In a cabin in Whitefish, Montana, two ex-spies tell us an outlandish story: Right here in this tiny town, a billionaire philanthropist is allegedly running a sex-trafficking operation. The spies have filed a lawsuit alleging he’s using his private jet to transport women here and have sex with them. One of the spies says the billionaire slept with one of his own daughter’s friends. And he says he knows this because he used to be the billionaire’s right-hand man and best bro friend. He claims to know a shocking amount about this billionaire’s affairs, personal and professional. Check out our six-part Cover Story podcast series, Seed Money — the full transcript of episode one is below.
Cover Story: Seed Money
Hanna Rosin: Before we start, a couple of warnings: This series talks about sexual assault, and there’s a mention of suicide. So please keep that in mind when you decide where and when to listen. And a different kind of warning: Almost everyone in this story lied to us about something. Some people more than others. Okay, here we go.
John Maguire: C’mon in! Oh, shit, it’s locked.
Hanna: Last summer, I found myself with these three guys in a Montana cabin.
Ken Silverstein: Hey, how are you?
Matt Marshall: Nice to see you again.
Hanna: Big open space, amazing views, enormous chairs — like four times the usual size.
John: This is a bachelor pad.
Hanna: And many stuffed animal heads. A real rustic male-clubhouse kind of vibe. Everyone had one-syllable names.
Ken: Okay, are we ready?
Hanna: That’s Ken, the investigative reporter I came with. It was a brother-sister vibe (right off the bat).
Hanna: Are you … you’re not ready!
Ken: I’m ready!
Hanna: No, you’re not!
Hanna: I know how to use a microphone, and he’s a print reporter. But Ken is the one who put us in touch with these guys.
Hanna: I know this is awkward, but can you sit here?
Hanna: There was John, a guy who worked at the CIA during the golden years.
John: The place was dripping with esprit de corps …
Hanna: Out here in Montana, John had mostly deer and his coffee machine for company — but he was still sleeping with a gun on the bedside table.
Ken: What kind of a gun is that?
John: A Glock.
Ken: It’s a Glock? So do you mind telling me why you have it?
Hanna: From what? was my first thought. But Ken has reported for decades on arms traffickers and military dictatorships and international black markets. He understood instinctively that these guys were attuned to dangers we couldn’t see.
Matt: Hey, you guys need to keep in mind when you’re outside, you’re probably monitored …
Hanna: And then there was Matt —
Matt: Let me ask you a question.
Hanna: The other guy in the cabin with us.
Matt: What … Where is this going, right now?
Hanna: That’s a good question …
Hanna: Matt was ex-military, ex-spy, and had this elaborate tattoo a lot of Force Recon Marines get, which is basically all the symbols — wing, diver, knife, paddle — somehow turned into a skull and crossbones.
Ken: The deal is, this is for a podcast, and we’re hoping and expecting …
Hanna: We were here because these ex-spies had information about a very powerful man. He was a Silicon Valley billionaire who wanted everyone to see him as a good guy. And who would be pretty pissed off if he knew that reporters were here looking into his secrets.
Matt: If you had to scale out, what’s the most important thing to him? … It’s reputation.
Hanna: Matt looked like a bodyguard but talks like a therapist, always watching and analyzing. I loved it.
Matt: He’s very insecure. And … I mean, going back to when he was a kid.
Hanna: The billionaire we were talking about was a venture capitalist. He’d seeded dozens of successful tech companies and also made a fortune when Google went public. In Whitefish, he was a local celebrity; you’d see him at ribbon cuttings or posing in front of the rescue helicopter he paid for. He donated to charities, campaigns; House Speaker John Boehner visited his Montana mansion. But Matt and John were alleging that, in the shadows, he was running a sex-trafficking operation. Taking women — and sometimes very young women — to safe houses and to a secret basement in a bar he owned right here in Montana. Like, barely a mile from this cabin.
John: This is what this is about. This guy has lived his entire adult life and destroyed countless people. We’re just talking about the people that we know about.
Hanna: Like a dancer he met at a Dallas strip club who had very publicly sued him but lost in court when he sued her back.
John: This isn’t an aberration that just happened, you know, a couple of years ago. This is a pattern of behavior.
Hanna: It was all in a lawsuit these guys had filed accusing the billionaire of running what they called a “sexual enterprise.” Basically, using his private jet to transport women to this tiny town and have sex with them. Matt told us he’d even seen the billionaire flirting with one of his own daughter’s friends.
Ken: She was an underage girl?
