Whatever was going down in Lakewood on the morning of August 11, 1999, it was enough to give Jon Carter, a 54-year-old grill chef from Aspen, and his lifelong friend David Ziemer a bad case of the jitters.
The two men entered and exited Carters room at the Ramada Inn on West Colfax Avenue several times. They paced back and forth across the welcome mat and made calls from a cell phone. Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the pair appeared to be waiting for something to happen.
Finally, at 2:15 p.m., something did happen: A drug dealer named Sean Richards drove into the lot, steering his brand-new silver SUV, a luxury GMC Yukon Denali.
Richards exchanged cool greetings with the men, then disappeared with theminto Carter's room for a few minutes. When the trio emerged, they got into separate cars; Ziemer took off on his own, Richards drove three blocks up Colfax to the Octopus Car Wash, and Carter followed him, driving a black SUV.
Once there, Richards and Carter simultaneously backed their wagons up against a fence and swung open the cargo doors.
Richards handed large brown U-Haul moving boxes to Carter, who immediately slid them into the back of his SUV. The transfer took just a few minutes -- there were only six boxes.
With a handshake and a slam of the cargo doors, the two men completed the exchange. Carter popped back into his vehicle and sped away. He met with his chum Ziemer at the Freedom Harley-Davidson parking lot just up the road.
Richards didn't get the chance to take off. Agents from the Denver field office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration surrounded him before he could punch the gas pedal. They searched his Yukon and found a blue money bag, which they claimed had been passed to Richards by Carter, with $35,000 in cash inside. Another $10,000 was stashed in Richards's pocketbook. The agents also removed a wad of $2,720 from Richards's front pocket -- some hundreds, but mostly twenties.
Inside a black duffel bag, agents discovered two blank birth certificates from a Philadelphia hospital and various forms of identification that pictured Richards with different aliases; one ID card and checkbook claimed that Richards was Paul Robles of Urbandale, Iowa. Agents also recovered a handwritten ledger containing a meticulous list of "boxes" Richards had distributed and the names of the buyers -- but only their first names. The debts lowballed at $45,572 and topped out at $340,887. In all, nearly a million dollars was still owed to Richards on thousands of boxes that had been moved.
DEA agents made a big score when they nabbed Sean Richards. At the same time, a few blocks away, agents rounded up Carter, Ziemer and a third buddy from Aspen, Wayne Reid, who had loaned Carter his black SUV. When the feds opened the cargo door and tore open the boxes, they found 212.5 pounds of marijuana -- enough weed to smoke out all of Boulder. Twice.
After hours of questioning, all three of the men from Aspen were released and sent back to their snowcapped town. They have never been charged with a crime, and Carter staunchly proclaims their innocence. Richards, however, stuck around a little longer -- long enough to seduce his captors with promises of bigger busts to come.
Since the fall of 1998, DEA Special Agent Richard Hardman and task force officer Brian Taylor had been trying to shut down the pot pipeline that services Colorado. Richards was, by far, their greatest catch. The 43-year-old smuggler bragged that he was responsible for moving between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of weed into the state each month -- a multimillion-dollar operation every thirty days. He told the agents he was dialed in to all of the region's kingpins, including the suppliers in Mexico. He offered to become an informant in exchange for his immediate release.
The two agents couldn't resist the deal. They asked Richards to call agent Hardman the next day, and Richards happily agreed.
But Richards didn't show the next day, or the next. By the end of the week, the two agents realized their new "informant" had just pulled off the greatest deal of his life. The scammed feds raided Richards's LoDo apartment but came away with little more than a pile of ashes in a cold fireplace, the remains of fake passports and bogus checking statements. Months later, with Richards's trail all but invisible, his pursuers caught a lucky break: U.S. Customs agents arrested Richards's 26-year-old girlfriend, Mitra Hagh, at the Canadian border. A search of her car provided a small clue that touched off a race between Richards and DEA agents to recover nearly $6,000,000 in hard cash sitting in a storage locker in Fort Collins.
Once Richards stopped running earlier this year, ending the game by his own hand, agents recovered a total of $9,737,171 -- all of it in currency -- stashed in Colorado and Kansas, the largest cash seizures ever made in both states. Bank accounts around the world attributed to Richards's aliases continue to produce hundreds of thousands more in drug dollars. The true amount of his vast wealth is unknown.
