Brett Johnson – How I Unbecame The FBI’s Most Wanted Cyber Criminal: Part 2 (372)

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Brett Johnson is a former US most wanted cyber criminal turned good guy. The United States Secret Service called Brett “The Original Internet Godfather.” Brett’s fascinating story is one you don’t want to miss as you’ll hear about his role in refining modern financial cybercrime, being convicted of 39 felonies, escaping prison, and how he built the first organized cybercrime community. This community called “Shadow Crew” laid the way for modern cybercrime channels today. 

Today, Brett is considered one of the leading authorities on cybercrime, identity theft, and cyber security. Brett takes his role seriously and works tirelessly to protect individuals and businesses from the type of person he used to be.

This episode is part 2 of 2 with Brett Johnson, so make sure to listen to part 1 first if you haven’t already.  In part 2, Brett walks us through what happened to Shadow Crew, what led to his arrest and escape from prison, working with the secret service, how he landed back in prison, and the occurrences that finally made him take responsibility for where he ended up. Brett has completely turned his life around and is passionate about protecting people from the crimes he used to commit. Cybercrime occurs more often than we think, so knowing how to protect yourself is essential. Tune in for more.

Key highlights:

  • Reasons why cyber crime usually involves multiple attackers
  • Going to prison and escaping and then landing back in prison
  • Things that make it easier for cybercriminals
  • How Brett invented tax return identity fraud
  • Was cybercrime an addiction for Brett?
  • How CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) changed Brett’s life
  • Why Brett speaks his mind on social media despite being an introvert 
  • Was Brett a leader in prison?
  • What made Brett finally turn his life around?
Connect with Brett Johnson:


LinkedIn: Brett Johnson

Podcast: The Brett Johnson Show

Cybercrime 101 Blog

Check out the video version of this episode below:

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Episode transcript below:


Brett Johnson, Mike Malatesta


Mike Malatesta  00:00

Hi everyone, Mike Malatesta here and welcome back to the how’d it happen podcast. On this podcast, I dig in deep with every guest to explore the roots of their success to discover not just how it happened but why it matters. My mission is to find and share stories that inspire, activate and maximize the greatness in you. Today’s episode is part two of my conversation with Brett Johnson, a cyber criminal turn cybercrime expert. If you haven’t yet listened to part one, you should, as you will want to know all of this man’s story. It’s a great one. In part two, we talked about Brett going to and escaping from prison how he invented his tax return identity fraud, marrying Elizabeth the stripper that’s a crazy story, and most importantly, how he turned his life around.


Brett Johnson  00:44

It was no longer 30 to 40,000 a month it was 30 to 40,000 a day I was the only got publicly mentioned as getting way they picked me up four months later, and they give me a job. And I’m the guy that continues to break the law from inside Secret Service Offices for the next 10 months.


Mike Malatesta  01:00

Brett’s story is crazy. Criminal. Creepy. Yeah, he’s had some creepy in his life and ultimately, courageous. I know you’re going to love this one enjoy it seems like it’s escalating. You got you’ve got shadow crew working. It’s a coordinated effort, you can pretty much get into all kinds of things, you know who to recruit, you know how to maximize you know how to social engineer, you know how to do all the things that you’re doing in it, it starts to if I remember from when I heard you before, it starts to really start bringing in some big money like from the does the ATMs I remember some something that had to do with ATMs. And I don’t know if it was what you just just described, or was it something different? Something different? Something different? Yeah. So so what did it escalate into before I get into the redemption and I want to make sure we spend time on redemption, a