Matt: Oh, yeah — it’s just bizarre to me …
Hanna: In the lawsuit, Matt alleges the billionaire slept with her.
Matt: Years later, I find out that he’s paying a mom that he doesn’t even know hundreds of dollars under the guise of a gift.
Hanna: And they said the worst thing about all this was that the billionaire was getting away with it because this little town in Montana couldn’t stand up to his billions. In the lawsuit, they alleged he was buying off FBI agents and local police.
John: A real police department will tell you, “We’re onto you, motherfucker. And at some point, you’re going to fuck up, and we’re going to be there to wipe you out.” And they have the resources to do that. When you’re in a little teeny department in the middle of Montana, you don’t have any of those resources. There’s no vice squad here.
Hanna: So Matt decided to run his own investigation — collecting hundreds of pages of texts and emails and photos and financial records. All of which Matt had access to because he’d actually worked for this billionaire. In fact, they’d been best friends. A tip like this one only comes around once every few years. A devious billionaire allegedly buying off a whole town to cover his tracks. It didn’t turn out that way. It turned out even nuttier. This is not one of those stories where we look under every rock and ultimately find nothing, although it’s gonna feel that way for a while. We did uncover a spectacular, elaborate crime.
Hanna: From New York Magazine, this is Cover Story, Season Two: Seed Money. Starring a billionaire, a couple of ex-spies, and a stadium of women: exotic dancers, real-estate agents, single moms, retail clerks, nurses, cocktail waitresses — so many women. And us. The reporters.
Hanna: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You absolutely have to record yourself.
Hanna: That is me — Hanna Rosin.
Hanna: I’m, I’m holding the goddamn thing up to my mouth. Like a good audio person. Ken —
Hanna: And Ken — Ken Silverstein. The guy who brought this story to New York Magazine. The print guy.
Ken: I’m holding the goddamn thing up to my mouth, too.
Hanna: This story was right up Ken’s alley: He specializes in reporting on bad guys who are propped up by legitimate institutions. His phrase for this is the “gray zone,” where black market meets white collar. I was here to vet whether this story was worth doing a podcast about, and that first day in the cabin, I was kind of half in, half out. Like, who wouldn’t want to uncover some awful trafficking stuff? Or, short of that, who wouldn’t want to get a real inside look at what these average billionaires do get away with. But also who would? Because it would mean spending a lot of time getting real intimate with one particular douchey billionaire — like, peering into his underwear drawer. And also a lot of time with retired CIA guys who sometimes like to go on and on about their theories about what men do (hunt!) and what women do (be prey!)
John: It’s the exact same thing that a lion does to pick off a slow wildebeest.
John: It’s done all throughout nature. Humans aren’t supposed to do that. But there are deviant humans that do it, and they target vulnerable females in the species.
Hanna: Oh, boy. So that’s where I was all morning — kind of pulled in two directions. But then, after a late-afternoon snack and coffee break, Matt took his laptop out of a briefcase. He sifted through a bunch of emails and landed on one, which had a voice-mail attached.
Matt: Just go through these.
Ken: Oh, those are the voice-mails.
Matt: Yeah, just …
Hanna: He said the voice-mails were forwarded to him by the billionaire back when they used to work together.
Matt: Just click on it, and it’ll play.
Ken: Oh, man, yeah, I’m very keen to hear those.
Hanna: Matt told us this much: These voice-mails were from a stripper the billionaire met at a club in Las Vegas. Unclear what happened, but something snapped. She’s talking fast and with an accent, and the recording sounds like a human breaking apart.
Dancer: I want my life back, do you understand that?
Hanna: She’s saying, “I want my life back.”
Dancer: I want my mind, my past, my present and future the way before I met you, motherfucker. Do you understand …
Hanna: “I want my mind, my past, my present and future the way before I met you, motherfucker.”
Dancer: I want to be left alone by you, motherfucker. Do you understand? This is not my identity.
Hanna: “This is not my identity.”
Dancer: This is not my sound of voice.
Hanna: “Not the sound of my voice.”
Dancer: This is not!
Hanna: In another message, she threatened suicide.
Dancer: I decided to commit suicide because my heart hurts, do you understand that? This is not me. [Gunshot.]
Hanna: That was a gun. The woman seems to have fired a gunshot inside the room she’s in. In emails to the billionaire, she threatens to kill him. And his wife. And Matt had something else too: the messages the billionaire wrote to Matt when he forwarded hers. He described her as “that hot batshit-crazy chick.”
