You Wouldn’t Believe What Happened to Me: The Rick Strandlof Saga

On October 8, 2010, I went to my first flash mob. The light rail dance party was a blast and I took videos of the experience. About a week later, I was at local Jewish young professionals happy hour telling someone of my first flash mob exploits. They told me that they had just met someone else who was there.

It turns out that person had seen my videos on YouTube and had planned the flash mob. That is how I met Rick Gold.

Rick and I became fast friends. We regularly went to Shabbat dinners together at the local Chabad. We discussed business ideas including an oil and gas administration deal in Israel, as he was an oil and gas attorney at Patton Boggs, a major law firm, and I a finance MBA.

While the oil and gas idea, which Rick called Yesod Strategies, never took off, we did have one venture that became a quick success. We started Denver Flash Mob together and planned about a dozen events. We were mentioned in local media, we built up a huge following on Facebook, we planned and executed fun events. We even brought in a little money from sponsors.

All in all, it was fun. We put in hard work to build Denver Flash Mob together and became good friends in the process. He got to know the local Jewish community and became involved with pro-Israel groups. We had many mutual friends.

While he was a bit quirky, his story made enough sense. He was born in Tel Aviv to an overbearing Jewish mother, eventually moved to San Diego, did his Israeli army service in an intelligence unit, moved back to San Diego, joined the US Marine Corp where he was injured by an IED in Iraq, went to law school in California, and moved to Denver where he worked as an attorney. We had no reason to question his story, he was our friend.

He was our friend.

Fall became winter, winter became spring, and spring became summer. We continued to plan flash mobs. We hired an intern to help with the growing complexity of our events and marketing efforts. We had regular meetings. He was a part of my close group of friends. He even crashed on my couch a couple of times.

Just a few weeks ago, we planned a follow up light rail dance party. That night, Rick joined a group of friends for a fun after party at a local bar. We had a ton of fun dancing, schmoozing, and enjoying our exclusive drink special for the night, the Mountain Dew Shot. We were all dressed for the flash mob theme, masquerade. However, Rick always said he hated dressing up and never wore a costume to our events or the weekly Denver Cruiser rides we often attended together.

The next day, on Sunday, July 16th, Rick and I, along with our intern Andrew, met for a quick dinner at Whole Foods and a meeting to discuss upcoming events. Andrew had a couple of ideas in the works and we had our biggest event yet on the horizon.

We had a productive meeting and each of us left with a short list of tasks to take care of over the next week. I headed home from Whole Foods around 7:00pm or so and fell asleep watching a movie. I woke up from my nap around 9:00pm and did a little work on my blogs.

I was getting ready to go to bed for the night when I saw an email arrive from a local Rabbi. He said that it was urgent and had a link to a New York Times article with the note “Don’t know what to make of it…” I gave it a quick glance and was not sure what he was trying to tell me. I wrote back asking if the email was supposed to come to me and got in bed.

At 10:30pm, that Rabbi called me. He said to really look at the pictures from the article. On second glance, if you added five years and a short haircut, the guy in the article, a con artist named Richard Strandlof, was the same guy as my friend Rick Gold.

I was shocked.

I had no idea what to do or what to think. Rick Strandloff, aka Rick Duncan, was my friend Rick Gold. So Rick Gold did not exist? Rick Gold was made up? Rick Gold was not an Israeli Jew? He was not a veteran? Who was he?

Ten minutes with Google and I knew exactly who he was. He was a fraud. He had been covered extensively by the Denver Post and was even featured on Anderson Cooper 360 in 2009.

There was no doubt in mind my that the person in that video was, indeed, my friend Rick Gold. What should I do? I felt a need to act but did not know what to do. I was spooked. I had dinner with Rick four hours before.

I had to do something.

The next night a group of close friends convened to discuss the situation. The group composed an email which was sent to Rick explaining that we knew who he was. He was no longer welcome in our community. If he needed psychiatric help, the Rabbi offered to point him to the right resources.

I have not heard from Rick since.

A friend wanted to make sure Rick was not able to repeat this deception on another unsuspecting community, so she was in touch with the media. When they called me, I accepted the request for an interview.

First, I spoke to the Denver Post. The writer from the 2009 story picked up where he left off. Next, Denver’s 9 News called and I interviewed with them. The same reporter that covered Rick’s story, and interviewed him in jail, worked on the story.

The next day, I got a call from Denver’s 7 News. I spoke to them as well. I was also contacted by Anderson Cooper 360 to do a story on CNN, but they cancelled when the debt ceiling crisis was reaching its peak.

It was a whirlwind.

I went through that week like living in a dream. I still can’t believe that it happened to anyone, particularly to me. This is something out of a movie. My Mom said it was like ‘Catch Me If You Can’ became a part of my life.

But I was not going to let it change my life. I was not going to let it hurt me beyond the betrayal I felt. I was not going to give up planning flash mobs, going to cruiser rides, or doing fun things that I had done with Rick. I decided to go forward on my own.

Denver Flash Mob is still alive. The big event that we were planning together is going to happen this Saturday. I am going to the cruiser ride tonight. My friends and I have, for the most part, all moved on.

