“Whether I am to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station is to be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
I traveled through a very deep, dark valley over the last decade. Revisiting it is a painful exercise — one I would choose to avoid entirely if all that mattered was my own comfort. Confessing my sins to trusted spiritual advisors has required vulnerability and submission; doing so publicly feels more like walking naked through Times Square and posting a video of the experience. At the same time, I am convinced it is important:
First, I am called to treat others the way I would want to be treated. Our clients and employees, existing and potential, deserve to know what I would want to know if I were in their shoes, and to hear it from me.
Second, reflection is good for my soul; it humbles me and reminds me anew of my fallibility and the grace of God.
Finally, I hope that sharing my experience of creating, going through and then rebuilding from a life implosion will in some way be helpful to others. No one escapes trials in life; what defines us is not falling, but whether or not (and how) we get back up. As I continue to climb out of the valley and up the mountainside, I want to leave trail markers of hope for those who despair of the way forward.
It is impossible to be comprehensive in such an account — I could not even do so in a book (though I intend to write one someday, and the length of this narrative may lead to the complaint that I have nearly done so already). I have omitted details that would only serve as a criticism of someone else; it seems unfair to tell only one side when someone else may have a different perspective. Finally, no matter how committed I am to honesty with God, with myself and with you, I know that it is human nature to rationalize one’s own behavior. I must guard against self-delusion and force myself to confront my own brokenness. Please forgive any self-justification that remains in my heart and is thus reflected here. I have done my best, and I am trusting God for everything else.
Things Looked Good for a While
“If we have built on the fragile cornerstones of human wisdom, pride, and conditional love, things may look good for a while, but a weak foundation causes collapse when storms hit.” — Charles Stanley
I came into this world with the most important of advantages: My father and mother are the finest people I have ever known. As the fifth of their six children, I grew up in a home filled with love, wrapped in security and illuminated by their godly example.
I was precociously gifted, and from an early age also experienced a very natural spiritual sensitivity. School was easy for me, as was being a “good kid.” Throughout my youth, talent and personality were often mistaken for maturity and character.
By the time I left for college I had never developed self-discipline outside of my athletic endeavors. After a few years of watching me largely waste the money he was spending on my tuition, my father wisely declared me an adult and ceased supporting me and my education.
At the time I was living in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area and had met Helen, the woman I would marry. I re-enrolled at George Mason University, worked in a series of menial jobs to support myself and pay for my education, and married Helen five days before my 23rd birthday.
I got my first “real job” at 25 as a mortgage consultant in Virginia. My abilities, combined with the first hard work I had ever performed, quickly propelled me forward. Within six months I was the top-producing salesperson for the company.
The more I learned, however, the less confidence I had in the direction of my employer. Having gotten off to a slow start in my career, I wanted my next move to be lasting. I came to believe that the best way to ensure that desired stability was to found my own company.
I realized that starting a business would mean planting roots, and I did not want to live in the D.C. area long-term. I also did not want to compete against the people who had given me an opportunity and trained me in the business. I moved back to Pittsburgh, where I had been born and raised, and started my first company, United Financial Technologies, Inc. (UFT) exactly one year after I had gotten that first real job.
I remember January 2, 1992 as if it were yesterday. I was alone on my first day in the tiny office I had rented – one small room, no windows, a single light bulb in the center of a ceiling with peeling plaster. I had purchased a desk that required assembly and the first task on my list was to put it together. I looked at the boxes stacked up in the middle of the room and immediately was filled with fear and self-doubt. What had made me think I could do this, at the age of 26 and with only one year of experience? Didn’t most small businesses fail? I sat for some time on the floor with my back against the wall, paralyzed by these thoughts.
I reflected that small businesses usually fail when they take on obligations that the business does not grow fast enough to meet. I further reflected that if I did not take on such obligations, putting the fate of the company in someone else’s hands, the only person who could decide that the business had failed was me. The company was started with no debt and no outside capital. I concluded that as long as I was committed to pressing forward no matter how challenging the road ahead, I would not go out of business unless I decided to do so. I stood up and started assembling my desk. The twelve years that followed were ones of rapid growth in every aspect of my life.
I had gotten into the mortgage business at the perfect time. The industry was in the middle of an unprecedented refinance boom, and was shifting from one dominated by banks to one dominated by mortgage companies. By the end of our first year, we occupied a 2,000 square foot office space and employed a dozen people. By the time I sold UFT in 2004, we had originated nearly a billion dollars in mortgages. Two of the twelve years (1994 and 1999) were very challenging, as interest rates rose and the market shrunk in half. Those setbacks taught me how to persevere through a business crisis. Unfortunately for my future, I did not learn the counterbalancing lesson of knowing when to quit.
In 1996 Helen and I welcomed twin daughters, Madeline and Natalie, into the world. In 1999 our son Jackson was born, followed by our daughter Juliet in 2001. Of any role I have ever inhabited, I have loved being their father the most. They were and are the light of my life.
The church we were attending went through a crisis in 1997. One of the pastors was terminated for an ethical stand he had taken in opposition to a decision by the Senior Pastor, and two other pastors were put on administrative leave for refusing to publicly support the termination. As the year went on with no resolution in sight, I approached these three men and their wives about starting a new church. Simultaneously, I gathered six other couples and proposed that we pool together enough money to support the three pastors for six months. I presented to all of them a planning document I had written and titled “New Community Church.” When I sent it to an attorney to ask him to incorporate the entity, he asked if that was the name. I had meant “A new community church” and simply told him “Go ahead and incorporate with that name, we will figure out what we want to call ourselves later.”
We conducted our first services in January 1998 in a hotel meeting room. I arranged for offices for the church staff in the same building as my company, and served as chairman of the Board of Elders for the first ten years of its existence. My work in founding the church, leading the board of elders and collaborating with the staff consumed much of my energy and attention during those years. By the time I stepped down as chairman in 2008, New Community Church (as it turned out, the church ended up embracing the accidental name) had over 700 weekly attendees and occupied a $4.5 million facility.
