At 4’11” and just over 100 pounds, Michelle Gomez doesn’t look like the sort of person you’d hire to retrieve earthmoving equipment stolen by a Peruvian crime family. But in the summer of 2013, that’s exactly what she was doing.
Gomez, the proprietor of a one-woman operation in Lockhart, Texas, called Unlimited Recoveries, is one of the best skip tracers in the world. A combination bill collector, bounty hunter, and private investigator, a skip tracer finds people and things that have disappeared on purpose. Gomez specializes in “hard-to-locate recoveries”—she prefers cases others can’t solve. To track down the fleet of Caterpillar wheel loaders taken by the Peruvians, Gomez reached out to the estranged wife of the family’s patriarch, telling the woman that she was pregnant with her husband’s child. The ruse worked: Eventually the wife told Gomez that the heavy equipment was on its way to a construction site in South America.
For Gomez, 43, skip tracing is as much about stalking and capturing elusive prey as it is about getting paid. Today much of that hunting is done digitally, and Gomez has made an art of combing through cyberspace and finding the status updates, financial records, and location blips that virtually everyone leaves behind in the modern age. Gomez’s digital background stretches back to childhood, when her parents, both IBM engineers, insisted that the 10-year-old Michelle build a computer from scratch. “I even had to do my own soldering,” she remembers. The experience laid a foundation for the skills that have made her so good at finding people. “Profiling a subject is a lot like constructing a motherboard,” Gomez says. “You have to see connections that are invisible to other people by filling the spaces between with information.”
On May 22, 2013, she was tracking down the missing wheel loaders when she got a call from an executive at Alternative Collection Solutions, one of the country’s premier collection and debt recovery agencies. ACS needed help recovering a 53-foot Hatteras yacht called Morning Star, which had been taken nearly a year earlier by a man named Ryan Eugene Mullen.
Mullen, the ACS executive said, would not be an easy man to find. The executive told Gomez that Mullen was wanted by the FBI for stealing more than $2 million from federal government agencies. So far the authorities had failed to locate him, as had the three private investigators who’d already taken a crack at finding Mullen and the boat. If she could get Morning Star back, the man told Gomez, they’d pay her $10,000, plus she could keep any criminal reward money being offered for the fugitive.
As she heard the details, Gomez felt what she calls “that booting-up buzz.” Staying on the run from the FBI is no easy feat. Neither is evading three professional investigators dispatched by some of the country’s biggest debt recovery agencies. Mullen had clearly figured out something—some technique for covering his tracks or otherwise keeping ahead of his pursuers—that put him well above the average con. Gomez wanted the case.
She began with a Google search and became even more fascinated by Mullen when she read a bulletin posted on a sketchy-looking civic discussion website called City-Data.com: Ryan Eugene Mullen was said to have been born in New York City on November 11, 1977, stood 6’3″, weighed 200 pounds, and had light brown hair, pale blue eyes, and a deep voice. He wore a size 15 shoe and was an “avid runner and tanner” who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and tested at a near-genius IQ level as a teenager, Gomez read. He also possessed “violent tendencies,” having been incarcerated at a young age for beating his girlfriend and menacing a friend with a knife. And apparently he had stolen the $2 million from the government in multiple cybercrimes that put him on the FBI’s Most Wanted list in 1999. If accurate, Mullen had been a fugitive for 14 years.
How had such a man stayed in the shadows for so long? She had never seen a case quite like it. “My circuits were firing,” Gomez recalls.
Gary Blum hadn’t become one of the richest men in Louisiana’s St. Mary Parish by passing up opportunities to turn a profit. That was why, in the fall of 2012, a couple of local real estate agents suggested that Blum might like to meet Ryan Mullen, a young investor looking at local properties. Mullen, it seemed, had an annual seven-figure income, much of it from video poker machines he owned in a small casino. The stranger had tied up his impressive boat, Big Ol’ Girl, in New Iberia and promptly began to negotiate the purchase of an apartment complex, offering a $100,000 check for a deposit, which was being held in escrow by his lawyer. Mullen had next sought to buy the Arlington Plantation in St. Mary Parish, but the deal fell apart over terms. So the agents sought out Blum, suggesting that Mullen instead purchase Blum’s plantation in Franklin, Louisiana, the Alice C.
When Mullen came out to visit the plantation in November, Blum met a tall, round-shouldered fellow. Mullen had a broad and pleasant face, along with an air of privileged background, and Blum found him “personable and very interesting.” A few weeks later, the realtors showed up at the Alice C with a contract and a $50,000 check offered as a deposit.
