By Josh Wood and Dave Kolpack
WILLISTON, N.D. — A convicted con man who swindled Nashville, Tennessee, businesses out of five-star hotel rooms, stretch limousine rides, helicopter rentals and expensive gifts didn't fare quite as well during a month in the North Dakota oil patch, investigators contend.
Steven Goldmann's attempt to pass himself off as an FBI agent netted him free coffee, a government rate at a budget hotel and dog treats for his bogus K-9 unit, according to court documents released last week. He's currently behind bars awaiting trial on federal charges.
Investigators say Goldmann, 26, rolled into Williston, North Dakota, this spring in a silver Chevrolet Tahoe with a police-style light bar attached to the front windshield. He regularly displayed a gun, holster, mace and badge, prosecutors say, and showed up one day at the Boomtown Babes Espresso shop with a passenger who was handcuffed.
Goldmann made frequent visits to the coffee shop, where the baristas dress in tight, revealing clothing and law enforcement officers receive free coffee. But workers there told The Associated Press that they could tell he wasn't a cop.
"When you're an officer you carry a certain air about you. He didn't have it," manager Angela Neuman said. Rather, she said, "he looked like a scumbag."
Goldmann has pleaded not guilty to four counts of impersonating an officer and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His lawyers say Goldmann is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his Air Force service in Iraq.
The rich Bakken oil fields have lured thousands of fortune-seekers to western North Dakota, most looking to make an honest living. But the boom has also led to an increase of both organized crime and "fraudsters and con artists who see the growth in the Bakken as fertile ground for their scams," says Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota. He would not comment specifically on the Goldmann case.
Williston police began looking into Goldmann's activities in March after an interview with a hotel manager on an unrelated matter. The manager told police Goldmann had portrayed himself as a federal K-9 officer who provided drug interdiction services for a fee to local businesses, court documents show.
A records check determined Goldmann was wanted in Tennessee for violating terms of probation on a theft of services conviction. Goldmann pleaded guilty in July 2013 to felony theft of services charges in Nashville, telling people he was a successful businessman and conning a real estate company, fashion designer, vintage guitar shop, limousine company, a hotel and a helicopter rental company — among others — out of tens of thousands of dollars.
"He was quite colorful down here and he fleeced folks of some various goods and services," Susan Niland, spokeswoman for the Nashville district attorney's office, previously told The Associated Press.
Goldmann was given no jail time and was instead ordered to pay back the victims. An arrest warrant was issued Jan. 8 after he failed to follow through.
The military veteran had been flagged by authorities before, wanted for writing bad checks in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Montana. He was charged in Payne County, Oklahoma, in May 2011, court documents show. That was just a month before his four-year stint with the Air Force ended at Vance Air Force Base, according to Air Force spokesman Mike Dickerson. Dickerson said he could not say whether Goldmann was honorably discharged, citing federal privacy laws.
Goldmann showed up at Boomtown Babes as many as four times a day. They limited him to one free serving a day and eventually cut him after the staff suspected he wasn't a law enforcement officer, Neuman said. On one visit to the coffee shop, there was "an older male in the passenger seat" who was handcuffed, an affidavit says, but it does not detail who the man was.
Goldmann also received a government rate at a Williston hotel after he identified himself as an official with the Department of Justice, according to court documents. Hotel staff called police after Goldmann failed to pay his bill — more than $1,900 for three weeks.
Goldmann is being held in a jail in Rugby, North Dakota, without bond, but defense attorneys have argued he should be released because he needs immediate treatment for PTSD resulting from a 14-month deployment in Iraq. His deployment also was mentioned among five recommendation letters from his military superiors at Air Force bases in Oklahoma, Ohio, New Jersey and South Dakota.
"As discussed at the (first) detention hearing, Mr. Goldmann served proudly in the United States Air Force, and was well regarded by his superiors," a defense motion reads.
Meanwhile, the coffee shop has stopped offering free coffee to law enforcement officials.
"I tell my girls not to trust anybody," Neuman said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press