National Guardsman Is Lured Into a Luxury Car Crime Ring
In part 1 of this podcast, Therin Miller details how a search for a roommate led to a Russian crime gang
National Guardsman Therin Miller never imagined that placing an online ad for a roommate would result in something far scarier than anything he faced on two tours of combat zone duty. His new roommate, Brant Holloway, is a friendly, well-mannered local business owner. The two become fast friends, so when Brant suggests they go into business together, Therin is intrigued. Before he realizes it, Brant and his adviser, Lyle Livesay, have drawn him into a crime ring involving luxury cars and the Russian mob. His escape ― helped by his girlfriend, also a National Guard member ― is a tale of courage and honesty.
[00:00:00] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] Therin Miller: I laid everything out to him. And he looked at me, and dead in my eyes and he said, "You are...BLEEP" And uh, I was like, "I'm sorry? What do you mean?" And he's like, "It sounds like this is the mob." I'm like man, I've lost everything.
[00:00:21] Kirsten Strickler: I told Therin, "You don't need to go down there." I, I think there's a pretty good possibility if you go down to Florida that you're not coming back alive."
[00:00:34] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. If you read enough indictments and press releases from the Department of Justice as I do, you get used to seeing simple initials in the documents rather than full names sometimes. Like this: "Lyle Livesay and Brant Holloway submitted false loan applications in the name of Holloway's roommate, T.M. The initials usually indicate a cooperating witness that the DOJ isn't prosecuting. They've decided to preserve the witnesses’ anonymity instead. But today, for the first time, you're going to hear from a person behind those initials. He's a brave member of the National Guard in Oklahoma, a victim who went online looking for a roommate after a divorce and ended up in the middle of a notorious Russian Crime gang. And that gang's boss was once implicated in the murder rapper Lil Phat among a long list of other crimes. T.M.'s journey into and his escape from a global luxury car crime ring helped by his girlfriend, also a brave, National Guard member, is a tale of courage and honesty that deserves careful telling. Scarier than anything either of them faced during tours of duty into combat zones, and this crime involving expensive cars is so elaborate it's really worthy of the title, The Perfect Scam. So buckle up. We're starting a wild, three-episode ride today. Let's meet T.M., Therin Miller.
[00:02:08] Therin Miller: No, I actually grew up in a small town, Davenport, Oklahoma, is where I grew up and so the values and life are a little slower in a small town, and so I moved to Oklahoma City shortly after I graduated and went to the, went off to uh, basic training and then after basic training, I came back to Oklahoma. I worked as a, a military technician for the Oklahoma Army National Guard, so uh, I've been in that uh the Guard for 17 years, 18 years actually, uh just, just hit 18 years this month, so.
[00:02:37] Bob: Thank you for your service.
[00:02:38] Therin Miller: Thank you.
[00:02:40] Bob: Uh what's it like being in the National Guard?
[00:02:42] Therin Miller: You know, it's, it's been, it's been a lot of fun. I'm proud of my service and uh, I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and definitely wouldn't be where I'm at today if it wasn't for the, the military and the self-discipline that it's given me and things like that. But, you know, after 18 years, you're ready to get out. (chuckle) So I'm ready to retire, I'm looking forward to retirement.
[00:03:00] Bob: A few years ago, Therin begins planning for life after the Guard. His entrepreneurial spirit has me studying business models, and he's fishing around for an idea. He's divorced for a couple of years, raising his daughter with his ex-wife, but spends a lot of time in a big, empty home. So he decides to make a change.
[00:03:19] Therin Miller: Yeah. So I lived in a pretty big house in Yukon, Oklahoma, and it, you know, I just, I wanted a roommate and I needed somebody to kind of maybe help, you know, pay the bills a little bit, and like I said, it was a, it was a, a big, a 3000 plus square foot house. I was recently divorced and uh, so I was kind of looking for a roommate to come in just to kind of, you know, have somebody to hang out with as well, you know, kind of a, uh one of those things, and so I put out a, an ad on Craig's List.