Blum was no easy mark. At age 72, he had amassed a fortune that included the millions he made in 2008 when he sold his controlling interest in the First State Bank of the Florida Keys. Blum maintained nearly a dozen personal residences, including a sumptuous home in Key West. “I had no shortage of other places to live,” he observes, and so he signed a contract agreeing to sell the Alice C for $1 million. All that was needed to close was financing from a bank. Not long after the contract was initiated, Mullen asked Blum if he might tie up his 53-foot Hatteras yacht at the plantation’s private dock on the Bayou Teche, in the heart of Cajun country. Blum agreed and began to introduce Mullen locally as the scion of a wealthy New Orleans family who had grown up in River Ridge, a community on the banks of the Mississippi.
During one of his first visits to the Alice C, Mullen noticed Blum’s Rolls-Royce Silver Spur parked in the garage, right next to the Porsche Carrera and the Mercedes G500 the banker also kept at his Louisiana home. Mullen told Blum he himself was a Rolls-Royce collector. In fact he owned just about every model made since 1950. The claim sounded like a bit much to a wealthy friend of Blum’s, whose own car collection included a Rolls. So Blum’s friend went to the official Rolls-Royce registry, where every car made by the company is accounted for. And damned if this Mullen wasn’t listed as the owner of 14 Rollses. “Hell,” Blum says, “you find out a man really does own 14 Rolls-Royces, it’s not difficult to believe whatever else you hear about him.”
After that first call from ACS, Gomez ran Mullen’s name through a pay-per-use database of public records called FindMySkip.com. Her contract with the service prohibits her from revealing much about what it provides, Gomez says, “but it’s all about SITS—shelter, income, transportation, and social contact. That’s what you need to find someone.” There were lots of hits on the Social Security number she’d been given, Gomez remembers, “but most of them were for aka names, or they were hidden behind all these placeholder companies.” There was nothing that came back to the name Ryan Eugene Mullen. “When a person is able to obscure his identity like this, we call it ‘ghosting,’” Gomez says.
An increasing number of the people she chases understand that staying out of jail in the 21st century requires the ability to minimize their digital trail, using those traces they do leave (often deliberately) to their advantage. They pay cash whenever they can and use social media only to plant false information, boasting of heading off to a surfing vacation in Hawaii, for instance, when they are really going skiing in Colorado. These are the kind of people who take for granted that they can’t have legitimate bank accounts or valid government ID. They can and do collect credit cards linked to business addresses, but those are almost always post office boxes or vacant locations, and the applications usually have at least one digit in the Social Security number or date of birth changed. Even careful criminals, though, eventually reveal their locations, Gomez says. “They get tired and slip,” she says. “Everybody needs human contact, and that’s usually what brings them to ground.”
This Mullen, though, was not slipping. What put him out in front of others, Gomez soon figured, was that his ghosting technique seemed to include creating alternate versions of himself, virtual doppelgängers that had confounded both law enforcement and collection agencies. Many were named Mullen. She found a Ryan Paul Mullen and a Reuben Ryan Mullen, for example, both linked to the provided Social Security number. There was also a Ryan Gino Mullen, who also showed up on City-Data.com, but that person was literally a dead end, having been fatally wounded in a shoot-out with NYPD officers in the aftermath of a Manhattan bank robbery.
Puzzled, Gomez resorted to a resource she taps only rarely: the help of friends at federal agencies, friends for whom she has done favors and who in return are willing to let her check her information against government databases. “Their databases turn up what we call ‘trace details’ that you can’t get with the databases available to ordinary citizens,” Gomez says: phone numbers, addresses, company and individual names that have in some way been associated. “I found there was almost nothing on Ryan Eugene Mullen, DOB November 11, 1977, but there was a bunch of stuff connected to a Ryan Patrick Mullen, DOB December 4, 1980,” Gomez says. “That Mullen existed mainly as the agent for companies that had cases against them involving bank fraud.” There was also a trail of lawsuits and criminal charges relating to worthless checks. She decided to concentrate on Ryan Patrick Mullen. “But it was just tentative,” Gomez says. “I mean, this was a maze.”