Matt: So here’s the email, Hanna, just, “Here’s a good one from two days ago: Full impulsive scream plus threats to ‘kill the fuck out of me.’”
Hanna: Quote, “When a crazy starts to get this explicitly and directly threatening, isn’t there grounds to have her forcibly brought to a mental hospital or something?” I think it was the contrast that got me: his nickname — “a crazy” — plus the casual LOL vibe with a dose of “lock her up” versus her own genuine mental disintegration.
Hanna: This is the weird. To me, I listen to this, I feel, like, frozen by it. I just feel like, is this a moment or like what … I don’t understand how to understand this.
Hanna: We listened to the voice-mails two or three times. Ken was also rattled.
Ken: That voice, that’s what did it for me. Her voice …
John: — somebody’s talking like that, screaming, shooting a gun in their house.
Ken: She’s no longer herself.
John: This is evil shit. ’Cause you’re fucking with people’s mental health.
Hanna: Until then, I’d been distracted by the macho theater of it all. The badassery of walking into a cabin and talking to a couple of ex-spies about Glocks on the bedside table. But hearing this woman’s voice in the room brought me back. In my memory of this moment — and I think this really happened — the men paced and paced and then each just all laid down on a different giant chair with Ken on the couch. Now it sunk in, what these CIA guys were telling us. There was a lion hiding out where no one was looking. Like, practically down the road. And he could outplay anyone in town.
Naturally, we started following the clues. The first place we went was down the mountain to the town of Whitefish. Because that’s where the villain was masquerading as Mr. Pillar of the Community. Whitefish, Montana, population 8,000 — a happy nature place with mountains and forests and lakes. One hundred seventy-five years ago, white settlers who believed in Manifest Destiny claimed that God gave them the right to steal this land from the people who already lived there. So it became a typical American frontier town. But more recently, it started to look like a frontier town on Instagram, a backdrop of beautiful mountains behind pricey boutiques selling very expensive ski gear. It was like Whitefish had entered the gilded phase of Manifest Destiny.
Jill Evans: You started to notice men who wore shoes that had tassels on them.
Jill: And women who were, um, what’s the term — I’m going to say this — it’s kind of a colloquialism, but fixed up more. Their hair was obviously professionally prepared.
Hanna: This is Whitefish local Jill Evans. Our producer and I met with her at an obvious place downtown.
Jill: I’m the executive director of the local historical society here in Whitefish.
Hanna: Because she’d studied the history, we asked her about the arrival of this new “tassels era” and its impact on the town.
Hanna: Was there any story you heard which, like, turned your stomach, where you were like, Oh my God, that’s it?
Jill: Oh, there’s a little story of I had my grandson who is 3 on a little beach by the river there by the Baker Street Bridge. And these two guys came by in their thousand-dollar canoes, and I’m standing there with Gus, and they pull in and tell me to tell him to stop throwing rocks into the river. I’m like, Excuse — “Well, it’s just not, you know, we helped pay to put those rocks on that beach, and you shouldn’t be throwing them in the river. Tell him to stop.” I just sadly held my tongue. But, I mean, that’s, it’s just kind of shocking, the “Okay, we helped pay for this, so you have to act this way.”
Hanna: We were looking for clues — what was the billionaire class doing out here? And what did the town know about it? Ken was looking, too.
Ken: So just real quickly, I’ll type up my notes from this conversation I had with this guy last night …
Hanna: It seemed like everyone had a story about the billionaire. But no one wanted to say it out loud or with their names attached. Including the guy at the bar.
Ken: I actually met him for a drink— vodka, Hanna. I’m still on my keto diet. Anyway, it was really interesting.
Hanna: But we can’t tell you what it was. Because, as one person told Ken, “he’s got more money than God.” Another said something like, “I have an amazing life. He can hunt me down and ruin it.” Ken was also mining the world of experts on billionaires and their exploits — and, as instructed, recording his notes.
Ken: Okay. So I just got off the phone with Brooke Harrington …
Hanna: Dartmouth professor. Wrote a book about billionaires.
Ken: She said two words spring to mind. The first and foremost is impunity. That’s what it means to be superrich. Joan Didion was writing about this 50 years ago — she said that the entire point of having money is not being answerable to anyone, to having privacy and being able to do whatever you want.
Hanna: Our producer Kathleen and I were pounding the mean streets of Whitefish — there are only like two — and one person sent us to a friend who sent us to another friend, and we ended up talking to a guy we’re gonna call Derrick, who was, at the moment, helping his friend fix her house.
