him. It represented Ken Kimes as a big Republican donor and philanthropist who only wanted to give back to his country.
Mrs. Nixon appeared to see right through Ken and Sante's pitch and motioned the White House photographer away, but Sante whipped out her own camera and documented the event. It soon appeared in the Bicentennial Times, the official newsletter for the big year. Sante and Ken appeared halfway there and used the photo with Mrs. Nixon to arrange meetings with other federal officials.
Leaving some startled security guards behind, the two hopped a cab and proceeded to crash parties or receptions at the West German embassy, the Belgian embassy, and finally, a sit-down dinner at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery. At the Belgian residence, Sante boldly took the floor and made a pitch for the flag posters before being asked to leave.
They might have gotten away with the whole scam. But the next morning, telephone calls began flooding the desks of Washington society editors. Two days later, a Washington Star headline read THE BIGGEST CRASH SINCE 1929: "This is a story of how good manners and gall will get you into the world of Washington Society," the story began. The caption under Ken and Sante's picture said in part: "Kimes (rhymes with climbs)." The competing Washington Post put an investigative team on the affair and soon reported that the letter used to get an audience with Pat Nixon had been "doctored."
Exposed, the couple's attempted swindle was over, but not before Sante told a reporter that Ken was "a Will Rogers type, a self-starter, and a tiger. People ask me if I am involved with him. Well, I love him. I just love his warmth."
Sante said they were doing the project just to "get rid of cynicism in the world."