The Stranger Beside Her – Times Publications, March 2013
Cindy White reached across the bed to caress her husband, her fingers trailing across the cold, vacant sheets. He wasn’t there.
Springing up, she shouted his name. “Richard, Richard.”
She darted down the hallway and climbed the stairs of the luxurious mountainside estate she and her husband had leased for the past six weeks. The home was partially unfurnished, the walls bare.
The previous evening Cindy and Richard were set to close on the 5,000-square-foot home overlooking the Las Sendas golf course in Mesa. That morning Richard had left for work, promising to wire the money before 5 p.m. When he missed the deadline, he had sent his wife a text: “I need another 48 hours.”
It was the last time Cindy had heard from her husband.
Cindy’s thoughts raced. Where is he? This just isn’t like him. Something is wrong.
In her upstairs office she called his cell again, but he didn’t answer. Slamming down the phone, she sunk into her desk chair, shaking.
An overwhelming sense of dread washed over her. At that moment, she knew instinctively that life would never be the same. Just then, she was struck with an inexplicable compulsion to check his cell phone records. Logging onto the carrier’s website, she printed the bill and studied it.
The records raised even more questions. Richard traveled across the country for his career as a Wall Street investor and spoke constantly about his deep-pocket partners in Texas. Yet there wasn’t a single call to a Texas area code.
As she examined the bill, one number stood out, appearing far more often than the others. With trembling fingers, she punched the digits into her phone.
A woman answered. Cindy asked for Richard and was told he wasn’t there.
“May I ask how it is that you know Richard?” Cindy asked.
“He’s my boyfriend,” said the strange voice at the other end of the line.
The blood drained from Cindy’s face. She struggled not to be sick.
“Boyfriend?” she heard herself ask.
“Yes,” said the woman, with a hint of irritation. “He lives with me. Why do you want to know? Who are you?”
“I’m his wife,” Cindy said, nearly dropping the phone.
“At that moment, I kind of almost went out of my body,” Cindy recalled. “There was no thought. There were no words. It was just sheer shock.”
Cindy White’s life was about to unravel. Not only was her husband a philanderer, as she would soon discover, he was also a conman who had perpetuated an elaborate scheme to defraud investors out of millions. And due to an obscure law, it was Cindy who would be left with a million dollar judgment against her.
In December 2000, Cindy White was a 44-year-old divorced single mother who worked in computer sales and spent her evenings chauffeuring her son and daughter to after-school activities.
Petite, with shoulder-length blonde hair and hazel eyes, Cindy was lonely and looking for love. At the encouragement of friends, she decided to join an online dating service, describing herself in her profile as a “Christian woman with old-fashioned values who was looking for a man who shared my beliefs and morals.”
Shortly after signing up for the service, she was contacted by a man named Richard Bradford. After communicating by email for a while, they exchanged phone numbers and were soon talking two to three times a day. When his business brought him to Phoenix, they began dating.
Cindy says Richard described himself as a former Navy Seal and a current Wall Street investor who started his financial career on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Working for Goldman Sachs—a global investment, banking and securities firm—Richard had started his own hedge fund. A self-proclaimed millionaire, he claimed ties to some of the most successful money men in America, including Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens.
On their second date, Cindy overheard Richard on his phone.
“I found her,” he said. “I’m done looking.”
Cindy found herself falling for the charming, seemingly successful millionaire.
Two months after meeting, however, Richard’s hedge fund collapsed. He told Cindy his investors had taken him for millions and fled the country. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated and revoked Richard’s license as a general securities representative.
Unable to cope, Richard attempted suicide. Cindy stayed by him, nursing him back to health.
By then, she was deeply in love.
In February 2003, Richard and Cindy wed at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, and over the next few years they built a life of quiet domesticity in Mesa. But life was not easy. Although Richard found work as a car salesman, the couple struggled financially, and Cindy’s income was their primary means of support. They lost one house to foreclosure and in 2004 filed for bankruptcy.
All the while, Richard was desperate to get back on Wall Street. Evaluating hundreds of companies, he convinced Cindy he was just one deal away from regaining his wealth.
Then, in the summer of 2007, after several failed venture capital deals, the money began coming in. Richard claimed he had started a hedge fund with his long-time friend T. Boone Pickens. Recruiting a small group of investors, he had grown the funds by millions.
After all the ups and down, Cindy could hardly fathom their sudden good fortune. But as quickly as the success had materialized, it would all disappear.