Derrick: You know, you just want to know what we know, what I know — I can just tell you what I’ve seen, you know. I …
Hanna: Derrick was crouched down in front of his tools, working on the front porch.
Derrick: I’ve lived off the land around here for a long time, hunting and fishing, having a garden.
Hanna: He told us he arrived in Whitefish in the ’70s.
Derrick: It was where poor people came to live to get away from things. And that’s why I came to Montana, is to be self-sufficient. And then once it got discovered, you know, unbelievable. You sit down in Whitefish and watch all the Porsches and Audis and BMWs. That stuff was not here. I mean, we never drove this kind of stuff around. We had old trucks, and everything was falling apart.
Hanna: Derrick is a jack of all trades — he can DIY a broken post, drive a tourist boat, do construction.
Derrick: You know, I worked on a house up here on Lion Mountain; they have a bathtub in there that’s cut out of a rock! I mean, $20,000 bathtub. My buddy right now is working down on Big Fork. They’re putting $6,000 toilets in their house! I mean, people down there didn’t even use to have plumbing.
Hanna: What does a $6,000 toilet look like? Like, what does it do for your ass?
Derrick: It does all this stuff. It’s a bidet. It washes and wipes you and dries you off all at the same time.
Hanna: The woman who owned the porch — we’ll call her Laurie — she was dressed like a trendy pioneer woman in blue zip-up coveralls. She was standing with one foot inside and one foot outside the front door, not quite ready to talk, but still jumping in here and there with her observations about the rich-people takeover.
Laurie: There’s no going back now, really.
Hanna: We were still trying to figure out if people had seen anything illegal or even unseemly.
Hanna: Is there any story you’ve heard …
Hanna: And eventually she told us about something that had happened to her a few summers ago when she was hired as a hostess at a fancy restaurant.
Laurie: There was a 16-year-old hostess and a man, he was probably mid-60s. Um, came up and put a hundred-dollar bill down her bra. He didn’t even hide it. He just walked right up to her and did that. She turned beet red. She looked right at me, and we looked at each other, and it was, like, appalling and didn’t say anything and just kind of watched him walk away, and then she took it out and put it on the hostess stand. I hate that kind of attitude. And there’s so much of it here now. It’s status; it’s who you know. It’s why people are moving here, but it’s not why we live here. She was 16 years old, for crying out loud.
Hanna: And so, what — what happened to you in that job afterwards?
Laurie: I quit. I was done.
Hanna: Because what?
Laurie: I’m not going to be around people like that. I don’t need the money.
Hanna: Our producer Kathleen noticed that Laurie was heating up.
Kathleen: Do you feel pissed off right now?
Laurie: Pissed off. I’m really trying hard. [Laughs.]
Kathleen: Can you put that into words?
Laurie: The motherfuckers, get the fuck out of my town. That’s how I feel.
Derrick: Yeah. Right now.
Laurie: Get out of my state. Get out of my town. My kids can’t live here … Sorry.
Hanna: The picture we were getting was that, when no one is looking too closely, the superrich can reach for anything they wanted. Even under our shirts. And then Derrick had one more story that clinched it. It was also about clothing, from a time when he was working at a local store:
Derrick: I’d see this guy. I didn’t know who he was at first, taking what appeared to me to be young — or when I first seen what happened was I watched this young girl go into a dressing room, and I didn’t even see, I didn’t even know he was with her. He walks over and goes in there, and I walk over, and I’m like, “What are you doing?” “None of your effin’ business.” “Yeah. It’s everybody’s business when you’re doing stuff like that.” He said, “It’s none of your business. Mind your own business.” So I backed off.
Hanna: He then goes and tells someone about it.
Derrick: And they go, “Don’t you know who that is?”
Hanna: It was the guy, the one we were here to investigate.
Derrick: And I said, “No, and I don’t care.”
Hanna: By then, a lot of people in town did know the billionaire. He owned a huge compound in the hills above the town, a private jet, and he was in the papers a lot. But he wasn’t on Derrick’s radar.
Derrick: And they told me to mind my own business. I was told to mind my own business.
Hanna: Okay, wait a minute. What?
Derrick: ’Cause I didn’t even know he was with that girl at first, when I first time I seen it, and then I watched it. A bunch of — they would come in there quite a bit, and he would, like, you know, different girls all the time, buy ’em stuff, and then they’d leave.
Hanna: That’s weird. That’s a weird story.
Derrick: I’ve been told not to talk to you two — to mind my own business — by a few people.
Hanna: So why do you talk to us?
