The Scammer Speaks - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “The Scammer Speaks.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
Nora McInerny: OK.
Marcel Malekebu: All right, it's recording.
Nora McInerny: All right. Isaiah, are you there?
Marcel Malekebu: Yeah, I can't hear him.
Nora McInerny: Me, neither.
Isaiah Goodman: How's that? There we go.
Nora McInerny: Oh, there we go. OK, there we go. Any time that I can figure out how to talk to somebody on the internet, I feel like a woman in STEM. I feel like an absolute tech genius.
Nora McInerny: Hello everyone. It’s Nora McInerny.
Marcel Malekebu: And I’m Marcel Malekebu. Today, we’re following up on “Behind the Scammer,” an episode that followed two of the 23 victims of a financial fraud scheme, where financial adviser Isaiah Goodman stole over $2 million from his clients’ retirements and savings accounts to fund his lifestyle. He had houses, cars, cruises … a hot tub? And he had a business, MoneyVerbs, an app that was dedicated to creating financial literacy.
Now, we intentionally focused that episode on the scammed people. On the victims. Because scammers are boring. I know all you young white women, Nora included, were thirsty to hear the verdict in the Elizabeth Holmes trial recently. As a culture, we’re obsessed with scammers, but generally speaking, they’re pretty much all the same! They want something they don’t have — money, time, attention, fame, material goods — and they decide that their wanting is the most important thing in the world for them.
Marcel Malekebu: But after spending one year with Celisia and the Gonzales family, we were still … curious. And we do have a duty to reach out to the subject of any story and say, “Hey, would you like to comment on this?” So we did.
Nora McInerny: And we had never interviewed someone in federal prison before, and we did not know how to do this. But I did the old fashioned thing, which senior millennials and those who came before me know how to do. I picked up the phone, and I called the prison. Marcel, I just mashed every button in the phone tree until eventually I was connected with a person who then connected me with the right person, who sent me back online to the Department of Justice website to fill out the forms, to get a background check, and to explain the project, so that he could bring it to the inmate – to Isaiah Goodman – so that Isaiah could decide whether he wanted to be interviewed. And Isaiah said yes, and we dialed up and had – as you all heard at the beginning – the same tech issues everyone has when you’re trying to talk on the computer.
Nora McInerny: In this episode you’ll hear the interview with Isaiah. You’ll hear some of the additional information we gathered about his crimes. And as we get into this interview, I want you to know, it was explained to us that they can end this call at any point in time. If Isaiah is done, or, and this is a real thing that was explained to me and Marcel – do you remember this, Marcel? Where the guy from the prison was like, “Look, if you ask ANYTHING about the way the prison is laid out or what the security is like, I will end this call.”
Marcel Malekebu: Any “off the rails questions,” as he put it.
Nora McInerny: Truly. I was like, “What’s an off the rails question?” And he was like, “Don’t ask about how you break out of prison.” I was like GASP! People do that? Apparently, people do that. We did not do that. Instead, we started at the very beginning. Because if you’re trying to understand a person, knowing who they used to be can be a helpful thing. So I asked him how he grew up and how he got into finance.
Isaiah Goodman: I think, before I jump into that, first and foremost, I just wanted to take another opportunity to publicly apologize to everybody. You know, to the victims, to my family, to all the business associates and employees, everybody that I hurt. I just wanted to say I'm sorry again. Now that I've really thought about what I did, you know, I really regret it. So more than anything else today, I wanted to just say I'm sorry and to try to let everybody know that I'm working, working on getting better. But to answer your question around money, you know, one of the things that's really interesting is it's one of those taboo topics, like, don't talk about money, politics, sex, religion. Because if you feel like you don't know a lot about it, it can be one of those things that are so intimidating that you'd rather just push it under the rug. And for me, I got really interested actually in 2004, when I kind of started getting out of high school, kind of understanding a little bit more about what was going on in the market. And then I got really lucky, because in 2007, 2008, the stock market crashed, and I had been able to save up, put a little bit of money into the market. And when the market went back up in 2008, 2009, I used some of that money to put a down payment on my first house. So I had this really positive experience with doing the right thing, and down the road, I was like, "Wow, I think I can, I can be pretty good at doing this." And I ventured down the path of trying to continue to help other people learn.
Marcel Malekebu: According to the court documents, that same house ended up in foreclosure a few years later.
Nora McInerny: Did you go to school for ... were you a finance major? Were you a business major?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, it was a business major. And fortunately for me, I went to a great school called Washington and Lee University out in Virginia, and we actually started an investment group. And it was really funny, because in 2007, everything was going great. Everything was going up, up, up, and then it all crashed, and a bunch of people quit. And I think that's when I learned just, you know, that's the time to save and invest is when the market is down. So even just having a group of people willing to try to give it a shot was my chance to learn from experience. That's where I got started, I think.
Nora McInerny: You're a business major. You end up learning, like, literally by doing. When you're a little kid, or when you're a high schooler or when you're even in college, when you think about what you want your life to look like as an adult, what success will look like to you, what do you envision?
Isaiah Goodman: For me, when I was growing up, it was interesting because, as I've reflected, I've done so much mental work on myself and thinking about what got me into my situation. I put a lot of pressure on myself and kind of this pursuit of perfectionism. I think that was one of my fatal flaws. Because my father actually was a professional athlete. He played for the Green Bay Packers. And my mother was a chemical engineer, super super smart, graduated high school early and, you know, phenomenal with math and science and everything. And so I always felt like I had to be the best at sports and academics. And, you know, I think I was pretty good at both. But there was this sort of internal pressure that I had built up for myself that I gotta be the best. I gotta be super successful. And, you know, I think one of the things that really got me into trouble later was when I felt like I wasn't as successful as I should have been. And I was. I was doing fine, but there was just something inside of me that said, "You know, ah man, you're not a pro athlete. Like, you're not good enough." Or, "You're not CEO yet, you're not good enough." And so I think that was something that looking back, I wish I would have been able to set some, some more realistic expectations to say, "Hey, if you graduate from a couple of really good schools, you get a home as soon as you graduate and you get a good job, you're doing better than most of the world." You know, to be grateful and be humble about my situation.