And though he's now a dead man, local and federal authorities still won't release a mug shot of Richards. They claim his picture alone would jeopardize ongoing DEA investigations -- including lives on both sides of the drug war. Richards, it is now known, worked under at least twenty names and traveled freely between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico with fake passports for each country. His ability to shed his identity almost at will, even to con the drug agents trying to corral him, is a tribute to the innate skills that made him so elusive -- and so successful -- up until the end.
In most cases, federal drug crusaders are more than happy to boast about their prize busts, eager to parade the cash and dope and big-name indictments stemming from their hard work. Yet when it comes to the legacy left behind by Sean Richards -- a man who was born with the name Robert Henry Golding -- the DEA simply doesn't want to talk about it.
Robert Henry Golding duped people all his life. In his 43 years, Golding left behind only scraps, bits and pieces -- most of which shake out of various arrest reports and DEA affidavits. He used smoke and mirrors to confuse his friends, enemies and lovers. Those who knew him are reluctant to talk about him, the DEA won't comment on him, and his own family declines to discuss him. One DEA report written by Special Agent Hardman reads, "Golding is a master of successfully using dozens of aliases. He has been a fugitive since at least 1994 and has been able to avoid capture and detection by law enforcement by successfully changing his identity to suit any situation."
His known aliases: Michael Conners, William Richards, Sean Collins, Shawn Collins, Kevin Colpois, Kevin Colppoys, Kevin Colpis, Mark Colpis, Jay Falconer, Joseph Figueroa, Scott Helton, Shawn Golding, Henry Johnson, Jerry Johnson, James Mitchell, Jay Moore, Jay More, Michael Owns, Shawn Richard, Will Richards, Paul J. Robles, Pablo Robles, James Sexton, Sean Stevens, William Schydler, Greg Thompson and Sean Thompson.
Golding was born in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 1956. Yet his official criminal history doesn't begin until 1985, when at age 29 he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for heading a cocaine-smuggling ring. Golding oversaw the purchases in Colombia, deliveries into Mexico and, finally, transport across the Texas border. Golding never got caught in the act of dealing, though; he got Al Caponed for fudging his taxes.
Golding was out by 1990 but quickly returned to another federal prison for using a false passport. He was released four years later under the provision that he was to check in every few days for the next two years. Immediately following his release, Robert Golding evaporated, and on May 2, 1994, federal marshals issued a warrant for his arrest.
Golding subsequently re-established himself as the leader of a major drug operation that stretched from Canada to Peru, with domestic connections from Colorado to Pennsylvania. But his hand in the operation was difficult to detect, since all along the drug chain, his wholesalers, purchasers and buyers knew him by another name.
While living in Philadelphia in early 1998, Golding met a young man from Kady, Texas, named Justin DeBusk. Golding told the 24-year-old that his name was Sean Richards. He befriended DeBusk and allowed him to move into his house. According to DEA reports, one of DeBusk's first tasks for Golding was to purchase two digital Ohaus scales, the finest and most accurate on the market, commonly used by dealers around the globe. The occasion marked DeBusk's debut into Golding's world. While living at Golding's home, DeBusk also met his mentor's young girlfriend, Mitra Hagh, and spent an entire week with the couple, getting to know Philadelphia.
Hagh was born in Iran but raised in the United States. She was an attractive, buxom woman with dark skin and a mane of jet-black hair, and she liked to flirt, say those who've made her acquaintance. Hagh also earned a master's degree in engineering, her sister later told DEA agent Taylor. Mitra's sister added that her sibling was "extremely intelligent" and spent her early twenties working as a chemical engineer in a high-paying position in California. But, her sister concluded, the family hadn't heard from Mitra since the winter of 1998, around the time she went to Philadelphia.
It was also during this time, according to Mitra Hagh's interviews with agents, that Golding confessed to her that he was responsible for "operating a large-scale marijuana-distribution ring." Golding told Hagh the product was imported from Mexico and distributed through a vast web of glorified delivery boys. Golding described DeBusk as a "worker" for the organization, a transcontinental fetch boy for drugs and cash.