Derrick: ’Cause I’m — I’m an idiot. Because I don’t care about getting my ass kicked.
Ken: Excuse me, I’m just having my coffee.
Hanna: Early-morning message from Ken:
Ken: So, just to meet us at John’s, you have the address.
Hanna: John’s — that’s the cabin where we started.
Ken: Um, we’ll be interviewing Matt. He has a ton of documents. I mean, we’re going to get the best documents today. Everything that I think we’re looking for, inshallah.
Hanna: That’s after the break.
Hanna: From New York Magazine, this is Cover Story. One thing we hadn’t banked on: If two spies are filing a lawsuit, they need lawyers. And when we met up with Matt and John at the cabin for a follow-up visit, their two lawyers were there, waiting for us. Two guys standing awkwardly by the door in city-guy buttoned-down shirts, slightly out of place under the giant buffalo heads.
Matt: Yeah, I’ve told them what your concerns are …
Hanna: Ken and I were introduced and then looked at each other quickly. Fifty collective years of reporting had taught us that having lawyers present during an interview of their client does not aid in the free flow of information. Then, in what to me was a swoony, “hero just saved my day” move, Matt dismissed the lawyers.
Matt: Guys, this is too fucking unnerving.
Hanna: “Too fucking unnerving”
Matt: I’m not trying to throw you guys out. You guys are gonna have to go, man. I feel like I’m, like, now on, like, a fucking stage.
Ken: Oh, it’s true, it’ll ruin the spontaneity.
Hanna: And with that, the lawyers walked out the door.
Matt: You guys can go to my house.
John: Watch out for the killer dog!
Matt: And then the — I’ll text you the Wi-Fi.
Hanna: To us, this signaled that Matt was ready to have the real, unfiltered conversation about the guy we came to learn about. Even if the details would put him at risk.
Ken: I appreciate that.
Matt: Just want to stay on task. That … just distractions.
Ken: Yeah, me, too. Me, too. So let’s get to it. Let’s get to it.
Hanna: Matt looks like he’s always undercover. Blank baseball hat, wraparound sunglasses, always charming as hell but never relaxed. Now we had him all to ourselves. And what we needed to understand — before we got to any documents — was the ticktock of it all. How did Matt come to know this billionaire in the first place? And how did he figure out what was going on?
Matt: I describe him and will always describe him as a, like, kind of scrawny, pasty white, um — the most blinding white teeth you’ve ever seen in your life. Like, it’s distracting.
Hanna: The billionaire’s name is another one syllable: Mike. Full name: Michael Goguen. Matt and Mike. They were introduced by, of all people, an actor they both were friendly with — Huntley Ritter, who played a cheerleader in the movie Bring It On.
Matt: “Well, so why do you want me to meet this guy?” Well, Huntley had told Mike that I was …
Hanna: Mike had a thing for Jason Bourne types, guys with war stories and spy savvy who liked to right wrongs. Matt had a background in all of that: guns, badassery, and big ideas. I dunno — maybe they could work on something together? So, in 2013, Matt and Mike met up in Las Vegas for a bro-casual business meeting to see if they had, as they say, “value alignment.”
Matt: We sit down. He’s like, “Man, you look like you spend a lot of time in the gym.” I said, “I try to. I mean, it’s important for my job.” And he’s like, “God, your arms are so vascular. I’ve never seen anybody’s arms that vascular.”
Hanna: His arms are vascular. And so a bromance was born: arms and minds. And they started to hatch an idea. Some kind of spy company. Overseas do-gooder missions? Whatever it was going to be, Mike would fund it, and Matt would bring two decades of experience. They made a plan to talk more.
Matt: But as we wrap up, he says, “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” And I really wasn’t doing anything. I said, “Well, probably just hang out in my room.” He’s like, “Well, let’s have dinner tonight. Have you ever been to the Spearmint Rhino?” Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that’s probably not, like, a Mexican restaurant. I’m assuming it’s probably a strip club.
Hanna: It is. And later that night, they head over there.
Matt: They walk us through, they sit us down, we order two drinks and then …
Ken: Where did they sit you down? Close to the stage?
Matt: Right at the stage.
Hanna: P.S.: Ken’s reported on strip clubs. He knows that “close to the stage” equals “VIP” equals “you come here a lot.”
