The wild plot involved faking his own death, stealing the identity of a Florida attorney, using an app to disguise his voice, and pretending to have prostate cancer, bone cancer, and a brain aneurysm.
Unemployed Virginia man Russell Louis Geyer was so determined to hide his assets in bankruptcy proceedings, he even threw his own wife under the bus—duping her into handing over $70,000 and using her email address to inform an attorney he was dead.
Geyer, 50, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to contempt of court, bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity fraud. He faces up to life in prison.
“In an effort to game the bankruptcy system, Mr. Geyer devised a made-for-TV plot that ultimately collapsed under its own weight,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in a statement.
Geyer and his wife, Patricia Sue Geyer, from Saltville, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in late 2018, listing liabilities of $532,583.80, according to court documents.
They were behind on payments for three of their four vehicles, for both their home and a rental property they owned, and for most of their furniture. They hadn’t paid electricity bills, bank overdrafts, credit card bills, and dozens of medical bills, and more than 50 creditors were chasing them for everything from their 65-inch TV to their Kawasaki ZX1000 motorbike.
At one point in the bankruptcy proceedings, Geyer told his lawyer, John Lamie, he’d gone to the Mayo Clinic in Florida to be treated for prostate cancer, but it had spread to his bones and he intended to stop treatment.
Four months later, according to a criminal complaint, he told Lamie he was now in a hospice in Florida after treatment failed. He said his wife was there, too, and had undergone bypass surgery for a heart condition. She wasn’t cleared to drive back to Virginia, he claimed.
Then, a few days before September 5, 2019, when Geyer was due to appear in person at a bankruptcy hearing, Lamie received an email from Geyer’s wife. Her husband was dead, it said. He’d apparently had a brain aneurysm in June while being transported back from Florida after his chemotherapy treatments.
Around the same time, Geyer’s attorney got a threatening email from an attorney in Florida who said he’d sold the assets that debtors were trying to recover in the bankruptcy case. “[Patricia] doesn’t know anything about this, and neither does Russell,” the email said. “I have complete control of Russell and told him to kill himself. You will not find him in time.” He ended the email by saying: “I am on a plane out of the country.”
However, investigators later found that the Florida attorney whose name was used in the email existed but had nothing to do with the case. Geyer had simply set up a bogus email account using his name.
He even used the attorney’s identity to fleece his wife, a registered nurse who earned $3,200 a month, for $70,000. Geyer told his wife he’d won a $1 million settlement in Florida in an unrelated court case but needed her to pay $70,000 in legal fees for the money to be released.
He used the bogus email address and an app that disguised his voice to pose as the Florida attorney and confirm the settlement was imminent. “It was all untrue,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia said in a statement on Thursday.
The plot unraveled on Sept. 4, the day before the bankruptcy hearing, when a process server visited the couple’s Saltville home to give them a notice to appear.
The home was empty but, just as the process server was leaving, Geyer and his wife arrived home in their car and got out—far from the Florida hospice he had claimed to be languishing in.
The next day, Patricia Geyer, who said she’d largely let her husband deal with the bankruptcy case, left home to attend the court hearing about an hour after her husband. He never showed up.
She told the court she had no idea about her husband’s wild story. She said they hadn’t been in Florida recently, she hadn’t had bypass surgery, and her husband didn’t have cancer. The first time she’d heard of her husband’s supposed death was two days earlier, when Lamie called her to say he’d heard about Geyer’s passing.
“A few days ago, [Lamie] called me at work,” she said under cross-examination in court. “I got a message to call him. So I immediately called him and then he told me all this stuff about Russell being dead and all that. It just floored me, so I had no clue.”
“Where’s Mr. Geyer now?” a judge asked her.
“I couldn’t tell you, because he left the house this morning an hour, hour before me. And he was supposed to come down here and be here at 10:30, and then when I ended up here, he wasn't here. So I don’t know.”
After that day in court, she only ever received text messages from Geyer saying he was in a hospital in West Virginia following a suicide attempt.
Geyer was tracked down two weeks later and charged with criminal offenses. He underwent a psychiatric evaluation as part of the criminal case but was found to be competent to stand trial.
“Despite its complexity and shameless use of deceit, including against his own wife, Mr. Geyer’s scheme failed to account for the FBI’s and the US Attorney’s office’s commitment to protect both fraud victims and our judicial system,” FBI Special Agent David W. Archey said.