For Richer, Or Poorer
Richard paced the floor of his home office, shouting into his phone, “Sell, sell, sell!”
On the desk in front of him, a list of stocks flickered on the laptop screen.
Cindy stepped into the “war room” to hand her husband his morning coffee.
It was Nov. 29, 2007, and Cindy was suddenly the wife of a millionaire. Richard had reached his goal of being a “bull” on Wall Street, as he explained to Cindy.
“I’m back on Wall Street,” he said, “big time!”
In mid-October, Richard and Cindy had moved into their dream home on a lease-to-purchase agreement. As Richard juggled the funds, the closing had to be rescheduled several times.
That morning, Richard met Cindy on the porch.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “This house will be our home before you go to sleep tonight. Remember, I’m a bull on Wall Street now!”
He gave his wife a warm hug, and left the house—never to return.
Cindy couldn’t have known at the time, but the pressure had been mounting around Richard Bradford with increasing intensity. Although his face and actions hid it, he knew his twisted web of lies was about to be exposed.
The next day, after discovering Richard’s mistress, Cindy learned her life was nothing but a mirage.
“When I hung up the phone, I thought, ‘He never went to Texas. There is no money,’” Cindy says. “I thought, ‘What am I married to?’”
As Cindy would learn, the depths of her husband’s deceptions were staggering.
Richard never launched a hedge fund and wasn’t trading stocks on Wall Street. Instead of going to Texas to meet with T. Boone Pickens, he left for regular rendezvous with his mistress in Mesa. And while he had collected more than a million dollars from investors, he had gambled it all away.
“He was a master manipulator,” Cindy says. “I would walk into his office and he’d be pounding on the table, ‘sell, sell.’ There was never any trading of stocks. I was brainwashed into his fantasy.”
Later, Cindy made a list, outlining more than a hundred lies Richard had told her. She learned he was never in the military, never knew T. Boone Pickens.
“I was so shocked,” she says. “Everything he told me was a lie from the first day I met him.”
Within days, Cindy moved out of the house. She had no job, no money and no place to live. Because it was all she could afford, she was forced to move into a trailer in Apache Junction.
“I was living in this trailer, scared to death to take money out of the bank,” she says. “He was in trouble, but so was I.”
The shame of having been so completely conned was overwhelming. The shattering of her trust was debilitating. The financial ruin was humiliating.
Meanwhile, she called the police, and Richard’s investors, and cooperated fully in the investigation into her husband’s fraud.
But emotionally, Cindy was falling apart.
Days after discovering the cons, she was admitted into a psychiatric ward at St. Luke’s Hospital for a major mental breakdown. Sedated for several days after her arrival, she was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There was no way I could function. It was all just too much,” Cindy says. “I was so messed up emotionally and just completely traumatized.”
After being hospitalized for eight days, she was released with nothing but antidepressants and sleeping pills to glue back the pieces of her fractured life.
What life? she thought, as she walked out of the hospital. Was any of it real?
Little did she know, the nightmare was just beginning.
Richard Bradford’s scheme was complex and cruel.
By presenting himself as a millionaire who managed the portfolios of some of the wealthiest men in America, he lured six investors into handing over just under $1.3 million.
He collected the money between March 2006 and November 2007, promising investors a 20 percent return and guaranteeing the funds.
But none of his claims were true.
The money Richard collected was placed in an online brokerage trading account that he alone managed. Making risky trades he had lost nearly $1 million, and misappropriated about $275,000 for personal use, much of which he lost playing online poker, according to court records.
While the money was evaporating, however, he placated investors with documents showing year-to-date gains exceeding 30 percent.
When his investors grew suspicious, Richard leased the house in Mesa, with no intention to ever close on the purchase.
“He put us in the house to make it look like we really had money,” says Cindy. “That was his way of buying more time.”
On Oct. 7, 2008—nearly a year after his second life was exposed—Richard and Cindy each appeared before the Arizona Corporation Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Mr. Bradford, what happened to the money?” a commissioner asked.
“I traded badly in the market,” Richard said. “I thought the market was going to crash like it has been lately, and it didn’t.”
Under questioning, Richard admitted that he never knew T. Boone Pickens, and that the billionaire’s name was just part of his pitch to gain confidence. He also confessed to taking hundreds of thousands for his personal use, but blamed it all on “manic episodes.”
Richard claimed he was mentally incapacitated, diagnosed as bipolar and suffered from depression and anxiety. He said he couldn’t remember much of his crimes.
“I don’t know what all was said, what all was done,” Richard said.