Nora McInerny: I mean, almost every listener probably, is like, "Oh, I like to be the best. I like to be good at things. I like to be perfect."
Isaiah Goodman: And think about it, too. We were the first generation where we could instantly compare ourselves and our success to hundreds of thousands of people every day. We could look on our phone and say, "Oh, this person's doing better. Oh man, they got another house, or they got another vacation." And you know, I think that probably fed into me feeling like I was coming up short, because there was this succession of events where, for example, we got third in state in basketball, which was phenomenal. But I broke my leg my senior year. And so we came up short. It stuck with me, where I was like, "Man, I missed my goal. I couldn't accomplish it. I couldn't get it done." And then you look on social media and you see, you know, the newest star who's celebrating the championship or whatever, and it kind of digs at you.
Nora McInerny: Honestly, we are, we are the first generation too that had so many windows into other people's successes or perceived successes. And I'm waiting for the longitudinal studies on the effect that that has on all of us. It can't be good. I don't feel better about myself after I'm on Instagram. Never. What is your first sort of foray into financial services? And then how does that evolve into you starting Money Verbs and, you know, really striking out as an entrepreneur?
Isaiah Goodman: When I was at Target — I worked at Target corporate downtown — the people that I looked up to as mentors, they were very smart and very wise with money. And so I kind of started asking them what they do, and they all had financial advisors that had helped them. And I actually was able to connect with somebody from another financial planning company, and eventually they recruited me in, and I really liked it. And what I've, I realized, I don't know if you've ever heard of the term ikigai. i-k-i-g-a-i. It's one of those really cool, again, you see it on social media.
Nora McInerny: I never, I never knew how to say it. Never say it. Yep.
Isaiah Goodman: Yep. So it's, you know, what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for. So like your mission, profession, passion and vocation, those things come together to be your purpose. And for me, after a bunch of reflection now, I found that I'm really good at teaching, mentoring, coaching, helping others grow. I just love it. I can't help it. And so that's where I think I got pulled into the financial planning world, because I was such a good teacher, and I really enjoyed it. That I liked teaching and coaching people about money. And so I think that's how I started to get into that world. And then eventually again, that pursuit of perfection, I felt like I wasn't doing enough. I wasn't selling enough. I wasn't good enough. And so I thought if I struck out on my own, I could really take it to the next level and feel successful. And again, the whole idea of MoneyVerbs was teaching, coaching, helping. And so, what I've realized is there was kind of these two sides of me that were happening, where there was one side that was really, really actually trying to help. And, I think that's the side that my family, my friends, know – the good guy. And then there is this other side that was like, desperate, like, "Hey, you have to be successful, do whatever it takes to get there." You know, that's, that's when I started making my mistakes.
Nora McInerny: In writing, in movies, they call that breaking bad. You know, and it's like the duality of human life, too. And I do think as much as people love to have, like, a really distinct villain, there are very, very, very few in the world. There are very, very few people who are just purely a bad guy doing bad things for the thrill of it, or because they can. And I'm wondering, like, you know, for instance, in "Breaking Bad," like you can pinpoint the moment where he crosses that line, where he decides, "You know what, I am going to get in a trailer and cook some meth with you." What is the moment or a moment where you cross that line?
Isaiah Goodman: I think for me, it was almost like I was like a natural disaster waiting to happen, like an earthquake. If you think about that fault line. On one side, I had this deep insecurity, this pursuit of perfectionism. And I like this book by Brene Brown. Her book’s called "Daring Greatly." She talks about shame being the fear of never feeling extraordinary. So I felt like on one side, I had these like … these issues that I was trying to deal with. And on the other side, you know, I was trying to make up for it with optimism, with charisma, just kind of longing to be successful. And so eventually we know, at a fault line, they're going to, they're going to give and there's going to be an earthquake, right? And I was kind of the epicenter that messed everything up for everybody. For me, when I think that started was when I started kind of just lying to myself. I wasn't honest about my actions and what I was doing. Even before I started doing illegal activity, it was, "Hey, you know, can I borrow some money from a friend?" But I wasn't doing the work to be able to pay him back soon enough. So I'd fallen in debt, either with banks, with credit cards, with friends. And in my mind, I think what I started to make up was, “OK, if I can get a bigger payout, I'll pay everybody out, I’ll pay everybody back someday. But you know, when I, when I get successful, when I make it, then I'll pay everybody back and it'll work out.” And I think once I started lying to myself, that's when it just became inevitable. I kept going deeper and deeper down down the wrong path.
Nora McInerny: So you would ... I'm trying to like a sense of timeline too. It's like, you're starting MoneyVerbs, like, it's hard to start a company, and it's also hard to hire people. There's just so much money involved before any money can be made. And I say this, by the way, as somebody who had to close a business this year, and I felt like the biggest fucking loser who had ever lost, right? Like, just, what a loser. Like what a, what a fucking piece of shit. Like my internal monologue was like, "Yeah, I mean, you're a garbage person. Like, what a dumb piece of shit.” Like, truly so unkind, when really, it's like, I mean, it's hard. Businesses close all the time like, "Oh, well, you can try another thing." But I mean, it doesn't feel that way.
Isaiah Goodman: So here's something else that I realized. I was adding this pressure onto myself as a pretty professional and successful African-American. I told myself I couldn't fail. Like, I have to make it. I have to be an example. I have to show people that we can do it. And so, yeah, it was, it was really, really tough. For me, Money Verbs came actually, believe it or not, I didn't want to be a financial advisor forever. It was a way out of the hustle and bustle. Because again, I think I felt more drawn to teaching and coaching and mentoring than the money game of like, picking the next stock or the hottest mutual fund. I wanted Money Verbs to be this thing that replaced me, where I could teach people through an app, and I don't have to be there anymore. So, to sort of prop the business up as a young, professional African-American, I was trying to get loans and, you know, do the startup boot camps and all the things. And the feedback that I kept hearing was, "When you can show us more stuff, then we'll be more interested." And so, you know, that's where I started making my mistakes was, "Well, OK, if I can, if I can show them that I can do something, then they'll invest in me."
