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.
[00:00:02] A gold chain danced against the skinny one's white tank top, as he beat the 29-year-old mechanic senseless with a nickel-plated 357 Smith & Wesson. When the skinny guy needed a breather, his partner, a hefty, six-foot man in a sloppy which t-shirt and jeans added some shots with an aluminum bat.
[00:00:24] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. When we left Therin Miller at the end of part 1, he's starting a new business in Oklahoma City, a car dealership with his roommate Brant Holloway. He borrows half a million dollars from banks to fund the start-up costs, but when Brant suddenly tries to cut him out of the deal, Therin makes a plan to fly to Florida and get his money back. Meanwhile, girlfriend Kirsten Strickler does some research and finds Brant and their banker, a man in Florida named Lyle Livesay, have some scary connections. Russian Mob connections. She drives through the night from Texas to Oklahoma to plead with Therin to not get on a flight first thing next morning. That's where we'll pick up their story. And if you haven't heard part 1 yet, you can go back and do that now.
[00:01:16] Therin Miller: 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 was scared out of my mind.
[00:01:27] Bob: That's Therin, a member of the National Guard, he doesn't scare easily. But now, he's terrified. Remember, he wasn't just in the middle of a business deal that had gone south, he wasn't just worried he'd been doing business with someone connected to organized crime and borrowed half a million dollars for them. He wasn't just trying to decide if he should maybe risk his life and fly to Florida or risk his freedom and head to the FBI. Now that's all bad enough, but his business partner, Brant, is still his roommate. He has to live with Brant while trying to figure all this out.
[00:02:04] Therin Miller: I mean there was times I literally, I would come home at that point, and I wouldn't hang out in the living room anymore. I, I was going upstairs to my bedroom and watching TV in there with a loaded gun. I was about to... 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 money than I would every make, and yeah, you know, when you hear anybody's associated with the mob, I mean you automatically assume the worst, you know.
[00:02:32] Bob: And the worst, Kirsten had laid it all out for him that night she stopped him from getting on that airplane to Florida -- was that he could end up in the trunk of a car.
[00:02:42] 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."
[00:02:50] Bob: What makes so sure that Therin's business partners are that dangerous? When she was doing research on Brant and Lyle that night, she found a lot of disturbing things. But the most alarming was a news story published a few years earlier in the Miami New Times. It reads like a movie script, and it begins with a tale of what happened to someone else who had crossed Lyle and his boss.
[00:03:15] The two men took turns wailing on Jeffery Worstell.
[00:03:17] Bob: That's reporter Kyle Swenson, reading the story he wrote. Imagine Kirsten reading these words thinking about her boyfriend's plans to go to Florida and demand his half million dollars back while driving from Texas to Oklahoma.
[00:03:31] Kyle Swenson: "A gold chain danced against the skinny one's white tank top as he beat the 29-year-old mechanic senseless with a nickel-plated 357 Smith & Wesson. When the skinny guy needed a breather, his partner, a hefty six-foot man in a sloppy white t-shirt and jeans added some shots with an aluminum bat. They traded weapons. Attacked and traded again. Worstell, bruised and bloody, crumpled in the grass on the side of the road in Boca Raton. The skinny guy pressed the gun to Worstell's head motioning him toward the popped trunk of a green 1995 Infinity J30. Worstell grappled with his attacker. Then a pain exploded on the right side of his head. Blinking awake from the unconsciousness minutes later, Worstell realized he was locked in the trunk of a moving car. A Miley Cyrus song leaked in from nearby traffic. As the Atlanta-based mechanic would later tell police, all he could do was pound against the inside of the trunk, desperate that an outsider might hear. The June 2011 assault would initially be characterized as a random act of violence against an out-of-towner, but the incident turned out to be just one thread in a scheme much larger and more sordid."
[00:04:41] Bob: That larger and more sordid scheme involves Lyle Livesay and a luxury car crime ring. That's the scene Therin is now mixed up with. We tracked down Kyle Swenson, now a Washington Post reporter, to understand just what kind of people Therin was doing business with.