I started other businesses and had other significant non-profit board involvements during this 12 year period as well. It was a busy season, and at the same time everything was easy. But it is not in such seasons of life that character is revealed. I was about to enter a new season in which nothing was easy; one in which my character was revealed, and was found wanting.
Forging the Chains
“I wear the chains I forged in life.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
At my 40th birthday celebration in 2005, a friend (who, like many people in my circle at that time, abandoned me when my difficulties began) asked me the following sycophantic question: “You have already accomplished so much in your life – where do you go from here?” I can’t remember my reply, only the question, which embarrassed me because I knew much of what looked like accomplishment was simply good fortune. But what was surely in my mind was along the lines of “Bigger. Faster. More.” The years since that first day in my little office had been a mostly unbroken string of what any outside observer would call “success.” What did I imagine the future held? Like Icarus, I thought I would fly ever higher. I did not imagine that instead, within a few short years, my life would come crashing down.
In 2004, I sold UFT and founded a new company called Trilliant. Trilliant was to be a “voluntary benefits” company, building a network of large employers and member organizations and offering benefits, starting with discounted mortgages, through them to their employees and members. Through Greg Robick, one of our investors who was and is one of my closest friends, I became aware that Liberty Mutual Insurance Company was far and away the largest player in the voluntary benefits space and earned the vast majority of its revenue through this channel. Greg had the insight that the fastest path to dramatic growth for Trilliant would be to find a way to “piggyback” onto the existing network of this Fortune 100 company. I was determined to hit a home run; going after a strategic alliance with Liberty Mutual represented “swinging for the fences.”
I saw right away that we could offer them a compelling value proposition. Their network was so large that they could not grow by building it further; I was astonished to learn that the majority of the people in the United States already had access to a discounted policy with Liberty Mutual through either their membership in a group or their employment in a company. The only path to growth for them was to increase the number of customers they were getting from their existing network. I knew from past experience that most people only think about buying homeowner’s insurance when they are getting a mortgage. If Trilliant existed alongside Liberty Mutual as an approved benefit, we could refer customers to their existing homeowner’s insurance benefit at the exact time they had a need for it. All that remained was to get Liberty Mutual’s attention, convince them that this assumption was true, and reach an agreement with them.
Through my investor I made contact with a local manager of the company and, step by step, I moved up their organizational chain. This process was long and arduous, and it was a couple of years before it had progressed to the point that Greg and I were sitting in a conference room at Liberty Mutual’s headquarters in Boston meeting with their executives, having conducted a successful beta test of our value proposition with one of their service centers. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding with us, and we were a giant step closer to hitting that home run.
During this long process, Trilliant burned through the capital I had raised, and I was stretched to the limit personally. All of my chips had been pushed to the middle of the table. My wife wanted a new house, and our marriage was weak enough that I felt I needed to say yes, and to maintain a lifestyle I was now struggling to afford. I went through a long period of blaming her, and have since come to understand that all along the way I had choices, however difficult they may have seemed at the time. And, each time, I made the wrong ones.
The house she wanted was going to require a lot of expensive renovations. Helen’s brother was a mortgage broker and approached me about a “creative” mortgage structure that would help me pull it off without having to use the remainder of my fast-dwindling cash. He had a friend who ran the local operations of a national lender, and the two of them had figured out a way I could buy the home and borrow the money for the renovations as well.
I thought about what I was doing only long enough to allow myself to ignore what was just flat-out wrong, not to mention criminal. I hid behind three irrelevant excuses: 1) The mortgage industry had become awash with “creative financing” — for example, millions of people had acquired so-called “stated income” loans where everyone involved knew that they did not make the income listed on their applications and didn’t care; 2) The lender representative himself had put the deal together, and it was typical of other transactions that lender had done – I told myself that I could not be defrauding a lender who had structured the transaction in the first place; and 3) I intended to use the proceeds of the financing to improve the property — many of these kinds of transactions were simply a way for the borrower to extract cash from a mortgage for their personal enrichment.
The mortgage crisis in 2007 would not have been possible if people like me didn’t do what I did. If no one had, like me, signed their name to something they knew wasn’t true, dramatic damage to many faultless people would not have occurred. And while many people could rightly claim that they did not understand what they were doing, I should have known better. This wasn’t some minor, victimless act; it was a willful disregard for basic morality that resulted in real people getting hurt.
I do remember the one moment in which I was conscious of guilt. I walked into the attorney’s office to sign the mortgage documents, and as I did the reality that they did not accurately reflect the nature of the transaction was staring me in the face. To my shame, I willfully ignored this brief flickering of conscience, signed anyway and by the time I walked to my car had managed to completely put such thoughts out of my mind.
Though Trilliant offered a mortgage benefit, we were not a mortgage company. We made the strategic decision to outsource the mortgage benefit we were providing through an existing national mortgage banker instead of raising the capital necessary to build one ourselves. The 2007 crisis in the mortgage industry, which went on to spread like wildfire throughout worldwide financial markets, was disastrous for us.
Between the end of 2007 and 2008 we had six national lending partners suddenly go out of business in succession. My energies were almost solely consumed by replacing these contracts as each one evaporated, and by raising new capital that would allow us to survive until we could deliver on the scale that would be required by our pending contract with Liberty Mutual. I felt fortunate that, given their size, formalizing our contracts and organizing a national rollout was nothing that could be done quickly. At the same time I was waiting for them to ask for something we did not have the ability to deliver, which would have meant losing everything for which I had worked the past few years. This juggling act got harder and harder, and the stress of all of it became consuming. Somewhere in there I passed the point where bankrupting the company would not bankrupt me personally. I also had raised nearly $2 million in outside capital and loans, most of which was from family and friends, and the thought that I might lose their money was anathema to me. The only way out, I thought, was through – to persevere at all costs. This I did, and this was another part of my undoing.