Nora McInerny: And by show us more stuff, did they just mean like, "Oh, build this out more," or what did you mean by, “Show us more stuff”?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, yeah, they wanted, at least the people that I talked to, they wanted traction. That's the big hot term in tech, traction. So show us some sort of minimum viable product. Show us that people are willing to download it and willing to eventually pay for it, or you could get advertising from it. So if you can show us some traction, then we can believe in you.
Nora McInerny: So this kind of feels like a tangled … it feels very tangly to me, like, “Well you have to do this thing, that you can't do until you have money, but you need money to do it, and to get money to do it, you have to build this thing that you don't have money to make.”
Isaiah Goodman: Right. And like you said, I don't want to feel like a failure. And so I started making some really bad decisions, because somewhere deep inside, I thought, "Well, once I pay it all back, it'll be OK," like, once this works out, it won't be a big deal.
Nora McInerny: You mentioned, like, credit card debt.
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah.
Nora McInerny: What were you spending money on and why?
Isaiah Goodman: For me, it was like, ebbs and flows, so ... especially in the financial services industry, there are some really good months and some really bad months. I mean, even negative months, where if somebody canceled an insurance policy or something went backwards, they would take commission back. And so, some months where it's like, "Hey, I paid the mortgage on time." And then the next month I lost commission, well, I gotta pay the mortgage the next month on a credit card.
Nora McInerny: What do you mean they take commission back?
Isaiah Goodman: Almost all insurance companies, if you sign new life insurance or disability insurance, any sort of insurance, you get a commission for that first year. If the policyholder cancels it, then you lose the commission that you were paid on your next check. They take it out of the next check.
Nora McInerny: I wanna stop here and say two things. You can probably hear it. One, this guy is so likeable. Right? He’s got a great voice. And I am – and this could be my fatal flaw, as Marcel has pointed out to me – I am empathetic to the point that someone could be stabbing me to death and I’d be like, “We all make mistakes! Tell me about your childhood!” And fifteen minutes into this interview, if Isaiah had asked me, “Hey, can I get your social security number and your bank routing information,” I would have been like, “Yes, absolutely, or do you prefer PayPal?”
Marcel Malekebu: I mean, he’s a likeable dude. He’s super well-spoken, and he was communicating that he felt remorse about this stuff. And he just seemed really personable. I think I could almost get fooled by him.
Nora: And that means something, because Marcel is not easily fooled. I am very easily fooled. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me nine times, it’s possible. So yeah, he’s just super pleasant. He’s really likable. And Marcel, you mentioned the Elizabeth Holmes trial earlier. I thought about that throughout this entire interview. Because as we’re talking to Isaiah, the Elizabeth Holmes trial is underway, and I’m thinking about how she manipulated investors to try to get funding for this piece of technology that didn’t exist and was completely implausible. And what came up in her trial and in the reporting is that in tech, it’s all fake it ‘til you make it, baby! That’s a normal thing. And I do see parallels between Isaiah and Elizabeth: They have this drive, this charisma, this desire for success and for accolades and for grandeur, and the self-delusion that is so thick you can’t see through it. Because we spent an hour with Isaiah, and even now, in a federal prison, I don’t really think he can see it very clearly.
Nora McInerny: Can you tell me, though, like the action of doing that, and how it feels and how, like, that conflict shows up in your life?
Isaiah Goodman: That's a really good question. I think for me, it was the goal that I was pursuing usurped my current feelings and emotions. It was, "Hey, I've taken a step towards what I want to accomplish." Almost like the Catholic saying, you know, "Do the ends justify the means?" For me, at that moment it was like, "OK, yeah, at the end, I'm going to get to where I want to go, and it will be OK. So I just gotta borrow this really quick." And I think that's, that's really how it started, was saying that this was OK to myself. It just made it OK over and over and over again.
Nora McInerny: Are you in your office? Are you at home? Like, how does it feel to click that button or to write that check? Like, does it feel like, I'm always also interested in when we cross those thresholds, sometimes we can tell, right? Like sometimes we can tell, "Oh shit, I did this thing.” And sometimes, like, we can't really tell a before and after until later when we're looking back on it.
Isaiah Goodman: What's the word I want to use? I think for me, it felt relieving in a weird way, because there was so much pressure and anxiety from debt and stress and worry. You know, I was at my office and was able to complete a transfer, and it was like, "OK, it worked, and now I can start checking some of these boxes on these goals that I have." But because I hadn't done the work, you know, I hadn't planted the seed, so to speak, eventually it came another time where I was like, "Oh, I think I need to do it again to get to the next milestone, to get to the next checkbox." And that's where it just kept going downhill.
Marcel Malekebu: When Isaiah does this in 2017, he has two children and, according to his wife’s instagram – now deleted – they’re doing IVF treatments to add to their family.
Nora McInerny: Some of the things were not just business. Like, I didn't get the court documents, obviously. Thank you for pointing out that I'm a dummy, but like, a new kitchen. Like going on a cruise. Like, are those things that are on your to do list? Or what is the motivation for that?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, it's really tough, too, because, you know, a lot of what they talked about was coming out of the same account. You know, the prosecution's job is to do their job, and I respect them for doing their job according to what they've learned. But they didn't mention that I was actually successfully earning six figures before all of this. So, you know, I was a good business person. I could do business. I was just impatient. I think that's where I messed up, is I wanted all of these things sooner. And I thought that they would make me feel successful and feel better the sooner that I got them. So some of those were legitimate earnings that I paid for things out of the same account from illegitimate gain. Does that make sense? So I might have properly earned some money, used it to pay for something, but then improperly taken some money and put it in the same account to pay for something else. And so according to them, they're saying, "Hey, he paid for all this stuff from the same account. It's all stolen money." So not all of it was stolen. But I think for me, it goes back to those feelings that I was trying to pursue — the comfort, the safe, the successfulness. Feeling like I was more than ordinary. You know, just trying to prove to myself that I was worthy, that I was enough.
