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Asteroid Bilk

by Alex Miller

To paraphrase the Immortal Bard, “What’s in a name? An asteroid by any other homophone would manifest as sweet.”

Such is the case with Main Belt asteroid Bilk (#4425), discovered by noted astronomer Loubos Kohoutek (of comet fame) at the Bergedorf Observatory in Germany on October 30th, 1967. Named for an earlier, then defunct, observatory named Bilk in Dusseldorf (where 24 asteroids had been identified in the 1800s), asteroid Bilk resonates with its English homophonic cousin “bilk,” meaning to defraud, trick or cheat. By whatever mysterious cosmic process, this bit of celestial flotsam actually appears prominently in the charts of famous con men, born long before its discovery and naming.

bernie madoffOf most recent memory is mega-fraudster Bernard Madoff, who famously ripped off investors to the tune of $65 million, the largest private investor fraud ever committed by a single individual. Born April 29, 1938 [see the full bio of Madoff in the January 2009 Daykeeper Journal], Madoff’s natal Bilk lies at 20 Aries, conjunct both natal Saturn (his career) at 11 Aries and natal Mercury (his powers of communication and persuasion) at 26 Aries retrograde, and squared to the Black Hole at 19 Capricorn, indicating the vast scale of his deception. Bilk also squares natal Pluto, ruling extreme wealth, at 27 Cancer, and is inconjunct natal Neptune, redolent of deception and subterfuge, at 18 Virgo. When he was arrested on December 11, 2008, asteroid Bilk at 25 Scorpio was exactly squared the Quasar at 25 Aquarius, publicly illuminating (Quasar) his dirty dealing, and opposed his natal Venus, indicating finances and valuation, at 29 Taurus.

Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme (AKA “pyramid scheme”), a financial fraud whereby investors are promised huge returns on their investment, but in reality, dividends are paid to early investors, not from actual earnings, but from monies acquired from later investors, with the organizer of the fraud reaping the major benefit. This scheme is named for Charles Ponzi, an Italian swindler who came to America in the early 1900s, where he developed a scam based on redemption of International Reply Coupons, a postage-based fraud utilizing varying currency exchange rates from foreign countries to make a supposed profit by cashing them. By 1920, Ponzi was taking in $250,000 daily, a sum comparable to $2.6 million today; people mortgaged homes and invested life savings to get in on his incredible fiscal feeding frenzy. But as with Madoff, suspicion regarding his phenomenally successful business methods brought increased official scrutiny, and on August 12, 1920, Ponzi was arrested on federal charges of mail fraud. His fall brought down six Massachusetts banks in its wake, and investors ultimately received less than 30 cents on the dollar.


Carlo Ponzi
Carlo Ponzi

Ponzi was born 3 March 1882. Natal Bilk forms a tight T-Square in Ponzi’s birth chart. From 15 Sagittarius it squares the Sun/Venus conjunction at 12 and 15 Pisces, which opposes Uranus at 16 Virgo retrograde. The Sun/Venus combination aptly describes Ponzi’s charming manner, which duped so many investors, as well as a Massachusetts jury, which found him innocent of larceny charges filed by the state after his release from federal prison, in which trial Ponzi acted as his own attorney. The Uranus opposition recalls the shocking and unconventional manner of the new financial fraud he first devised and perpetrated, as well as his identity as an alien national resident in the US. There is also an inconjunct with natal Neptune at 14 Taurus, which natal placement links obfuscation and deception with monetary matters. When Ponzi surrendered to authorities on August 12, 1920, transit Saturn at 11 Virgo was highlighting the T-Square, which transit asteroid Bilk at 21 Gemini had temporarily transformed into a Grand Cross.

Before the Ponzi scheme, con men had begun to proliferate in the climate of the post-Industrial Revolution, when vast, untaxed fortunes made millionaires overnight. Many of these nouveau riche were people with no social pedigree, who harbored feelings of inferiority making them easy targets. Others who saw these financial successes were hungry for the latest get-rich-quick scheme to come down the pike, adding to the con men’s victims.