Great Was the Fall
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” — Jesus
On January 2, 2009, I was sitting in the now-completed family room of our new home when there was a knock at the door. I answered it, and the two men standing on my porch announced that they were from the Secret Service. They named Helen’s brother, and asked if I knew him. When I said that he was my brother-in-law, they said they were investigating him and asked if I would be willing to come to their office sometime within the next two weeks for an interview. We scheduled for the following Tuesday. At no time did it occur to me that I was in jeopardy — that is how completely I had forgotten even that solitary twinge I had felt in signing the closing documents.
I drove downtown on the appointed day, my thoughts on all the other challenges I was facing and not at all on my appointment, which I didn’t imagine had anything to do with me. During the interview, the two agents presented evidence showing that my brother-in-law was engaged in widespread mortgage fraud, manufacturing false bank statements in cooperation with a bank officer and falsifying other loan verifications. They showed me a piece of evidence, and then casually asked if I knew anything about what they had just shown to me, repeating this process again and again. I kept telling them what it became clear they already knew, that I didn’t know anything about his activities. After a half an hour of this they, just as casually, pulled out the file for my mortgage and placed it in front of me.
They mentioned that they had noticed in the course of their investigation that my brother-in-law had handled the mortgage on my home. They asked about the transaction briefly, and I described it. I am embarrassed to relate that it still hadn’t dawned on me that this had anything to do with me. They seemed to be bringing it up in a pro-forma way, just touching all the bases.
Then one of the agents laid his finger on my signature on the settlement statement and asked if it was my signature. I cannot describe the horror that all at once descended upon me as I finally woke up to the fact that it wasn’t just my brother-in-law who was being investigated. Stunned so badly my voice was shaking, I looked at them in disbelief and said, “Am I in some kind of trouble here?”
The agent then immediately sought to calm me. He said, “Well, what you have just said is that your mortgage transaction did not occur as represented here on this document, which you have also admitted that you signed. If you look underneath your signature, it says that this is a crime, punishable by imprisonment. But I will also tell you that in these matters the homeowner is almost never indicted, but rather the broker, the title agent, and anyone else who is involved in fraud in the conduct of their business. I will also say that the U.S. Attorney will know that you came down here and were very cooperative and helpful, that you didn’t ‘lawyer up’ – we will make sure she knows that.”
Though I was badly shaken I took inordinate comfort from his comment that “the homeowner is almost never indicted.” I asked what was next, and they said they didn’t expect to need any more information from me and that I would hear from them again only if they did.
This was at the beginning of January 2009. As month after month passed, the sickening fear that I carried with me as I left their office slowly dissipated, almost to the point where I had forgotten that I was in any jeopardy at all. I was still scrambling — both the company and I were out of cash, and I was desperately borrowing money to stay afloat. I was also furiously working to cut a deal with Quicken Loans that would, finally, allow us to roll out nationally with Liberty Mutual, and running out of time to do so.
I was working in a coffeehouse on June 17, 2009 when I got a call from my dear friend and pastor, Hollis Haff. His voice was full of grave concern. “Dan, I just read the article — is there anything we can do for you?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “What article??” He said, “Someone just sent me a link by email – I guess it won’t be in the actual newspaper until tomorrow.” I quickly looked it up online while he was still on the phone, and saw the words “Daniel Hoey Indicted.”
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might explode — I was reeling like someone who had just been shot. In shock, I went back to the work I was doing prior to the call for a few minutes before it dawned on me that I might as well be re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. For the first time in my life, I could not imagine a positive future. Instead, the picture that took hold in my mind was that of a building being demolished — crumbling in slow motion until there wasn’t one brick left on top of another. I knew this meant that my struggling company was immediately finished. And that meant I had lost my investors’ money and that I was, in effect, personally bankrupt. And that meant I would lose my home and possessions. And that meant I would lose my wife. And that meant (I assumed) that I would lose my children. I didn’t even mentally process that it also meant I might have to go to prison and everything else it meant.
I looked up “what to do if you are indicted by the federal government” and ended up calling the Federal Public Defender’s office. I said, “How is it possible that I was indicted and this was the way I found out?” They explained that in these kinds of cases this is how it worked — there was no arrest, the U.S. Attorney’s office simply issued a press release, and I would receive something in the mail from them within a couple of weeks. They said that when I received it I should call them back, and that in the meantime I should apply for eligibility for a Public Defender.
Dazed, I staggered across the street to a restaurant and sat at the bar. I started drinking and thinking. Every time my mind would struggle to find some way forward, the implosion picture would forcibly come upon me. There was no way to stop my life from falling apart, and the only thing I could think to do was to anesthetize myself enough that it dulled the horror of it all.
Drinking quickly became my only coping mechanism. Only when I drank enough to be somewhat numb did it feel like I could survive the thoughts that otherwise seemed heavy enough to crush me completely.
In August, I was able to get a job overseeing a new wine magazine for someone I knew who was a publisher of some related small magazines. The new job involved traveling to wine regions, interviewing winemakers, filming and writing. It was not exactly the optimal position for someone who was fast developing a drinking problem. The implosion I had foreseen continued apace; by November my wife had left with the children and had begun seeing someone else, my possessions had been seized and accounts frozen, and I kept falling further and further into a bottomless pit of despair.
I quit the wine publication in December. I house-sat for a friend who spent winters in California, and my only occupation became drinking enough to get numb and waiting for something to happen. The process with my indictment was one of seemingly endless delay. I had been told to expect that it might be years until it was resolved.
By the end of February, 2010, I hit bottom. I wasn’t eating, and had lost forty pounds since my indictment. I was getting together every week or so with two spiritual advisors who walked with me through the whole experience: The aforementioned Hollis Haff, and also Rick Wellock, whom both Hollis and I had gotten to know well when he worked as a consultant for our church board and staff. On the last day of that month, I woke up and realized that I had not eaten for days, and that I had consumed enough alcohol the night before to kill an elephant. For the first time, I had the absolute clarity that I was drinking suicidally, and that if I didn’t get medical attention I was going to die. I thought of the children, who were the only reason that death seemed unacceptable, and determined that I would ask Hollis and Rick for help when they came to visit me later that day.