Marcel Malekebu: So, in 2017, they put down $76,000 on a house in the suburbs. They pay over $50,000 to a renovation company that reached out to us, who claims that he stiffed them on most of the bill. As the years rolled on, he spent over $2 million of other people’s money.
Nora McInerny: So, I asked people who were involved in the case about his claim that some of the money was legitimate, and they said, basically, that his legitimate income was negligible. Because they don’t prosecute people without looking at where the money comes from, ya know?
Nora McInerny: Was there anyone in your life that you could be honest with about that sort of feeling, that kind of insecurity? Because that's a lot. That's a lot to carry, and that's a lot of pretending.
Isaiah Goodman: No. That's probably what made it so tough, is not even my wife knew about what was going on, because I kind of wanted to shield her and even feel like I was enough for her, you know? Be her knight in shining armor, like this strong, successful guy who is really, really good at what he did. Unfortunately, what I learned is a lot of the people around me, they were around because of some of the success, and so they disappeared right away. So the ones who are really sticking with me, who are still staying in touch despite me being incarcerated, those are the ones who were like, "Dude, you should have told me something. You should have talked to me about it." And so I think this, this lack of vulnerability was something that was really big. I should have been able to be more forthright and more vulnerable. And it probably would have stopped things a long, long time ago.
Nora McInerny: Yeah, I mean, it just sounds really lonely, Isaiah, it sounds like that feels like a lot to carry for a long time to know, like, OK, I'm doing these things, I'm like digging a hole and no one else can know about it because it would also be unsafe for anyone else to know about it.
Isaiah Goodman: Think about this too, what I was hoping for, reaching for, was when I make it out of the hole, it'll seem like I was the guy, I was the successful one who did it. Right? If nobody knows how I did it, then they just think, "Wow, he's great." So I think that was something too, it was almost this, this idea of I can build it up even bigger if I can make this thing happen and nobody else knows about it. But ultimately that was a fatal flaw, because down the road, 10, 20 years, let's say it all worked out. I would still know that it wasn't legitimate, that I hadn't earned it. Right? And so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to hit the reset button, come out successful with, you know, a bunch of little wins. That's really what I'm focusing on now is: Every single little thing that I do is just a little win, a little success. And that's the idea is practicing the habit of feeling successful. And that's what I'm going to come out with, and I think I'll be a successful person down the road. Regardless of whatever my accomplishments might look like, I will be and feel successful.
Nora McInerny: What was the out, you know? Like what was the plan to be like, “I'm going to get out?” Was it like, "Oh, if I get an investor to give me $2 million," then I can like, replace all this money and like will be good. Like, what was the, what was the plan?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, no. I was probably about six months away from that. MoneyVerbs was live on iOS, live on Android. We were talking to a couple of investors. And so I think that was probably it. We had a big out where if I landed an investor, we could pay it all off. But, you know, as simple as that may seem, eventually, the investor would say, "Well, hey, where did all the money go?" [laughs] Right? And so it would have been something where I probably wouldn't have been able to get out of it for years and years and years, even if that would have been a bridge and helped cover things for now. I would have had to genuinely earn money and pay everything back myself. So it's either one way or the other, I would have had to do that. Now I'm just in a more difficult situation, kind of starting over.
Nora McInerny: Yeah, because any investor would have been like, "OK, now I need to see the books," and they would have been like, "Wait, why'd you take all this money?" You would've been like, "Uhhhh."
Isaiah Goodman: “Oh, shoot, now I'm just, I'm just continuing to lie.” Exactly.
Nora McInerny: When is the moment that you knew like, "I am fucked."
Isaiah Goodman: It was actually about almost exactly a year ago. The State of Minnesota was doing a regular audit. So as a registered investment advisor, the state that you're registered in can audit your books just to make sure everything's going as it should. And with COVID and everything, there was a few clients who actually wanted their money back. And so what I realized was like, I'm literally lying to everybody. Like, there's, there's nobody that I'm being honest with. You know, that's when I started contacting attorneys and told them the situation. And, you know, we tried to, tried to do the best we could from there.
Nora McInerny: Okay, Marcel, we have a fact check here. As you know, because you figured out how to get the court documents. Thank you, thank you. Part of the court documentation are the sentencing documents, where the government and the defense go back and forth on what they think the sentencing should look like. And Isaiah’s lawyers had basically requested home imprisonment. Zoom prison. And this is from the government’s reply:
As one basis for his requested non-custodial sentence, Mr. Goodman points to his actions to resolve his criminal case. To be clear: Mr. Goodman’s criminal conduct came to light, not because of Mr. Goodman, but because of complaints that emanated from his victims in October 2020; the federal investigation began soon thereafter.
Simply put, Mr. Goodman got caught, and the walls quickly closed in around him.
On November 16, 2020, the Minnesota Department of Commerce executed a consent order to suspend his investment advisor license with the State of Minnesota.
As they should.
After Mr. Goodman knew that government investigators were looking into his conduct, he made the laudable decision to reach out to federal investigators through his counsel on November 23, 2020.
Wait for it.
After learning that he was actually the target of a federal criminal investigation already well underway, Mr. Goodman made arrangements to meet with investigators, which he subsequently did on December 4, 2020. The government certainly appreciates and acknowledges, as it already has, that since December 4, 2020, Mr. Goodman entered into a swift resolution in his criminal case. However, the fact remains that Mr. Goodman faced imminent prosecution with or without his decision to promptly resolve his case.
Marcel Malekebu: Well, yeah.