Brett Johnson  01:54

couple of things. So you’re absolutely right. It wants it was like a field of dreams for criminals. If you build it, they will come at the same time there was a Ukrainian guy by the name of Dimitri Golubev. He’s the he’s the guy who basically is responsible for the genesis of modern credit card theft as we know it today. He saw the success that I was having with my sites. He was a spammer who was getting all his credit card details and he had this idea he was like, I wonder if people will buy stolen credit card details. And they will. So he picks a literally picks up the phone. He calls his buddies, they call their buddies, they ended up having a physical conference in Odessa, 100 of 150 of these Ukrainian cyber criminals, they show up and they launched this thing called Carter planet, which is the genesis of all modern credit card debt as we know it. Now you remember I talked about the three necessities of cybercrime gathering data committing crime cashing out one of the reasons that it’s never a single attacker which victimizes you is because some of these criminals are in geographic areas where they cannot fulfill one of those three necessities like money laundering. So the Ukrainians, they had all the credit card details on the planet, they knew how to commit the crime, because it was very easy to commit, but they could not cash anything out because there had been so much fraud on that side of Europe, that the card companies had literally shut down every card. If you were even the legitimate cardholder, you couldn’t pull cash out of an ATM. So Dimitri ends up partnering he comes to shadow Creek comes to Carter planet, we Carter plan was the first website, he comes to me over there. I ended up bringing the Ukrainians into the into the English speaking communities. And we had this partnership. So when you were talking about ATMs, we were doing a lot of fishing. All right before this hack comes into play, we would fish people out and back then when we were fishing, you could ask them 20 different things. And they would give you all of this information. So we were getting card numbers, account numbers, we were getting pins, passwords, everything else across the board, we were getting card numbers and pins for you to encode that on a counterfeit credit card or counterfeit debit card, you have to have complete track two information. Now track two is the card number. There’s a forward slash and then there’s a 16 digit algorithm outside of that. You have to know that algorithm you can’t guess it, you can’t generate it, you have to know it. What we found out through testing is that none and I mean, none of the banks had implemented the hash on track two meaning that we had the card number so we could take the card number put a forward slash any 16 digits outside of it. It would encode you could take it to an ATM start pulling cash out because we had the pin as well. That profit right there before we found out that was called the CVV. One hack before we discovered that the only thing we were doing was CPN fraud card an RCMP fraud Card Not Present. That’s when you use stolen credit card information, get online order to the laptop get it in and resell it. A good Carter doing that would profit 30 to $40,000 a month. Once the CBD one came out It was no longer 30 to 40,000 a month it was 30 to 40,000 a day. And that is what got a lot of law enforcement attention to that point. So that was that was what you’re talking about that the shadow crew ends up making the front cover of Forbes, August 2004 headline who’s stealing your identity, October 26 2004, the United States Secret Service, they arrested 33 people, six countries, six hours, I was the only got publicly mentioned as getting away. They picked me up four months later, and they give me a job. And I’m the guy that continues to break the law from inside Secret Service Offices for the next 10 months until they find out about it. I take off on a cross country crime sprees, steal $600,000 In the space of four months, wind up in the United States most wanted list, go to Disney World, get arrested center prison escape from prison, get arrested again, and finally served out my time. Yeah.


Mike Malatesta  06:00

I’m gonna ask a dumb question here.


Brett Johnson  06:02

No, you’re you’re not you’re not


Mike Malatesta  06:05

the credit cards that you were stealing. How? How do you get the pin? So you described how you get the you created the algorithm because it was basically a hole that they left open, right? You needed a 16 digit number, but they never assigned one. And so you could put in any one and it worked. Right? Well good. In itself. We were fishing


Brett Johnson  06:23

that out back then you could ask people their pins on that that email that you get saying that you know your security has been compromised, we need to update the profile. You’d ask name, social driver’s license, mother’s maiden address history logins, I’m a huge ask all this stuff.


Mike Malatesta  06:39

And you’re selling these cards to people, Brett and you’re just going to any ATM, they can go to putting it in putting the pin in guessing at how much they can take out and right. So the way


Brett Johnson  06:48

it works, the Ukrainians typically had most of that information. Remember, they could not pull cash out in the Ukraine. So they had to partner with money mules stateside. And typically what would happen is Ukrainians would keep 60 to 70% of the money that would come out the ATMs, the money mule would keep 30 to 40%. Now, the question always comes up, well, why wouldn’t the money mule just keep everything? What you find out is if you know as a criminal as a money, mule, if you know that that money is going to keep coming, you’re not going to cut your own throat at that, and the money kept coming. Now you would have people that would rip these Ukrainians off, you would certainly have that. But the numbers


Mike Malatesta  07:28

were very small the cost of doing business, like you said before costume business, you just chalk it up


