Courts

Whitefish Security CEO Pleads Guilty to Federal Crimes in Scheme to Defraud Billionaire Goguen

Matthew A. Marshall accepted a plea agreement that calls for $3 million in restitution and a reduced prison term; sentencing is set for March 3

By Tristan Scott
Matthew A. Marshall, left, and his attorney, Justin Gelfand, exit the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse in Missoula on Nov. 10 after a change-of-plea hearing during which Marshall admitted to criminal charges of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Tristan Scott | Flathead Beacon

MISSOULA — Matthew A. Marshall, the 51-year-old Whitefish man who conned venture capitalist Michael Goguen out of millions of dollars by claiming to be a former CIA agent engaged in covert missions around the world, pleaded guilty on Nov. 10 to federal crimes of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

In exchange for his guilty pleas, federal prosecutors have agreed to recommend the dismissal of eight additional counts charged in the indictment, as well as forgo a condition of asset and property forfeiture.

Appearing for the change-of-plea hearing in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Marshall and his private defense attorney, Justin K. Gelfand of Margulis Gelfand, LLC, responded to a line of questioning by Judge Donald Molloy intended to assure the court that Marshall was not admitting to the crimes under any duress.

“Did anyone threaten your family?” Molloy asked Marshall, who paused before answering “no.”

“Was that a pause or was that you thinking?” Molloy pressed, underscoring the complexity of a case initially charged in July 2020, and which prosecutors have twice amended after bringing superseding indictments before a grand jury. During the course of the proceedings, which have spanned nearly 18 months and included confidential disclosures under the Classified Information Procedure Act, a law used for national security prosecutions, Marshall has also changed attorneys and filed a civil lawsuit against Goguen.

Still, he said he was admitting to the crimes under his own volition because the admissions are true, as well as “in an effort to put this behind myself and my family.”

“I think this is the best course of action,” Marshall, wearing a dark suit and mask, told Molloy.

Despite the revisions by prosecutors to the initial indictment, the basic framework of the charges has remains unchanged, raising as yet unanswered questions about the specifics of Marshall’s scheme and the terms under which Goguen, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, accepted it.

The indictment outlines a scheme beginning in April 2013 in which Marshall fraudulently convinced Goguen, referred to in documents as a businessman and employer to Marshall named “John Doe,” that he was an ex-CIA agent and member of an elite Force Reconnaissance unit in the U.S. Marine Corps. Marshall told Goguen he had “engaged in covert missions around the world” and asked him to fund an “off the books” paramilitary mission in Mexico, according to a Nov. 4 offer of proof submitted by prosecutors. None of those assertions are true, according to the filing, which does not provide additional details; however, sources with direct knowledge of the case said the missions involved purported anti-terrorism security operations.

According to prosecutors, Marshall received an “Other Than Honorable” discharge from the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1999 after accumulating 82 absences from inactive duty training. 

Believing Marshall, Goguen agreed and wired him $400,000 on April 25, 2013. Marshall subsequently asked Goguen for money for four other purported missions between October 2013 and March 2016 “based on Marshall’s material misstatements that he would use the money for the missions,” according to the offer of proof.

“Marshall did not use the money … for any missions, to Mexico or anywhere else,” the document states. “Instead, he spent the money on personal expenses and loans and gifts to friends and family members, among other expenditures.”

At the change-of-plea hearing, under further questioning from Molloy, Marshall confirmed that the purported missions were bogus.

“Mr. Goguen wired the money under the belief that the money was being used to conduct special operations in Mexico,” Marshall said. “And it wasn’t true.”

The plea agreement recommends that Marshall pay Goguen restitution in the amount of $2,355,000 for the alleged wire fraud scheme and $899,327 to the Internal Revenue Service for the tax evasion charge. The final figure of fraud restitution will be determined at sentencing. The agreement also recommends a three-level reduction in Marshall’s offense under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, although the court is not bound by any of the recommendations laid out in the plea agreement.

Even if Molloy agrees to the terms of the plea agreement, Marshall still faces a maximum prison sentence of 35 years in prison and more than a half-million dollars in fines. Federal sentencing guidelines ultimately dictate the sentencing parameters, however, and Molloy emphasized that he is not bound by any of the recommendations.

Moreover, by pleading guilty on Nov. 10 Marshall gave up his right to appeal the sentence, as well as his right to a jury trial.

“If you don’t like the sentence that I impose, you can’t change your mind,” Molloy told Marshall. “Do you understand that?”

Marshall, who is married with three dependent children, ages 18, 4 and 2, said that he did understand.

Molloy scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 3 at 11 a.m., prior to which Marshall will be subject to a pre-sentence investigation and report. Pending sentencing, Marshall will remain free on his own recognizance on a court-imposed bond. Having surrendered his passport, he is not deemed a flight risk, Molloy said.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy J. Racicot and Ryan G. Weldon are prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation and FBI.

In addition to Marshall’s alleged criminal misdeeds, his relationship with Goguen has had other ramifications in Whitefish, including a direct connection to former Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial, who retired abruptly in August after leading the department for two decades. Shortly after Dial’s retirement, the state Justice Department’s watchdog bureau responsible for overseeing law enforcement training and certification in Montana, the Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), leveled allegations of official misconduct against him.

Those allegations are supported by hundreds of text messages exchanged between Dial and Marshall that appear to show the men conspiring to tarnish Goguen’s reputation. The connection between Goguen, Marshall and Dial emerged when the former police chief filed a civil lawsuit against Goguen in December 2019. Goguen is also the defendant in a lawsuit that Marshall filed in September 2021.

The POST complaint against Dial accuses the former police chief of colluding with Marshall to entrap a fellow Whitefish police officer; falsifying information and lying to city, state and federal investigators; and allowing Marshall, an “unvetted civilian with no POST certification or law enforcement credentials,” physical access to the Whitefish Police Department, access to information on confidential and ongoing police investigations, and access to confidential criminal justice information that is protected by state law.

Although Dial was initially given a Sept. 29 deadline to respond to the allegations, he has twice asked for more time and the case is still pending.

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