Meet 'Mr. O:' Reclusive 'billionaire' backing underwater hotel in Minnesota has quite a checkered past
The backer of an underwater hotel in Lake Superior has been accused of bilking a widow with the promise of gold bars in a cave if he could just get enough money to hire a geologist to retrieve them.
DULUTH — The anonymous man claiming to be a billionaire working with a Minnesota mayor on plans for an underwater hotel is a felon with a history of allegations of soliciting money for far-fetched ideas.
Meet Daniel Victor Hancock, a 77-year-old Las Vegas man, who prefers people call him Mr. O, the reclusive billionaire willing to mentor you to success for just $10,000-$50,000.
Since at least last summer, he’s been working with and mentoring Mayor Chris Swanson of Two Harbors, Minnesota, on an idea for an underwater hotel in Lake Superior, which the Duluth News Tribune first reported in January.
As Mr. O, Hancock’s alter ego, he insists on anonymity, but newspaper archives and public records show he’s lived a life of crime and deceit.
Hancock, whose identity was first reported by the Duluth Monitor, did not respond to the News Tribune’s request for comment.
Jon Lee, who runs the Enigma Mastery Group, which connects budding entrepreneurs with “Mr. O’s” mentorship, did not deny Hancock was Mr. O. Instead, he said “Mr. O” would address the News Tribune and Monitor stories during a Thursday, Feb. 23, podcast recording.
Through its own prior reporting, the News Tribune identified Mr. O as Hancock after watching the “About Mr. O” video on the “Mr. O. Recluse” YouTube channel, where he shares numerous letters and photos of himself, all with his name and face redacted. In the video, the newspaper article “To catch a thief: Ex-crook helps businesses find robbers in roost," appears, with names and faces redacted.
By searching the headline into the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s archives (he repeatedly says in his podcast he lives in Las Vegas), an unredacted article from May 20, 1984, matching the one in the video immediately appeared. Its subject was Dan Hancock, a felon who said he was reformed and now offered his criminal know-how as a consultant poking holes in and identifying weaknesses in companies’ security protocols.
Later, a search for “D. Victor Hancock” — one of the common name variations Hancock has used — on YouTube turned up a YouTube channel of the same name . The channel had one video from 2016 , a biography on Hancock with many of the same letters, photos and newspaper clippings included in the “About Mr. O” video, but these were all unredacted and all showed Hancock’s name.
On vibetwoharbors.com , an unfinished but public website, potential underwater hotel investors are promised “high-return investments” by working with the Mayor Swanson and Mr. O team. Vibe Two Harbors is one of several Swanson-connected businesses under review by the Minnesota State Auditor .
Hancock’s been at this game for a while.
In 1994, Hancock and two others were arrested and charged with 26 felony counts including racketeering, securities, fraud and conspiracy for taking more than $150,000 from victims who were lured in by the promise of hidden gold, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported at the time.
The money, they said, would be used to hire a geologist to retrieve the gold, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Then the gold bars would be melted down to remove markings in the back of a truck en route to Florida, where the bars would then be dumped into the ocean so they could claim they found treasure in international waters. That’s to avoid taxes, the Review-Journal reported.
The Review-Journal reported Hancock, then 49, was “the accused mastermind of the plot” and “mixed savviness, savoir-faire, romance and tall tales to fool women into lending him thousands of dollars that hasn’t been repaid, victims and investigators allege.”
With his chauffeured Rolls-Royce, he’d target middle-aged and older women at the opera and upscale restaurants. That included a 68-year-old widow he convinced to lend him $10,000, then $6,000.
Eventually, he even convinced her to borrow $27,000 against one of her homes and sell another home for $150,000, which he promised could be doubled if she invested it into his scheme, the Review-Journal said.
By 1998, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a district court’s decision to dismiss the indictment because the document lacked specificity.
But in 1995, a judge in a civil case on the matter filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego said the defendants owed victims nearly $1 million, according to the now-sealed case’s docket.
Hancock spent time in prison in the 1970s after he, his brother and two women were arrested for burglarizing a broken-down mobile home on the side of Interstate 25 in Colorado, according to an Associated Press story in the Sept. 13, 1973, Greeley Daily Tribune.
While in prison in 1974, Hancock claimed he warned prison guards that three prisoners — Dalton Lloyd Williams, Jerry Ulmer and Richard Mangum — were planning to escape. A few days later, the trio would escape, killing two people, wounding five others and raping two women before police captured two and killed Mangum, according to the Greeley Daily Tribune.
Hancock feared being a snitch would mean he’d be killed if he returned to the Colorado State Penitentiary, the story said.
By 1981, he was a free man, but was arrested and charged with stealing more than $50,000 worth of tools from a Cedar City, Utah, diesel shop more than a year earlier, according to the Iron County Record. The paper reported in June 1982 that Hancock’s burglary charges were dismissed.
And by 1984, he appeared in that Review-Journal profile that glowingly portrayed him as someone who, despite claiming to be arrested 159 times, was reformed and using his knowledge as a criminal for good.
In that article, he boasted about his past criminal exploits and that a prosecutor claimed he was running a $20 million burglary and fencing operation, the largest in Colorado.
The Review-Journal reported: “When he was at the peak of his crime career, Hancock said, his team actually employed people around truck-stop restaurants, strike up conversations, and discover truckers who were both angry at their employers and carrying valuable cargo.”
“The guy who found him would make a phone call, and another guy would go down and offer the driver $500 to sit there eating a steak and not look at his truck for an hour,” Hancock told the Review-Journal. “He would sit there with him to make sure that … the trucker did just that.”
By the 2000s, Hancock found himself doing business with the now former Clark County Family Court Judge Steven E. Jones.
The Review-Journal reported in 2006 that Hancock was named as a co-defendant in a civil complaint involved in Golden Resort and Movie Inc., where Jones served as treasurer.
The lawsuit, according to the Review-Journal, alleged a man had given the company $20,000 to become a distributor of “equity cards,” which gives investors equity in oceanfront property in Mexico. But he was never given the cards.
Further, the San Diego Reader reported in 2008 that Jones, Hancock and Dwight Jory (who in a 2018 video posted by the Mr. O Recluse YouTube channel said “Mr. O” put his real estate in his name so he could stay off public documents) traveled together to Tijuana, Mexico, so Jones could urge someone who owned land along the Sea of Cortez to settle a land dispute with Jory and Hancock.
Jory wanted to use the land as collateral to attract investors in a rail line that would go from Arizona to California to Mexico and back up to California, but it turned out Jory didn’t actually own the land, the San Diego Reader reported.
Jones had also convinced a bailiff to lend Hancock $18,000, the Review-Journal reported .
In 2015, Jones was sentenced to more than two years in prison “for participating in an investment fraud that bilked over 50 investor victims out of millions in cash for almost a decade“ between 2002 and 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigations said in a news release at the time. Jones used his office to knowingly vouch for the deals “when he knew the deals were, in fact, scams.”
Namely, Jones vouched for a man pretending to be a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security buying and selling water rights in a secret government program who “needed short-term cash loans to complete his phantom water deals, loans he promised to repay in short order along with a very large return,” the FBI said.
Hancock was not named in that case.
Swanson did not respond to questions from the News Tribune on whether he thinks he is being scammed. He has previously said city rules bar him from speaking with the News Tribune.