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Whitefish man gets six years in prison for elaborate fraud

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Sasun Bughdaryan / Adobe Stock

By Tristan Scott FLATHEAD BEACON

KALISPELL ­– In order to convince the wealthy Whitefish philanthropist Michael Goguen to fund bogus covert military operations across the globe, Matthew A. Marshall spun one elaborate deception after another while portraying himself as a high-ranking intelligence official on a hero’s crusade to quash terrorism, even going so far as to get a tattoo of the U.S. Marine Corps “Force Recon” insignia and send his unsuspecting victim a string of prayer beads he claimed to have removed from the body of a dead terrorist, a flourish engineered “to add color to his claimed CIA affiliation,” according to federal prosecutors.

None of it was true, but the 51-year-old Marshall grew more duplicitous as his fictions unraveled, contriving a system in which he used a smartphone app called “Burner” to send himself emails and text messages purportedly from the famed counterterrorism official Cofer Black, an effort to prop up his fictions and keep the money flowing into his personal bank account. That money arrived in the form of wire transfers from Goguen, whose payments to Marshall and his securities firm Amyntor Group totaled $2.35 million.

On Thursday in U.S. District Court in Missoula, with Donald W. Molloy presiding over the three-hour hearing, Marshall was sentenced to six years in federal prison and three years of supervised release. Molloy also ordered Marshall to pay restitution in the amount of $3,254,327, including the $2.35 million to Goguen as well as nearly $900,000 to the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion. In delivering the sentence for three counts wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, Molloy accepted a plea agreement in the case and dismissed eight other counts.

The 72-month prison sentence hews closely to what prosecutors requested in a case that has spanned years, dating back to April 2013, and it represents a significantly longer period of incarceration than the 24 months requested by Marshall’s private defense attorney, Justin K. Gelfand of the St. Louis firm Margulis Gelfand, LLC, who implored the judge to “temper the punishment with mercy.”

But prosecutors and Goguen himself characterized the depths of Marshall’s deception as “disturbing,” and with seemingly no end to the lies he was willing to manufacture.

“The Court is well aware of the elaborate lies Marshall told about serving as a Force Recon Marine, including claims he was awarded both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star, which he now acknowledges were entirely false,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Racicot. “It is not clear whether he intends to cling to the lies about working for the CIA, though the record is replete with evidence that he was never associated with that agency in any capacity.”

According to prosecutors, Marshall received an “Other Than Honorable” discharge from the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1999 after accumulating 82 absences from inactive duty training.

Indeed, Marshall’s apparent lack of respect for the law and for the sanctity of the military seemed to have an influence on Molloy’s sentencing disposition, much of which is determined by inflexible federal sentencing guidelines, which attorneys on both sides spent the first hour of the hearing debating. According to Molloy, the facade of lies that Marshall constructed surrounding his military and government bonafides was part and parcel to the overarching scheme.

“It seems to me that he gets nowhere with this fraud without the connection to the government,” Molloy said.

Moreover, the judge said Marshall violated an established line of trust he developed over the course of years with Goguen, working for him and his family.

“I guess what I can’t wrap my head around is how does a billionaire get sucked into this without the fraud having some high level of sophistication?” Molloy said in response to prosecutors’ request for an abuse-of-trust enhancement to Marshall’s base offense level. “You just can’t get people to give you $2.5 million without some level of sophistication.”

According to federal investigators, Marshall’s schemes dated back decades, beginning when he deceived the Indiana State Police in order to get hired in 1996, failing to disclose he had resigned from another police department in Marion, Indiana after he was named as a suspect in a residential burglary there. He lied again in 1998, court documents state, when “he parlayed his fake military service into a coveted position on the state police Emergency Response Team,” resigning from the Indiana State Police when “his duplicity was discovered.”

And when Goguen grew suspicious and the pressure mounted on Marshall, who Goguen hired in 2013 to run security for his family, the defendant claimed he had a life-threatening medical condition, using the Burner app to send himself fabricated text messages allegedly from neurologists at the Mayo Clinic.

“Marshall used the same Burner app to send himself fake messages from alleged CIA colleagues that essentially claimed the CIA operative in the movie ‘Sicario 2’ was based on him,” according to federal prosecutors, who first unveiled their grand jury indictment against Marshall in July 2020.

Appearing for the sentencing in a dark suit and tie, his head clean-shaven, Marshall apologized for his misdeeds and the “collateral effect it has had on many people.”

“I’m a man and I will fall on my sword, which I make no hesitation in doing,” said Marshall.

But Molloy was unmoved, instead prescribing a punishment that falls on the high end of the federal sentencing guidelines. The judge, himself a veteran, described the defendant’s range of deceit as disturbing, particularly as the federal investigation revealed that he not only lied extensively about his military background, but also about relatively inconsequential matters, such as having earned a soccer scholarship to a college he never attended.

“Mr. Marshall describes himself as someone who is respectful of the law, but when you drill down into it he doesn’t really have a respect for the law other than to figure out what the margin is and then get as close to the edge as possible without being caught,” Molloy said before imposing the sentence, allowing Marshall to self-surrender to federal prison officials once he’s assigned to a facility.

