Podcast: I borrowed $500k for a Russian mob boss

“There’s a pretty good possibility if you go down to Florida, that you’re not coming back alive.”

Every day, millions of people go online looking for roommates, or concert tickets, or a date, or cheap vacation.  Most are keenly aware that there’s a chance they’ll encounter criminals and scams along the way. Navigating that minefield is hard….too hard…and the consequences can be steep. People like me often warn users that if they encounter the Dark Side, you just don’t know who you’ll be messing with.  Maybe the person behind that fake job listing is just a solo criminal out for a quick buck. But increasingly, Internet crimes are operated by sophisticated crime rings. Dangerous crime rings.

Sometimes, that warning sounds hollow or hyperbolic. That’s why I’m so grateful that Therin Miller approached me a couple of months ago with his harrowing story — he’d listened to AARP’s The Perfect Scam before, the podcast I host.  He went online looking for a roommate after a divorce. A seemingly mild-mannered, successful man took him up on the offer.  A couple of months later, Therin and his new friend made plans to open a new business together – a car dealership.  Therin applied for business loans using his roommate’s financial advisor. Only later did he find out the applications were fraudulent, he might be on the hook for half a million dollars and some felony charges. Worst of all, he learned the roommate’s money man had close ties to Mani Chulpayev, a well-known Russian mob figure and some-time government informant.

Therin, a veteran who initially planned a trip to Florida to get his half-million dollars back, decides his better move is a trip to the FBI.

Therin Miller’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.

We spent three episodes telling Therin’s story. I’ll link to them all below.  There’s a partial transcript below the links. You can visit The Perfect Scam’s AARP home page to learn more, and to see the full transcripts.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


————————–Partial transcript——————————-

[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.



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About Bob Sullivan 1612 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.


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