Out of Thin Air

Inside a Lincoln Road office building sits a remarkable machine that could change the world

Badbusinessbureau.com publishes articles called Rip-off Reports that, according to the lawsuit, contain "negative, misleading, false, and defamatory content" about his companies, including Air Water and Universal Communication Systems. Zwebner says the Website operators then demand "exorbitant sums of money" to publish corrections and to keep additional negative reports off the site.

Another of the lawsuits aims to force the Internet portal Lycos, which hosts Raging Bull, to stop the "cyberstalkers" who use that site. (Lycos has yet to respond.) Because one of the stalkers uses the alias "wolfblittzer0," Zwebner is also suing Turner Broadcasting, CNN, and the real Wolf Blitzer in hopes they will pressure Lycos to stifle Zwebner's foes on the Web.

"I'm everything from a child molester, a homosexual, an escort-agency pimp, a murderer, a money launderer, a cocaine dealer," Zwebner fumes. "This whole Internet thing, let me tell you, it's been a major distraction. It's been extremely painful. It's been expensive. I can tell you that over five or six years it's probably cost me one way or another about a half-million dollars in legal fees and court fees and all this aggravation. It's definitely cost me business, that I know for a fact."

Air Water CEO Michael Zwebner
Jonathan Postal
Air Water CEO Michael Zwebner

What could be motivating "these Internet animals," as Zwebner calls them? "I think they're paid by brokerage houses to go and stir up trouble and try to get a stock to go down so they can make money out of it," he speculates. "Somebody says, öLook, guys, go online, tell everybody what a shit Zwebner is. Make the stock go down three or four cents. Then we'll buy shares. Then stop saying bad things. Naturally the stock will go up again because Zwebner's doing well in his company. When it goes up, we'll sell. Then we'll start the whole process again to make it go down again.' And it's like a fucking yo-yo. It goes up and down and these guys are trading in and out all the time."

On January 31, more than a month after launching Operation Tsunami, Zwebner returned to Air Water's South Beach headquarters. "Now, I'm not claiming for any little bit that I'm ever going to solve the world's water problems," he says, crouched at his black Toshiba laptop. "But what we've discovered in the last six months, and particularly the last two months, is that we may have the ideal solution for certain emergencies. For example, the tsunami."

Zwebner continues: "Now, you're a guy, you're sitting there, God forbid you've lost your wife and kids. You're all on your own. The first thing you need is something to drink. A week goes by, you haven't had a shower, you stink, you're sticky, the temperature's a hundred degrees, you have no home, you're sleeping on the beach. You want to take a shower. How are you going to take a shower? You can't. What are you going to do, take a water bottle and go like this? Then another bottle? And one to shampoo and one more? Hygiene becomes a problem. When hygiene becomes a problem, disease sets in. And then you start getting all these itchy diseases and eventually you get desperate, you start drinking whatever you can, and then you get into typhoid and malaria and diphtheria.

"Along comes Air Water almost by mistake: öHey guys, relax. You don't have to bring all these bottles. We've got a machine, we make water.'"

Thirteen donated Air Water machines are now on the ground in Sri Lanka, he reports. That may be seven short of the twenty he announced would be shipped "immediately" in his January 3 press release, but again -- who's counting? Zwebner certainly isn't. He's too preoccupied with finding new ways to make the most of the tsunami. Four machines are in Thailand and one in India, all under "review" by government officials, he claims.

Though Air Water's chief executive may be thoroughly immersed in the South Asia disaster, his attention may soon be drawn back to domestic affairs. Last week inventor James Reidy announced that Zwebner had failed to make the $10,000 royalty payments for four consecutive months. A six-week process for terminating his contract with Zwebner ended February 1. "Whatever they say, they do not have any rights whatsoever to my patents," Reidy warns. "All I know for sure is that he cannot use or claim to be using my technology or my patents."

Even if Zwebner were to wire him $40,000 tomorrow, Reidy says he won't reconsider. "It's too late. I don't want to have anything to do with them." Already he's looking for a new group of investors and a new manufacturer to produce his miraculous machines.

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