As we understand it, Matt shared more of his war stories with Mike. That he’d run a covert mission in Syria during the early days of the Iraq war. That he was captured and tortured for a week but managed to escape, partly by overpowering the guards and hiding in a truck under a pile of chicken coops. Mike was genuinely moved. He wanted Matt to relax and have a good time. You know, support the troops …
Matt: We sit down, and the whole time he’s fooling with his right sock, which was odd. Like it caught my attention, but you’re in a dark club and I’m thinking maybe he’s got, like, a skin condition or —? Well he, so, he finally, like, comes up with, like, a roll of cash.
Ken: Oh my God.
Matt: And I’m like —
Ken: These weren’t singles, were they?
Matt: No, there were all hundreds. It was five grand. So he, he’s like, “I have a proposition for you.” So he says, “I’m going to give you — there’s $5,000 here — I’m going to give it to you. And I want you to spend it here in the club. I want you to have a great time, but whatever you don’t spend at the end of the night, I want you to give back to me.” Okay, I’m like, “Are you going somewhere?” He’s like, “Yeah, I have an appointment,” which — he has an appointment in the back, one of the back rooms.
Hanna: So what the hell did you think was going on?
Matt: It is clearly a test. Was I going to get all liquored up and become an asshole? Was I going to get liquored up and start, like, going around, grabbing the strippers? Was I going to be getting lap dances …
Hanna: Mike never explicitly told Matt, “You’re being tested.” But the way Matt describes it, it was almost like this Bible story called the Parable of the Talents. The master gives his servants each a large wad of cash, or talents. He then goes away for a bit, and the servants have to figure out on their own what the master even wants. Then he comes back and asks, “What did you do with those talents I gave you?” One of them gets it wrong and gets sent to the outer darkness. The others get it right, and the master tells them, “Enter into the joy of your master.” As daylight broke, he and Mike left Spearmint Rhino.
Matt: The sun’s coming up, and we get in the car. He’s taking me back to my hotel, and I’m like, “Oh, hey, here’s the money.” He was, like, super-shocked by that. He’s like, “I haven’t — I do this all the time, and I’ve never had anybody give me back money.”
Hanna: Was that what the master wanted?
Matt: He drops me off at the hotel, and that was it. He said, “I’ll be in touch.”
Hanna: Mike did get in touch. They met again in Whitefish. Mike said he’d put up the money to seed this badass private-spy company. And to sweeten the deal, he offered Matt $200K to come to Whitefish right away and run security for him. Matt was excited — and not just for professional reasons.
Matt: I told him, like, “I just want to be somewhere where I’m able to go home at night.” Like my daughter at that point, I’d missed six years of her life.
Hanna: Mike says, “Why don’t you bring your family up for a visit?” So he did. The next time Matt came, he brought his wife, Heather.
Heather: You know, we had dinner, and he was just, you know, so interested in who I was and what I did. I mean, I’m a nurse. So he was pulling at my heartstrings. He knew what to say. And that he had spent, um, $75,000, I think. It was a lot of money to help a friend of his — daughter had a car accident. She had to be STAT flown, and she wasn’t gonna make it, but he came to rescue and things like that. So I thought, Wow.
Hanna: Matt, Heather, and their daughter arrive in the summer of 2013. And in so many ways, Whitefish was amazing, and Mike seemed like a really good guy.
Matt: That’s how he duped me, actually, because my daughter comes out, we have a birthday party for her. I mean, it was the craziest shit in hindsight. ’Cause I was thinking that dude’s probably never like held the string on a piñata in his life. So I’m in the garage, and I get an extension cord, and I throw it over, and he catches it, and he’s tying it. And he’s actually like pulling the piñata up and down when the kids are swinging at it. I thought even my wife, Heather, was like, That’s pretty damn awesome.
Hanna: Matt was supposed to spend most of his time on this new private-spy company, refining the idea. Like, was it more a corporate security type company? Private overseas missions type stuff? Would it depend on government contracts? But he was also doing this other security job: the point man on Mike’s properties and businesses in Whitefish.
Hanna: What was the job? What was, what were, what — what was your job title? Like, what were you supposed to be doing?
Matt: It sounds stupid. My job title literally was right-hand man. Initially, it was kind of awkward. Like, well, you know, “What’s he doing?” “Well, he’s my right-hand, man. He’s actually trying to help me get my life in order.”
Hanna: The way Matt described it, Mike would be in Silicon Valley Monday to Friday, working at the VC firm, while Matt would be back in Whitefish, making his way through his point-man to-do list: Can you put out this fire or that fire? And as Matt tells it, there were a ton of fires. Take Casey’s, this downtown bar and restaurant in Whitefish that Mike had bought and renovated.