Brett Johnson  07:33

and go from there. Now, that being said, when I ran shadow crew, we were not a violent crew at all, at all cord, the last days of shadow crew, we became violent Demetri Googlebot, the head of Carter planet, that Ukrainian guy, he comes on Shadow crew one day, and he starts posting these pictures. And he had had a guy kidnapped and tortured, and he photographed at all, and the guy had ripped him off. And he sent the message, hey, don’t ever rip me off again. So that’s that’s where we started to see violence coming in these days on these forums and marketplaces, violence is absolutely inherent, you know, you’ve got drugs that are involved in there, you’ve got people know that some of these guys that are being convicted serve life sentences. So what would you do in order to not serve life in prison, you might commit some violence. So violence is absolutely inherent in cybercrime systems these days?


Mike Malatesta  08:26

And are cartels using these kinds of systems now to sell?


Brett Johnson  08:31

Oh, yeah, you’ve got the cartels. You’ve got all types of organized criminal environments or organizations in there. Of course, the first, the first criminal organizations were the Ukrainians and the Russians, that were coming into these environments. But then you had the Italian start to figure it out. Then finally you had the Crips, the Bloods, everything else, and then the cartels understanding the profit potential. If you think about it, you know, it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell drugs online than it is to have a crew standing at a street corner someplace, slinging dope like that. So the and it took law enforcement a long time to realize that was always going on. Now you’ve got you know, nowadays, law enforcement is very good about combating drug trafficking and things like that. That’s online. But still, it’s much safer for drug dealers to do it online than it is on street corners.


Mike Malatesta  09:22

And so these money mules are, I guess, two things. One, are they easy to track by activity like for the law enforcement, like you’re going around to ATMs, you’ve taken money out? I mean, they have to be able to sort of


Brett Johnson  09:32

that’s an excellent question. And the answer is, is hey, it’s actually where you catch somebody, you catch them, catch them in the commission of the crime, or you catch them cash, cash, caching things out laundering the money, and it’s not it’s not difficult. Now, the problem is, I’ll give you some numbers. Okay. In the United States, we’ve got 37,000 FBI field agents spread across 56 field offices. Of those 37,000 agents, only about 200 of them are concentrated on cyber Have a crime. Meanwhile, you’ve got cybercrime communities that some of these communities are millions of members large. Yeah, so you’ve got 200 agents versus all these numbers. So the numbers are stacked against law enforcement. During the pandemic, the SBA had a total of 29 Investigators trying to handle all of that PPP fraud that was coming through. So the numbers are absolutely stacked against these people. At the same time, the internet lends itself to anonymity, especially if you’re using the Tor browser or telegram or things like that. It’s very hard to identify these people you have to make make, you have to wait for them to make a mistake. Not only that, but you’ve got jurisdictional problems, you know, if the criminal is in the Ukraine or in Russia, are you going to get that guy? Probably not even if you identify who that person is? You’re not going to get them? Right. Not only that, but if they’re what type of crypto are they using to move value if their use of Bitcoin? Yeah, you can track that. If you’re using Mineiro. No, you can’t track that. That’s anonymous as anonymous can be. So you’ve got all these issues that pop up


Mike Malatesta  11:06

across the way. So there’s no blockchain with Mineiro. It’s,


Brett Johnson  11:09

the blockchain is anonymous, there is a blockchain, but it’s anonymous. You don’t know who’s who’s doing what, and you can’t track that add in to that our society is very good about blaming the victim for the crimes that are perpetrated upon them, especially when we’re talking about cybercrime. You hear it all the time, why would you click on that link? Why would you send money to someone you don’t know? Why would you ever believe giftcards? So they tend to blame the victim. And what does that cause that causes the victim not to report to law enforcement, not to share that they’ve been victimized, so that that gives a free ride to a lot of criminals that are out there. It’s not just individuals, though. We see it in corporations, we see corporations that don’t prosecute, because they’re afraid that’s going to destroy trust in their brand, so that all these things together creates a lot of success. On the criminal side.