[00:03:47] Bob: It was a good deal sharing that big house. And Therin gets a lot of interest quickly.
[00:03:52] Therin Miller: Just shortly before October of 2015, I put the add out, and right away I got a hit uh, from somebody that they were also recently divorced. I felt comfortable, and I was like hey, yeah, come on over and check out the place and uh you know, if it's a good fit then we'll move forward and kind of go from there, and uh, so Brant is the, the, the guy's name, Brant Holloway.
[00:04:13] Bob: Therin likes Brant right away.
[00:04:16] Therin Miller: You know, honestly, my first impression was uh, great guy, awesome charisma, you know, he's a, a, you know just a, an all-around standup guy, you know, kind of going through a, a difficult situation as myself. You know oddly enough, I mean I, it was, it was like looking in a mirror. I mean it was just crazy because he was confident and I was like hey, this is, this is a guy that's, you know, got his stuff together and ...
[00:04:41] Bob: He was about your age?
[00:04:42] Therin Miller: Yeah, he was uh, he's about my age. I think he was a, uh, he's about 3 or 4 years older than me, and uh, he was, he was a little bit taller than me. I mean just your average looking guy. I mean, you know, good looking guy. I mean he was, he looked like anybody else, you know and carried himself really good and, and you know, stood up straight and had a lot of confidence in him, and really carried himself really well. I mean I; I was definitely impressed.
[00:05:04] Bob: Brant is an entrepreneur too. He owns a few businesses around town, so right away Therin thinks this is a good match. Anyway, things are looking up for Therin now. He's just started dating an old friend from the Guard, Kirsten Strickler.
[00:05:18] Kirsten Strickler: I'm actually from Dallas, Texas. I moved here originally in 2009, and then um, I moved back the second time in 2016 or 2017, I can't remember. I uh, I actually got deployed the weekend that I moved up here, so I wasn't in Oklahoma for very long before I actually went to, went, ended up getting deployed to Ukraine, so I was on the other side of the world like the first, off and on for the first year that I actually lived here.
[00:05:47] Bob: Is, is that how you met Therin?
[00:05:49] Kirsten Strickler: Yeah, we originally met, uh we knew each other for probably about a year, a year and a half before we started dating. So I, I, I knew him pretty well. Yeah, we met through the military, and then um, eventually started dating.
[00:06:03] Bob: So also, you're uh, you're in National Guard, so that means your, your, your two weeks a month and a few weeks out of the year kind of thing, is that right?
[00:06:12] Kirsten Strickler: Yeah, and actually my National Guard duty was in Oklahoma, so typically when I would come up here, I would see him. So we'd maybe see each other every other week tops.
[00:06:21] Bob: Kirsten likes Brant too. The group of fast friends often have dinner together.
[00:06:27] Kirsten Strickler: I remember like going on double dates with his girlfriend, like I, I'd met this guy. He seemed like a nice, friendly, local, business owner. He and I bonded very quickly. He was a college athlete. I was a college athlete, so, you know, we got along very well upfront. You know, he was an entrepreneur, Therin was an aspiring entrepreneur, so they had a lot in common. Both were single. You know Therin had been divorced at that point for a couple of years. You know they were right around the same age, had similar interests, and he seemed like a nice enough guy.
[00:06:59] Bob: And so what did you play in college?
[00:07:02] Kirsten Strickler: I actually wrestled. I wrestled for Oklahoma City University.
[00:07:05] Bob: Oh wow. And, and, what, what did uh, what was Brant's sport?
[00:07:08] Kirsten Strickler: I think he played baseball. HE was definitely a taller guy, probably uh probably close to 6 foot, 180 to 190 pounds.
[00:07:16] Bob: After all that time in that big, empty house, Therin is really happy to have the company.
[00:07:21] Bob: So when he moved in, did you have the kind of roommate relationship where you said hi-bye to each other, or did you go to happy hours together and or did you become friends quickly?
