A 50-year-old man in Virginia “went to great lengths” to convince the court system and his own attorney that he was dead, according to federal prosecutors.
Now he’s going to prison.
Russell Geyer of Saltville, Virginia — just over the North Carolina border — was sentenced Thursday to nine years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to contempt of court, bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity fraud earlier this year, prosecutors said in a news release.
Geyer is accused of committing a laundry list of transgressions, from faking illnesses and preying on his wife to posing as an attorney in Florida using a voice-changing app.
“The definition of a con artist is a person who cheats or tricks others by persuading them to believe something other than the truth for financial gain. Russell Geyer is a shining example of a con artist,” prosecutors said in sentencing documents. “His history of being a con artist is extensive.”
The scheme dates back to August 2018, when Geyer and his wife declared bankruptcy in the Western District of Virginia.
During the course of the bankruptcy proceeding, Geyer’s attorney told the court his client had “experienced serious health problems” and “ceased receiving medical treatment” for prostate and bone cancer.
Prosecutors said Geyer later told his attorney he was in hospice in Florida and his wife had joined him.
A motion filed with the court indicated he died on June 13, 2019.
Geyer’s lies unraveled during a court hearing before a federal bankruptcy judge in September 2019.
His attorney in the bankruptcy proceeding never received a death certificate and was skeptical of whether Geyer had actually died, according to court filings. He then issued a subpoena requiring Geyer to appear in court, baffling the judge overseeing their case.
“All right, I want to know how you can subpoena somebody who’s supposedly dead,” the judge asked during the hearing, according to a transcript.
The attorney had reportedly reached out to Geyer’s wife at her place of work when he received an email from Geyer after his purported death, the transcript states. She told him Geyer was not dead and neither of them had been in Florida.
“He told me all this stuff about Russell being dead and all that,” she told the court during the September hearing. “It just floored me, so I had no clue.”
The wife said she’d seen Geyer at home before the hearing that morning and had expected to meet him at court.
The hearing lasted a better part of the day, ending after Geyer’s attorney read aloud a letter purportedly from another attorney in Florida.
The letter stated this attorney had sold some of the bankruptcy assets without Geyer or his wife’s knowledge as well as taken “complete control of Russell and told him to kill himself.” It concluded with the attorney saying he was getting “on a plane out of the country.”
Geyer’s wife told the court she recognized the attorney as Geyer’s legal counsel in a separate case in Florida involving the death of his daughter and a large settlement.
The judge subsequently called the U.S. attorney’s office.
“I’ve got a year’s worth of hearings here where representations have been made that have been false — patently false, now,” the judge said during the hearing. “And I’m gonna get to the bottom of it. How I do that, I’m not exactly sure yet.”
‘A complete hoax’
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Geyer within a week of the September hearing. He was arrested on Sept. 23.
Investigators determined the Florida attorney who was skipping town after telling Geyer to kill himself was a real person — “but he had nothing to do with the case,” prosecutors said in Friday’s news release.
“Instead, Russell Geyer used the Florida attorney’s name and a bogus email account to send these emails without the Florida attorney’s knowledge,” the release states.
He also used the attorney’s identity to trick his wife.
Geyer’s “only intent in his relationship with (his wife) was to prey upon her,” prosecutors said.
Before they were married, Geyer was reportedly convicted of fraudulently using her credit cards. He later told her he was expecting more than $1 million from the wrongful death lawsuit in Florida after his daughter from a previous relationship was killed by a drunk driver, court filings state.
But he needed at least $70,000 from his wife to pay the legal fees, prosecutors said. Geyer reportedly used an app to disguise his voice and pretended to be the attorney in Florida to convince his wife the settlement was real.
“The truth is, the defendant’s daughter was never in a fatal car accident and is living today,” court filings state. “The wrongful death story, along with the expectation of a multi-million dollar settlement, was a complete hoax”.
Sentencing and restitution
Geyer pleaded guilty to the charges in March.
According to a sentencing request defense attorneys filed on his behalf that pointed to a troubled childhood, poor health and problems with his mental health, Geyer was seeking less than three years in prison for his crimes.
“Russell states that he had multiple other health issues, including gallbladder surgery, a pimple on his neck which became septic, a tennis ball sized cyst on his right front lobe that was removed and a shunt placed in his head and finally that he was hit in the head with a rock in 1978,” the motion states.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, sought a sentence above the recommended range.
“The defendant’s criminal history reflects his disregard for the law, his fellow human beings, and the court system,” they said.
A federal judge settled on a nine-year sentence, and Geyer was ordered to pay $147,192 in restitution — including $70,000 to his wife.
The couple are currently separated, according to court filings.