Joseph Weil
Joseph"Yellow Kid" Weil

Two such “entrepreneurs” were Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil and Victor Lustig, who between them defrauded two continents out of millions.

Weil was a Chicago native who often worked with a partner; his nickname of “Yellow Kid” came after pairing with grifter Frank Hogan. A popular comic strip of the period was entitled “Hogan’s Alley and the Yellow Kid,” and with Hogan taking the part of his illustrated namesake, Weil became the Yellow Kid. W

eil was an acknowledge master of human nature, and always utilized his mark’s worst instincts: greed and a desire to get something for nothing. He lived past his 100th birthday, and although he usually scammed fairly small sums, in aggregate he is estimated to have bilked his victims out of more than $8 million, a tremendous sum for his day.

In his autobiography, Weill writes, “The desire to get something for nothing has been very costly to many people who have dealt with me and with other con men. But I have found that this is the way it works. The average person, in my estimation, is ninety-nine per cent animal and one per cent human. The ninety-nine per cent that is animal causes very little trouble. But the one per cent that is human causes all our woes. When people learn—as I doubt they will—that they can't get something for nothing, crime will diminish and we shall live in greater harmony.” Weil’s cons were ingenious in their simplicity, and by focusing on his mark’s foibles, vices and shortcomings as their weak spots, often his victims were too embarrassed or chagrined to so much as report his deception to authorities, for fear of looking stupid, naive, or worse. Weil always asserted that most of those he defrauded were larcenous themselves, and would have conned him first if they could have figured out how. Born 1 July 1875, Joseph Weil’s 9 Cancer Sun tightly opposes asteroid Bilk at 7 Capricorn retrograde, which also forms a loose Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with natal Venus at 16 Gemini and natal Uranus at 13 Leo, with Bilk at the Apex.

Victor Lustig
Victor Lustig

Victor Lustig was more of a loner, enlisting confederates when necessary, but never teaming with a partner on any permanent basis. Where Weil presented himself as a canny, talented everyman, Lustig sometimes passed himself off as a count, preying on nouveau riche attracted to his superior pedigree, whom he encountered on luxury trans-Atlantic liners, in posh New York clubs, and at fashionable, elegant European spas. This Czech-born flimflam artist is perhaps best remembered as the man who sold the Eiffel Tower—not once, but twice!

In 1925 Lustig impersonated a French governmental minister and invited six scrap metal dealers to a posh suite at the Hotel Crillon in Paris, where he enjoined them all to absolute secrecy. The government, he claimed, was forced to tear down the Eiffel Tower (which had in any case been intended originally as a temporary structure for the 1889 Exposition) due to skyrocketing maintenance costs that made its upkeep no longer feasible in the current financially distressed times. Since the government realized there would be a popular outcry against this move, the businessmen were asked not to speak to anyone of the proposal, but invited to submit bids on the Tower’s materials for scrap metal. Focusing more on their characters than their bids, Lustig determined to accept the bid of one Andre Poisson, as the most gullible, and asked him to return in two days with a 25% down payment of 250,000 francs (about $1 million in today’s money), at which point the Tower would be deeded to him.

In the intervening period, Poisson became suspicious, and Lustig, sensing his apprehension, began to complain of his own personal fiscal problems. Poisson intuited that Lustig, as an underpaid official, was putting out a feeler for a bribe, and this immediately overcame his hesitancy, as it reflected a genuine type with whom he was very familiar dealing. He paid a handsome bribe as well as the down payment, and Lustig hot-footed it to Germany. After no government deed arrived, Poisson realized a few days later that he had been conned, but was too embarrassed to file charges. When his deception never became public, Lustig returned to Paris a month later and repeated the scam with six new scrap metal dealers, but this time his mark’s suspicion overcame his embarrassment, and Lustig beat a hasty retreat just hours ahead of the police.