Nora McInerny: Yeah. So to me, it kind of sounds in that tape like he’s taking more credit for it than he deserves. Does it sound like that to you?
Marcel Malekebu: Yeah. He’s taking laudable- I mean it was common sense. You were caught. And it’s like you're saying, “Yes, I was caught, but also here’s why I’m on some sort of moral high ground. But just for the record, everyone knows that I got caught, and that’s why I came out in the first place.”
Nora McInerny: So you contact attorneys and they’re like, “Buddy, you gotta turn yourself in,” like, “There's not really a good out.” When you call them, are you still hoping that there's a way that they can be like, "We see it every day, it's not that big of a deal."
Isaiah Goodman: Oh yeah, no. And I mean, even still, it was like, "Oh, if you, if we can play this right, I can get one more person to invest, and then I'll just pay everybody back and then I'll just pay that person back. And it won't be a big deal." But, but even still, it was like, "No, this, this isn't going to work, dude. This is a federal crime."
Nora McInerny: So what he says right there, Marcel. It did not click for me in the moment, but this is from that same court document that we read:
Mr. Goodman suggests that these steps in late 2020 reflect “an unusually
heightened level of acceptance of responsibility,” such that he should not serve even one day in custody. However, the undisputed record in the [pre-sentence report] reveals that Mr. Goodman’s conduct in the waning months of 2020 was mixed and was not entirely the “180-degree about face” that he now suggests.
I love how this lawyer writes. I feel like I'm reading a mystery.
Notably, despite his awareness of investigations into his conduct, Mr. Goodman continued to use victims’ money through November 2020 to pay for expenses toward his future Plymouth residence, and through October 2020 to pay for expenses for his unrelated MoneyVerbs business.
I’m gonna have you read the next two paragraphs, because I want to get your reactions on tape.
Marcel Malekebu: Moreover, even though Mr. Goodman was subject to a consent order suspending his investment advisor license with the State of Minnesota effective November 16, 2020, Mr. Goodman nonetheless further solicited $30,000 in funds from KK on November 6, 2020, and November 18, 2020, as a purported investment in MoneyVerbs with an agreement that KK’s investment would ultimately be moved to Becoming Financial for KK to become a client.
Marcel Malekebu: Lord Jesus. This dude doesn’t stop. I mean he does have to keep the lights on, so I do appreciate him keeping the flights on through this tumultuous time for MoneyVerbs.
Marcel Malekebu: In between the window of time when Mr. Goodman learned he was under federal investigation on November 23, 2020, and his December 4, 2020 meeting with federal investigators, Mr. Goodman brazenly solicited and received an additional $30,000 in liquidated stock from KK on December 1, 2020, as a purported loan. None of these funds have been repaid to KK, and Mr. Goodman clearly sought these funds (from an investment client, no less) at a time when he knew he faced federal criminal charges (and a suspended license) and when he knew he had no ability to pay KK back anything.
Marcel Malekebu: [Sigh.] So, essentially, even when he knew the jig was up, he was still finessing people. He was STILL TAKING MONEY FROM PEOPLE TO USE FOR HIMSELF AND HIS FAMILY. So all of this sort of fabricated stuff about him taking a laudable action and turning himself in doesn’t really make any sense when he’s still committing crimes and lying to people after the fact.
Nora McInerny: There’s so much dissonance between his version of reality and the court’s version of reality.
Marcel Malekebu: REALITY’S version of reality! It’s not even the court’s version. It’s just reality versus…
Nora McInerny: The reality. The reality. The reality.
Marcel Malekebu: Versus his universe. His cinematic universe in his brain about what is happening. And while Isaiah’s actively stealing from clients … he makes a video called “How To Avoid A Scam.” So Nora asked him about that.
Isaiah Goodman: I started lying to myself. And so then somewhere along the line, lying to other people was, it was just normal.
Nora McInerny: So, you end up turning yourself in. When do you end up telling your wife, telling your kids? There's a long, long wait between you being charged and you, like, being sentenced, and then a long way between you being sentenced and going to prison, and how do you tell somebody that, you know, you're married to, "I've been keeping this big secret. And it's really going to blow up everything that we have."
Isaiah Goodman: There's a couple of different ways that we could have pursued it. I told her, "Hey, if I turn myself in, it's going to speed things up. You know, the process is going to be a lot easier, faster, more direct. If we try to go to trial, and it could take a couple of years, and I could be home for a couple of years, but then the situation might get worse and I could be away for longer." And so, you know, I think just being vulnerable and being honest about here's what I did. Here's why I think I did it. She was obviously upset. She was mad, but also, she was very loving. And her most important thing was, "Hey, we're going to be here for you." Because you had mentioned how bad you felt when your business failed. And sorry, I'm feeling emotional, because I'm remembering these thoughts. Brene Brown talks about shame, feeling like you are bad, like you are a bad person. And so I went through a period last year where I was very suicidal because I had a life insurance policy that could have paid everything off and I would have been gone, but everybody would have got paid back. And so, you know, feeling like a bad person, I thought I could fix it. And, you know, she was like, "Hey, we need you here, we want you here. You're enough." And so for me, that was the big thing where it was like, OK, I know that the next few years are going to really, really suck, but there's going to be some good that comes on the other side of it. And so now I'm working through some other areas around, you know, guilt and humiliation, where I'm not necessarily a bad person, but I did something bad. And so I can work through a bad action and, you know, improve myself. So I told her first. We were able to work with the prosecution, the FBI and everybody and kind of tell them the details. And then it was about six months until sentencing. And then, you know, the sentencing until I had to turn myself in to the facility. And then we told our kids once we knew, like what the timeline look like. We would were able to just tell the kids like, "Here's what's going on," because we didn't want to give them too many details without knowing specifics.
Nora McInerny: You said in the sentencing, "I want to make people whole." What would that mean? What does that mean?