Early in the spring of 1999, for reasons still unknown, Golding and Hagh began hanging around Aspen. A friend of Hagh's says the former chemical engineer worked briefly as a cocktail waitress at a small lodge. Golding began frequenting a popular restaurant, where he met chef Jon Carter. Carter says Golding visited the restaurant nearly every day for a full month before he struck up light conversation with the waiters and hostesses that served him regularly. Carter recalls that Golding ordered only healthy items, such as pastas and salads; though Golding was 5' 7" and weighed just 140 pounds, he worked out regularly.
The chef and dealer began hanging out, going for a drink after work, then to nightclubs. Carter says Golding displayed a low-key personality, smooth and bland -- the polar opposite of a blustery little man's complex. He looked remarkably like David Spade, the floppy-haired comedian of diminutive stature. Some also suggested Golding's dirty blond hair and taut face were reminiscent of a small Corbin Bernsen of L.A. Law.
When Mitra was around, the couple was good together, Carter says. Mitra was "very nice" and "sweet" -- "just like him," Carter says. Golding put money into accounts for Mitra under her own name or in her alias of Michelle Joseph and let her access the money freely.
During one of their evenings on the town, Carter says he and Golding -- or Sean Richards, as everyone in Aspen knew him -- had a few drinks and broached the topic of Golding's past. When relaying the story, Carter lowers his voice to imply that more than just alcohol was on the table that particular evening; he says the two "did some, you know, hanging out." In that exposing moment, Golding confessed that he had done hard time in prison. He recalled that he got beat constantly because of his small frame and sharp looks. Carter says Golding never admitted to being raped: "He just said everything happened while he was in prison."
So much so that Golding claimed he attempted to kill a man just so he would get tossed into solitary confinement. "He said, 'I'll never go back to that nightmare. Never,'" Carter remembers.
While on the run from the marshals who were eager to return him to that hell, Robert Golding faltered only once. He was arrested in Maui, Hawaii, on May 9, 1999, for snorting cocaine at a shopping mall. He paid a fine and was released after a few hours. According to arrest records, he identified himself as William Richards, a Canadian citizen. When he returned to the mainland, he went back to Colorado.
On July 15 last year, Mitra Hagh walked by the Windsor Condominium, an apartment/condo building at 1777 Larimer in LoDo. She paced in front of the building several times, says a doorman, before she finally inquired about the prices of the units. She picked one she liked, then paid the deposit plus three months' rent in cash, a total of $13,000. On the application, Hagh listed herself as the fiancée of William Richards, owner of Richards Construction in Marshall, Pennsylvania. Golding told the owners of the apartment that he was a Canadian citizen and therefore had no Social Security number -- a credit check would be useless. He added that the couple had previously lived in Mexico City and had no rental history to offer.
After handing over the cash, Golding and Hagh moved in; they often shuttled between Denver and Aspen. Meanwhile, by late summer, Carter says, his friendship with Golding was brother tight. On August 11, Golding called him on his cell phone and told him to meet him at the Lakewood Ramada Inn.
Golding offered no explanation, Carter says. "He just told me he wanted to help me."
Before DEA agents let Robert Golding walk out the door, he cut them a deal.
During the five hours he was detained, Golding told Special Agent Hardman that he was responsible for shipping thousands of pounds of marijuana into Colorado per month. The DEA estimates the street value of a pound in Denver to be $1,000. But marijuana dealers say that's a bogus number. ("Only if it's Mexican shwag," says one.) For medium- to higher-quality grass, a pound can fetch as much as $3,000 to $3,500. But if mass purchases are made, the cost decreases. In either case, Golding was claiming he was responsible for between $2 million and $3 million worth of sales in Colorado and Arizona every month, perhaps $36 million per year.
In Carter's alleged purchase, DEA surveillance reported observing Carter hand Golding the bag containing $35,000 before the transfer of the six boxes containing 212.5 pounds of product. If this is true, it suggests that Golding was offering dirt prices for serious weight -- a luxury only the largest drug dealers can afford, in the hope of cornering a market -- or simply accepting a down payment, as in the other deals recorded in the ledger.
Both Carter and SUV owner Reid adamantly deny they were aware Golding was involved in selling marijuana. Ziemer did not return phone calls from Westword.