By May 28, Gomez had uncovered trace details going back more than a decade linking Ryan Patrick Mullen to three individuals, all in the New Orleans area: Girven and Catalina Mullen, who were apparently Ryan Mullen’s parents, and an Al Morris, who was linked to Ryan Patrick Mullen through a business address on Airline Drive. She called Morris and discovered a coarse and cagey character on the other end of the line. A former deputy sheriff, Morris was a longtime friend of Ryan’s father, Girven, better known as “Moon,” a man who had made a hardscrabble fortune as the owner of a towing company and four large junkyards. When Ryan dropped out of school, Moon put him to work running one of the junkyards. Ryan had done all right for a while, Morris said, but at some point decided that he preferred spending the business’s money instead of paying bills with it. Morris estimates that Ryan was pocketing hundreds of thousands a year, using it to entertain new acquaintances at the city’s finest restaurants and best hotels. Moon eventually figured out what was going on, Morris said, and he and Catalina cut Ryan off completely.
When Gomez read him the description she had of Mullen’s mixed ancestry—Irish, Sicilian, Dutch, German, English, Ukrainian, and Lebanese—Morris said, “Bullshit.” And Mullen damn sure was no avid runner and tanner.
Gomez described the worthless-check charges she had found, and Morris said he’d heard about them. It was his understanding, Morris told her, that Mullen possessed some kind of high tech “check-making machine.” For about the hundredth time in the past few days, Gomez recalls, she found herself asking, “Who is this guy?”
Banker Gary Blum saw no reason to be suspicious of the $50,000 check tendered as a deposit on the Alice C or of anything else involving the young Mr. Mullen. “Ryan understood real estate transactions, all the terms and technical details,” Blum explains. “He knew banking and finance too, and computer technology and high-end cars. I don’t mean he knew a little; he knew a lot. He knew more about Hatteras yachts than most of the people who sell them for a living.”
Nor were the real estate agents working the Alice C deal doubting Mullen’s bona fides, not after they received a call from inside a New Orleans bank—the caller ID showed up on their phone—confirming that Mr. Mullen was a valued customer who kept two accounts there, one containing more than $600,000 and the other more than $700,000.
The only thing out of the ordinary came when Mullen brought an appraiser up from New Orleans. Blum was startled when he read in the appraiser’s report that the Alice C had been valued at $1.55 million—“way on the high side,” Blum says. “He was only paying me $1 million, which is about what it’s worth. I saw paperwork on the deal, and he had financing for $950,000 in place, meaning that for just $50,000 out of pocket he’d own it.” The mortgage company, presumably, thought Mullen had put up $600,000. In reality, he’d gotten a million-dollar loan for a mere 5 percent down.
By then Ryan Mullen was charming the locals. He’d become a regular at Mr. Lester’s Steakhouse, located in a casino that was the hub of social life in St. Mary Parish. “Ryan was very visible,” Blum says. “At the casino I’d be with friends, who include the sheriff and the publisher of the local newspaper and a couple of judges who are part of our group. I would introduce him, and he was talkative.”
Mullen was doing most of his socializing in the company of a couple of Blum’s younger friends. “Ryan would drive us all out to Mr. Lester’s in this black Rolls-Royce limousine he had,” Blum’s friend Jason Guthrie recalls. “Not just a Rolls, a Rolls limousine that could carry eight people, easy.” Mullen and Guthrie got together for lunch almost every day. “I thought he was a real nice guy,” Guthrie says. “Kinda effeminate, but I thought he was just a rich mama’s boy kinda person.”
Mullen fixed his image in the minds of Guthrie and the others when he drove them and several young ladies into New Orleans for a night on the town. They ate at Tony Angello’s, a pricey Italian restaurant on the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. “We walked in and everybody was telling him, ‘Hey there, Mr. Ryan,’” Guthrie recalls. “Tony Angello himself came right out to the table to say hello, hugged all the ladies.” After dinner they drove to the Hotel Monteleone, a Beaux Arts landmark in the heart of the French Quarter whose Carousel Bar & Lounge is fabled as a literary watering hole. When Mullen pulled up to the hotel, “he parked that Rolls-Royce limousine right in the freakin’ road,” Guthrie recalls. “He looked at the valet, and she knew exactly who he was. He said, ‘My car be all right here?’ And she goes, ‘Oh yeah, baby, you can park it anywhere you want.’”
The only disquieting moment of the evening came when one of the men began to needle Mullen, asking why he didn’t take them to the casino with the video poker machines he owned. “Ryan made a remark about the guy being nosy and then changed the subject,” Guthrie says.