Mike Malatesta  12:02

Yeah, it’s almost like they want to sign an NDA with the criminal on on the ransom. Absolutely. Okay. Well, you can’t say anything about this. And you have to give us their data back that brings up an example like from a real world today that and I can’t remember his name, but there’s, there’s a guy who stole 100 million in crypto, right, who is his defense is that they had a hole in their in their protocol. And all I did, all I did was find the hole and it allowed me to take the money. Where’s the crime? Yeah, that’s that’s the crime. Right? Yeah. But he’s trying to say that’s not a crime, because crime is he’s trying to blame them. Right. Yeah. It’s trying to blame the victim. He’s trying to say


Brett Johnson  12:41

they had the whole their, their door open. Well, you chose to walk in and take it, you’re the criminal, they are not, you’re the criminal. You know it, then that’s the thing I say all the time. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what that victim has done. I do not care. I don’t care if somebody has left their door wide open. And they’ve left a sign in the front yard saying, Hey, I got 10 Rolexes. Inside. Yeah, it is still the criminals fault that that crime happened, the criminal has to actively choose to come in and commit that crime every step of the way, every step of the way. So it’s never the victim’s fault that they’re victimized. I don’t believe that whatsoever.


Mike Malatesta  13:16

And you mentioned that shadow crew got violent near the near the end. And I was wondering you personally, you had this experience with this woman when you’re 15. But have you ever have you been violent since then? Because everything else that you’ve talked about has been like, not you’re not using your hands and your fist? You’re using your brain?


Brett Johnson  13:36

Like, No, I’ve never been bottling at all.


Mike Malatesta  13:39

So you’re working for the Secret Service. You get arrested. You work for the Secret Service, but you’re you’re still working for yourself? Sure. Guess what? You’re Moonlighting? Yeah, yeah, Moonlighting. Yeah. You know, every everybody needs a side job or


Brett Johnson  13:55

Yeah, yeah, little side. Hustle. Right. So


Mike Malatesta  13:59

what were you doing? What did they have you doing as like, why didn’t they just prosecute you say have a good sentence?


Brett Johnson  14:05

Sure. The reason they didn’t prosecute me is because I was the the guy. I was the top of the food chain, bar, none in cybercrime. And no one knew I had been arrested. So you take the top guy, and you’re going to get some trip some traffic coming to me. All right, I had avoided a rest on the shadow crew bust because for a few things, we first started to see IPS coming in from government organizations from law enforcement from Pentagon everything else that was looking at shadow group. We started to see our name being mentioned on local law enforcement sites. Not only that, but we had a member who had intercepted text messages from the United States Secret Service talking about investigating us. I was the guy that was the head of that. And I got worried about Rico. I was like, Man, I’m going to be looked at for racketeering, every crime that everybody’s being committed that this is going to come on my head,


Mike Malatesta  15:00

Tony Soprano’s biggest fear that was


Brett Johnson  15:03

my worry and protocol. At about the same time. I’m also the guy that created this I’ve got a whole list of first when cybercrime pops up. But one of the one of my crimes that I that I invented was this thing called Tax Return identity theft. So the reason everyone’s read tax return is delayed every single year is the sob that’s talking to you right now. I’m the guy that created that I was stealing 160k a week, 10 months out of the year, so I had money coming in. I’m worried about shadow group getting popped. So I retire and that’s what kept me from being arrested when Chateau crew gets gets popped. We didn’t know my forum techy was a guy named Albert Gonzalez. Albert was involved in the CVB one hack, so we didn’t know that one day. He’s in New Jersey, broad daylight standing at an ATM for 40 minutes, pulling cash out. He’s got a stack of white counterfeit guards. He’s put one card in pulling $20 bills out stuffing in a backpack. Alright, broad daylight. Meanwhile, it just so happens across the street to New Jersey cops are sitting there and they start watching this kid for 40 minutes. Until finally one cop looks at the other. Let me go see what this guy is doing. He walks up to Albert Albert’s got a disguise on he’s got this long wig on everything else. Ask him kid, what are you doing? However, it falls apart right there. We didn’t know that it happened Albert flips goes to work for the Secret Service. Now the truth of the matter is, is back then. We were not horribly sophisticated. We were on some things. Law enforcement was not horribly sophisticated either. They didn’t really know what was going on. Albert educates them on a whole host of things. And they ended up asking him hey, how would you catch these guys? And Albert’s like, Well, have you ever tried a VPN? And they had to ask him what’s the VPN? So they tell it he tells him and they were like, That’s a good idea. Well, I had stepped aside and retired before that took place. Albert comes back into shadow crew any and I had left people in charge with Shadow cried lift admins, mods, everything else in charge. Anybody that disagreed with Albert, he just banned them. So most of the admins that I had in, he kicks out most of the mods he kicks out, he tells everybody that stays he’s like, Hey, I’ve got a VPN, we need to be safe. Every every bit of transaction is going to go through this VPN. Well, the VPN was owned by the Secret Service, Secret Service captures all the drop addresses, names, transactions, everything else. And that’s where you ended up getting 33 People indicted at that point in time.