The DEA, however, says Carter was the original target of the bust. Agents Hardman and Taylor had received a tip from a confidential source that Carter was coming to Denver to turn a big deal. For two days, agents tailed Carter and Ziemer, "a known drug associate of Carter's," according to one report.
Carter insists he responded to Golding's summons because he knew Golding was a generous man who wanted to give him some money to get out of the hole. At the time, Carter was complaining that he was working too much, sometimes six and seven days a week, to support himself and his teenage daughter. His salary as a chef was too little to maintain a decent lifestyle. So when Golding offered to help, he drove to Lakewood, met Golding, then followed him to the car wash, where Golding began handing him boxes, the contents of which Carter says were unknown to him. Carter didn't ask any questions, he says; he can't explain why the DEA says he handed Golding a blue bag with $35,000 in it. "It's all so weird; I can't figure it out," he adds.
Carter contends that since neither he nor Ziemer nor Reid has been charged with so much as attempting to purchase a joint, the DEA ultimately conceded that they were all innocent of any intent to buy dope. He and his friends only regret that they didn't ask more questions before they went to the hotel. "You'd think at our age, we'd know better," he says.
Golding told the agents a different story. First he introduced himself as William Richards, owner of a construction company. He said Carter had been paging him all morning long, eager to make a big purchase. He also explained that he was from Pennsylvania, merely traveling through Denver doing business, which accounted for his lack of an address. Golding told them he was staying with a friend he knew only casually, a woman named Milan.
Several times during the evening interrogation, Golding's cell phone rang, and each time, eager agents answered the line. A female caller kept asking for "Sean," then hung up when asked to identify herself. Finally, the agents let Golding speak to "Milan." According to their reports, agents overheard Golding coach the woman in a whisper: "They know me as William."
After the agents learned that Milan lived at the Windsor, Golding was released under one condition: He was to call Hardman the next day to set up an interview. DEA spokesman Ron Hollingshead declined to say why the deal was made, or whether agents considered William Richards a serious flight risk.
Golding did page Hardman once on the morning of August 12. But he failed to answer the agent's response, and that was the last the DEA heard from him. "Although Golding was released from custody," explained Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Cassidy in a court document outlining the case, "he remained the focus of an investigation."
On August 13, two days after Golding's release, intelligence analyst Wendy Roewer finished sifting through documents seized from Golding's vehicle. Among her findings: more ledgers with phone numbers and names that have surfaced in other DEA investigations throughout the United States; receipts for airline tickets in various names; receipts for storage lockers and P.O. boxes in towns across the country such as Farmingdale and Woodbury, New York; Sherman Oaks, California; and West Des Moines, Iowa. Also uncovered were a book titled The Offshore Loophole: Techniques for Investing Abroad with Safety and Privacy and handwritten notes that detailed Richards's cash transactions through holding companies in Luxembourg and Dubai.
Three days later, on August 16, task force officer Taylor sent Richards's fingerprints to Colorado Bureau of Investigation expert Charles Martin. Martin quickly returned the truth about the DEA's catch that got away: He was Robert Golding, on the run for the past six years and one of the country's most elusive drug dealers. On August 17, five days after receiving Golding's meaningless page, Hardman and Taylor obtained a federal search warrant and busted into Golding's apartment at the Windsor.
They found plenty of fine clothing, personal items and a stash of ashes in the fireplace. Investigators recovered birth certificates, passport papers and bank records declaring the true identity of Milan: Mitra Shalchizadeh Hagh. Papers with burnt edges also pointed to the numerous aliases of William Richards/ Sean Richards/Robert Golding.
Moving on their new bits of information, investigators began hopping flights around the country, interviewing the couple's family and friends. They traveled to San Dimas, California, to meet Hagh's sister; to Las Vegas to meet with a former co-worker of Hagh's; to Rosedale, California, to meet with one of Golding's workers in the organization.
What authorities didn't know was that Golding hadn't cut all his ties to Colorado. On December 15, 1999, four months into his final run, Golding rented a storage unit at A Storage Place in Fort Collins. He signed in as Michael Conners from Montreal, Canada.