When they arrived, they embraced me and then we all sat down together. I began our conversation by telling them of my moment of clarity as well as my determination that I needed medical help. They grinned at each other, and said something like, “Well, you just made the conversation we wanted to have with you a lot easier.” Unbeknownst to me, they had already planned to have an intervention with me that very day, and had brought with them a letter from my oldest brother, Jack, knowing that I love and respect him as much as anyone in the world. The letter from Jack expressed his conviction that without some dramatic reset that allowed me to again get my feet on the ground, there was no way he could see that I would be able to make it through what was ahead.
I spent the next few days getting evaluated and figuring out where I could enroll, and on March 4, 2010, my dear friend and pastor Mark Bolton drove me to Gateway Rehabilitation Center where I was admitted for the 28 day program.
I Become Myself
“And now, with God’s help, I become myself.” — Soren Kierkegaard
The “dramatic reset” that Jack had advised was one of the best decisions I ever made. The program at Gateway first focused on restoring my health. Within the first few days, I had to be taken to the hospital because my blood pressure was down to 70/40; my fear that I had been close to killing myself had been warranted. Once my health was stabilized and my head was clear, I spent each day having no other job to do but to listen to wisdom and rebuild my foundation.
Alcohol was not my problem. The abuse of it as self-medication when catastrophe hit simply revealed that despite the fact that I was a professing Christian, my foundation was built on sand. When the perfect storm hit, I collapsed.
The first step of any recovery is to surrender to God. I had spent my life “running the show.” Though I did have genuine faith, I had never truly and completely surrendered. Instead, I made my own choices based on what I wanted, and then either asked for His blessing and approval or (more often than not) assumed it.
Most of my aspirations were not in themselves bad — in many cases, they were noble. Being a committed and loving father; engaging in meaningful missions work around the world; building and growing a church; leading a business and providing good employment for many people — surely God approved of these aims. Of course, many other things that defined my self-identity were more obviously about what the world called success. I liked belonging to the finest club in town, drinking expensive wine, driving a Jaguar, traveling first-class – and the deeper, more painful truth is that most of all I liked the world watching me do it. What my implosion had revealed is that I could and would rationalize anything in defense of the identity my ego had created, and “all of the above” comprised that identity.
What I had heard all my life in church but had never internalized was that God didn’t want what I could do – He wanted my heart. He wanted my surrender. Any identity I built on the foundation of my own ego was destined to collapse at some point — even one that included “Christian leader” in it. And it wasn’t until everything was forcibly stripped away from me — until that identity was obliterated — that I did, fully and completely, surrender to God and allow Him to direct my life.
I had collapsed in despair the day I got the call from Hollis about the indictment. Despair is the opposite of hope; why had I lost hope? Because my hope, also, was bound up in myself. I had conceived a vision for the way my life was supposed to go, and when that vision was completely and irretrievably lost, so was I. This, also, was a foundation built on sand. I discovered that true hope is grounded in this unchangeable truth: God loves us, and has His own plans and purposes for our lives in which all things work together for good.
I emerged from those 28 days a surrendered man, with firmly grounded hope in the future, not based upon any vision I had myself of what that future would be (it was now impossible for me to conceive of one), but rather based upon God’s love for and promises to me.
The day I was released I was dropped off at the same coffeehouse where I had first learned of my indictment 9 1/2 months before. My house and all of my possessions — outside of the bag of clothes I carried, my laptop and my phone — were gone. All the money I had in the world was the loose change in my pocket, and I remember thinking that I had now lived the old adage, “did not have enough money for a cup of coffee.” I did not know where I was staying that night, how I was going to get on my feet, or anything about what was next except that I was going to do the next right thing God revealed to me to do, and that He was going to take care of everything that was outside of my control. I was amazed to feel more happy and free than I ever had in my life. There are people I could have called to make arrangements for the night, but I decided to just wait and see what God was going to do. What God did next — the miracles that cannot be rationally dismissed as coincidences — occurred on an almost daily basis going forward and could fill a book. In this narrative I will only recount a few, starting with what happened next.
About an hour after I was dropped off, I got a phone call from an old friend from high school, Mike Killian. I had run into Mike in my village about a year before. He had told me then he was living nearby, and we had exchanged phone numbers. He now began by saying that he had just come upon my number that day and had decided to call me about getting together. It was clear within the first minute of the conversation that he did not know anything about my situation.
He asked, “So, what are you up to these days?”
I responded, “I am under indictment by the federal government and I just today got out of rehab.”
Dead silence on the other end. “Dan, I had no idea about any of that. I am so sorry! Where are you staying?”
“Well, to be honest, I don’t know yet.”
I will always remember and be grateful for what he said next: “Well, I know where you are staying tonight.”
His house was only three blocks away from where I was sitting. I walked over there shortly after our call, and ended up staying the next two weeks with Mike and his family.
I had a friend whose brother owned an oil and gas consulting company and had been through rehab himself. I approached him about a job, and he said, “the only thing I have available is something you wouldn’t want – we are hiring title researchers to work in the courthouse in Moundsville, West Virginia, and it only pays $50 a day.”
I said, “I’ll take it.” I didn’t have a car and had no idea how I would get there. I was able to arrange to share a ride with someone who drove about halfway there for work. I left at 5:00 a.m. for this ride, then waited an hour until I was picked up by someone else who was working with me at the courthouse. The ride home worked much the same way.
Though I had owned a title company, I had to learn how to do the work of searching titles and compiling title reports from scratch. I had to figure out a way to make more income quickly, and the only way I could think to do so was to work faster than everyone around me.
Within two weeks I had cleared more than twice as many titles as any of the other searchers — so many that my supervisor thought I must be not doing them correctly and audited them. When the audit turned up that all of my work was accurate, I went and asked my new employer for $100 a day. He agreed, and within another month I was making $200 a day.