Isaiah Goodman: Well, you know, I think the first thing is, again, being honest and true to myself is knowing that it's going to take a long time. You know, something inside of me is like, "Oh man. The first year that I get out, I'm going to pay everybody back, and it'll all be OK." That's not realistic. You know? So knowing that it's going to take a long time and being willing to do the work is probably the first step. The next big thing is just thinking about what's the right way to do it that works with my skills. So for example, like I said, being a minister, being a teacher, being a coach, doing something that I'm good at that can help a lot of other people and hopefully help other people avoid the mistakes that I made, so if I can do sort of, pay back my debt and help help people, I think that's going to be the best thing for me in the long run.
Nora McInerny: You mentioned, you know, punitive justice. What you mentioned about dogs is also, I mean, there's been research. It doesn't work for children either. You know, it doesn't work for- nobody feels better after they get shit on, truly. What your kid learns is like, OK, I just, I have to hide this, right? I have to hide this part of myself, or they learn, “I am bad. And if I am bad, I cannot be loved. I am not worthy.” And so it really does sort of create this kind of nihilism. While at the same time, so many parents and any sort of like religious parent too is like, “Oh, grace and forgiveness,” and yet will like, “You have to go to your room. And now you won't get a cookie.” It doesn't actually help people. And then at the same time, it's like, what do you do with a Bernie Madoff? We're not dogs, right? And so what do you do when somebody is … for years, like you were like, taking money from people and using it in the wrong ways and like, what is the alternate? Like there does have to be some sort of consequence. What is the natural consequence, if not like, well, you do go to prison, or you do lose your house. I don't know if you've thought about that at all, but that's something that like, we're also untangling as a group over here.
Isaiah Goodman: I've definitely, I've thought a lot about it, and I think the first thing for restorative justice is to get all the stakeholders involved. Hearing a lot of the victims at the sentencing say, "Hey, I think a couple of years makes sense." You know, I agree, I was guilty, but I think they also understood four or five, six, seven years doesn't make sense for them, because the likelihood, the probability of them getting paid back goes down. You know, also, statistics show that every year in prison is likely to reduce your life expectancy by about a year and a half. So you've got these factors where it's like the longer that somebody goes away, the less likely that they're going to live a long, healthy life and that they're going to pay their debt back. So I think there's got to be something in between where there's got to be some consequences, but maybe we could say, "Hey, a lot of those consequences have to come in the hours of community service or, a certain amount of your income being paid back,” just some other sort of way to do rehabilitation. And then I think finding those root causes. For example, I've started to understand why I made my mistakes. Can we get to the high school and college level to teach people about those feelings so that they can understand them before they make the same mistakes I made? Something I'm really trying to do with, with my kids now is teach them about the things that I'm learning, like those little wins, you know? If my son can grow up thinking about little wins, that's going to be more than I had. And I think that'll be great.
Nora McInerny: I want to talk about the sentencing. I've never been to a sentencing. It was a first for both of us. What really, I think, stood out to me — I had a notebook, I was like, just taking furious notes — is how everybody really did see you as a person. And what that felt like to hear some of those stories told by people who really did, like Mr. Gonzales, especially, like he really did care about you as a person too.
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, it was extremely tough. And I think one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today was to just send my sincere apologies and let everybody know that I cared about them too. When we talked about financial plans, I wanted to understand how I could help people. And I really did genuinely help almost everybody that got sort of entangled into my issues. We talked about major goals, we talked about how to budget, we talked about how to do things that were good, and I cared about their families. But out of my desperation, I saw this opportunity, where I was like, "Oh, they've got some money that I could use." And so it was kind of like that dichotomy like, "Hey, I can help them plan, but I'm just going to borrow this money for a little bit, and then we'll pay it back and everything will be fine." And so I think that what's really tough too is, you know, I do want everybody to know that I care about their well-being, and I wanted them to be good, but I thought that I could borrow the money in a way that nobody would get hurt.
Marcel Malekebu: So here’s my thing: Learning how to make a vision board and talking about your feelings with money doesn’t outweigh having thousands and thousands of dollars of your own hard-earned money STOLEN from you. And not even just your money, but the actual GROWTH your money would have had. Because any restitution will not reflect the growth that the money would have had if it had been legitimately invested like Isaiah said it was. It only reflects what was stolen. And over a period of 10 years, which for some victims will be the length of time between the fraud and Isaiah getting out of prison, that money could have GROWN grown.
Nora McInerny: Yes, like seriously grown. And we know on this show, in life, many things can be true at once. It might very well be true that he does care about people and that he truly didn’t think that they would be hurt by him taking their money and putting it into his OWN PERSONAL ACCOUNTS. But it really, really hurt them.
Isaiah Goodman: Those sort of ripple effects, right, where I thought that I could do something and make everything OK quickly enough. And as it sort of unraveled, that guilt came pressing down where it was like, "Man, you really messed up a lot of people's lives." It's something that I might not be able to fix soon enough. So I might be able to pay them back eventually, but you know, some people might have passed away or moved away or done different things with their lives if they wouldn't have been victimized. You know, that's something that I'll just have to, have to live with, and it's going to be tough.
Nora McInerny: That one was tough to hear, I think, because, you know, that was so much money. Like $400,000 from one person is so much money, and like, they're so old, they have no hope of earning it back.
Isaiah Goodman: Well, I think one thing to put it into perspective: In my mind, I didn't feel like that was a lot, because I saw how much it costs to start up an app and start up a company. And so now you say that and I'm like, "Holy cow, like, that's awful." But in the mindset that I was in, it was like, "Man, I'm going to need a couple more million dollars to make this thing really take off." And you look at a company like Uber, right? Uber literally just made its first profit since it started. [Nora: Yeah.] Think about that.
Isaiah Goodman: I saw an example like Uber, where it was like, all right, you know, some white guys from Silicon Valley could take 10 years to make a profit, but they could get billions of dollars to help. If I borrow a couple of million dollars and pay everybody back, and I make it big, then I'm successful. Then I did it too. And so obviously now I see that that was not right. That was wrong. But what I thought was something that was unfair against me because I couldn't get those big investor friends. I tried to manipulate and try to do it on my own.