[00:07:31] Therin Miller: Yeah, we actually did become friends pretty quickly. First it was a great relationship, and we went out to eat, uh we hung out. I usually always had Friday off and so uh, you know, he'd let me hop in with him, and we'd go drive around to his businesses, and we'd go check things out, and he'd kind of show me the ropes and you know, I mean we became really good friends. I mean he, he uh, you know when I had my daughter over or my girlfriend over and it was like yeah, we would, you know, cook dinner for him, and he'd eat with us and uh, and vice versa.
[00:08:01] Bob: In fact if feels like more than a roommate relationship. Therin feels like maybe Brant is just the right person for him to meet at just the right time.
[00:08:09] Bob: So, you are also thinking at the time about maybe starting a business and I wonder if he was, maybe a little bit of a big brother/mentor figure for you at that point?
[00:08:19] Therin Miller: Yeah, that's a, that's a great way to look at it. Actually, you know, that's kind of what I was thinking whenever he was, you know, was kind of telling me about his situation and telling me about who he is and what he does and said he owns a couple of different businesses, and has owned several businesses in the past and he was a, a, an owner of a, a vapor shop, actually a couple of vapor shops here in Oklahoma City. I kind of looked at him as, as a mentor, exactly right. I mean I asked him questions; it was just simple basic questions at first and, and you know, over the, over time and, and as the relationship developed more and more and he lived there longer, you know, I started to kind of ask, you know more in-depth questions.
[00:08:54] Bob: Those more in-depth questions, naturally, turn to questions about raising capital to start a business. They'd known each other for perhaps three months when Therin starts asking some really specific questions about getting business loans, and that's when Brant springs a big idea on Therin.
[00:09:12] Therin Miller: So, he kind of was like, as we were going through this, and like I said, getting close to finishing my degree, he's like, "Hey, I've got an idea." And I was like, "Yeah, okay. Let's hear it." And he told me that he was like, "Hey, I'm thinking about opening up a used car dealership." You know, "I think that it would be good. We can make a lot of money at it," and uh I was like, "Well here's the thing. I, I don't know anything about car dealerships. Like I know nothing." He's like, "Well I'm doing a lot of learning, I'm doing a lot of things." He already was buying, cars from auctions, and uh he would basically buy them up and then fix them up and then flip them and, and make a, a good profit -- I mean a really good profit.
[00:09:47] Bob: Therin is open to anything at this point. But a car dealership? He'd never even considered that before.
[00:09:54] Therin Miller: And I was like, "Well, you know, that sounds good, but again, I don't know anything about that." And he's like, "Well you don't have to, don't worry about that. I've, I understand that piece of it. I understand that side of everything, so just, you know, let's see what we can do together." And I was like, "Well, you know, let's, you know I, I need to learn a little bit more and like kind of show me a little bit more of the ropes of this business, like of this industry," like kind of, you know, show me a little bit more. And he's like, "Well, I've, I've got some appointments set up with uh several other, other car dealerships around the, the city, and why don't you come with me," you know, "and we'll go and we'll talk to some of these owners and, and figure out what we're, what we can do and what we can--, you know, can't do and we'll look at some properties and, and kind of see where we could open up places and where, you know, kind of go from there."
[00:10:42] Bob: The car dealership idea feels pretty random, but Brant sure seems to know what he's doing.
[00:10:48] Bob: This thing about a car dealership, that sounds out of left field, no?
[00:10:51] Therin Miller: Yeah, completely out of left field for me. I didn't know anything about it. You know, I don't know anything about, I wasn't raised very mechanically inclined, and uh so yeah, it was definitely out of left field for me, but, you know, I'd seen him, I'd seen him, you know, buying cars. I mean there was several times, where I mean where there was, you know, a really nice Mercedes or Maseratis or, you know, I mean just BMWs or you know really nice vehicles that he would buy from auction and then bring them in, and he'd get them fixed for very little money and then turn around and, and flip them for large profit. He'd buy it for, you know, 7 or 8 thousand dollars and then turn around and flip it for 15 to 20. And I was like, holy crap. I didn't realize that I guess you know, I've had a couple of used cars before, but I didn't realize that there was that much money in it, and uh that much profit, and so that's kind of what peaked my interest.