Lustig conned even Al Capone, a risky proposition at best, and also “invented” a machine that reproduced authentic currency, doubling its owner’s money overnight. Sales of this machine to gullible marks, at $30,000 a pop, netted Lustig millions. Born 4 January 1890, Lustig’s natal asteroid Bilk at 10 Capricorn conjoined a stellium including the Sun at 14 Capricorn, identifying him as a natural con man, and financial planets Venus at 3 Capricorn and Jupiter at 18 Capricorn, indicating the exorbitant sums he pocketed by his deceptions.

Many post-War con artists, of varying levels of success, have been featured subjects in popular films. Michael Milken, the so-called “Junk Bond King” of the ‘80s, eventually indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud, including insider trading, stock parking and tax evasion, was a key model for Michael Douglas’ Academy Award-winning Gordon Gekko character in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” (1987).

Milken’s frauds were facilitated in many cases by Ivan Boesky, another Wall Street arbitrager whose testimony secured Milken’s conviction. Boesky received a $100 million fine and a three year prison term; Milken paid $200 million in fines and spent two years in jail. Milken (born 4 July 1946) has Bilk at 28 Cancer exactly conjunct a Black Hole and closely conjoined career-ruling Saturn at 26 Cancer. Boesky (born 6 March 1937) has Bilk at 28 Capricorn, exactly opposed his confederate Milken’s, the two points working in tandem. Bilk is also aspected to all three of Boesky’s financial planets, conjunct Jupiter at 20 Capricorn, opposed Pluto at 26 Cancer [which is thus exactly conjunct Milken’s Saturn, destroying (Pluto) his career (Saturn)] and exactly squared Venus at 28 Aries. Bilk is also sextile both natal Saturn at 24 Pisces and natal Mars at 27 Scorpio.

Frank Abagnale, Jr.
Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Real-life con men Frank Abagnale, Jr. and David Hampton were portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) and Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993). Frank Abagnale Jr’s story is an unusual one for a con man. After years of conning and being literally on the run, Abagnale went straight, and used his former expertise to helm a financial fraud and security consulting company, which has legitimately earned him millions. But in his heyday in the ‘60s, Abagnale was a counter-culture hero, a forger, imposter and confidence man who passed more than $2 million in bad cheques in 26 countries over the course of five years, using at least eight aliases. Abagnale’s favorite trick was to print his account number on forged bank deposit slips, which he then slipped into stacks of blank slips at several banks; when customers used his slips, their deposits went into his account, and Abagnale culled some $40,000 by this method before the bank caught on. His impersonations include airline pilot, doctor, lawyer and university teaching assistant, all of which frauds he used to gain the confidence of his victims so he could take advantage of them. Most impressive was his 25-month stint as chief resident pediatrician at a Georgia hospital; he survived without any medical knowledge to speak of by having interns do most of the actual procedures.

In 1969 Abagnale was arrested in France after being recognized from a “Wanted” poster. While in custody by French authorities, twelve other countries petitioned for extradition, and Abagnale served brief terms in France’s Perpignan and Sweden’s Malmo prisons, before entering a US federal penitentiary in 1971. Released in 1974 under terms of a deal whereby he assisted federal prosecutors in their fraud investigations, the former con eventually formed Abagnale and Associates, a security consulting firm, and has been a lecturing consultant for the FBI for more than 30 years. Born 27 April 1948, Abagnale’s natal Bilk at 23 Aquarius conjoins a Quasar, which considerably increases both his effectiveness or success and notoriety, and is trine his natal Venus/Uranus conjunction at 22 and 23 Gemini, opposed natal Mars at 22 Leo, and sesquiquadrate (135 degrees) natal Neptune at 10 Libra.

Carlo Ponzi
David Hampton

David Hampton’s story is at once the most and least impressive. His cons never made him wealthy; often he was homeless. But his impersonations of friends of friends of his victims gave his frauds an immediacy which is hard not to admire, as the quick-witted Hampton insinuated himself into their lives and homes, gaining their trust.

