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.
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.