[00:11:45] Bob: Therin doesn't just jump in right away. He takes his time and starts doing a lot of research.
[00:11:50] Therin Miller: We went around, and we talked to uh several of the other uh used car dealers around the city, asked them questions, and we talked about how do you get, you know, how do you, there's these things whenever you're doing, whenever you're going for a used car dealership, there's these things called floor plans that you basically have to give to a, a bank or to a financial institution. And basically, it's, hey, this is big my lot is, and these are how many cars I plan on having in my lot. This is the area that I'm going to be set up in. And so you kind of prove to them like hey the area needs a dealership that has you know, this many cars on it. This is the kind of cars we're going to have. This is what we're going to do. And so they kind of, you know, this is the median income of the, of the area around us, and so you kind of take all that, and then you pack--, kind of package it, and then you go, and you submit this, what they call a floor plan. You'd submit that to the financial institution, and they would basically lend on that.
[00:12:40] Bob: Other dealers are surprisingly open with Therin which begins to give him confidence that yes, this could be a great business to start. So conversation quickly turns back to, how can they fund the startup costs?
[00:12:54] Therin Miller: So after going around and talking to a few of these dealerships, and kind of seeing like what they do and how they do things, I kind of, was like, "Hey, this sounds really, like a really good idea. What's the next steps, Brant?" And he was like, "Well, you know, let's see. Do you think you can get money from a bank?" And I was like, "Well I mean I don't know." I, I had a really great credit. I had a, you know, a high, high seven hundreds credit score, you know, I was doing very well and made quite a bit of money from the military. You know, I did well for myself. So I was like, "Yeah, hey, this sounds, you know, let's, let's, let's, let's kind of move to the next step," and so he was like, "Well, I've got a, a financial planner or financial advisor that I've worked with in the past and so let's uh, let's see what he says." So we kind of get on the phone with, with him, and, and, you know, there's a, a conference call with all of us, and we kind of all got on the phone together, and he says, "Hey, you know, everything sounds great. You've got a great credit. You guys got a good solid plan here. I'm going to send you over some paperwork, fill it out, and let's see if we can get you some funding, you know in a, in a, you know a more of a nontraditional sense," meaning you don't have to go to the bank. And I said, "All right, well, what all does that entail?"
[00:14:08] Bob: Nontraditional funding? What does that mean? An excellent question, but the financial advisor has all the answers.
[00:14:17] Therin Miller: "Well, just fill out this paperwork whenever I get it over to you. It's basically a, a disclosure saying that hey, you agreed to, you know, XYZ terms," which was basically, they're going to go, and they're going to help find us some private funding for the dealership, and in exchange for that, they would get a certain percentage, as the, the financial investment firm, as the firm that's doing this. So they asked, you know, he was like, and that, that percentage was 30%, so they wanted 30% for actually organizing and putting the deal together. So I kind of, at first, after the conversation, he sent over the paperwork, and I kind of talked to Brant and I was like, "Isn't 30%, that seems a little bit high, yeah?" And he's like, "No, man," he's like, "with the money we're going to be making from these cars," he's like, "30, that's nothing. We'll pay that off, we'll pay that back easy." I was like, "Well how long do you think we'll have, you know, how long do you think it'll take us to get this thing you know making enough money to, to get on?" And he's like, "Well if we pick the right location, and we've got the right cars," he's like, "in a year tops." I was like, "Okay, well, what, let's see what happens." So we sent everything back over to Lyle who's the, Lyle is the financial advisor from Florida, and sent everything back over to him, and...
[00:15:25] Bob: So Lyle, the financial advisor in Florida, gets 30 for helping raise the money? That sounds like a lot, but Brant's confidence wins over Therin, and they take the plunge. Pretty quickly Lyle comes back with good news.
[00:15:40] Therin Miller: Maybe a week later, we got a phone call back and uh from Lyle saying, "Hey, good news. I got you a, I can get you about a half a million dollars in funding." That was kind of a huge news to me. I was like, whoa. That's, I didn't expect a half a million dollars in funding. That's crazy. He was like, "Yeah, you're, everything looks good for you, man. We can do this."