[00:05:00] Kyle Swenson: I have to say, it is the quintessential South Florida scam story, like it was like perfect from the luxury cars to the wanna-be rappers, to the guy getting stuffed in the trunk, to the other guy coming out of the gentleman's club and finding his car, I mean like everything...
[00:05:19] Bob: I asked Kyle what he thought it might be like for Kirsten to have read those words that night right after she heard her boyfriend say he was about to get on a plane and demand a half million dollars from Lyle Livesay.
[00:05:31] Kyle Swenson: I imagine it was terrifying, and, and not just the possibility of physical violence which is definitely there as the story I reported shows, but like criminal culpability, you just never know, you know, what someone signed, when you get involved in things like this, like what's your name on, you know, who, who you're dealing with, you know, who's putting your name on certain things. Have you signed something that's making you criminally liable down the road? And that's really scary, that can ruin a person's life.
[00:05:58] Bob: How dangerous were these people?
[00:06:00] Kyle Swenson: Well, you have to consider that there was at least as we know one assault that ended up in criminal charges, right, and, and this is a pretty vicious um, beating with a baseball bat and a gun. Threw this guy in the back of a car. Um, from what I understand this man feared for his life. Like he, he didn't think he was getting out of the back of that car. At the same time, there's also all of these other allegations, kind of once removed from the central situation in South Florida, possible hits on rappers or potential hits on clients. So I think that the violence is really real. I mean it, it, it's scary. It's not a good place to be. Not a good group to be tangled up with.
[00:06:45] Bob: Therin isn't just mixed up in a bad deal for a car dealership in Oklahoma. That's just the tip of the iceberg. He's now caught in a web of businesses that help fund a racy get rich quick lifestyle.
[00:06:59] Kyle Swenson: South Florida very much like lives up to its kind of cartoon reputation in a way, you know, it, it's beautiful, you have the beaches, you have people from all over the world. You walk down South Beach, you hear you know a dozen languages. You've got beautiful men and women from, from everywhere. People are partying, and then also everywhere as part of that kind of tapestry you have these incredible cars, these luxury cars; you know Lamborghinis, Bugattis, Bentleys just everywhere, and you know I don't think I'd ever seen a Bentley or a Bugatti or anything like that until I moved to, to Florida to work at this newspaper. After a time it kind of fades into like, oh my God, it's a Lamborghini to like oh my God, that guy's double-parked and he's screwing me trying to get a parking spot, but I do remember always thinking like, how do people afford all these like incredibly expensive cars and the reality is is that a good number of people can afford them and they trickle down to South Florida for whatever reason, but a lot of people just are kind of fronting and rent them, and they're trying to like put over this persona of being wealthier or more important, or bigger shot than they actually are. And South Florida is just ripe with that, uh, people trying to kind of fulfill that fantasy.
[00:08:16] Bob: Why expensive cars? It's about more than racing from zero to 60 in just a few seconds. It's about cultivating an image. Here's how this culture helps aspiring musicians for example.
[00:08:29] Kyle Swenson: Right, so let's say I'm a, I'm an up and coming rapper in Atlanta, and I want to have the persona of being wealthy and successful, and so I want to get myself a Ferrari, but I can't afford it. But then I know a guy who says, hey, there's this company that has a really bland name like Exotic Rentals or something like that, which should always be a red flag, and they said, hey, you know, they take on these cars from people who can't pay them. They take over their leases or their rental agreements or their contracts, and they rent them out. And there's tons of red flags that you can throw in there, but a lot of people think, oh great, I can get a deal on this, and get behind the wheel of this souped up car. And that's where things get really messy for them.
[00:09:16] Bob: So there have seemed to be various different iterations of it. One of the things I thought I read was basically sometimes these cars are in the middle of being repossessed.
[00:09:25] Kyle Swenson: Right, so sometimes the cars are in the middle of being repossessed. Sometimes it appears that they are stolen and that their VIN numbers have been scratched or swiped with other ones. There are cars that basically a bank is trying to repossess and already have repo men out looking for, that somehow this middle person, this shady middleman has gotten a hold of and rents out to somebody, and then they, that renter one day finds out that they're getting their car repo'ed because the original owner's bank has found them. So it's like this really messy, legally murky area that people who really just want to look cool behind the wheel of a Lamborghini kind of can get caught up in.