Mike Malatesta  17:37

Okay. So they find out that you’re inside hustling. And I guess is that when you is that they end the relationship?


Brett Johnson  17:45

That’s a nice euphemism. So what happens is, is my first wife I was married to Susan for nine years. And I lied to that woman every single day of those nine years, took her three years to find out that I was a criminal. For the next six years, I kept telling her, Hey, I’ve stopped I will stop I’m going to stop just a little while longer until finally it got to the point of me looking at her and saying hey, you like spending money, don’t you? And she figured I wasn’t going to just quit and I wasn’t going to quit. So she leaves me and that fear that I have of being abandoned, became real. You know, I caused it that doesn’t make it less real. So I was in Charleston, South Carolina. My wife leaves I go through this deep dark depression start getting suicidal realized I was getting suicidal picked up the phone called this criminal psychologist told her everything crying on the phone to her. She was like, Hey, come on in now and I was like, Yeah, okay. So I go in, tell her everything. She’s trying to get me to this this lady. He’s trying to get me to stop breaking the law and to go into real estate and I’m like, is there a difference? And yeah, you like that when I also bank with Wells Fargo? Because I believe one criminal deserves another. Yeah. I saw her for about four months. And honestly, she did some good. She really did. The problem was is I got lonely one night, and I got horny one night. I was 34. I had never been to a strip club in my life. And I was like, tonight’s the night. So I walked in. And I’m literally the guy that falls in love with the first stripper that he sees and she wants to die. Oh, yeah, she walked by my top. That’s the one for me. So I moved her in with me. After I moved her in with me. I found out she was addicted to cocaine not only addicted to Coke, but she was prostituting herself to support the habit. And I love the hell out of that woman. I did. I mean I truly did. I got it in my head that if I could fix her that everything would be alright maybe I could fix myself I didn’t really I was I was naive back then. I didn’t realize that you know, you can’t fix other people. You’re lucky to be able to fix yourself but I had it in my head to do that and also had it in my head that you know if I just just kept going, that it would work out that that, you know, we’d be in love and we’d be with each other. Also got it in my head that if I could just give her whatever she wanted it take her mind off the drugs and she’d be okay. So I quickly went through all of my state side cash I had laundered all my money over to Estonia quickly went through all the state side cash at about the same time that Chateau crew gets popped. So the way I get caught Elizabeth was, was that woman’s name, she had high tastes so she I got engaged to her. She wanted Tiffany engagement rings, so I didn’t have the money. I went through all my stay side cash and at the same time shadow crew gets popped. So I couldn’t go in at the same time. It was the time of year because you can’t file income taxes after October 15. So I couldn’t commit tax fraud. That’s the season was over. I couldn’t go into credit card theft because Secret Service had busted everyone on the planet. You didn’t know who to trust anyone anymore. So the only thing I was left was running paper counterfeit cashier’s checks so I started running counterfeit cashier’s checks and I’d always preached Don’t ever do that. The rules are you never run paper. You never act out of desperation. And I ended up doing both. And that’s what got me arrested was I mean, I was going to get arrested anyway. Let’s be fair. But what what accelerated that arrest was absolutely those those things right there. All right, so I got arrested my turnaround, of course that relationship falls apart. But my sister because of my relationship with Elizabeth, my sister had disowned me. My sister went through an entire year over a year of just not speaking to me wouldn’t take a phone call wouldn’t do anything else. Not because I was a criminal. She knew that. But that line in the sand was the stripper


Mike Malatesta  21:40

you know, she was like, oh, so for her it was about Elizabeth as a person. It wasn’t about