[00:16:00] Bob: A half million dollars. That's it. Therin is well on his way to owning his first business. There's just some paperwork to fill out. Lyle gives Therin very specific instructions.
[00:16:12] Therin Miller: He was setting up appointments for me, and uh, basically to into these banks and they would already have the, all the paperwork, they'd have everything ready for me. All, all the paperwork was there, and I talked in and I, he, you know, I'd get a phone call from Lyle and Brant, and they'd say, "Hey, you've got an appointment at," you know, "XYZ Bank." You know, "Got in, whenever you go in and talk to them, they're going to have everything ready, and uh, you know, sign this and, and you know, you'll be good to go." So I did that. I did that about six or seven times, and every time, sure enough, they knew that I was coming in, uh, I would walk in. I'd ask for, you know, whoever the, the, the representative was that was the loan representative that was helping me out, and we'd set down, we'd sign all the paperwork, and then I'd walk out. And then, you know, I think within probably 3 or 4 days after that, I was getting notifications from the bank that a check had been mailed out.
[00:17:07] Bob: Therin walks in, signs some papers and a few days later a check is mailed out. It's easy. But these are not traditional business loans. Therin asks how they're structured, and Lyle tells him. He's got a fleet of high-priced luxury cars in Florida, and the loans are secured by those cars. The expensive cars serve as collateral. They are title loans. And they are coming in rapid fire.
[00:17:33] Therin Miller: So each bank, I mean each loan was anywhere from 70 to 90 thousand dollars because they were luxury vehicles that, that he was, you know, taking out the title loans for.
[00:17:42] Bob: So these were like $70,000 loans on a single car?
[00:17:46] Therin Miller: Yeah, yeah, so these were, these kind of vehicles were Land Rovers. There was a few other luxury cars in there, some Mercedes, uh, higher end Mercedes. Yeah, it was luxury, luxury vehicles that uh were anywhere from 70 to 90 thousand dollars.
[00:17:59] Bob: Therin believes he's well on his way to having enough capital to get to work on site selection, but Kirsten, well her day job is working in finance, and she's starting to become a little uneasy about how easily the money is coming in. And about Brant.
[00:18:15] Kirsten Strickler: I remember actually having a conversation with him, 'cause I was working on mortgages at the time. I didn't do business loans; it was before I really got into business lending. And I remember having a conversation with him, 'cause he said he had basically done some work in real estate as a broker, and we were talking about percentages, commission percentages, and how much a loan officer made versus a broker, 'cause he was kind of laughing at my small commission.
[00:18:42] Bob: Laughing at her small commission? I guess when your world includes financial advisors who keep 30%, a tiny loan officer commission might seem small, still, she thought that was an odd interaction. But there is something else that Therin tells her that bothers her too.
[00:18:59] Kirsten Strickler: One of the conversations they had is he goes, "Well, they told me that they had to put me on payroll for insurance purposes." And I thought that was weird, but again, because I didn't understand business lending, it didn't quite make sense. But it seemed logical enough at the time.
[00:19:15] Bob: Right about then, right when all the loan checks have just about been cashed, Brant suddenly makes a drastic change to the terms of their deal.
[00:19:24] Therin Miller: I'm sitting at work one day, and I, and I, I get a, a phone call, you know and, and by this time about four, four or five checks had already went out from the bank, and he says, "Hey, you know, I talked to my attorney, I've talked to my accountant, and we, we kind of have discussed and we kind of think that you know you, you're not really bringing a whole lot here." Like, "We're doing all the operations, we're doing everything. I just don't think that we can cut you in at 50%, you know, 50-50." And I'm like, "Wait a second. I'm bringing all the money, like what do you mean I'm not doing anything? I'm, I, I'm bringing all the funding. It's, it's me." You know, and he's like, "Yeah, I understand that, but I mean you're not really going to be doing much." And I was like, "Well, no, I, I am going to be, if I'm putting that kind of money in, I, I am absolutely going to be doing something, you know, that's, that's a lot of money for me to just hand over and not do anything. And, and, and to take a, a back seat into this business." And so, I'm starting to kind of get upset. And he's like, "Well, let me, let me, I've got a couple of other phone calls to make. I'll, I'll call you back." So I was really pissed that right now is the time that you want to wait and before you clue me in that you don't want me to have 50%. You know, what, why the hell right now? And I get a phone--, about, I don't know, probably about 15 minutes later I get a phone call back from him, and he says, "Well here's the deal, man. Actually I, I actually think that we can only maybe give you 10%." I mean, and I'm, and at this point I'm like, yeah, right, you're out of your damn mind if you think that I've sent that much money over, and you think I'm going to take anything less than 50%.