[00:10:08] Bob: It's a crazy mix of sex appeal, music, money, and fast cars. And at the center of it all was Lyle Livesay's boss in the luxury car business: Mani Chulpayev. A legendary figure in Russian crime rings, he's been in and out of jail since he was very young. And at various times he's worked for the US government as a cooperating witness. Reading the story about the assault for us brought back a flood of memories for Kyle.
[00:10:37] Kyle Swenson: The minute I read it, I was like I could just picture that guy's face from a mug shot that I saw, like... so can I tell you a little backstory of how I got into this and that, that'll explain kind of how this guy came in. So the reason I got involved in this story is I had a source who was an investigator at the public defender's office in Broward County, which is the county where Fort Lauderdale is, north of Miami-Dade. And this guy was an ex-cop, and he had great stories of being like undercover and with motorcycle gangs and stuff, and so I loved to just like sit and hear him, you know, kind of tell stories, and he would give me tips about things he knew that were coming through the courthouse that were interesting. And one day I was in the public defender's office and this, this source of mine said, "Hey, you know, I have this thing that might be really interesting to you. It's with this guy who is like kind of famous in law enforcement circles in New York." And he came back, and he slapped down a, a manilla folder and it had inside all these clips of the New York Times about this guy named Mani Chulpayev who was this guy who'd been born in Russia, who'd immigrated to New York City, and had gotten involved in organized crime there. And he was well-known because he had been arrested and turned state’s evidence. And he was kind of one of these guys who was a serial state's evidence guy. He would testify about different scams while at the same time staying out on the streets and, as we found out, like getting involved in other shady stuff. And so I'm reading this. It was really interesting, and I said to this investigator, I was like, "Oh, this is really interesting. Well what's the connection for down here?" And he kind of laughed and, and then began telling me about how this guy's name had come up involved in this car ring that was being looked at in South Florida. And you know sure enough, it seems that Chulpayev had his finger in allegedly this ring that was doing what we just talked about, about renting out these exotic cars, these luxury cars to people, that's where things started getting messy.
[00:12:33] Bob: And things could get very messy. The Chulpayev Crime Ring had been connected to the murder of a rapper in Atlanta.
[00:12:40] Kyle Swenson: So what had happened was that this kind of up and coming rapper in Atlanta named Lil Phat was killed, was gunned down outside of a hospital. It was actually the day after his son was born. He was there visiting his newborn son. And he uh was killed uh leaving the hospital. And what had happened is he had also been scammed by this alleged ring; he had taken the keys of a car from these guys, and it had been repossessed and he had complained about it. And so there was quite a lot of suspicion that there was some type of connection between Lil Phat's complaints and making a lot of noise about how he had been jilted by these guys, and his death.
[00:13:21] Bob: Chulpayev was arrested during an investigation of the murder. He was accused of using GPS coordinates from the rental car to help the killers find Lil Phat. Charges against him were ultimately dropped, but three other suspects were eventually convicted in that murder. Still, what would Mani Chulpayev, Russian Mob Boss, informant, connected to violent crime, why would he want anything to do with Therin Miller in Oklahoma?
[00:13:46] Kyle Swenson: I remember what was really difficult in our reporting this was there were just all these companies, right, that were filed with the state. Like all these LLCs, and they all had these names like Global Assets Consolidations, GAC Motor Inc., like Exotics Today, and these real bland company filings, and there are all these names on the filings as officers of the corporations in the state, and I was just remember like going through the stacks and you would see certain names like Chulpayev or Livesay, kind of flashing here and there, threading throughout, and then there were a lot of names that just seemed like random people, and I remember trying to track them down and knocking on condo doors or trying to get into condo buildings to talk to them. I never could, and it just seemed like there's a lot of paperwork involved in this, and there are a lot of names on the paperwork, and it was unclear to me how involved the people who were put on that paperwork actually were in the situation.