Hampton’s story constantly changed to fit the situation—sometimes he pretended to be Sydney Poitier’s son, which granted easy social access and allowed him to cadge free meals in New York restaurants; at others he impersonated the college roommate of a wealthy couple’s son, down on his luck in a strange city and needing a place to stay for awhile. Among his more famous marks were Melanie Griffith, Gary Sinise, and Calvin Klein. In 1990 playwright John Guare adapted his story (told to him by two of his victims, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism dean Osborn Elliot and his wife) into the successful, long-running “Six Degrees of Separation,” which was made into a movie in 1993. Hampton never reformed his ways, and after the movie based on his life made his story famous, simply adapted his tactics to portray less high profile characters. He died in July 2003 from AIDS-related complications.

Born 4 April 1964, Hampton’s natal Bilk at 27 Taurus is conjunct a controversy-provoking Maser and natal Venus at 0 Gemini, indicating the intimacy he used to defraud benefactors who came to his aid, and the outrage (Maser) they felt when they realized they’d been had. Bilk is also squared natal Saturn at 1 Pisces, signifying its prominence in Hampton’s career path.

Bilk, of course, continues to operate in the heavens. In the infamous $700 billion Bailout Bill of October 3, 2008, Bilk appears prominently at 21 Libra, conjunct Mercury at 17 Libra and Mars at 29 Libra, exactly trine Neptune at 21 Aquarius and inconjunct Uranus at 19 Pisces. Many Americans have certainly felt bilked by the dispersal of these TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds, after learning that the banks which received them, in turn paid them out in bonuses to the very employees who had created the problem in the first place. This disclosure (prefigured by Bilk conjunct Mercury in the Bailout Bill chart) and the resulting outrage (represented by Bilk conjunct Mars in that same chart) peaked in mid-March, as Pluto came to form its retrograde station at 3 Capricorn, which transit Bilk conjoined. Note also that both Bilk and Pluto are currently opposing the USA’s natal Venus and Jupiter at 3 and 5 Cancer, increasing the sense that the government may be pulling a fast one in regards to the ongoing financial crisis.

To add emphasis to the scandal, transit Pluto has been opposing Bilk’s position in its discovery chart for 30 October 1967. Posited there at 2 Cancer, Pluto’s exact opposition began in January 2009 and will continue intermittently until October of 2010, doubtless affording the opportunity for many more such scandals to be uncovered. At its discovery, Bilk formed a T-Square with Saturn at 6 Aries retrograde and Mars at 5 Capricorn, indicating the clash with authority (Saturn) and the anger and frustration (Mars) it can elicit when used inappropriately. Bilk is also sextile Jupiter at 1 Virgo and trine the 6 Scorpio Sun, depicting the possible windfall profits (Jupiter) which make its improper utilization so difficult for some to resist.

And whither Bilk? On April 30, 2009, Bilk turned retrograde at 7 Capricorn, returning to once again oppose the USA Venus and Jupiter, and reuniting with Pluto in early June and again in early October 2009. Its direct station at 21 Sagittarius on August 10 puts it in a tight square to the USA Neptune at 22 Virgo, perhaps indicating a massive deception perpetrated on—or revealed to—the American public at that time. The Sun opposes Bilk on June 20 from 29 Gemini to 29 Sagittarius, and squares Bilk on September 18 from 25 Virgo to 25 Sagittarius (also activating the Galactic Center at 26 Sagittarius), then conjoins Bilk on 3 February 2010 at 14 Aquarius. All these periods may afford glimpses into Bilk’s current workings, revealing frauds and deceptions. On June 30 and September 13 Bilk squares transit Uranus, eliciting shocking revelations of high-tech scams, and on August 31 Bilk squares transit Saturn, indicating loss or limitation. These contacts highlight the ongoing Saturn/Uranus opposition and potentially point to peak periods for fraudulent shenanigans on a global scale.

Alex Miller, photo
Alex Miller (formerly Alex Miller-Mignone)
is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book and The Urban Wicca, former editor of "The Galactic Calendar," and past president of The Philadelphia Astrological Society.

His pioneering work with Black Holes in astrological interpretation began in 1991, when his progressed Sun unwittingly fell into one. Alex can be reached for comment or services at