By the end of the month in which I had returned from Gateway, I received a text message from Helen which included the sentence “You can have the children.” Both of us did not want the children to be shuttled back and forth between us, and she knew that if one of us was to take primary responsibility, I was better equipped to do so. I will always be grateful that she made this offer and that we never had a battle over the issue of custody.
When I reached this agreement with Helen, my heart leapt with joy, and then I remembered that I still didn’t have a fixed address, or anywhere I could bring them. I responded “YES” without knowing how I was going to do this — I again waited to see what God would do, and He again responded with an unmistakeable miracle.
The same afternoon, I got a call from a friend from church, Bernadette Scully. She related that the night before she was talking with her next-door neighbor when my name came up. About ten years before, this man had applied for a job at my company. I had ended up not hiring him, explained to him why I didn’t think it was the right position for him, and offered any help I could give in helping him find a position that was a better fit. Our paths had never crossed in the decade since, but, he shared with Bernadette, he had never forgotten the effort I had made and the kindness I had shown to him. In their conversation, he said, “I travel on business most of the time, and I live alone in a three bedroom house — if you talk with Dan, let him know that if he and his children need a place to land they are welcome to stay at my house for as long as they need.” Bernadette had called me to relay this offer, little knowing that the call came at the perfect moment.
At the time, the children were staying with a family where my twins, Madeline and Natalie, had a good friend. We decided together that I would take the two youngest, Jackson and Juliet, to live with me, and that Madeline and Natalie would remain where they were for the final two months of the school term. I made arrangements for all four of them to visit my sister in North Carolina, my parents in South Carolina and then my in-laws in Maryland once school ended so I could work on finding a permanent living situation for us. I was able to rent a house on the same street where we had lived before, and signed a lease effective August 1, 2010.
I met my in-laws halfway between Pittsburgh and their home in Maryland on that first day of August to pick the four children up and resume our family life together. By that point, I had received another promotion to a job that gave me much more flexibility, so I was able to be home for them after school. I rejoiced at the gift of being able to firmly re-establish their security and stability before we all had to face the next wave of consequences that were slowly rolling toward us.
A Banquet of Consequences
“Sooner or later, everyone must sit down to a banquet of consequences.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
I had agreed to plead guilty without a prior agreement on my sentence. The prosecutor had informed my attorney that he was also investigating Trilliant — with the collapse of the company, they were looking to see if they could charge me with anything else. I was aware that they had already gone through the thousands of mortgage transactions UFT had conducted over the years and hadn’t found any irregularities. The only agreement I received for pleading guilty was the prosecutor’s commitment to my attorney that there would be no other charges, and that the open-ended investigation of me would end.
My attorney thought it was possible that I would receive no prison time. I had received and followed counsel that until I could tell the children exactly what was going to happen and exactly what it meant for them that I should avoid telling them anything. Madeline and Natalie had turned 15 in January, Jackson was 11 in December, and Juliet’s 10th birthday was two weeks before my sentencing.
I was sentenced at the end of February 2011 to 18 months in prison. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had agreed to move from their home in Maryland into my home with the children and to care for them while I was away. I will never forget this selfless expression of love for all of us. I was ordered to report to prison on April 28, 2011.
The children and I went out to dinner on the evening of my sentencing with my parents and other family members who had come for my court appearance and, since the children had no idea what was going on, we simply had a warm family evening together. The next day, I took the children out one at a time — one to breakfast, another to lunch, and the other two to the coffee shop. I explained to them what had happened over the preceding two years, exactly what I did wrong, what was going to happen next, and what it meant for them. I realized the wisdom of the counsel I had gotten about waiting to tell them until this point. They each shed tears for what I was going through and at the thought, as much as they could comprehend it, of me being away for such a long time. But since I was able to assure them that nothing would change in their daily lives in my absence — they would be in the same home, going to the same schools — they were able to absorb the news without it threatening their basic security.
On March 21, Helen was involved in a terrible car accident that killed her boyfriend who was driving the car and seriously injured her. She would recover fully from these injuries, but it would take most of the time I was away for her to do so. I was deeply concerned about the effect all of these successive traumas would have on my children, making it even more wrenching to contemplate being away from them.
Two weeks prior to when I was to report to prison, I received notification that I was to serve my sentence at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York. I searched for information about the prison online, and thought there must be some kind of mistake. By many accounts, this was the worst-rated federal prison in the country. Most of the 3,000 inmates were maximum security, and the few hundred who were low-security handled the work required for operating the facility. I could not understand why I was being sent to such a horrible place over 400 miles away from home when I had full custody of four school-age children and this meant they could not come to visit. By this point I had learned to accept what I could not control, and this steadied me.
On that last Thursday in April, I awoke at 5 a.m., kissed my sleeping children goodbye, and got in the car for the ride to the airport with my father-in-law. I took a cab to the prison. I did not have to report until 2 p.m., and thought I would spend my last remaining hours of freedom someplace close by. After getting some coffee and settling down to read the newspaper, I got antsy and decided that I might as well walk across the street and get it over with.
My first taste of confinement came outside the prison walls. It was chilly and raining — I walked around to the back gate and asked the guard where I was supposed to report. He barked, “Stand right there.” He then went back to his magazine, and I stood there for over an hour. At one point I started to walk away, thinking I should be somewhere else, and he screamed at me. I stopped, and it was at that moment I realized my freedom was gone.
Eventually, two other guards emerged from the gate and escorted me into the prison. They ordered me to strip, and I stood there naked for a while while other guards came and went, no one in any hurry. I didn’t exist as a human being anymore, I was a prisoner. After I endured the body cavity search and put on some ill-fitting prison clothes they had thrown at me, I was placed in a tiny cement holding cell that already contained half a dozen other prisoners. There was no room to sit down, so I stood there until later that evening when we were put on an elevator and taken to the 4th floor.
The unit where I would spend my first week was where all new inmates coming into the prison were housed and tested for HIV and Hepatitis prior to being released into the general population. I was put into a tiny two-man cell with a steel bunkbed, a canvas-wrapped stack of cardboard as a mattress, no pillow, a metal toilet and sink. My cellmate was a murderer from a Mexican drug cartel who was being transported from one facility to another through New York, and he spent the majority of our time together fashioning weapons out of metal air ducts with a tiny welding torch made out of a lighter.