Nora McInerny: But the thing about investors in Uber is that they know they’re investing in Uber. They’re aware of the risk. They’re aware of those investments. They have the money to spare, to throw into a company that might not ever make money. That’s how venture capital works. That’s how private equity works. I think. I don’t know what either of those phrases mean. But none of Isaiah’s clients knew that they were funding his business. And really, they were. So I asked Isaiah how much of the stolen money went into the business vs. into his own lifestyle. And he told us …
Isaiah Goodman: I'd say probably about 80, 75, 80 percent went towards business endeavors. You know, across the board, we had dozens of employees and contractors paid millions of dollars to try to get the platform off the ground for Money Verbs. So most of it, and this is also where it felt really weird, is, you know, I was taking money from people who had it saved up that they didn't want to touch it for a long time. And I was paying people wages. So people were paying month to month rent and food and gas and, you know, stuff like that. So somewhere, I guess I said, "All right, this is OK," right? "I'm helping these people live their month-to-month by borrowing money from these people that aren't going to touch it for a long time." So a lot of it went to the business. And then again, you know, part of it went towards what I thought would compensate for me to feel successful.
Marcel Malekebu: So, we’re gonna do another fact check. That is in fact all false. According to court documents, he spent only $109,000 on payroll to employees of MoneyVerbs. He spent over half a million on consultants for MoneyVerbs and Becoming Financial, his financial planning business. MOST of the money was spent on himself and his family. Those are facts.
Nora McInerny: And this is where Marcel pops into the interview, because he is not getting finessed the way I was. I wasn't even being a good cop. I was being a good friend.
Marcel Malekebu: Isaiah, this is Marcel, I’m the producer in the background. I had a couple questions, too, because I had the benefit of talking to Reverend Gonzales and being at the sentencing and all that. You know, I'm not as knowledgeable as you, because you know, you are in the financial world, but I think that after this ... after you served your time, I don't believe you can quite work in the same field, is that right?
Isaiah Goodman: Correct. So that was a part of the agreement with the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, is that I can no longer be a financial adviser.
Marcel Malekebu: One thing that I think we haven't touched on, Nora, that I kind of want to ask Isaiah, because like, you're the most qualified person to speak on this. You know, for context, I am a waffle-colored man such as yourself, you know? [Isaiah chuckles.] And a lot of the victims involved with this are Black people. Some of the courses that you were teaching, some of the financial planning stuff you were teaching was geared towards like people of color. It's like, man, these were Black people that you were doing this to. You know what I'm saying? So like, I hear what you're saying about the whole like, Uber, and of course, like there are many devils doing all kinds of devilishment across the landscape of the United States and within capitalism. But my question is: How do you reconcile this being a lot of Black people that you took advantage of or, you know, thought that you could, like you thought you could remedy it, but you were sort of like gambling at the chance that you could, you know, get these people back. Because it's not like you were only doing this or something like that with like, wealthy white people or something like that.
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, I think, you know, to be very candid, the wealthy white people already had financial advisers. It was very, very opportunistic, where it was like, "Hey, you know, the people that have a bunch of money that are, you know, wealthy white people, they've got somebody that they've passed down from their family for years and years and years." And I think that's also why I was so insecure for the first five years of my financial planning career, because I felt like a lot of the people that I tried to get in touch with, that would be good clients, didn't want to work with me because I was a person of color. And so as I grew my business legitimately, I found it really, really easy to work with a lot of people of color. But then obviously I started taking advantage illegitimately, because it was sort of there for the picking. And so I think that's something that meant, you know, eventually I want to be able to say, "Hey, here's some ways to prevent this." I think that that might have been why I even did some of those videos, where it was like, "This is bad." I see an opportunity maybe someday to talk to the FBI and give them some tips, because I think there's some things that they could do to help, you know, with the SEC to help prevent this sort of stuff down the road.
Nora McInerny: What are some of those things?
Isaiah Goodman: You know, I think the most important thing that people gotta do is if you're in a situation where you're transferring a significant sum of money, there's got to be some sort of a third party involved. You know, for me, it was this front, this cover of like, "Hey, I've got my business." But any time you're talking investing, there's got to be what's called a custodian. So, for example, even if you invest with a financial adviser who's legitimate and everything, the money goes to a custodian, and the financial adviser trades in that account. You know, the other big things are just thinking very, very patiently, right? So a lot of what I was trying to do was very urgent. “Hey, we gotta make stuff happen soon.” And you know, as an adviser, I should be talking 10-, 20-, 30-year timeframes. And so things shouldn't be in a rush.
Marcel Malekebu: Do you think it was not only easier for you in terms of like, working with people of color, it was easier just because A., like, culture and a face? You know what I'm saying? Looking more like someone they can trust. But do you think it was easier because no one cares about Black victims, too? Like, do you think it would have, like, someone would have caught on faster or like, what's your perspective on that?
Isaiah Goodman: I see what you're saying about the Black victims. I don't think from a financial advisory standpoint, it was like people wouldn't care about Black victims. But I think people didn't care about people of color's net worth. So, you know, to all of the victims, whatever amount they had, that was a lot, right? The average financial adviser usually isn't talking to people unless they have several hundred thousand dollar investments. That's really where there's this separation of the haves and the have nots is people won't even get a meeting with the financial adviser unless they could potentially roll over $500,000. And so I think that was the gap that I found was, hey, people who don't have a high net worth quote unquote, nobody's helping them. And I could help them, so to speak. But then I was, you know, pretending.