Matt: Uh, your bar manager is stealing booze every day. Like carrying cases of beer or liquor out the back door. I mean, it was just snorting cocaine off the bar. Like, it just — it was out of control. I asked him at one point, “Well, how many, Mike, how many cars do you think you have?” “I don’t know, six or seven.” “Uh, you’ve got 72 cars.”
Hanna: It was like Matt had wandered into this alternate reality of the billionaire — a world filled with fleets of forgotten cars, strippers and stacks of bills, and people who wandered in to loot and steal.
Matt: Man, in hindsight, I wish I would’ve been like, “Hey, bro, I didn’t come here for that.” But because, again, I liked him, and I — I felt like people were taking advantage of him, sure, man.
Hanna: It’s hard for Matt to admit how much affection he had for Mike — now that their bromance has gone cold. He’s not big on bro-vulnerable. But it’s clear that the two of them were close for awhile. Like, we have this copy of an email Matt wrote to Mike after there was some tension between them. It’s a couple years into their work and friendship, and Matt gets really personal: “I take calling you my best friend very seriously because I haven’t and don’t historically have a ton of friends.”
He tells Mike about the only other best friend he’s had, and it’s a hard story: “He was killed by a sniper round overseas 15 feet from me, and I had to make the decision to leave his body and recover it two days later. I carried him for a half-mile under less-than-ideal conditions and had to leave him because I was slowing down the team too much and couldn’t fend off the bad guys much longer.”
Matt tells Mike he has the guy’s name tattooed on his rib cage. And then waffles back to his tough-guy side: “Not a boo-hoo story, but you want to know more about me, I want you to know the good and the bad.”
He then writes to Mike about how they both have demons, and they’ve had shitty luck with friends and he promises: “I won’t betray your trust or friendship no matter what, and if I do, please run me over dead with the biggest vehicle you can find.”
Ken: So are we recording, Hanna?
Hanna: This is us again — Ken and me — in a pretty big vehicle. It belongs to John, Matt’s spy friend. The guy who moved out to the woods near Whitefish but still sleeps with a Glock on his bedside table.
John: This entire building he used to own.
Hanna: John took us on a driving tour through the version of Whitefish that he and Matt had detailed in their lawsuit against Mike, John pointing out properties they said were “safe houses” for Mike to shack up with members of the female species he was supposedly airlifting in.
John: The front half of this building is a condo. The second half, covered in the trees there, that’s the second condo. And that’s the one that’s used constantly. And there’s — one of the girls is living in there now.
Ken: So we’re on — we’re on State Park Road.
Hanna: We also drove past Casey’s, that downtown bar. From the outside, supercute. A two-story saloon, lots of wood. The lawsuit version? Less cute.
John: This was a place set up to draw women into where they could find women, serve them drugs, and get them downstairs.
Hanna: Matt told us even more details about Casey’s stuff they’d filed in court about a secret basement area for VIPs.
Hanna: What is the boom-boom room?
Matt: So it’s a door that’s not marked with anything. It’s got a camera; it’s got a key code on it. And inside of there, it’s like super–pimped out. There was a stripper pole. There’s a glass shower.
Ken: Is there a room to have sex down there?
Matt: Well, that’s what the room is for.
Ken: The room itself, so you don’t even have a private room down there. You go there to have sex.
Matt: That’s why I just — there were very limited people that had the access code. Uh, that’s why it was in the basement.
Hanna: Matt was one of the guys that had the access code. So how did Matt go from Mike’s right-hand guy to offering two New York Magazine reporters a tour of his dirty secrets?
When you’re reporting a story like this, you’re always looking for the turning point — in this case, that single moment Matt started seeing his new best friend as the bad guy. But Matt told us it happened bit by bit. “Hey, Matt! How about you get some snacks in the condo? There’s a girl I’m flying in later.” Or “Hey, Matt, can you refill the Viagra prescription?” And Matt says he knew it was weird, but at the same time, he just didn’t want to let go of the fantasy he was living. Like, here is this billionaire handing you the keys to the castle.
Matt: It’s a compliment because a guy like that who doesn’t totally trust anybody gives you free rein to do things that are directly affecting his people and his family. Like, it’s a clue that I’m doing a pretty good job.
Heather: Once we got here, he worked so much. I mean, it was kind of the same thing. He was there, but he would, most of the time, come home and sleep.
Matt: I’m sure in my head, I was justifying any reason to stay here because it was great. I mean, you can be a victim of your own success.