He did not frighten me. People are people, and people skills from the outside translate to the prison context. We became friendly, and talked about our very different lives. He taught me how to kill someone in close combat with the metal “shiv” (in case you ever wanted to know, it involves wrapping your arms around them, sticking it into their kidneys, and pulling upward). We might as well have come from different planets, but we got along just fine. What did frighten me was what happened on the second night I was there.
I developed terrible back spasms soon after arriving, probably as a result of standing for so long on cement floors in ill-fitting shoes with almost non-existent soles, and could not get comfortable lying down. During the second night of standing in my cell, I asked my cellmate what the red button in our cell was for. He said, “that’s in case I rape you, you’re supposed to press that.” We got a chuckle out of that (I suppose mine was a little more of a nervous chuckle). As my pain increased to the point where I did not think I could take it anymore, I went ahead and pressed it, thinking a guard would come and I could ask for some medical attention.
An hour passed, and finally a light was shone into our cell along with a loud voice demanding “WHAT?!”
I said “I am in a lot of pain, and I want to see a doctor.”
The guard screamed derisively, “You ain’t in no m-f- hospital, m-f-! You in JAIL!!!” and walked away.
Howls of mocking laughter ricocheted across the metal doors and walls of the cellblock. It was at that moment I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was in a place where if I was in trouble no one was coming to help me. I gingerly sat down on my bunk and prayed. My fear evaporated as I experienced the calm of remembering that I completely trusted God for everything I could not control. And that trust grew even stronger in a place where I could not count on what I had always taken for granted.
Like the many miracles I experienced since the day of my release from Gateway, my prison experiences could also fill their own book. I won’t write that book here either. After my week in the temporary unit, I was transferred to a minimum security unit where I spent the next 10 months in one windowless dormitory room with 120 inmates living together — our showers, toilets and eating tables were all in this room. We had access to another small room with metal walls and linoleum floors that was our “rec” area shared by the three units in our section — it had a painted circle around the perimeter, and 22 times around this perimeter was a mile. There were no windows, and the bright fluorescent lights were on 24/7. I wrote in the Journal I kept every day, “I have perfect peace and unshakeable joy.” My external reality could scarcely have been more austere and uncomfortable, but my internal reality was brightly illuminated with God’s love, and that was all that mattered. I was surrounded by people who were in the midst of their own life implosions, and there was no end of opportunities for kindness and service as we shared the same surreal experience of surviving in that awful place.
I wasn’t able to see the children, but I did write each of them their own letter every day from prison. I decided to use the opportunity to write meaningful letters, sharing thoughts and learnings about life with them. I have often been asked if I plan to write a book; I sometimes reply that while in prison I already wrote four of them.
On January 31, 2012, I walked from those same gates where I had reported 10 months before out into the sunlight and freedom, with a brand new appreciation for both. But I still wasn’t free; after flying back to Pittsburgh and enjoying a celebratory dinner with my parents, my in-laws, my brother and his wife, and my precious children, I reported to the halfway house where I would spend the next four months.
The ironically named Renewal Center in Pittsburgh was, to my surprise, almost as bad as prison. It was as if their mission statement had read, “We seek to discourage and abuse all who enter here, and will do anything in our power to make sure they return to prison” and that the whole operation was thoughtfully aligned to that purpose. After my first week there I was allowed to take a bus to go to work and then another back in the evening. A couple of months into my stay I was allowed weekend passes to go home and be with the children. Due to the incredibly unhygienic conditions in the facility, I developed a MRSA infection in my foot. The staff at Renewal, like the staff at MDC Brooklyn, viewed medical care as a luxury they were not inclined to grant, and my condition deteriorated enough that I was finally taken by ambulance to the hospital in the middle of the night after I passed out in the lobby from the pain. I woke up from surgery and the doctor informed me that he was able to save my foot; I had not been aware that the surgery was scheduled as an amputation.
I was released to home detention at the end of May, and then, finally, on August 8, 2012, I was free. Five days later, on August 13, 2012, my father died unexpectedly. I grieved deeply, but I also remembered the time while I was still at MDC and he had been hospitalized. I had sat up all that night praying fervently for him and writing in my Journal, “Please God, not NOW.” There is nothing worse in prison than losing a loved one while there — I had seen it happen to fellow inmates many times, and there is no describing their devastation. I thanked God for giving me this great man for a father, and for allowing me to receive his constant encouragement throughout the experience. I was also deeply grateful for the memory of a special dinner with him during a visit at the end of July, and for the warm conversation we had on the phone just a half an hour before he suddenly passed from this life to the next.
“The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior.” — M. Scott Peck
Bill Stolze had owned the national title company with which Trilliant was contracted, and we became friends through the experience. While I was still in the halfway house, I began work with him in his real estate development business. My role was to help him grow what was at the time of my hiring a small operation. We made great progress together that first year. It was another position that allowed me to be fully present with my four children, all of whom were still at home. A few months after I started with Bill, the children and I were able to move into a new house he personally owned in the same neighborhood that fit our needs better. At the end of July 2013, I had just finished preparing dinner for my children in that home when I got a call from my attorney. My “banquet of consequences” was not yet complete.
“Are you sitting down?” I do not understand why anyone would start a conversation that way. If the idea is to help the listener better absorb difficult news, it sure didn’t work for me.
Then: “I don’t know how to tell you this, but the feds indicted you today for defrauding investors in Trilliant.”
It is said that a “re-trauma” is much worse than an initial trauma, because with the new wound one also suffers the first wound all over again. I should have been angry. She had assured me that she had reached agreement that there would be no more charges when I had pled guilty, and now she was telling me she had never gotten that in writing. When she had challenged him the prosecutor told her that he meant there would be no charges related to any mortgages performed by Trilliant. This was nonsensical because Trilliant was not a mortgage company. And of what was I being accused? I hadn’t lied to our investors, or committed any crime of which I was aware.