Brett Johnson  21:45

it was about her as a person. And the way that my turnarounds because it was a long trip for me Denise disowns me during that time that Denise disowns me and doesn’t talk to me is when I work for the Secret Service I screw over the Secret Service they find out about it I take off on a cross country crime spree make the United States most wanted list go to Disney World get arrested, sent to prison escape after the escape. I’m in a county jail in Lexington, Kentucky. My dad comes they’ve got a 10 minute visitation my dad comes to visit and he asked me he’s like, son, Can I do anything? Anything for you? And I’m like, Yeah, you can tell my sister I said I love her dad gets on the phone calls. Denise tells her that Denise gets in the car drives seven and a half hours pregnant to come and see me for 10 minutes to tell me she loves me. And after that they sent me out. I spent eight months in solitary confinement and they sent me out to West Texas to a real prison. And I don’t see Denise again for like five and a half years. That right there is the first turnaround. It took me two and a half years behind the fence for me to accept responsibility for me to understand that hey, I didn’t do it for my family or why for stripper girlfriend. I did it because I chose to do it. I’m the person that put me in prison. Nobody else did. So that’s the first turnaround. The second turnaround I got out in 2011 had no taste to breaking the law whatsoever, couldn’t get a job. They had me on three years probation, could not get a job I had job offers from Deloitte from no before from a couple of payment processors. No, we can’t take those. Gosh, where I was trying to apply for fast food. No, that’s a computer you’re not allowed to touch the computer. Okay, what about a waiters position? That’s a computer and credit cards, idiots so I couldn’t get a job. I was above me money for my dad and my sister. I was on on food stamps so I could eat I had a roommate that was taken care of have to rent for me. And they tell you when you leave prison if you if you find a job and find something you care about, you probably won’t recidivate Well, what I had that I cared about, I couldn’t get a job. But I had this cat. And I had the money to feed my cat and didn’t have enough money to buy toilet paper. So I went to the dollar store and bought the cat some food on the way out. They had this kiosk there that had toilet paper. And that was the first crime I committed when I got out was shoplifting toilet


Mike Malatesta  23:56

paper, right? That’s your roots at the Kmart? Yeah,


Brett Johnson  23:59

yeah, it’s kind of weird, right. But you know, I gotta say, it’s it. I’m blessed. That happened. Because what happens is is right about the same time, my wife, Michelle, she ends up finding me how I didn’t find her. I’d been dating the exact same type of women again. But Michelle finds me and I ended up moving in with her a couple months after we met. We didn’t get married. But I finally got a job. And the only job I could find my probation officer allowed me to get a cell phone. I was going through Craigslist, and they were advertising for landscaping. So I called this guy up and I was like, Hey, man, I’d like to, you know, talk to you about the job. And he’s like, yeah, come on down and talk to me. Well, him and his brother were running the business out of their house. And his name was Dustin Doremus. In Destin, Florida. So I’m talking to him for about 20 minutes. And finally Dustin looks at me he’s like, Hey, man, can I ask you a question? I was like, yeah, he’s like, are you on the run or something? And I’m like, no, why? And he’s like, Well, you just don’t seem like the kind of guy that would do this. And so I told him everything, you know, walk him through it and He was he looks at me, he’s like, Man, I’m gonna have to think about this. So he sends me home. That was a Friday evening, Sunday evening, he calls me and he was like, Brett, if I hire you, are you actually going to work and I’m like, Dustin, if you’ll give me a job, I work my ass off, man. And he’s like, show up tomorrow morning. So I showed up and my job was 10 hours a day, five days a week pushing a manual lawnmower 400 hours a week and I busted my ass to him out. And you probably tell by looking at me, I’m not the manual labor type of guy. So I’d come in from work and I pass out wake up the next morning, take a shower and do it again. I was happy doing it because I was actually doing something. And what happens is the job ends because the grass doesn’t grow when it gets cold. So that reason I can commit crime pops up, you know, I’ve got to prove to Michelle that I’m worth it. I’ve got to show her that she’s on working. I’ve got to show her that I’m worth it in this this relationship and I get it in my head fighter. Yeah. And idiot bread here. I get it in my head. I’m like, you know if nothing else, I can bring food into the house. So I get on the dark web, get some stolen credit card, start ordering food. Well turns out the kids need some clothes. So start ordering clothes and it starts to grow from there and I get


Mike Malatesta  26:06

started using like her computer or what?