“This is not a superficial one-off instance of someone who misrepresented himself,” Molloy said. “This is someone who engineered an elaborate Walter Mitty world, which he lives in but which is all predicated on lies about off-the-books military operations and misrepresentations about himself.”

Molloy conceded that Marshall appears to be a caring father, with an 18-year-old daughter he raised with his wife, as well as two “very young” daughters from another relationship. Both of the women wrote letters of support for Marshall. However, prosecutors said those qualities were not enough to absolve him of “the lengths he went to to cover up his fraud, which knew no end.”

According to Racicot, those lengths are “further exemplified by his efforts to manipulate law enforcement officers,” including leveraging his friendship with the former Whitefish Police Chief in order to exact revenge on Goguen, but only after Marshall’s one-time benefactor caught wind of the scheme and reported him to the FBI.

“He sidled up to the police chief in Whitefish, cultivating a friendship that he later used to his benefit whenever possible,” Racicot wrote in a sentencing memorandum to Molloy.

As it relates specifically to this case, and to Marshall’s attempts to “undermine the victim’s credibility at any cost,” Racicot said Marshall worked with the chief to set up another officer for alleged bribery for accepting Goguen’s invitation to participate in a guided hunting trip outside Montana.

Marshall and the chief exchanged strategic text messages over the course of two months and the officer they targeted eventually resigned. Before the resignation, however, Marshall texted the chief that he was worried “if you spill the beans to (officer) before the hunting trip he won’t go. For what it’s worth I’d slow roll it a bit and not do anything to spook him before the trip.”

Later, Marshall asked the chief: “Are you going to give me a break and take a deep breath and let (the officer) go on this trip Friday? I’d offer you a year of free golf but that might be bribery. If you let him go that’s going to help the overall cause.”

The “overall cause,” Racicot said, was “to denigrate the victim from multiple angles in the hopes Marshall’s fraudulent conduct went uninvestigated.”

“Marshall’s willingness to capitalize on a relationship with the head of a law enforcement agency in order to exact revenge against the victim—and end another officer’s career in the process—is an astounding example of his lack of respect for the law,” the prosecutor said.

The indictment outlines a scheme beginning in April 2013 in which Marshall fraudulently convinced Goguen, referred to in documents as a businessman and employer to Marshall named “John Doe,” that he was an ex-CIA agent and member of an elite Force Reconnaissance unit in the U.S. Marine Corps. Marshall told Goguen he had “engaged in covert missions around the world” and asked him to fund an “off the books” paramilitary mission in Mexico, according to a Nov. 4 offer of proof submitted by prosecutors.

Believing Marshall, Goguen agreed and wired him $400,000 on April 25, 2013. Marshall subsequently asked Goguen for money for four other purported missions between October 2013 and March 2016 “based on Marshall’s material misstatements that he would use the money for the missions,” according to the offer of proof.

Goguen said he “never would have given Mr. Marshall a dollar” if he’d known the truth, and that his story was so elaborate he couldn’t imagine anyone exerting the time and energy to construct it from whole cloth.

“It’s almost beyond belief,” Goguen said. “It was unbelievable to me at the time that someone would engineer such sophisticated mechanisms to defraud me. That someone would create false phone numbers and seemingly text himself for hours just to maintain the deception.”

Due to the scope of the textured case, its resolution on Thursday drew praise from federal investigators and Montana’s U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson.

“Marshall promoted a fantasy world filled with fake missions carried out by fictitious operatives for clandestine agencies in faraway lands for phony purposes. It was all fake, but unfortunately it was paid for with real money from a real victim. And the money never went anywhere except to Marshall’s personal accounts,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “The lengths to which Marshall went to carry off this fraud can hardly be overstated. He used a phone application to send fake text messages; he created false emails; he sent the victim prayer beads collected during a fake mission; and he got a tattoo to falsely signify that he was a member of ‘Force Recon,’ etc. The list goes on. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tim Racicot and Ryan Weldon, Trial Attorney S. Derek Shugert, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice, and the federal agents who poured countless hours into uncovering this scheme and bringing Marshall to justice,” U.S. Attorney Johnson added.

“Mr. Marshall devised an elaborate scheme layered in lies to defraud the victim,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis Rice of the Salt Lake City FBI. “Like most fraud cases, Mr. Marshall’s motive was simply greed. The FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office would like to acknowledge the many special agents across the country, the intelligence community, and witnesses, who worked together to hold this accomplished fraudster and manipulator accountable and seek justice for the victim.”

For Racicot, who firmly opposed any leniency outside the upper end of the federal sentencing calculation, the length and velocity of Marshall’s deception leads him to believe that a period of incarceration is the only way to prevent the defendant from concocting another scheme.

“I actually do worry that we would see Mr. Marshall back in court,” Racicot said, noting that Marshall’s crimes in Montana occurred after he’d already resigned from two police departments in Indiana, where he also lied about his credentials as a Marine.

“It wasn’t until after he’d gotten caught (in Indiana) that he came to Montana and got the Force Recon tattoo,” Racicot said. “He doubled down.”

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