[00:21:06] Bob: Therin is spitting bullets mad at this sudden turn of events. It feels like an ambush.
[00:21:12] Therin Miller: I'm like, "You know, this is, this just seems really weird. Why, why now? Why, why all of a sudden. Everything has been good up to this point. You've had me go around with you to all these dealerships. You've showed me financials, you know, you've had everything laid out, everything down to exactly what cars we're going to have on the lot to how much we're paying for them. You’ve gotten, you know, our dealership license from the, the state. I mean you've, you've even got people that are down in uh these car auctions down in, in Texas and, and in other places and they're, they're, they're already looking for cars for us, like this is crazy. You’re out of your mind."
[00:21:48] Bob: Kirsten doesn't like the sound of this either.
[00:21:51] Kirsten Strickler: So after these loans end up getting sent to Lyle, um, and he's supposed to be the financial advisor that's controlling and dispersing them, Therin ends up uh, calling me, and he's like, "You know, they're trying to cut me out of the partnership." He's like, "They want to reduce my ownership share down to 20%." And I was like, okay. I may not know much about business lending, and I was like, but I absolutely know if you're the person putting up the capital, you are not a minority owner, period.
[00:22:17] Bob: Confused and angry, Therin decides to go back to one of the other car dealers who's already helped him to ask for advice.
[00:22:24] Therin Miller: I called him, and I said, "Hey, I know you don't know me other than I met with you with Brant, and we met at, you know, at a restaurant. We had a couple of drinks, and we talked about opening up a car dealership." And he was like, "Yeah, yeah, I remember you. I remember you." And I said, "Oh, that's awesome. Can I come in and, and you know talk to you a little bit. I--, I've got some questions, some things are happening and, and I'm really like something deep down just tells me that something's wrong. Can I come in and just ask you some questions?" And he's like, "Yeah, sure. Meet me after work, you know at, at a local bar." And so I was like, "Okay. That sounds good."
[00:23:02] Bob: But what he hears over drinks that night, it doesn't sound good at all.
[00:23:07] Therin Miller: And I sat down, and I told him every, absolutely everything that was happening. And I said, "Most of the money’s been mailed out. We've got a couple of checks, checks right now that are..." I laid everything out to him. And he looked at me, and dead in my eyes and he said, "You are BLEEP." And uh, I was like, "I'm sorry? What do you mean?" And he's like, "It sounds like this is the mob." And I was like, "What?" And he said, "That 30% is mob-type stuff, like you're, you're messing with," and he was like "That's flat out the mob." And I, at this point, like I'm in uniform, and I'm sitting here, I'm like, I, I started crying. Like I, I mean I'm not sobbing or nothing, but I definitely got some tears running down my face. I'm like man, this, I've lost everything. Like what the hell happened, how the hell, how did it get to this?
[00:23:57] Bob: As he sees his military career, his clean record, and maybe what else, suddenly at risk, Therin pleads for help. What can he do?
[00:24:06] Therin Miller: He said, "Here's what I'll do for you, man." He's like, "If you can get the money back, I will, I'll help you." He's like, "You've got to get the money back. If you don't get the money back, there's nothing I can do, obviously, but if you get the money back, if you can actually get that money." And I said, "Well I think I can."