Golding was an unremarkable presence: quiet, unassuming, small. He paid one year's rent in cash -- $400, all in twenties. "But that isn't unusual," says employee Andrea McGuire. "Lots of people pay all their rent up front to get it over with."
Golding brought his goods in a 24-foot Ryder truck. The storage complex is guarded by security cameras, but Golding's unit happened to be in a small area outside of their range. As a result, no one saw him make his deposit.
On January 7, 2000, roughly three weeks after Golding's trip to Fort Collins, his well-heeled life on the run began to unravel. Mitra Hagh had been in Canada, visiting Montreal and Quebec City, running errands for herself and Golding. She trekked around on the country's interstate in a black Ford Expedition and chose to return to the States through the Blaine, Washington, crossing, just north of Seattle. Golding was staying at a four-star hotel in the Emerald City, awaiting her arrival.
When Hagh pulled to the front of the line, a U.S. Customs agent noticed that she failed to make eye contact and appeared nervous. When he asked standard questions regarding her reasons for crossing, Hagh garbled the answers. She hesitated on innocuous queries such as, "Are you the owner of all the luggage in the car"? Hagh explained that she was carrying ski equipment valued at about $1,000 and that all of the luggage was hers, with the exception of one suitcase. That one, she said, belonged to Michael Conners.
Suspicious, agents asked to search the car. Hagh consented. Agents found a metal box attached to the undercarriage. In it, there were new identification cards for Hagh (Michelle Joseph, Estralita Feliciano) and Golding (David Cordova, Stefan Duarte), including Canadian passports, Quebec City driver's licenses, bank deposit slips and Social Security cards. The metal box also contained $190,457 in U.S. currency, 3.4 grams of cocaine and 5.1 grams of psilocybin mushrooms.
There were records of bank accounts that had been opened by the couple since Golding's Lakewood bust accounts in Pennsylvania, Washington and Nebraska. Hagh also carried business cards with her aliases that listed a home address in Seattle.
On January 11, the border agents in Washington contacted DEA agents Hardman and Taylor in Denver to let them know that Hagh was in custody. When the contents of the metal box arrived in Denver two days later, Taylor found a business card from a storage center in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Taylor called the center's manager and told him that a search warrant for Michael Conners's unit would arrive the next day. But in the meantime, Taylor requested, could the manager put an overlock on the unit's door?
How Golding learned that Hagh was detained is unclear. Perhaps he read a paragraph in the morning papers or received a call from the Whatcom County Jail, where Hagh was incarcerated. But he left Seattle that week and headed for Fort Collins.
At 8:30 a.m. on January 14, now a full week after Hagh's bust, two DEA agents, Scott Torpen and Mark Yacano, pulled up just outside the gates of A Storage Place and settled in for a stakeout.
Just one hour after they'd arrived, the two agents watched Justin DeBusk drive up in a red Lincoln Navigator SUV. The lanky fetch boy, standing 6' 6", wore a long black leather coat, jeans and a baseball cap. "He looked like any well-to-do college kid from Fort Collins," recalls employee McGuire.
But DeBusk's facade quickly broke once he entered the office and asked to rent a space. He was, as McGuire puts it, "not shaky-like-a-leaf nervous, but tweaky nervous. Like he was on something. He was fidgeting with his hands, looking around a lot."
DeBusk provided a New Jersey driver's license bearing the name Jake Voshkul. Another counterperson, who was also from back East, made small talk with DeBusk. But, McGuire says, "He couldn't even put a sentence together."
An employee drove DeBusk in a golf cart to look at his new unit, located several rows away from Golding's storage space. When DeBusk returned, he stood near the gate and made a telephone call from his cell phone. Moments later, a 24-foot Ryder truck entered and DeBusk hopped in the passenger side. The truck circled the yard a few times, then backed up to unit I4 -- Golding's unit.
Though surveillance cameras never caught a glimpse of him, agents believe the truck was being driven by Golding: Who else would have the key to the unit? The plan was to get into the yard without having to sign in at the desk and, perhaps, to transfer the cash from Golding's locker into DeBusk's new unit.
Yet when DeBusk and the driver got out of the truck and approached the unit, they discovered the overlock. The two men stood near the door for a few moments, then began walking toward the office. As they walked, they spotted agent Torpen. They abruptly reversed course, returned to the Ryder and drove off the lot.