Closure

I will never have real closure. Rick, along with his Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social network profiles, has vanished. I hope I never see him again. But, that said, I will never know why.

I can speculate that he wanted to steal money from local Jewish non-profits, as that was his modus operandi in the past. He has spent time in prison. An FBI agent told me that while Rick does have some mental illness that he is fully aware of the deception and lies he is telling.

I never thought my 15 minutes of fame would come from befriending a criminal.

But it is time to move on. This post is the last time I intend to discuss this issue unless someone else brings it up. I am moving on.

I really am Eric Rosenberg. I was duped by a con man but luckily found out before anything bad happened. The world works in mysterious ways. I will always question people more in the future. This will always leave an impression on me. I can’t trust everyone as I once did. I can no longer give the benefit of the doubt without having an inkling of worry in my mind.

But I have moved on. It was a speed bump in the road of life. Now it is time to hit the accelerator and continue on my journey.

Good bye Rick, it was interesting knowing you.

Do Sex Scandals Really Matter?

Anthony Weiner Sex ScandalJust a few weeks ago, New York Representative Anthony Weiner resigned from his congressional seat due to a Twitter induced sex scandal. The nation, particularly right wing talk show hosts, was in a frenzy. “Weiner” jokes, the nation was wrapped up with Weiner’s weiner. However, how big of a deal was it?

All Sides are Guilty

If you think that members of congress, governors, mayors, and other politicians do not cheat on their spouses all of the time, you are blindly ignorant to the facts in Washington and state capitals around the country. While the vast majority of our elected officials are well behaved, upstanding people, not all are.

I could spout out a list of cheaters. These range from the recent Governator scandal (Republican) to the most famous case of all, when President Clinton (Democrat) had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Also, not too long in our past Senator Larry Craig (Republican) was arrested for soliciting gay sex in an airport restroom.

Sex scandals involving female elected officials are harder to find, but they exist too. For example, in 1998 Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (Republican) admitted to a long term affair with a married man.

Job Performance

I personally do not care about an official’s performance in the bathroom; I care about his or her performance in the professional world. These are not members of the clergy, they are generally business and legal professionals who took the jump to politics.

If my Congressman has an affair, I don’t really care as long as the job is being done. As long as my district’s interests are well represented and my representative is working toward an effective and efficient government, why does it matter what he does in his personal life.

Moral Standards

If my Rabbi were in an affair, I would demand that he be fired. I do not hold politicians to the same standard.

As Chris Rock famously said, “he ain’t Pastor Clinton.” He is just a man. He is a man with a job to do. Should politicians be held to a higher moral standard when the divorce rate in the United States is 50%?

No. That is ridiculous.

What Do You Think?

Should our politicians be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of us? Should they have to resign if they are caught in an affair? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by David Boyle.

The Government and Abortion

photo © 2004 billy verdin | more info (via: Wylio)The United States of America has a fascinating history. It was first settled by people trying to escape religious persecution in Europe. At the same time, those people had very strong religious beliefs of their own.

As time moved forward, our Found Fathers established a nation with Judeo/Christian ideals but emphasized a separation of church and state. I have very strong religious beliefs, but I keep those out of my political views.

How the Country Feels About Abortion

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues that the United States grapples with every election cycle. A huge number of people support abortion rights and a woman’s right to choose what happens in her body until the birth of the fetus. It just so happens that the majority of these people, though not all, are left leaning and not very religious.

On the other hand, a large group of primarily religious and right wing Americans believe that life begins at conception. To those people, abortion is murder. They try to force that view on people through lobbying and often gruesome protests.

At the end of the day, however, abortion rights are protected by the United States government. The landmark Supreme Court Case Row v. Wade made it clear that the Federal government cannot stop abortions.

How I Feel About Abortion

My religion says abortion is wrong. I find the act of an abortion horrifying. I never plan be implicit in a where the abortion question comes to light. I hope that it is never something directly in my life. However…

In this country, founded on freedom and separation of church and state, my personal religious beliefs are irrelevant.

How Our Government Should Treat Abortion

This is a country founded on freedom. Freedom includes abortion. No matter how I feel, or how right wing religious people feel, it is no our place to tell someone what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

In certain circumstances, such as rape or incest, there is no question that abortions may be appropriate. There are gray situations where a young girl becomes pregnant unintentionally where a baby could ruin her future. While I have little sympathy for her because she made the unfortunate choices that led to pregnancy, our society as a whole is a better place if she has the opportunity to graduate from high school, hopefully college, and become a productive member of society able to support a child.

Poverty does not help our society. Starving single mothers and children do not help anyone.

The reality is that, as a whole, society is better off with legal abortions. Even more, it is not our right to tell people what they can and can’t do. Once a child is born, abortion is murder. Until that point, we cannot allow religious beliefs to infiltrate the democratic principles on which this country was founded.

Please share your thoughts on this controversial topic in the comments below. Remember to be respectful. This is a heated topic and I will delete comments that are not constructive and civil regardless of the viewpoint.