Marcel Malekebu: So you're gonna work on paying people back when you get out? That’s- I can't say what I would do in your position, because I have no clue. I don't think I'd ever be in that position, but it could be- I feel like I'd almost chalk it up to the game and just try to, like, do something else, because of how much money. Do you feel, like, hopeful that you can, like, at least put a dent in it or like, do something?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, I do. I do. I really, truly believe that I can make a significant impact in paying those people back, because of my skills and talents and abilities beyond the financial sector. I think I have the capability to earn enough money, you know, over the next few decades to live a decent lifestyle with my family and to pay these people back.
Nora McInerny: And do you know what, like the process is for that? Like, what happens to like, your house? Like, where do your kids live? What happens to all the stuff? And like, how quickly does that happen and how scary is that?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, it's super scary. So we were actually able to sort of refinance the house so that our kids could stay in the same neighborhood and go to the same school. Essentially, we took all the equity out, and that went towards paying the victims back. So that was a neat way to be able to say, "Hey, the gain that we would have had from the house of selling it, we forfeited that." So, you know, there were some good things that we were able to do, where it was like, the profit from the sale of the house was the same amount regardless, so we got that to the victims fund, so to speak. But then we were able to keep the kids in the same place. You know, cars and stuff like that, bank accounts, other investments all had to be liquidated. And, you know, to me, that's ... that was the ultimate failure, right? Like, this is as bad as it can get, is everything that I was afraid of, of not being enough, not being good, it happened. The ultimate failure, right? I'm in federal prison with zero dollars. So for me, it's like, OK, I can only go up from here. This is … this is as bad as it gets. And down the road, it's a process. I think, unfortunately, how government works, even if I was able to write a check the day I got out for a couple of million bucks and pay everybody back, they still probably would take several weeks to get paid back.
Marcel Malekebu: And you’re probably wondering at this point, how WILL PEOPLE GET PAID BACK? Will they ever actually get paid back? And unfortunately, the answer is… probably never. As of this moment, Celisia hasn’t gotten any money back. The Gonzales family said they got about $2,000 in a check. The Goodmans arranged the sale of their house to an LLC, and they still live in it.
Nora McInerny: In one of the court documents that I’m now going to paraphrase, the prosecuting attorney basically said all of the things that they’re selling, they never belonged to them anyways. They’re selling things that were never supposed to be theirs. But from court documents, it looks like the government was able to recover about: $182,000 out of their house (the main residence, not the one that they were building); about $2,700 out of some bank accounts; a gold diamond Tiffany ring; the Ford Expedition; about $58K of the money they put down on the new build; about $3,600 in cruise certificates. And that’s about $246,000, or about 11% of the money he stole. Eleven percent, Marcel. The rest of it is just—
Marcel Malekebu: That’s such a crazy amount of money that is just out in the ether. [Nora: Poof. Gone.] And none of these victims are benefitting from it.
Nora McInerny: For the record, we did also reach out to Isaiah’s wife. I had followed her on Instagram for I think years. Did not put it all together until it was later. We sent her a message through the show’s Instagram account, because we couldn’t find an email for her. Not because we expected her to want to regurgitate a traumatic year of her and her children’s life to a bunch of strangers but because it is the right thing to do, to at least give somebody the opportunity to respond to something. She, uh, blocked me — my personal account. And, ya know, that’s fine! She’s since deleted all of her accounts. She’s not on the internet anymore.
And I mean, now she’s gotta raise four kids on her own for seven years. Marcel, you asked him about that.
Marcel Malekebu: I have one last question, which is: Was it worth it?
Isaiah Goodman: No, no, of course not. I don't know if you have kids, but Nora, it sounds like you have kids. Gosh, I'm about to cry. They're growing up without me. It's not worth it. That's it.
Marcel Malekebu: How old are your kids right now?
Isaiah Goodman: Eight, six and almost 3 — I got twins that are almost 3.
Marcel Malekebu: So the 3-year-olds will be about 10?
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, if I serve the full sentence. You know, there's a lot going on. What we're hoping for is there's a bill called the First Step Act. And, you know, working hours can hopefully reduce your sentence time. And so with good time, with working credits and things like that, hopefully, we're counting on, you know, four or five years instead of seven.
Nora McInerny: Yeah. Even one year's a lot.
Isaiah Goodman: Yeah, I think, again, there's got to be some sort of in-between where I'm not sure if you guys know how halfway houses work, but you're able to go out into the community, work, and then you have to be back at a certain time every night. And you know, I think that there could be a lot more opportunities for stuff like that for non-violent offenders where there's a controlled environment. You gotta check in and you got to do urine analysis, all that sort of stuff. I think that could be a really good long-term solution for non-violent offenders. Right now, most halfway houses, you can only stay about six months. So if there is a way to extend that, to say, you know, hey, you might not have to go to prison for several years, but you got to stay in this area that you don't want to be, so that we can can monitor things, that might be another way to to take a step toward some restorative justice.
Nora McInerny: Because it's also, like, the kids are victims.
Isaiah Goodman: Bingo. And that's really it is, you know, like I said, that earthquake that I was at the epicenter, where we've got the victims, we've got my family, we've got business associates who, who did have legitimate stuff going on with us, and then all the friends. There's a lot more stakeholders than just, you know, the couple of people that are nearly around me. There's, there's hundreds of people that got affected.
Nora McInerny: This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I'm Nora McInerny.
Marcel Malekebu: And I’m Marcel Malekebu.
Nora McInerny: Marcel, who else is on our team? Let’s see if you can do it from memory and quickly. Let’s see how fast you can do the credits from memory.
Marcel Malekebu: Yeah! Our production team is Jordan Turgeon, Jeyca Maldonado-Media, Megan Palmer. We are a production of APM Studios. Executive producer Beth Pearlman. Executives in charge Lily Kim, Alex Shaffert, and Joanne Griffith. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson.
Nora McInerny: This episode was recorded at Malekebu Studios in St. Paul, Minnesota and McInerny Studios in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where my neighbor is just … doing lawn care. Doing lawn care, as if this neighborhood has not been zoned for podcasting only. This neighborhood is a quiet space meant for people to record their thoughts and stories in peace, so I will be doing literally nothing about this.