[00:24:22] Bob: Get the money back? How is he going to get half a million dollars back? Lyle, in Florida, has it. So he goes home, and he has to make some kind of plan while living with a man he know thinks might have some connection to the mob.
[00:24:39] Bob: I'm guessing this is an amount of money that you can't even imagine ever making in your life that you might be on the hook for, and someone has just told you you might be involved with the mob. I mean I'd be throwing up. How, how did that go?
[00:24:50] Therin Miller: Yeah, I hear all the time like people say, "Hey, stress can kill you." I truly believe that. I mean every day I would wake up throwing up. Every day I would wake up throwing up. I mean I would, I was scared out of my mind. I mean there was times like literally, I would come home at that point, and I wasn't hanging in the living room anymore. I, I was going up--, upstairs to my bedroom, you know, and watching TV in there with a loaded gun. You know, I was, I was, I was absolute--, I didn't know what this guy's capable of, but I, I mean, I'm, obviously I'm, I feel betrayed, I'm pissed off. I, yeah, I, this is more, at that point in my life, that's more amount of... more money than I've ever, was like I'm, that I ever thought I would ever make, and yeah, you know, when you hear anybody's associated with the mob, I mean you automatically assume the worst, you know. I mean I had nothing to lose at that point, you know, I mean, and that, that makes, that, that can make a, you know, a, a reasonable individual very unreasonable and have very unreasonable thoughts. And I did.
[00:25:49] Bob: So he makes a plan, an unreasonable plan -- to go to Florida and confront Lyle and demand the cash. The car dealer who he'd spoken with at the bar helps him with some of the logistics.
[00:26:02] Therin Miller: I bought two plane tickets for me and my dad. We were going to go down to, to Boca Raton, Florida. Here's the thing, if I'm dealing with the mob, what am... I can't just walk in. And he's like, "No, no, no. When you, when you guys land, there'll be a car waiting for you. Everything that you need is in the trunk for you guys to make sure that you get your money back." And he was like, "Don't ask questions, just every--, everything is in the trunk that you need to get your money back. Once you get your money back, you need to get back to the airport, leave the car here, and then you'll Uber over to the airport, and..." you know, so he gave me a location to leave the car, and he's like, you'll Uber over to the airport and you guys will come back with the money."
[00:26:36] Bob: The plan might sound rash, but Therin isn't exactly thinking straight.
[00:26:42] Therin Miller: And so, I, I mean at this point, again, I had nothing to lose. I was like, you know, I, I uh, I've lost everything. I mean I, you know at that point, the only thing that's going through my mind is, you know, I am probably, I may never see my daughter again. I, I'm probably going to prison, you know, I, I, I'm definitely the, at that point, I think I had 15 years, you know, 14, 15 years in the military. All that was for nothing. Two combat tours was for nothing. Made a good life making good decisions my whole life was for nothing because of Brant and, and uh, you know, so I had nothing, at this point, I had nothing to lose and, and so I, I had very intended to go get that back.
[00:27:26] Bob: Kirsten, Therin's girlfriend, is in Texas at the time, still quietly harboring doubts about Brant. But when Therin tells her about the trip to Florida, she kicks into high gear.
[00:27:38] Kirsten Strickler: I was like, so the first thing I did is I had some advanced techniques to be able to research individuals, searching entity searches, doing background checks on individuals which is something standard that we do in the practice.
[00:27:51] Bob: And what she finds if flat out terrifying.
[00:27:55] Kirsten Strickler: I called him, and I told him, and I was like, "Hey," you know, "before you do anything..." He's like, "Well I've already got plans to go down to Florida. Me and my dad are going to go down there..." And I was like, "Stop. You need to stop. You are dealing with some really dangerous people.
[00:28:11] Bob: Dealing with some really dangerous people. Kirsten has to convince Therin not to go.
[00:28:17] Bob: And I'm also picturing this conversation where, I mean he was hours, if not closer, to getting on that plane to Florida, right?
[00:28:23] Kirsten Strickler: Oh yeah. He'd already bought the ticket.
[00:28:26] Bob: And, and I think his father was going to go with him. I mean it just sounds like walking into a den of thieves.