[00:14:41] Bob: A lot of names on the paperwork. And Therin Miller, well, he was one of those names. To understand the crime better, and it is, as we said last episode, a crime worthy of the title, The Perfect Scam, it helps to understand why expensive cars are such good vehicles for fraud.
[00:15:02] Kyle Swenson: One of the investigators that I talked to around this time, I remember this clearly, told me was that, you know like in terms of assets that are like really valuable, they can be moved around, they're not like a piece of land sunk in one place. You know cars really are this like really easy asset for fraud and crime, which I thought was really interesting, especially, you know, like I said before in South Florida you have all these people tooling around in these fancy really expensive cars.
[00:15:28] Bob: To keep getting these cars, well the criminals needed cash, and the more they called attention to themselves with these flashy cars, the more they needed to find alternative financing. So the criminals start to look outside Florida, far outside Florida for buyers. So Lyle Livesay sent Brant to look for a straw man in Oklahoma. When a criminal gets an innocent person to buy something for them to hide their tracks, that go-between is known as a straw man. And that's what Therin was, a straw man, a name on a piece of paper in a very larger, very dangerous crime ring. Back in Oklahoma, Kirsten is trying to convince Therin that he shouldn't go to Florida, that he's in over his head.
[00:16:17] Therin Miller: Yes, so she actually works in uh, at the time she worked for a uh, mortgage broker and she had a lot of courses I guess you could say on how to do in-depth internet searches on people, dig in and find out a lot about people. She was able to dig and find a lot of this information that was hidden, or I guess it wasn't hidden necessarily but really kind of way far down in the search engines, and uh, that's how she was able to get most of all that. So she made the link to Mani Chulpayev, because uh Mani Chulpayev and Lyle, who was basically the right hand man, he was the financier for their brigade.
[00:16:58] Bob: And as Kirsten and Therin sit together, papers spread out all across the room, background searches, loan documents, Kirsten, remember, she's a loan officer at a bank, figures out what's really going on. It's called shot-gunning. Lyle had used Therin's personal information to apply for multiple loans using this same collateral, a pricey luxury car at the same time.
[00:17:23] Kirsten Strickler: What he did is he essentially took that loan application, the income information that Therin provided to Lyle, and then Lyle essentially shot-gunned, which is a common term that we use in the industry, he shot-gunned that loan out to several different financial institutions because small loans like title loans for cars, they don't typically put as much attention into looking at like credit inquiries, so there's no way to know unless you were consistently pulling title work that there may be another loan on that particular vehicle, because they're all closing around the same time. They're going to clear that title once, and then once they see that it's clear, then they're going to approve it.
[00:18:03] Bob: So somebody might simultaneously take out 8 loans on the same car and the institutions wouldn't know that.
[00:18:09] Kirsten Strickler: Exactly.
[00:18:11] Bob: Therin had followed Lyle's instructions when he signed the papers. It worked like a charm. Boom - $95,000 from USAA. Boom - $90,000 from Navy Federal. Boom - $50,000 from Oklahoma Employees' Credit union. To show he had enough income to support the loans, Therin had initial documents saying he was on the payroll at Brant's Vape Shop. He wasn't, and lied about his income claiming he earned $100,000 a year there. Kirsten figured that made Therin an accessory to crime, potentially a big, dangerous crime. The two begin trying to figure out how to dig out of the hole they're in, but Kirsten, also a member of the National Guard, well she's a trained fighter.
[00:18:59] Bob: I'm guessing this, this must have shot your adrenaline to 11. I mean what does that feel like?
[00:19:04] Kirsten Strickler: You know, I, I think I kind of somewhat go into um, I don't know if you're familiar, like you kind of go into fight or flight mode, and I will tell you that I am just the kind of person that if I feel backed into a corner, I am not a fearful person. Um, I become a fighter. And, in fact, part of you know being a collegiate wrestler and going into the military, is there's a certain point in time once you realize that your life is in danger, or that you're being threatened, or somebody's attacking you, and you just almost automatically respond, and you start fighting back. And I think I just automatically went into this person is attacking someone I care about, and I just started fighting back immediately. So, I wouldn't say that my adrenaline made me more fearful, it's more so that I almost went into automatic like fight mode of, okay, this person is trying to take advantage of this person that I am dating, and I'm not going to let you.
