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Strangers unite in belief they were hoodwinked by ‘best friend’

A group of 25 people gathered one evening in March at a Holiday Inn meeting room in Skokie. They were strangers for the most part, united mostly by their shared anger and embarrassment.

What they also all had in common was their belief they had been hoodwinked out of their money by a Chicago businessman named Carlos Meza, someone many of them once regarded as a friend.

The amounts ranged from thousands of dollars in some cases to hundreds of thousands in others — and totaled several million altogether. The alleged methods employed were similarly varied: a commodities investment scheme here, a real estate deal there and bad checks, among others.

Many came to the meeting in the improbable hope of learning how to recover their funds. By the time they left, they agreed on one course of action: to warn others about Meza before they lost their money to him, too.

That’s where I come in.

But before we go any further, I must offer a disclaimer.

Meza, 50, who lives in Lake in the Hills and formerly operated his business in Chicago from a building in the 2700 block of North Milwaukee, has no criminal convictions.

Just as important, he has only one relatively minor criminal case pending against him involving a $45,000 bad check.

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