By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Four days later, on July 2, all Stolen Valor charges against Strandlof were dropped.
Any investigation into Strandlof's false military claims is "essentially dead," says Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. But that may not be the end of that office's dealings with Strandlof.
"Now, after that case involving the medals, he apparently assumed a different identity and was involved in a new scheme," Dorschner adds. "The question of whether he is being investigated for that scheme is a question we never answer."
Some of Strandlof's former friends say the FBI has contacted them for an investigation into his next identity, a short-lived personality named Rick Gold. "It is the purpose of the Department of Justice never to confirm or deny any investigation," Dorschner says. "I can tell you, though, that I don't know why anyone would lie about that."******
Six months and one day ago, I was alone, homeless, broke, hopeless, dealing with untreated mental illness and didn't have a reason to live.
Rick Gold was born in Tel Aviv in the late 1970s to a loving but stereotypically overbearing Jewish mother. He spent most of his life on a kibbutz in Kabri, where he studied and learned Arabic, English and Urdu in addition to his native Hebrew. As he grew up, he remained close to his heritage, if not its teachings. Like many upwardly mobile Jewish youth of his generation, he identified with the religion but practiced it infrequently. So when, years later, he moved to Denver to specialize as an oil-and-gas attorney at Patton Boggs, his new friends in the city's young Jewish professional community had no reason to doubt his story.
At least not at first.
With Eric Rosenberg, a Jewish twenty-something who works as a financial analyst, Gold founded the Denver Flash Mob, and the two staged a dozen events across the city while attracting hundreds of followers. The effort grew quickly, bringing with it donations and an intern hired to help manage its affairs. Around the same time, Gold began to study religious texts with a local rabbi in order to reconnect to his heritage.
Rebecca Saltzman met Gold early last year through Rosenberg. Gold's outgoing nature and natural charm gained him quick entry into their social circle, where, over Shabbat dinners and regular devotionals, Gold gradually revealed more of his past: While his mom, grandparents and siblings remained in Israel, he had moved to San Diego and earned a bachelor's degree in geology at the University of California-San Diego in 1998. Later he enrolled at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law, getting his degree in 2006. And somewhere in between, he completed army training for the Israeli Defense Forces, serving as an intelligence officer from 2002 to 2007.
Thanks to his dad's American passport and his own dual citizenship, combined with a devout calling to military life, Gold split his service between the IDF and the U.S. Marines. He told his new friends that he'd served as a captain until a traumatic brain injury led to his discharge. If he sometimes mixed things up, he said, they could chalk it up to the metal plate in his head — the result of an IED hitting his Humvee during a third and final tour in Iraq. And they did, attributing any unexplainable plot twists or subtle inconsistencies in his retellings to the scar on the right side of his head. "That was genius," says Saltzman, a psychotherapist who is familiar with PTSD-stricken veterans. "He couldn't have picked a better excuse."
Gold was successful and exuberant, if occasionally manic, and his only negative quality seemed to be a persistent body odor. "My children commented on it," says Yona Eshkenazi, director of StandWithUs, a ten-year-old pro-Israel nonprofit that Gold joined early last year. "He smelled like someone who doesn't use deodorant."
Today she attributes that scent to the fact that Gold was probably homeless at the time. Strandlof confirms this on his blog: "I sat in various Starbucks and other locations with my laptop, my reusable coffee cup, my Sigg water bottle, with expensive fancy shoes, wearing my Northface jacket while engaging in heated conversations with nonexistent people on a disconnected cell phone."
In January 2011, Denver police officers arrested Strandlof for first-degree felony trespassing after he pried open a locked window at the University of Denver Iliff School of Theology and stayed there until discovered. He pleaded guilty and served seven days in jail. In August of the same year, he pleaded guilty to shoplifting.
Eshkenazi met Gold in March 2011, when he called to ask for her support in opposing a speaker on the Auraria campus discussing Israel Apartheid Week — which she insists is more like "Hate Israel Week." She accepted, and sat with him throughout the speech, during which she remembers having to calm down Gold so that he wouldn't react to the speaker insulting "his heritage." After that, the two became fast friends. Eshkenazi admired Gold's passion for Israel, and regularly invited the single, gay, conservative Jewish lawyer to her home for Sabbath dinners. They talked about his childhood in Israel, and "he knew the beaches and the specifics," says Eshkenazi, who has visited the country several times. Gold claimed that Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, was a family friend, and Gold offered to bring him to Denver for an event. "He must have done a lot of research," she adds.