Galway City Tribune - Opinion Piece
Mike brings 'Lying Eyes' court case to HollywoodApril 28, 2011 - 9:25am
After a quarter of a century in the financial sector – and at the age of 52 – Michael Duke went to Hollywood.
If ever there was a poster boy for embarking on a career sea change it is the quietly spoken Mr Duke, who has lived in Galway for 15 years having spent half his life in Japan and the other half in the US and UK.
So how does a financier and Harvard business graduate end up a film producer?
It’s a story that’s almost worthy of a screenplay itself and begins with a court case that gripped the nation.
The trial of housewife Sharon Collins and Essam Eid, an Egyptian poker dealer, read more like the plot of a Coen Brothers fantasy than something out of the Central Criminal Court.
In 2008, the Ennis mother-of-two was convicted of soliciting Eid to murder her partner, property tycoon PJ Howard, and his two sons Niall and Robert, in order to become the beneficiary of an estate said to be worth €60m.
After her lover ignored her pleas to wed after eight years together, Collins secured a fake marriage licence online.
Then from an email address and using the alias ‘Lying Eyes’, she contacted Los Vegas-based Eid on the website he had set up, www.hitmanforhire.net. He posed as mafioso Tony Luciano.
For a fee of $90,000, a plan was hatched for the three to be poisoned to death by spiking their drinks with ricin. Enough of the substance to kill 100,000 people was later discovered in a contact lens case in Eid’s cell in Limerick Prison.
But the plot went awry when instead of going through with the poisoning, Eid contacted Robert Howard and offered him a chance to buy his family out of the contract killing for €100,000. Eid showed him photos of himself and his family and had driving directions to their homes.
Instead of giving into blackmail, Robert told the gardaí. Eid, his wife Teresa Engle – who carried the ricin through Shannon Airport – and Sharon Collins were all arrested.
PJ Howard spent €250,000 trying to stand up Collin’s alibi. She claimed she was the victim of blackmail by Maria Marconi, to whom she had revealed details of her private life in an online writing course. The Ennis businessman has vowed to resume their relationship on her release next year.
The story was so fantastical that prosecution barrister Úna Ní Raifeartaigh felt it necessary to remind the jury this was not entertainment. Eid used to joke that he wanted Al Pacino to play him in a screen version of his story.
Michael was agog.
He had never done anything with the film business before but felt compelled to sit down and write a screenplay based on the eight-week trial.
He was also in the middle of a hiatus with his career.
The son of American parents, he was raised in Japan after his father was posted there as a diplomat.
“I used to think in Japanese, I’d always add numbers in Japanese. It wasn’t till my 20s I changed to thinking in English. I have certain Japanese trait. I nod my head a lot – even if I don’t agree with something. If I’m referring to myself I touch my nose which they do in Japan instead of touching the chest,” explains Michael.
He studied political science at the University of Florida and
completed courses in management at Harvard University and Harvard Business School. He also studied comparative culture in Tokyo and Los Angeles.
He went on to work in global finance as an investment banker and financial software executive with financial service institutions, venture capital firms, technology service providers and consulting companies.
He was working in investment banking in London when ‘black Monday’ hit in 1987 – a crash he believes was nowhere near as bad as the current fiscal crisis.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.