Hanna: Then Matt told us there came a day where it all became too much. Matt says Mike made a request that was so outlandish that Matt couldn’t tell if Mike was being funny or if he should pack up his new Whitefish house right away and leave. Mike was talking about a guy he’d had a falling out with and who was getting to be way too much of a nuisance. It’s all in the lawsuit — the guy was blackmailing Mike, saying he knew damaging stuff about Mike and that he was gonna go public. And according to the lawsuit, Mike then told Matt:
Matt: I want this guy killed. I take that with a grain of salt because guys oftentimes will say something like, “I’m going to kill that fucking guy.” Clearly, that’s not their intent; it’s just blowing off. So I really dismissed it.
Hanna: But Matt says it came up again.
Matt: So he essentially asked me about killing this guy and then goes on to tell me that “I think he’s going for this big mountain-biking tour. And that would be a good opportunity.”
Hanna: Of course, the billionaire 100 percent denies all of this. But Matt says, at the time, he just couldn’t tell if this was real or not.
Matt: I’m like, “Mike, first of all, you just don’t travel around the world killing people.”
Hanna: A common misconception about the CIA.
Matt: In his mind, guys like us are just —
Ken: CIA, you’re constantly killing people. Yes.
Matt: Just run around and kill people.
Hanna: Anyway, this was a turning point for Matt.
Matt: ’Cause I have asked myself this: What would Goguen have said if I said, “Fucking A, I’ll kill him.” Like, when do you want it done? Do you want me to shoot him or stab him? You know, do you want me to choke him or drown him?
Hanna: Matt says he kept being the right-hand man but that he also started taking notes. Writing down dates, saving emails, screenshotting disappearing texts, gathering the material for what would eventually become his and John’s lawsuit against Mike.
Ken: Hey, I’ll try to keep this short. Um, I just talked to John, and I’m going to talk to Matt later. He said, “I’m in 100 percent on the record for the podcast.” And Matt is, too. One hundred percent. “We are not backing down now.” Anyway. So it’s all good.
Hanna: By the time we finished this first round of interviews, Ken and I had a lot of leads to track down. But also we were feeling super-paranoid. Because what if the guy actually was putting hits out on people? Ken had run into Mike once at Casey’s, and though he introduced himself and tried to act friendly, it felt more than ever like Mike Goguen Enterprises was on alert. So we switched to communicating on Signal, got ourselves burner phones, split up, and hit the road. Ken flew out to L.A. to start tracking down some of the women whose names we’d gotten from Matt and John. They might have stories to tell. Ken was knocking on doors, hoping for the best. At one place, there was a guy out front who said the woman did live there but wasn’t home, so Ken left his phone number. Within half an hour, Ken got a call.
Mike Goguen: Hello? Can you hear?
Hanna: It was him.
Mike: Yeah, this is Michael.
Hanna: Michael Goguen.
Mike: Yeah. So, Ken, what was with the cloak and dagger? The other day. I just looked you up. You are the guy that bumped into me the other day at the …
Ken: There was no cloak and dagger. I told — I introduced myself. I told you who I was. I mean, I gave you my name.
Mike: Let me take one guess, Ken: You got turned on to some juicy story by a man who’s right now under federal indictment on 11 federal felony counts where I’m the victim. Does that sound about right?
Hanna: Coming up on Cover Story …
Ken: Mike. The first thing I wanna talk to you about is you.
Hanna: Mike tells us his side. Sleeping with his daughter’s friend: no. Never brought a woman “of any age” down to the boom-boom room. Going in the dressing room with a young girl? “Fabricated.” Definitely never asked Matt to kill that guy — we said that already. He never said Matt’s arms were vascular. He never touched the piñata. He does not have 72 cars.
Plus: Eleven federal felony counts against Matt? That’s a lot of federal felony counts. So we track down every detail Matt told us and figure out what really happened.
Cover Story is a production of New York Magazine. This season, Seed Money, is hosted by Hanna Rosin. The story originates with Ken Silverstein, who also reported it. Our senior producers are Marianne McCune and Whitney Jones. Also produced by Noor Bouzidi, Kathleen Horan, and Liza Yeager. Sound design and engineering as well as additional editorial help by Sharif Youssef. Cover Story’s theme music is by Santigold. Series music by Devin Clara Fanslow. Fact-checking by Britina Cheng and Ted Hart. Special thanks to legal minds Elissa Cohen, Jillian Robbins, and Samantha Mason. Also thanks to Nichole Hill, Rider Alsop, and Gaby Grossman. Follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
If you have information you want to share with the Seed Money team, please contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.