Outside the yard, the truck stopped long enough to discharge DeBusk, who returned to his Navigator. The agents decided to wait for the search warrant and didn't tail the Ryder or DeBusk. About three hours later, joined by Hardman and the warrant, the agents watched as a company employee removed the overlock.
Inside unit I4 were eleven neatly stacked moving boxes. The first agent inside the unit cut open one of the boxes and found bricks of money wrapped in shrink wrap. Each of the boxes was filled to the brim with similar bricks. Nearly all of them were stacks of twenty-dollar bills.
Along with an electric money counter and a .40 caliber handgun, agents recovered $5,999,875. The money weighed more than 400 pounds and took nine hours to count. It was, according to U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, Colorado's "largest cash seizure ever."
When word of the paper treasure spread around the yard, McGuire and other employees inched toward the unit to watch the unloading. "It was more money than I'd ever seen," she says. "Even on TV."
After fleeing Fort Collins, DeBusk drove to DIA, where he returned the Navigator and rented a Ford Taurus. With Golding in the passenger seat, DeBusk steered the car onto I-70 and headed east.
By nightfall, the two had crossed into the northwest corner of Kansas. A little before 9 p.m., DeBusk pulled off the interstate to get gas, into the town of Colby, population 5,396. On the other side of the gas station, seated in his patrol car, was 33-year-old Corporal Scott Stitton, a policeman since he was 22. Stitton eyed the Taurus as it pulled up next to a pump, then swung around once more -- the driver didn't know which side the gas tank was located on.
When the two men got out of the car -- Golding to pay the cashier and DeBusk to jockey the fuel -- both stared directly at Stitton. "They were more concerned with him then they were with filling up their tank," says Colby Chief of Police Randall Jones.
After the car exited the gas station, Stitton observed DeBusk make an illegal turn, so he followed the suspicious car as it returned to I-70, still pushing east. DeBusk would later tell police that Golding scolded him when they hit the highway: "You're driving like a maniac." When Stitton flipped on his lights and pulled the car over, Golding told DeBusk, "Just be cool." Then Golding instructed him to tell the cop they were returning home from a ski vacation in Colorado.
Corporal Stitton approached DeBusk's window, and DeBusk parroted the ski story. Stitton flashed a light into the backseat. No poles, jackets or skis. Looking back at DeBusk, Stitton saw the young man's hands quivering in his lap.
Stitton asked DeBusk if he could search the car. DeBusk said sure. Stitton told the driver to pop the trunk.
Stitton lifted the lid and saw a large blue duffel bag that was locked at the seams. He squeezed the bag and felt the creases of wrapped bricks drugs, he assumed. Stitton ordered DeBusk out of the car and told him to unlock the bag. DeBusk said it wasn't his -- he'd have to ask the passenger.
Stitton remained at the trunk and told DeBusk to stand back by the patrol car. The officer called out to the passenger, ordering him out of the car.
Golding opened the door and got out. As he stood in the crease of the open door, Golding faced Stitton as if he were going to oblige. Suddenly, Golding spun 180 degrees and turned his back to the officer.
Stitton, startled by the fast movement, could see Golding was reaching into his waistband. In an instant, Golding jammed a handgun into his mouth. The officer rushed toward Golding's backside to push him forward into the door crease. But Golding pulled the trigger just as the officer's hand touched his back, sending a bullet through the roof of his mouth and into his brain. Blood sprayed back into the officer's hand, arm and face. Golding's body fell limp and dropped to the pavement.
It took a few hours for all of the agencies to arrive at the scene: the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. marshals.
When they searched the rented car, they found $3,737,296 in cash -- the largest cash seizure in Kansas state history (besting the former record of $1 million). There was also a box of audiotapes, instructions for learning Spanish.
Along with more phony IDs for DeBusk, Hagh and Golding -- one of which showed Golding's picture next to the name Neal Cassidy -- agents found a spiral notebook with shorthand jottings for Robert Golding's upcoming errands:
"1. Obtain power of attorney in order to pick-up Estralita's [Hagh's] mail. 2. Let her know how to refuse conversations with govt. unless atty. present."