By the end of May, Gomez had found the casino. It was located at the Bayou Belle Truck Stop in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Such casinos are roadside fixtures in Louisiana, and most are quite profitable. “Places half the size make 4 or 5 million a year,” says a New Orleans real estate broker who accompanied Mullen on a visit to the casino a few years ago (and who agreed to talk with WIRED provided we didn’t use his real name). “I can tell you that when a man picks you up in a $200,000 Rolls-Royce, brings you to a casino, walks in the front door, and everybody is saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Ryan! How are you, sir?’ then takes you into the back, cashes out the registers, and opens up a vault containing hundreds of thousands of dollars, it gets your attention,” the man—who we’ll refer to as Eddie Fortino—says.
Ryan Mullen, Gomez found, had operated the poker machines through a company called Henderson Gaming, but his license was revoked by the state police in 2009. The truck stop itself, Gomez discovered, belonged to a man named Harper. Gomez noticed that the name was also connected to Mullen in a real estate transaction that had taken place in Natchez, Mississippi.
The deal involved the purchase of a palatial riverfront home owned by Reuben “Buzz” Harper, a man well known throughout the South, including Arkansas, where he had became a county judge at a young age. In New Orleans, Harper was famed as an interior designer for the rich and famous; the Times-Picayune named him its Best-Dressed Man of 2000. Rumor has it that Mullen had apparently lived with Harper, who introduced him as “my nephew.” Fortino, who was the broker on the deal, recalls that the Natchez mansion had been appraised at $3 million, but Mullen went into contract to buy it for about half that much. The sale never went through, however, and Harper died in early 2011.
Boggled by the spiraling complexity of Mullen’s identity, Gomez called US deputy marshal Michael Sheasby, the man leading the federal chase for the fugitive. Sheasby repeated the information about Mullen stealing $2 million from the government, Gomez recalls, and said that the US Marshals Service had been looking for him for a year.
“I told Sheasby I couldn’t find any Ryan Mullen on the FBI website,” Gomez says, “but I was told that the Most Wanted list changes regularly. Sheasby said he was going to put Mullen on the Marshals’ Most Wanted list and that they would be offering a reward. Sheasby seemed mainly concerned that I call him if I located Mullen so he could make the arrest. I told him it was only a matter of when, not if, and Sheasby laughed.”
On May 28, Gomez made her first call to New Orleans private detective Curtis Stallworth, the only pursuer of Ryan Mullen known to have made face-to-face contact with him. Stallworth, a former New Orleans police officer, told Gomez he had been hired four or five years earlier to serve Mullen in a civil fraud case. It had taken a lot of months and miles to find the man, Stallworth said. He finally located Mullen at a property out on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans. “I staked the place out for hours until one day I went by real early in the morning and saw the garage door open,” the detective recalls. Inside the garage were several Rolls-Royces, says Stallworth, who caught Mullen stepping outside and served him with the papers.
Stallworth did not learn that Mullen had warrants out on him until early 2013, when he was visited by a bounty hunter who said the man was wanted by the government. Stallworth went back out to try to relocate Mullen, but the fugitive had moved on. Over the next few months, Stallworth followed Mullen’s trail all over Louisiana. He still remembers well his trip to Plaquemines Parish, where Mullen had briefly taken up residence in a huge riverfront mansion and used checks he’d somehow manufactured to pay the rent, living there for several months before the owners realized that the more than $20,000 they’d collected added up to zero. “Those people were extremely upset with him down there,” Stallworth says. “If they’d have caught him, he’d have been gator bait for sure.”
On June 18, Gomez tried a new plan of action. She phoned the previous owner of the Hatteras yacht, Dennis Kenny of Memphis, Tennessee. The sale of his yacht had been complicated, Kenny told Gomez.
The boat, built in 1984, was in good shape, but Kenny was moving on to a new phase of his life, so he offered his boat, then called the Morning Star, at a price of $115,000. A sale had been negotiated, but the deal fell apart when the buyer’s broker saw the price inexplicably changed to $182,000 on some paperwork and decided the deal was fishy. The same buyer came back with a new broker, and the purchase was successfully concluded on July 3, 2012. After a series of online searches and phone conversations, Gomez determined that the second broker on the sale had been none other than Eddie Fortino, the same man who had been the broker for the Harper property in Natchez.