[00:28:31] Kirsten Strickler: Yes. They were, he goes, I think he told me, he was like, "I plan on going down to Florida, and you know we're not going to do this. We're, we're going to, I'm going to go back and get that money." You know, he was very angry, and I think at that point he thought, you know he was a combat veteran, that he could just go to Florida and essentially force this scam artist to give him back his money and...
[00:28:55] Bob: Therin is seeing red and still wants to get on that airplane.
[00:29:00] Therin Miller: She said, "Don't go. These guys are, are not good people." And so I said, um, "Well we leave in the morning. I've got a flight that leaves at like 7 in the morning. What are you talk--" like, you know, "I'm less than 12 hours away from my flight." And she's like, "I'm leaving work. I'm coming up there."
[00:29:16] Bob: Kirsten says she's hopping in her car and will drive through the night to get to him. And that snaps Therin out of it, at least for now. He tells his dad they aren't flying to Florida that day. But before Kirsten leaves, she finishes some more research, prints out her findings, and gathers them all into a huge bundle of papers.
[00:29:36] Therin Miller: And she brought up with her a huge accordion folder. I mean just a huge accordion folder of documents. And she had printed everything out about all the key players, about Brant, about Lyle, about Brant's business partner, about... and this is when I found out that Lyle is the right-hand man for the Russian mob out of Florida.
[00:30:00] Bob: Lyle, the finance guy, is Lyle Livesay. And according to Kirsten's research, he is the right-hand man for a Russian-born mobster. A man named Mani Chulpayev. Livesay and Chulpayev are both in the luxury car business together in Florida, but Kirsten's research shows there's a trail of crime and violence behind them. Chulpayev's record includes several convictions, and he's been the star witness for federal prosecutors in the past. A decade earlier, The New York Times had named Chulpayev quote, "one of the most important, cooperating witnesses in the history of the government's battle against Russian organized crime." Perhaps even worse, Kirsten also finds a local news story about a mechanic who once crossed Livesay and Chulpayev that detailed the revenge they took on him; a brutal attack with an aluminum baseball bat, and a gun whipping followed by a drive in the trunk of a car. She thinks Therin could be the next one to end up in the trunk of a car.
[00:31:04] Kirsten Strickler: Okay, yeah, that was, I think whenever we found out the relationship between Lyle and Mani, that was the point where I told Therin, "You don't need to go down there." I, I think there's a pretty good possibility if you go down to Florida that you're not coming back alive."
[00:31:19] Bob: If you go down to Florida, you're not coming back alive? How did a simple ad for a roommate on craigslist escalate to this so quickly? More important, how can Therin get out of it? Now he thinks he's signed a bunch of loans and given the money to the Russian mob. And he's on the hook for a half a million dollars. He desperately needs a new plan. Kirsten tells him straight he's in over his head. After all, she now explains, he lied on those loan forms about having a job at the vape shop. He's liable for the money and maybe for committing crimes too.
[00:31:54] Kirsten Strickler: I also took copies of emails, text messages, everything to do with the loan application, IP addresses, everything I could find, conversations between him and Lyle, conversations between him and Brant. I took all of that information and I put it in a manilla folder, and I organized it nicely, and I handed it to him, and I told him, I was like, "This is who you're dealing with." I was like, "If I were you, you need to go straight to the FBI." I was like, "This is a much bigger deal and I think you're in over your head, and you're going to need some professional help." He's got a daughter at this point that he has to look out for, and, and he's looking at serious jail time based on the information. And I'm looking at him like, "No, whether you know it or not, you committed some illegal activities."
[00:32:46] Bob: Therin now finds himself in a dark, lonely place. Does he decide to confront Brant and Lyle, perhaps risking ending up in the trunk of a car, never seeing his daughter again, or does he go to the FBI risking a conviction for bank fraud and perhaps never seeing his daughter again? Perhaps losing his military status, his hope for ever starting a business for any of the life he wished for? What choice does he make? That's next week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:33:23] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
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The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.
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