A Navy SEAL who shattered the elite special force’s code of brotherhood by stealing from his brethren to finance his luxurious lifestyle and gambling faces up to 12 years in prison, not to mention the scorn of men who served with him but now consider him “the most repugnant scum on Earth.”
Jason Mullaney, part of SEAL Team Five until 2003, convinced 11 SEAL team members and one civilian to invest a collective $1.2 million into his company, Trident Global Financial Holdings.
Named after the Trident SEAL symbol, Mullaney said his company would award loans to credit-challenged small businesses and individuals for high interest rates, secured with assets that covered the principal and profit. Investors would receive back their investment plus a 24 percent profit within a year, Mullaney pledged.
“Jason, I wish you the worst and hope that you rot in Hell for what you did to all of us – you are the most repugnant scum on Earth.”- Former Navy SEAL Alexander Sonnenberg
Instead, Mullaney ran a pyramid scheme, and, rather than repay investors, he spent their money on a new Mercedes Benz, an extravagant home and on gambling in Las Vegas, according to prosecutors.
The SEALs had no idea they were cheated until some tried to collect on their investment. Mullaney, they reported to the FBI and San Diego District Attorney on April 27, 2011, had vanished with their money.
Former Navy SEAL Alexander Sonnenberg lost $160,000.
“The worst part of my experience with Jason Mullaney is the reprehensible way he calculatingly misrepresented himself to solicit former teammates that he knew would trust him as a brother…,” Sonnenberg said in a written statement.
Navy SEAL Kevin Blackwell lost $10,000. “[Jason] made fools of all of us and, in the end, only looked out for his own interests. He didn’t care about my daughter’s college fund or anyone else, their financial futures, impacts on their families, or their livelihood.”
April Riel, then a forensic investigator with the Office of the San Diego District Attorney, found Mullaney loaned a quarter of the $1,154,327 he took from his investors, repaid $55,050 to one investor, and spent the rest to enhance his lifestyle.
Layne Austin Pollack told San Diego investigator Micheal Brown he was with Mullaney at the Hard Rock Restaurant & Casino Las Vegas when Mullaney blew $40,000 at a blackjack table. He added Mullaney owned a $1.4 million home, an Aston Martin and a Range Rover, and frequently used cocaine with him.
In a July 30, 2012, declaration in support of an arrest warrant, Brown said Mullaney was dangerous and a flight risk. Brown cited an interview he’d conducted with Ruben Cuevas, who was threatened and assaulted by Mullaney after he was unable to repay a loan from Trident in full.
In 2010, when he met Mullaney about the debt, Cuevas said he pulled out a semi-automatic handgun, pointed it at Cuevas’ head and ordered Cuevas to get on his knees. After Cuevas complied, he said Mullaney struck him on the head several times with the butt of the gun, and then pointed at the shower door, where Cuevas said he saw a pair of garden sheers, a blowtorch, a metal hammer and some zip ties.
Cuevas said Mullaney told him he planned to use the items to smash or cut Cuevas’ fingers. Mullaney then bound Cuevas’ hands and feet and placed duct tape over his eyes and mouth. He let Cuevas choose which finger he would cut, and after Cuevas indicated his pinky, Mullaney cut his finger and then used the blowtorch to cauterize the bleeding. Mullaney told Cuevas he had to repay the loan or Mullaney would hurt or kill his family.
When Cuevas reported the incident to police, they documented bruises on the back of his neck, red marks on his wrists and ankles consistent with being bound, Brown said in his report. Mullaney was never convicted in that alleged incident.
However, on July 30, 2012, Mullaney was charged with 35 counts — including grand theft, securities fraud and tax fraud.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Hector Jimenez told Judge Frederick Maguire the manner in which Mullaney carried out his crimes indicated “planning, sophistication and professionalism.”
Mullaney pleaded guilty to four charges on Sept. 8, 2014, including three counts of grand theft and one count of securities fraud.
In an Oct. 6 sentencing memorandum, Jimenez wrote, “The defendant stole from multiple victims over a long period of time.”
Mullaney asked to withdraw his guilty plea at his October sentencing, but thejudge denied the request Jan. 21, saying there was no “buyer’s remorse.”
When he is sentenced March 17, Mullaney faces up to 12.8 years in prison. Until then, he is at the Vista Detention Facility.
One family is struggling to recover from their financial dealings with Mullaney. Navy SEAL Commander Steven Elias and his wife Kirsten hired Mullaney in 2008 to sell their investment property.
Mullaney, who worked separately as a real estate agent with First California Funding and McJab Realty, sold their house in June 2008 but, according to Steven, never turned over the $345,000 profit.
Meanwhile, the Elias family suffered a series of personal tragedies.
In 2009, after Steven Elias’ mother’s home caught fire, they learned she had Alzheimer’s, and had to be put in a home. She died in Oct. 2009.
Fifteen days later, Elias was deployed to Beirut.
Three days after Christmas that year, Elias and his wife learned their 2-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Elias returned home so he and Kirsten could find a cure.
“Our family was stricken with the worst situation any parent could possibly have to face,” Kirsten told the judge.
Their son died 11 months later, on Nov. 8, 2010.
All the while, they were unable to get Mullaney to return the $345,000.
Steven Elias told law enforcement officials he discovered forged escrow instructions that ordered the money wired to Mullaney’s personal bank account.
After 30 years of service, Elias was eligible to retire, but had to sign up for another five-year tour to pull the family out of debt.
“Mullaney has completely betrayed my family and me,” Elias told the judge.
The family was in such financial duress, they were unable to bury their son in a cemetery nearby.
“We are devastated beyond belief,” Kirsten Elias said.
Born in WallaWalla, Wash., Mullaney and his two sisters moved frequently with their parents because their father was in the U.S. Air Force.
After graduating from high school in 1990, Mullaney enlisted in the military, and was accepted to the SEAL program. He received multiple commendations, certificates, honors and awards. Mullaney obtained his real estate license and opened his company Trident while he was on active duty.
According to a pretrial services report, Mullaney claimed that in 2008 he was diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD and schizophrenia, and is currently on several medications. His psychiatric evaluation is not public.
Several friends wrote letters in support of Mullaney. One, former Navy Seal Brian Mackey, said: “When I first heard of what happened to Jason, I was shocked that anyone could think so low of an individual who had done so much to help many people like me.”
But Sonnenberg’s statement to Mullaney is likely more reflective of the SEAL community’s views: “Jason, I wish you the worst and hope that you rot in Hell for what you did to all of us – you are the most repugnant scum on Earth.”