But I didn’t feel anger, or even confusion. What I felt was utterly defeated and demoralized. It had taken all I had to recover over the preceding four years, and it didn’t seem like there was any way I could recover from being knocked down again. I felt like I was living in a Kafka novel. How could I tell the children that the nightmare was starting all over? Would they ever feel secure again after I had assured them it was “all over” when I had been released?
I had taken the call outside, and the children were upstairs waiting for me to call them for dinner. I wept, and cried out to God in anguish, “This is too heavy for me to bear.” I started walking around the block, and called my brother Jack.
Jack spoke words of wisdom, love and support. He said, “I can understand why this seems unbearable to you now, but the truth is God is going to bear this for you, and He has already shown you that this is exactly what He will do. He has carried you through everything so far, and He will get you and the children through this too.” After a few laps around the block and this deeply encouraging phone call, I summoned the strength to go inside, call the children down for dinner, and hide my feelings as we had our normal dinner conversation about what was going on at school and in their lives.
By this time, Madeline and Natalie were 17, Jackson was 13 and Juliet was 12. It seemed to me that they were all old enough that there was no way to shield them from the facts until this was resolved one way or another. A few nights later, I explained to them what had happened. Their response was heart-warming: They simply embraced me, told me that we would get through this together, and didn’t act like the news had knocked them off stride for a moment. They had become strong, and had learned through hard experience that when disaster strikes there is always a way forward. Their faith and resilience inspired me and allayed my worst fear about what I was facing next, that it would derail them. If they were going to be ok, I would be just fine no matter what.
Thus began another seemingly endless process. Bill Stolze was incredibly supportive through it all. I had worked hard over the past year to become indispensable to our work together, and now was working hard to make myself dispensable, but every step of the way he stood by me, even though his business suffered as a result.
Glen Meakem is a friend of mine and a prominent figure in the Pittsburgh business community, having founded FreeMarkets Inc. and taken the company public during the Internet boom in the late nineties. He called me one day and said, “Dan, I just cannot accept the possibility of you having to go to prison again — it just seems so wrong to me.” He told me that he wanted to explore hiring the “best federal defense attorney in the country” at his expense to try to avoid this outcome. I told him that I didn’t feel I could accept such an incredibly expensive gift even from someone of his wealth – after all, it could easily end up costing a million dollars — but at his insistence agreed to at least talk with the attorney he had identified the next day.
The prosecutor had threatened me with a 12 year sentence if I did not accept a plea bargain of two years. I had since learned that a team of prosecutors had gone to Boston to meet with Liberty Mutual, assuming that I must have falsified the agreement with them in order to solicit investment. I was forwarded an email the prosecutor had sent to my attorney that said “Much to my surprise” Liberty Mutual had confirmed that, word for word, the documents in the investment documentation matched what was in their files. I thought this meant that I was in the clear.
The attorney said, “Dan, guilt or innocence does not matter. What matters is that they have spent a lot of money investigating you, and either you are getting some prison time from it or someone in that office is going to have their career derailed. I am not trying to turn away Glen’s money, but let me tell you my sense of your prospects. Your jury will consist of a bunch of people who have never earned in a year what you used to make every month. These will also be people who have no understanding of the nuances of raising capital.”
He told me that the indictment was sloppily put together, with obvious misstatements of facts, and that this told him the prosecution knew they could convict me without even trying. After failing to demonstrate that the agreement with Liberty Mutual was illegitimate, they had seized upon a last straw: A single letter in the investment package from the vice president of one of the national mortgage companies with whom Trilliant had worked. The letter explained that he was leaving his current company to go to another position and was taking the Trilliant relationship with him. The writer of this letter had, during the course of their investigation, claimed that he could not remember authorizing it. In fact, since it was written at the time he was still employed by his old company, he had a good reason for this memory lapse; his old company could have sued him for violating his contract. On top of that, at the bottom of the letter it said, “If you have any questions about this letter, please call me at . . .” and listed his cellphone number. Finally, I could prove that I had hosted a dinner with this person and the recipient of the investment package a month later. Did this sound like a falsified letter? Of course not, and it seemed to me I ought to be able to prove that it wasn’t.
He then told me, “In the final analysis, there is only one reality that matters. To win a case like this, I’ll have to put you on the stand. Now I want you to imagine you are being cross-examined by the prosecutor. Ready?”
“Where were you living in December, 2011?”
“Um. The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.”
“Oh, so you were in prison. And is it true that your crime involved signing a false statement?”
“Were you guilty of this?”
“And yet you are telling us that you have been accused of doing basically the same thing, but now you are not guilty?” He continued, “The federal government has a 99% conviction rate. You would have a strong case, but I don’t see how, given this reality, I can get your odds down to even 50/50. And you are being threatened with 12 years — can you do 12 years?” I said “of course not” and he said “then take their offer.”
But even two years seemed unimaginable to me for the simple reason that I believed the children could not withstand that long of an absence without severe consequences for their wellbeing. The prosecution knew they had a weak case even if conviction was likely, and I decided to bet that if I gave them their conviction without having to spend any more money they would accept better terms. I counter-offered that I would accept the minimum sentence allowable, a year and a day. I told them that if they didn’t accept this I would make the process as long and expensive as possible, and try to extend it out until my children graduated from high school. As long as I could get the children through this I didn’t care what they did with me. They accepted the counteroffer immediately.
I had breakfast not long thereafter with my dear friend and advisor Rick Wellock, during which I went on at length about how broken the U.S. “justice” system is (having gotten a front-row seat to the whole mess, I could write yet another book on this subject). He sympathized, but also challenged me. He said that in his experience we each create all of the outcomes in our lives, and that he felt I was not being reflective enough about what I had done to create this outcome.