On the afternoon of June 19, Gomez phoned Fortino at his office in Metairie and informed him that she knew he had aided Ryan Mullen in the scam involving Morning Star. Fortino had brokered the purchase of the yacht for the $115,000 asking price, but—in a trick reminiscent of the Alice C real estate deal—the sales documents showed that the Morning Star was bought for $182,000. That was the price United Leasing had paid to buy the boat from Mullen under the terms of a “leaseback” agreement. (It was United Leasing that had eventually enlisted ACS to track down the yacht.) Fortino insisted that he didn’t set up the financing for the boat and had only received a $10,000 broker’s fee; Mullen had pocketed the remaining $57,000 himself.
“Pretty slick,” Gomez says. “Mullen not only got a Hatteras yacht he could hide out on—without his name officially attached to it—he also picked up a nice chunk of spending money.”
After Gomez described what she had surmised about the yacht deal, “Fortino asked me, ‘How long did it take you to figure it out?’” Gomez recalls. “That’s when I knew I had him.”
Gomez pressured Fortino, going so far as to bluff him with the idea that he might get paid for helping locate Mullen. Finally, Fortino agreed, promising also to send Gomez a copy of Mullen’s passport. When it arrived, Gomez was more intrigued than ever; the name on the passport was Patrick Peter Mullen, and the date of birth was December 4, 1981. “For a moment I asked myself if that was his real name,” she says, “but then I realized, no, it’s just another of his false identities.” A call to one of her government friends produced the information that a red flag had been placed on that passport number in the US Department of Homeland Security database. Gomez also discovered that the US Secret Service was looking for Mullen.
Gomez brought along a little extra muscle when she left her Texas home in her Ford Edge SUV on June 26 and headed to New Orleans: Joe Mendez was a licensed bodyguard who carried a .40 Glock on his belt. Mullen was somewhere in the metropolitan area, Gomez believed, but it was difficult to say exactly where—especially when Fortino kept changing his story, putting the yacht somewhere near Baton Rouge, then near Lafayette. Then he stopped answering the skip tracer’s phone calls and text messages.
Gomez located Fortino’s own home on a canal in Springfield, just northwest of Lake Pontchartrain, and on the afternoon of June 30 she drove up there, arriving as he was preparing his place for a big July 4th party. She confronted him in the front yard, threatening to go to the authorities with all the information she had learned about him unless he told the truth about Mullen’s whereabouts. Fortino buckled and promised to lead Gomez to the yacht the next day.
At 8 am the following morning, July 1, Gomez and Mendez were waiting in her SUV when Fortino’s pickup pulled into a Hooters parking lot. He led the SUV on an hour-and-a-half drive across the Mississippi on Interstate 10 into Iberville Parish, where he pulled over to the side of the road, climbed out of his truck, and told Gomez she would have to continue without him. He said that both the yacht and Mullen could be found in the private slip of the Alice C Plantation in St. Mary Parish.
Mullen was at that moment preparing Big Ol’ Girl for imminent departure. The series of real estate deals he had organized in Cajun country had collapsed. The closing date on the original contract for the Alice C had come and gone and still no money had shown up. Gary Blum agreed to an extension through June 28, but the real estate brokers he’d hired, who were handling both the Alice C deal and Mullen’s apartment complex purchase in New Iberia, had discovered that the $100,000 deposit for the apartment complex didn’t exist—no lawyer was holding it in escrow as they had been told. Learning this, the broker handling the Alice C deal decided to again verify that Mullen had nearly $1.4 million in two separate accounts in a local bank. When he asked for the bank officer who’d phoned several weeks earlier, the broker was told that no one by that name worked there. And there were no customers of the bank named Ryan Mullen either.
Mullen was securing the decks of his yacht at 11:15 am when Gomez parked her SUV in the driveway of the home next to the Alice C. With Mendez right behind her, Gomez stepped through a screen of sycamore trees into the enormous backyard of the plantation and found herself within 20 feet of a large man with a broad face and a mildly curious expression, standing on the dock beside his big boat. She asked his name. “Ron Muller,” the man replied. Gomez smiled and pulled out her cell phone, while Mendez stood by, one hand on his pistol.
Ten minutes later, Mullen was in handcuffs, surrounded by four police officers, arrested on a warrant from St. Bernard Parish for issuing worthless checks and a warrant from the federal court of the Eastern District of Louisiana for failure to appear on a contempt of court charge. He was taken away along with the five animals on board the yacht: two Chihuahuas, a pair of cats, and a magnificent green parrot. As the bird was carried off in its cage, it amused the growing crowd by repeating again and again the two phrases it knew best: “Kill ’em all!” and “Where’s Mullen?”
