Stockbroker Lloyd Kolokoff almost lost his life last October when a Merrill Lynch client, distraught over huge losses in the stock market, opened fire with a .357 Magnum at a south Florida brokerage office.
Kolokoff, 39, survived the attack. But today he faces an uncertain future."The bullet just exploded inside of me. I was lucky, but I'm paralyzed," Kolokoff said in a recent interview.
For Kolokoff, who was shot once in the spinal cord and is paralyzed from the waist down, his paralysis remains the cruelest legacy of last year's stock market collapse.
"It's a nightmare," he said. "You're glad to be alive, but at the same time you wish you were dead. I was driven by the fact that I have three little children that I have to take care of. That kept me going."
Kolokoff worries today about how he will support his family, about the pain he feels and - perhaps most devastating of all - the loss of his independence.
"My life has been taken away from me," he said.
Kolokoff's boss, Jose Argilagos, 51, was killed instantly Oct. 26 when Arthur Katz pulled a pistol from his briefcase and began shooting.
Katz, 53, had lost $2.5 million in the stock market collapse the previous week, Kolokoff said. Since July, he had lost $5 million.
By Monday on the day of the shooting, Katz owed Merrill Lynch about $130,000.
Instead of handing over a check, though, Katz used a gun to shoot Argilagos twice in the head. He then turned the gun on Kolokoff before killing himself.
"I don't actually remember the bullet hitting me," Kolokoff said. "I woke up on the floor. I was face down. I leaned over and I turned my head and I tried to stand up. Somehow, I thought, God, I'm paralyzed."
The October stock market collapse resulted in at least two other deaths. In Wisconsin, an 58-year-old investor killed himself, while in Connecticut, a stockbroker took his own life.
Kolokoff has won back a degree of independence since those first agonizing days in the hospital. He uses a wheelchair to get around, and has returned to work part-time in the same Merrill Lynch office.
He has learned to live with his pain.
"One of the ironies of being paralyzed, you can't feel anything but pain," he said. "It's something that is there all the time. It never goes away. After awhile you learn to live with it."
Kolokoff said he is angry about what happened to him and his difficulty in reaching a settlement with Katz's insurance company, Continental Insurance. A $25 million civil suit Kolokoff filed against the estate of Katz and his wife is pending.
The gun shop that sold Katz the .357 Magnum agreed earlier to pay $494,000 in a separate settlement as part of that lawsuit. The money was split between Kolokoff and the Argilagos family.
Before the accident, Kolokoff's life unfolded in a casual, almost haphazard, fashion. He and wife Wanda moved to Miami 14 years ago from South Carolina because they didn't want to return to New Jersey, Kolokoff's home state.
"We came down to Miami because it was warm and we didn't know where else to go," he recalled.
He settled on a career in much the same way.
Kolokoff, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, worked for Chrysler Corp. before moving to Miami. After arriving, he discovered Merrill Lynch needed brokers. He started in July 1975.
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but they were looking for brokers and it sounded interesting ... so I thought I'd give it a shot," he said. "After really only six, seven months I knew where I wanted to be for the rest of my life."
Kolokoff said he gradually built a clientele of 200 to 300 investors. Most were retired or semi-retired, and most were looking for safe investments.
Katz stood out from the others, and not just because he was Kolokoff's largest single client, the stockbroker said.
Kolokoff knew Katz as Arthur Kane, a Social Security Administration clerk who played the market with his wife's money.
In the wake of the shooting, however, the U.S. Justice Department said Kane was actually Arthur Katz, an insurance swindler and disbarred attorney from Kansas City who moved to Miami under the federal witness protection program.
Katz was a key federal witness in a 1977 stock manipulation case involving shares of Magic Marker Corp. Twenty-nine people were convicted in that case.
Kolokoff said he had no hint of Katz's past.
"My impressions were that he was a very sophisticated individual. Right up until the end, I still felt that," Kolokoff said. "He was extremely smart. He could do things in his head that I didn't think most people could do - he just whirled numbers around."