Bradford faced seven counts of fraud and one count of theft. Ultimately, his claim of being incompetent to stand trial was rejected.
In March 2008, Cindy and Richard divorced.
Almost exactly three years later, Cindy sat in the courtroom and watched as Richard pled guilty to fraud and was sentenced to five years without parole. Just a glimpse of him that day in court transported Cindy back in time. But by then, the love was gone—she felt nothing but disgust.
“That day, I was done with him. I didn’t care about him,” Cindy says. “I was worried about myself. I didn’t give him another thought.”
But as Cindy labored to regain her sanity, the Arizona Corporation Commission was also investigating her involvement in the business.
Despite the fact that Cindy and Richard were divorced, and her name was never attached to his investment company, she was dealt a $1.4 million dollar judgment, restitution for her ex-husband’s crimes.
Cindy was devastated, says her friend Donna Drumm, an attorney.
“For Cindy, who had always lived a humble, honest life, to be involved in a court case was absolutely terrifying,” says Drumm. “She felt all at once that her life had been destroyed at a whole new level.”
According to Arizona community property laws, the spouse of someone guilty of fraud benefits equally, and is therefore equally responsible to pay restitution. Ironically, the bill was almost exactly the same amount as the value of the home she lived in for six weeks.
The statute, which had been in place for more than a decade, granted the Arizona Corporation Commission more power than any other state agency.
Overwhelmed, Cindy called more than 70 lawyers seeking counsel. Most claimed they didn’t handle that type of law; others required thousands in retainer.
Completely broke, Cindy was forced to represent herself.
“I realized I was going to be going at this alone,” she says. “I figured I better get busy and prepare for the fight of my life.”
The State vs. Cindy White
Cindy White locked eyes with her husband’s mistress as the woman strutted into the courtroom and took a seat in the back row.
It was July 7, 2008, and Cindy was at the defense table, representing herself against the Arizona Corporation Commission.
For the trial, Cindy subpoenaed Richard’s mistress, Vivian Harper, to help prove her case that she was as much a victim as the investors. On the stand, Cindy questioned Vivian about her affair with Richard.
“How do you know Richard Bradford,” Cindy asked.
“He’s my boyfriend,” she said.
Throughout the daylong trial, Cindy pled her case, cross-examining the prosecution’s financial experts and investigators.
“I worked really hard and I felt pretty confident,” she says. “But a month later, I lost.”
Although she was exhausted and drained, Cindy was unwilling to give up her fight.
Calling attorney after attorney, eventually Cindy stumbled upon Alan Baskin, a trial lawyer whose practice emphasized securities arbitration.
Baskin had worked as counsel for the Arizona Corporation Commission and was well versed in the statute permitting the commission to go after the spouse in a securities fraud case.
“It has bugged me ever since the statute came out,” Baskin says. “It goes way too far. They have all this power and should be using the power wisely. The use of the power became a problem.”
Baskin felt so strongly about the law, in fact, he agreed to represent Cindy without any promise of payment.
“I saw someone that was a victim, who had been abused. I knew there was no way in hell she would be able to do this by herself,” says Baskin. “I wanted her to have a fair fight. Someone had to help her; I needed to help her.”
Over the next two years, Cindy attended hearing after hearing with Baskin by her side. Then, last April, she got the call: they had won their case.
“I just dropped to my knees and started crying,” she says. “It was over. It was finally over.”
Ultimately, the judge ruled that the Arizona Corporation Commission pay all of Cindy’s legal fees, awarding Baskin more than $60,000.
“The last five years I look back and don’t know how I did it all,” Cindy says. “I went up against the government on my own and against all odds won.”
Transforming her misery into her mission, Cindy White is now working to change the law in Arizona.
Legislators are currently drafting a bill to revise the statute.
“It’s important to change the law, so the Arizona Corporation Commission can’t make a decision what happens to the spouse in a securities fraud case,” Cindy says.
Today, Cindy is living with her daughter in Gilbert and working as a real estate agent. When she looks back over the last 10 years, it is still difficult for her to comprehend how she was conned by the man with whom she’d planned on spending the rest of her life.
She doesn’t know if she’ll ever date again, unable to trust her own judgment. She hopes to one day buy a home and regain the financial security she had long before she met Richard Bradford.
“It was a long 10 years to lose, and I lost myself with him. But I think that I have found out through this journey the reason why I got involved,” says Cindy. “I’m a good woman, a committed, loving, trusting person. Those are not bad traits. They’re only bad traits when you’re with a bad man.”