[00:20:06] Bob: Can I say that I'm glad that you're on our side?
[00:20:09] Kirsten Strickler: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:20:12] Bob: What an amaz--, it sounds like you basically started forming a battle plan.
[00:20:16] Kirsten Strickler: Absolutely. Um, I, I started figuring out a game plan and researching, you know, who do we contact? Just what's the next steps? Even looking at long-term down the road as how are we going to repair this credit? You know, we need to contact the banks and let them know what's going on because they need to be aware as soon as possible that there's a fraud that has occurred if they're going to be able to possibly recover these funds.
[00:20:40] Bob: But first things first. Therin has to decide what to do about his roommate. It becomes clear that he has two choices, both bad. He can get on an airplane and go to Florida, try to get his money back, or turn himself into law enforcement and see how much of his life he can get back. He tests the waters by going to a lawyer and that doesn't go very well.
[00:21:02] Therin Miller: There's no amount of anything out there that prepares you for the road that I was looking ahead, so I needed somebody to help me out. So I went, we went to a, a very prominent attorney here in Oklahoma City. He basically told me, I laid everything out and told him everything, and he basically told me right then and there, he's like, "Yeah, you've committed seven acts of bank fraud, and each act of bank fraud carries 30 years in prison, plus you've got wire fraud charges, and you've got money laundering charges, and you've got..." I mean he told me everything. He's like, "They're coming after you for everything, man, this is not good for you."
[00:21:33] Bob: Therin feels even worse now. It's all coming at him so fast, but he has enough wits about him to think that perhaps there's a way the banks can get their money back. Maybe he can undo all the damage quietly. So he spends the next couple of days going back to the banks where he'd essentially lied about his income to borrow money for the mob.
[00:21:53] Therin Miller: I call all the banks, but I only got two of the banks to actually put a stop payment on the checks before they went out. You see, so I caught onto this before payments were ever even due at the banks. And so I was able to put two stop payments on the checks, and I called the other banks, and I said, "Hey, stop payment on these checks. Don't allow these checks to be cashed. This is fraud. I am being defrauded right now," and I mean basically the other banks were like, there's nothing, we're not, we're not going to stop it. The checks have already been issued. And I was like, "What do you mean you can't stop the checks? What? You can't, you can stop the money from leaving your guys's institution to go to theirs." And he's like, "No, we're not doing that. The checks have already been issued."
[00:22:31] Bob: The checks have already been issued. To Therin, that's the bleak no's he's afraid of.
[00:22:39] Therin Miller: I was just like, completely beside myself, you know, with everything. I'd just found out that yeah, you know, I'm probably going to prison for a long time. I mean 30 years for one count of bank fraud, and uh that's the maximum sentence and he told me even on the short end I'd still be looking at, you know, 15 to 20 years because of, of the amount of fraud that took place. And he said, "We need to, you know, this is a big deal. We need to, I mean we need to try to get ahead of this." And I said, "Well no payments are due yet. I was able to put a stop payment on two of the checks." He's like, "We need to go the FBI."
[00:23:13] Bob: This is it. Therin's got to decide, turn himself in or fight the mob. Risk a jail time, or risk ending up in the trunk of a car. Kirsten convinces Therin to drop the Florida idea. So he's left with one bad option. But how does one just go to the FBI? Therin's lawyer tries to open the door and that really doesn't get him anywhere.