Kolokoff said Katz typically invested in companies identified as takeover targets, in the belief the stock price would rise.
"Rarely did he lose, and every once in a while, he would make big money. On several occasions he made more than $1 million from one issue," Kolokoff said.
But Katz also had a habit of holding stocks and that left him vulnerable to market fluctuations, Kolokoff said.
"Over the years, on several occasions, he was almost wiped out."
Kolokoff said Katz stood out for another reason - his mood swings.
"When things were bad, when he was losing money, he would become very ill. He would lose weight ... His wife would call and ask how things were going because he was just in terrible agony," Kolokoff recalled.
"When things were good, he would come in and joke with everybody in the office and laugh - act like he was one of the guys."
By Friday, Oct. 16, Katz had seen his equity in the market shrink from $5 million to about $2.5 million, Kolokoff said. On Monday, the market began its free fall. Katz came to the Merrill Lynch office south of Miami and watched as the market plunged 508 points. He didn't sell.
"I don't understand why he never sold anything," Kolokoff said. "By the end of the day Monday, we didn't know how close he was to being wiped out."
In truth, Katz had lost everything.
"He had lost all his equity, plus some," Kolokoff said.
Katz bought stock on margin - a practice that allows investors to buy $100 worth of stock for only $50 down - and the equity portion of his account stood at about 50 percent, Kolokoff said.
As the prices of his stock declined, Katz's equity position slipped, triggering what is known as a margin call. Kolokoff told him he would either have to sell stock or come up with more cash to keep the account open.
Katz promised to do both. He sold stock in USX Corp., Merrill Lynch, Trans World Airlines, CBS Inc. and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., but by the end of the week, Katz still owed Merrill Lynch money.
"It had been a week of torture for him," Kolokoff said. "He had to come up with the money and he kept saying he would. We felt it was $130,000. It was a rough figure, but it was the best estimation we could make of it. Through his own figuring, he kept saying he didn't need that much, he only needed about $60,000."
On Monday, Katz was waiting when Kolokoff arrived at the office.
"I had car trouble and almost didn't make it to the office that morning," he said. The broker then used a computer to figure what Katz owed.
"We punched it in and it was (about) $130,000. He just couldn't believe it," Kolokoff said. "He just couldn't believe it was that much. He said he was going to go out and get the money and he would come back."
Kolokoff and his attorney, George Vogelsang, now believe Katz had access to enough money to pay the debt, based on a deposition given by his widow.
After he left the office, Kane went to the Tamiami Gun Shop and picked up the Smith & Wesson gun he had selected the previous Friday.
When Katz returned to the office about 11 a.m. he was carrying a briefcase.
Kolokoff didn't notice.
"I noticed he was wearing a tie. He never wore ties. I thought it was sort of strange," Kolokoff said.
Kolokoff, his boss and Katz went into Argilagos office to settle up.
"Jose got up from the chair to get what appeared to be a check from Mr. Kane. Instead he pulled out a gun," Kolokoff said. "He said, "Take this, Jose,' and shots were fired."
At first, Kolokoff's had trouble recalling the details of the shooting. Now he can't shake the memory.
"It's something I think about five, six, seven times a day, every day," he said. "Jose Argilagos was one of the nicest individuals anybody could ever meet. One of the reasons I felt I was successful in the business was because of him. He showed me how to be a good broker."
Since he returned home in February, Kolokoff has struggled to regain some measure of independence for himself.
"I was reduced to nothing. I couldn't get my clothes on, couldn't go to the bathroom or take a shower," he said. "I was alive, but that's all I was. It has taken me another seven months to get where I am now." He returned to work in late April.
"I work a few hours a day, but there is not much more that I can do," he said. "Eventually, I am going to have to go back to work full-time."
That will mean the end of daily therapy, but Kolokoff said he needs to work to support his family financially, and to support himself psychologically.