Word about the death of Sean Richards spread quickly around Aspen, Jon Carter remembers. "I had no idea he was who they say he was," he says.
Yet Robert Golding was a person who left behind a family and a sizable estate. Collecting all the money in bank accounts will prove difficult for agents; in all, Golding was known to keep at least 28 identities, a number that agents expect to top out at 40 once his life is completely reeled in. Golding scattered tens --if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars across the world, sometimes hiding the money in modest checking accounts in small towns, sometimes in international holding companies in capital cities.
The $5,999,875 in cash he left in Colorado has already been claimed by law-enforcement agencies that participated in the bust. Each will get a slice, with the Denver DEA office taking the largest portion.
The Kansas loot, however, had a different destiny. After authorities notified Golding's mother, Laura, of his death and the cash seizure, the Golding family went to court to retain the money. To win such a claim, the family would need to prove they were the legal heirs to the cash, which would involve tracking its source and explaining how their son acquired such wealth. In essence, the Golding family would have to prove that Robert was an international drug dealer and then somehow prevail against the routine forfeiture of the fortune he acquired from his illegal business.
Yet in an unprecedented move, the Kansas Attorney General's Office settled out of court with the Goldings for $100,000. "We know it's drug money," says Assistant Attorney General Jared Maag. "And it's not like we want to pay people drug money. But in the end, both sides decided this was the best solution." Maag says Kansas was facing two years' worth of litigation and risked losing the fight because of Kansas's murky probate laws. Maag says the money had already earned $100,000 in interest, so the state "broke even." As in Colorado, the Kansas money was split among the authorities involved in the seizure and will be used to help finance the war on drugs.
Golding never got a chance to tell Mitra Hagh to wait for an attorney to be present, but Hagh has already engineered deals of her own that have secured her freedom. She was facing five years and a $250,000 fine for concealing a fugitive and a secondary charge of giving a false statement to a customs agent. In February she was extradited to Colorado to face the fugitive charge. But she was released on March 30 after Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Cassidy unexpectedly asked the court to dismiss the charge. Neither Hagh's lawyers nor the U.S. Attorney in Colorado will explain why the more serious charge was dropped, but court documents indicate the government was offering a deal to Hagh in exchange for information.
In a motion from a federal public defender who was assigned to represent both Hagh and DeBusk, the attorney argues that he can't maintain both clients without crossing into a conflict of interest: "In each case, the government is seeking cooperation, including but not limited to debriefing with respect to the defendant in the other case."
The U.S. Attorney in Seattle says Hagh will still need to appear in Denver federal court sometime in the future to face the one charge of making a false statement, though nothing in court documents supports this claim. Hagh's Denver attorney, Richard Stuckey, says his client was unaware of Golding's true identity or profession. "She's a fine, fine young lady who had nothing to with anything. She was just his girlfriend that didn't know anything at all," Stuckey says. He describes Hagh as being "terrified" during her three months of incarceration and disputes the government's claim that she still faces one charge. "I haven't been served with anything," he says, noting that he is no longer her attorney.
Hagh's attorney in Seattle, Kenneth Kanev, also says he's unaware of any pending prosecution of his client. "Once Denver wanted her, then they got her. And once they took over, all the charges were dropped." Kanev says his involvement with Hagh, and this case, is complete: "I no longer represent her, nor do I know where she is."
This week, on July 10, Justin DeBusk will be sentenced, most likely to probation, in Denver's federal court. According to his plea agreement with the government -- made just days before a trial was set to begin last month -- DeBusk "agrees to provide complete and truthful information to the government at all debriefings, and at the direction of the U.S. Attorney's office to appear and testify for the government as a witness at Grand Jury and at any trial." DeBusk's attorney, Cedrick Muhammad, declines to comment on the case.
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And in Aspen, Carter, Ziemer and Reid continue to maintain their innocence. "The DEA got it all wrong," says Carter. He denies that any of the three men made deals with the DEA that have ensured their freedom.
All told, no one close to Robert Henry Golding will serve prison time.
"He was a decent, decent guy," Carter says of his friend, the man he knew as Sean Richards. "He liked me. He was trying to do me a favor. But if he really wanted to do me a favor, he just could have given me the money."