[00:23:42] Therin Miller: So he placed a call with the FBI office here in Oklahoma City, and two weeks went by, we heard nothing from them. I kept calling and checking in with the attorney, and I said, "Hey, what are we going to do?" And he's like, "It looks like we might be fighting this. I mean your, the payments are going to come up, you're going to default, you can't pay these things bank. You're going to default. Charges will be filed against you." He said, "It looks like we're probably fighting this." And I said, "Well what does that look like?" And he's like, "Oh, you're, you know," I mean at that point he was like, "Fighting all of this and proving your innocence is going to, and all the experts," I mean I was looking at, you know a half a million dollar defense case just to try to defend my position. So I was like, "You're out of your mind, this is crazy to me." I'm in over a million dollars and I, and I've done nothing, up until this point I was like, "I've done nothing wrong. I, I tried to go into business with this guy. I didn't even know that I committed a fraud or scam until you sat here and told me." Like, what is, I, I didn't ask to be involved with these individuals. And you know, I said, you know at that point I had not criminal, I, "I have no criminal record at all," you know, still to this day, I have no criminal record." I'm like, "This is crazy to me." He's like, "Well, let's just hope the FBI calls us."
[00:24:56] Bob: The more time that passes, the more nervous Kirsten gets.
[00:25:00] Kirsten Strickler: At that point, I really thought they were just going to blow him off and unfortunately, a lot of the times with fraud there's a certain threshold really that they're going to investigate and, you know, at the time we didn't know what that threshold is.
[00:25:13] Bob: So Therin decides to take matters into his own hands and basically, he's just going to go to the FBI office, walk up to the front door, and essentially ring the doorbell.
[00:25:25] Therin Miller: So, I go up there and I go up to the gate and uh, I buzz in. I say, "Hey, I'm, my name's Therin Miller, and I need to..."
[00:25:31] Bob: Wait a minute. Slow down a second. So at a certain point you decide you're going to walk into an FBI office.
[00:25:36] Therin Miller: (chuckles) Yeah, yeah, I mean I wasn't, it sounds crazy, right, because, you know, these buildings are like, they're very secure first off, you know, and you know, it's the FBI. It's not like walking into a local police station and file a report. I'm scared out of my mind. Honestly, at that point, I thought my only saving grace at that point was the FBI. I was like if there's, I have to go, I have to face this. I have to, I have to go to the FBI. Maybe I can figure out a way, maybe I can make this right somehow. So yeah, I just, I made the decision. I was like, I, I can't wait any longer. I have to go get answers. I have to go get help.
[00:26:11] Bob: So do you, do you like ring a doorbell? How does that work?
[00:26:14] Therin Miller: Yeah, it's, I wish it was that easy. So um, I, I was driving there, the whole time I was driving there, and I was just, I was so, I mean I think I even pulled over a couple times throwing up, because I was like I, I, I, this is it. Like I, I'm, you know, I'm probably never coming back from, from out of this office, you know. I mean I, that's, that's kind of what I thought. You know, I didn't know anything, and...
[00:26:38] Bob: You thought you'd be handcuffed right there.
[00:26:40] Therin Miller: Oh, right then and there. I was like, yeah, I'm going, I, I mean, I'm literally going to turn myself in. So when I go into the FBI office, I pull up to the, in the, the parking lot and a huge gate, cameras are everywhere, and um, there's like an 8-foot gate, that uh, wrought iron, you know wrought iron gate, a, a fence all around the compound, there's cameras everywhere, and the, and there's actually roving security, you know, very official looking security the kind, you know, they're in suits. They're not a normal security guard looking kind of, they're in suits. So I assume that, you know, maybe they're FBI agents or something, walking around and kind of patrolling the, the facility. And uh I walk up to the fence as one of the security guys are, are walking next to me. I say, "Hey, I, I have to talk to an FBI agent. I have to talk to somebody." And he's like, "Well what's going on?" And I said, "I think I'm a victim of a very, very big scam, and uh it involves banks, it involves a car dealership, it involves the Russian Mob." And he goes, "Yeah, go down there to that gate and hit the buzzer. They're going to ask you to look into the camera, and they'll ask you to come in." So I go down there, and I buzz in and they, sure enough, I tell them everything, they let me come in and I go into the front, and I literally tell the lady, I go straight up to the front area there where the receptionist is, and I, I literally tell the lady, I said, "I have to talk to an FBI agent. Here's what's going on, I will not leave until you either take me out of here in handcuffs or you take me to jail. Or until I talk to an agent." I was like, "I'm not leaving until I either talk to an FBI agent, or you take me out of here in handcuffs." And so she's like, "Okay. I'll go get an FBI agent."