Within two hours, the officers had released the yacht to Gomez. On board, she found identification and contracts that placed Mullen at an assortment of addresses, purchase contracts for plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi, and billing and shipping invoices for various luxury automobiles along with a zippered bag filled with keys to more than a dozen vehicles. Gomez also discovered two large locked cases bearing the labels “Mastercheck Keypad and Printer” and “Mastercheck Analogue Interface.”
From St. Mary Parish, Mullen was moved to the jail in Jefferson Parish, where he faced criminal charges. Gomez spent the night babysitting the yacht at the Alice C, waiting for a pilot who had been dispatched by ACS to guide the boat back to Berwick, Louisiana.
As a banker, Blum knew all about the check-making machinery inside those cases, including how dangerous it could be in the hands of a criminal. “An ordinary citizen is not supposed to have that equipment,” Blum says. “It’s highly regulated, because these magnetic ink printers make checks that pass automatically through the proofing machines in banks.” Most citizens are unaware that very few checks are ever physically examined, Blum observes: “It’s all electronic. If you’ve got one of those machines that do the correct type of embossing, the checks will clear, the money will be released, and it can take months before the accounts are reconciled and somebody realizes what’s going on.”
Blum was in some ways even more impressed that Mullen had been able to arrange that call to his brokers from inside the New Orleans bank that verified the existence of two accounts containing almost $1.4 million. “I had heard about software that can manipulate the phone system where a false origin appears on caller ID,” Blum says, “but it never occurred to me that somebody I knew might be using it.”
Gomez’s job was done, but it didn’t feel that way. Her investigation had begun as the pursuit of a man on the run from the FBI for 14 years. Along the way, she not only learned that Ryan Eugene Mullen was a false name but also became convinced that the story of his exploits as a cybercriminal was one Mullen himself had invented, along with several others, to obscure his trail. “All along I assumed that part was real, because the Marshals Service is not going to put out a story like that if it isn’t true,” Gomez says. It was easy to see what Mullen had gotten out of the deception: The Marshals Service, the attorneys at United Leasing, and the assorted bill collectors, bounty hunters, and private investigators who were after him had wasted weeks and months looking for versions of Mullen that didn’t exist anywhere but online. She herself had used up most of a week confirming that Ryan Eugene Mullen was a phantom, Gomez noted, and “I wanted to know how it happened.”
In some instances, she found, a single business transaction effected with a false identity had created the official record of a fictional Mullen. Ryan Eugene Mullen, though, had first appeared on City-Data.com, Gomez determined. Ryan Gino Mullen also seemed to have first appeared on the forum. The original postings, just weeks apart, appeared to have different authors, but there were clear links between the two. She assumed that Mullen himself or someone working for him had posted both bulletins to create confusion for anyone Googling him, but she wasn’t able to learn anything more about the posts.
Gomez was “trying to untangle a deep dark web,” Fortino says. “But Mullen created that web so no one can untangle it.”
The most troubling lesson she learned from Mullen, Gomez says, is how readily misleading information can migrate from a posting on an Internet forum to official status. “In a second, what’s false becomes true,” she observes. “All it takes is for one person to put it on the record.” That seems to be what happened with Mullen’s Most Wanted status. A spokeswoman from the US Marshals Service told WIRED that Deputy Sheasby knew nothing about a $2 million cybertheft by Mullen until he was told by “an investigator,” and that he’d passed on the story only because he felt obliged to make other investigators aware of everything he had heard.
The long process of sorting out Mullen’s crimes and finding all his assets had begun. (Mullen declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.) The Secret Service acknowledged that an investigation was under way, but the prosecutor on the case in Jefferson Parish, Jody Fortunato, knew nothing beyond that. The Secret Service declined to speak with WIRED about the case.
A couple of weeks into his incarceration, Mullen placed a call from jail to his friend Guthrie. He claimed he’d been beaten up shortly after arriving. Mullen described a litany of charges against him and pledged to make restitution to his victims. After this claim of contrition, though, he confided that three days before his capture he’d had a feeling something was wrong and thought then about moving the yacht to a new location. “I wish I had listened to myself,” he told Guthrie.
Gomez laughs when she hears this. “Maybe he lost track of which self he was, until I came along to remind him.”