I would like to say that my awareness of my guilt came to me all at once, but it was a long process. Like all true repentance, it was only possible by the grace of God; everything in me resisted coming to terms fully with my own culpability. In the end, what did it matter whether or not I was guilty of the particulars of the indictment? The real questions were: 1) Whether or not I had fulfilled my fiduciary duty to the investors in Trilliant, and 2) Whether or not I had considered the interests of those who invested in the later stages of the company above my own when presenting them with the opportunity.
I had deluded myself during the last 18 months that I could turn things around by force of will and maniacal perseverance. In fact, there is no way I could have in good conscience advocated investing in Trilliant after the financial crisis hit. But I did solicit those later investments; I mustered all of my persuasive force to sell them the same delusion I had sold myself. And my mortgage crime alone jeopardized all of our investors, and would have been fatal in and of itself for the company in which they had invested. They had placed their trust in me, my character and my judgment, and I had let them down completely. I deserved the punishment I received for this.
Bless you, Prison
“I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’ I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!’” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
So there I was, on August 28, 2015, on a plane back to New York, then in a cab on my way to Brooklyn, then walking toward the same guard in the shack outside the prison gates. He again barked at me to stand there — at least it wasn’t cold and raining this time.
I had determined that this second time around I would be more proactive about serving others. This time it would not take me months to adjust to the harsh reality of prison and find my footing — with my experience I could help others find theirs.
The experiences that followed were some of the richest and most rewarding of my life. I led the singing in our prison church services that met in the middle of that “rec room” and had the opportunity to give a number of the messages. Our little church group provided care packages of commissary items for newly arriving prisoners and helped them get acclimated and settled. I befriended and encouraged a man who was finishing a 28 year sentence and who was terrified to go out into the world that had changed so dramatically since he had last seen it. I had the joy of connecting him with Hollis and Karen Haff who helped connect him with others upon his release and bought him a saxophone as a gift. Perhaps most rewardingly, I had the great privilege of teaching a few of my fellow inmates how to read.
One of them in particular was a 40 year old man named Alfonso. Alfonso was originally from Jamaica, had never been to school and was completely illiterate — when we began, he did not even recognize the letters of the alphabet. By the time I left, this new friend could read on a third grade level. One day just before my release he was able to compose a letter to his son. When he finished, he collapsed in tears. He looked up at me earnestly and told me that he had thanked God he had gone to prison, because if he had never done so he would never have met me and learned how to read. I will treasure this memory, and this dear friend, always.
On July 26, 2016, I again made the indescribably grateful walk through the prison gates and drew my first breaths of fresh air since I had entered them nearly 11 months before. This time there would be no halfway house or home detention. I was finally free. I could see clearly many of God’s purposes in this second prison experience, both in how I had grown and in how I was used to help others grow. I was therefore able to experience gratitude for even this second prison term, the thought of which had once felt too heavy to bear.
“Do not pray for an easier life. Pray to be a stronger man. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” — Phillips Brooks
Madeline and Natalie were in college by the time I reported for my second prison term. They were still home for the summer when I was released, and here is a picture of my joyous reunion with my four children on that day:
Bill Stolze had to rent out the house where we had been living in my absence, and so I had needed to find a new place for us to live when I was released. My dear friends Rick and Shanan Jackson own a cottage on the same property as their home, and most graciously held it open for me to rent upon my return. My son Jackson promptly announced that this was his favorite home of any we had ever had, and this is where we live today.
Nate Schaub and I had worked together on a philanthropic project raising awareness of and funds for a seminary that trains house church pastors in Iran. We found in this service collaboration that our talents and skills were very complementary, and that we simply loved working together. Nate had operated a small media/marketing sole proprietorship called “Mindflint Media” on and off for the preceding 15 years. I knew firsthand that he is terrific at what he does, and he had also shared with me that he had never been able to grow the business, as doing so wasn’t part of how he is gifted.
We decided to create a new corporation, Mindflint, and agreed that I would be president of this new company, which would offer a broader range of services and capabilities than he had in the past. I could not have found or created a better fit than partnering with Nate, and am so grateful for the opportunity I never thought I would have again, to lead and grow a company.
In addition to my work with Mindflint, I plan to begin writing and speaking about my journey in an effort to enrich, encourage and equip others on their own journeys, and have already begun to have opportunities to do both. I also have begun training in life coaching with an emphasis on “post-traumatic growth” and desire to use my experience to help others in this tangible, one-on-one way.
I began this narrative with a quote from the book David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: “Whether I am to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station is to be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” I have definitively answered the question of whether I am to be the hero of my life, and the answer is that I am not. The hero of my life and of the story I have just shared is Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice made my forgiveness possible, and whose boundless love, grace and mercy has sustained me at every turn.
I will close by sharing what I read just this morning in the 66th chapter of the book of Psalms from the Bible. I have been reading through the Psalms, and felt like my reading this morning was a special gift from God, expressing so beautifully the heart of my story:
Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
He has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For You, God, tested us;
You refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us to a place of abundance.
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what He has done for me.
I cried out to Him with my mouth;
His praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld His love from me!
Daniel Elliot Hoey
“Dan came and spoke to our men’s Saturday morning breakfast Bible study. We were all deeply moved by his story of personal challenges and redemption. The way he has gone about rebuilding his life and career is an inspiration. Having known Dan and his family for many years, I am proud and happy to vouch for his strong character, remarkable resilience and unique giftedness.” — James Linaberger, Assistant to the President, Peoples Gas (retired)
“I have known Dan Hoey all his life. Dan has taken ownership of his past failures, but has also appropriated by faith in Christ the forgiveness for his sins. Like the apostle Paul, Dan will not be defined by his past, but is “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) I am pleased to bear witness to Dan’s transformed life.” — Dr. Harry E. Fletcher, Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, Global Ambassador
“Dan is rewriting the story of his life in a way that stands as an inspiration to others who have gone through similar life-defining trauma. Many go through crisis and suffer post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a few go through crisis and experience post traumatic growth (PTG). Dan exemplifies the latter. I have every confidence in his character and integrity.” — Hollis Haff, Senior Pastor Emeritus, New Community Church