[00:28:15] Bob: So Therin sits in a waiting room for maybe half an hour. Instead of handcuffs, he gets a cordial hello.
[00:28:24] Therin Miller: An FBI agent walks through the door of the lobby, and he says, "Come with me," and he takes me back to an interrogation room or an interview room, and uh that's, that's got, you know, microphones and everything else in there, and it's recording everything, and just like what you'd see on TV, you know, it's, it's... and I said, "Well, I don’t know what kind of trouble I'm, I'm in, but I'm in a lot of trouble. I need help.
[00:28:46] Bob: So Therin spills his guts, tells the agent everything that's happened in the past few months. The roommate, the loans, the Mani Chulpayev connection. And when he finally finishes, he gets a glint of hope and a spike of fear.
[00:29:02] Therin Miller: I'll never forget. He, he looked at me at the very end of everything, after I laid everything out to him, he looks at me and he says, "If I can prove your innocence, you know and, and prove that you are a victim as you say that you are, then we'll work with you. If not, you're probably going to have a warrant issued for your arrest." And so he's like, "I need some time to go look this over."
[00:29:22] Bob: So when you left that day, I know most agents have pretty good poker faces, but did you get the sense like, he at least heard you out and you were hopeful? Did you not know what to think?
[00:29:35] Therin Miller: You know, honestly, I didn't know what to think. Um, he had a very good poker face. I left that day not knowing what was going to happen. I mean I didn't know; his facial expressions were, I mean he was, you know, stone-cold. I was absolutely scared out of my mind. I left that day thinking that, you know, I know that I didn't intentionally do anything wrong here. I know that um, at least at this point, they know my side of the story. And um, you know, if I truly am dealing with who I think I'm dealing with, which at this point is the Russian Mob, um, it will be very easy to see that I am a victim, and that I, you know, I don't have these intentions, I never had these intentions, so hopefully, he'll find what he needs to find, and you know, I'll be, somehow be okay and everything.
[00:30:32] Bob: It'll somehow be okay? That sounds nice, but Therin has been warned that's not necessary how this story will end.
[00:30:41] Therin Miller: You know, one of the things that the attorney told me was, "Just because you broke the law doesn't mean that you still aren't going to be punished. I mean if you, even if you didn't know that you broke the law," he's like, "if, you know, ignorance isn't bliss. I mean you broke the law, you'll still be punished, you know," he said, "but they'll take some things into consideration." So I was like, "Well, even if I, at this point, even if I end up getting in trouble for, for some--, at least I have a good clear conscience at this point." You know, I know that I didn't do this, but none of that still stops the amount of stress and, and anxiety and, and dark thoughts that, that you have whenever you're going through something like that, you know, I mean, I one hundred percent thought I was still going to be serving prison time.
[00:31:25] Bob: So he walks out of the FBI office and the waiting begins. Two days, three days, a week goes by. He hears nothing.
[00:31:35] Therin Miller: I can't tell you the amount of just stress and anxiety and dark thoughts, like at the, I mean I'm still at this point I'm like, I know I've messed up. I know this is really bad, and I, you know, uh, would things be better if I just killed myself and um, I mean you just go through a really dark spot whenever you're looking at, at, at things like this. I mean especially um, especially when you, you have no criminal past. I went out of my way in my past to get away from any kind of criminal activity, period. I mean I just, I, I just, I've always known I wanted to be in the military, I wanted that life for me and my family, and I tried my best to be a good example, and man, those 7 or 8 days were just the, the worst because of the anticipation and, and waiting, uh for the agent to get back to me.
[00:32:31] Bob: But after what seems like forever, the agent calls Therin. And then, Therin has another big decision to make. What does the agent say? And what will Therin do? That's next on The Perfect Scam.
[00:32:49] 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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