Brett Johnson  26:09

No cell phone, you don’t have the cell phone, the probation officer kind of wowed me with so had that and start ordering food and I get called on a food order. Michelle had no idea what I was doing. Not a clue. Probation Office had no idea what I was doing either. The only people at my sentencing for that was Michelle, probation prosecutor, US Marshals and the judge and our probation officer he stands up and he’s like we think this is one time thing. We think he’s an okay guy. prosecutor says the same thing. Michelle stands up, I’m crying by this point. Michelle stands up and she tells the judge that I’m a better dad to her kids than their father is judge gives me a year probation officer stands up and he’s like, Your Honor, if you can, if you can give Mr. Johnson a year and a day he can get the good time and he get back to his family sooner. The judgments a sentence, I go back to back to Texas and prison for for 10 months. That’s when I find out that Michelle didn’t need me for the things that I could give her. She just want to be for me. And I had never really had that I had it with my sister. But I never had it with you know, in a romantic relationship, I served my 10 months get out, they kill probation. So I can touch a computer, we get married, they killed my probation, and I can’t get a job still, because who’s gonna hire the guy that steals everything. And the thing is, is I know what my triggers are, even right now I know what it takes for me to go back into commit crime. Back then I knew that, hey, I’ll do so much. I’ll go so far until I ramp up and start doing it again. So I looked at Michelle and I was like, let me see what I can do. I reached out, I signed on to LinkedIn, and started to reach out to people and one of the people that I reached out to was this FBI super cop by the name of Keith morosky. And he was involved with with a lot of the arrests of people that I knew. And I sent him a message and I was like, hey, respect every single thing you’ve done no hard feelings. By the way, I’d like to I’d like to be legal. And this this agent responded to me within two hours, took me under his wing gave me references gave me advice. He’s retired now. But you know what, he still does that to this day. And that was all three of those things. You know, my sister, my wife, the FBI, those are those three big turnarounds. And what happens is, is you know, at the same time i i make the decision, the choice because we said it’s all about choices. You know, I make the choice to start doing the right thing and and since that point, I’ve led a very blessed life. I had the head of the identity theft resource Council deal Farrell, he takes me under his wing woman by the name of Currys, Hendrick, she gives me my first paid speaking job, Microsoft hears about that. And they come in and they hire me as a consultant, AARP hires me as an ambassador, today I lead like I said, I lead a very blessed life that I don’t really think I deserve. But I’m very grateful to have and I take my job very seriously about protecting people, from the type of person that I used to be I speak across the planet I consult I worked last year with Arcos labs, they, they made me the first chief criminal officer on the planet, but I work I work hard. I mean, I make good money. But I also do a lot of free stuff. Because I really do. I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who stole everything. I want to be remembered as the guy who’s able to turn this this shit around. So I take it very seriously about trying to protect businesses and people from that type of person that I used to be well, congratulations


Mike Malatesta  29:24

on that, by the way, but as you were talking your way through that, I kept thinking about this word. The word addict kept coming into my mouth. Oh, yeah. I was wondering if you do draw a connection between like an addict might say, well, two things. You take the drug, you get a dopamine, you get some type of good brain chemical thing, right? And so it makes you want to do it again, and do it again and do it again. You said it was all about the cash, but it seems like it was maybe it was about something else too. Like yeah, there’s other stuff going on there. But do you see those things as being equivalent? And just like you can you know, an addict can get clean a criminal can get, you know, not no longer be a criminal. But you have to understand you mentioned triggers, but you have to understand what environments people opportunities, whatever it gets you into a place where you become vulnerable, I guess again to it, maybe I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it or not. I


Brett Johnson  30:17

think it is. I think that’s very perceptive for you to realize that, you know, I say cash, but it’s a lot deeper than cash. It is you got you got ego that’s in play. But you’ve also got this this this back this whole backstory. That’s the reason I tell it is so that, you know, while I say cash, I think it’s important that people realize that it’s the things that I could do with cash. All right, cash was just the means to the end. The end is is finding that that love I did I did an interview yesterday with these professors where they asked me a question, do you have friends? I don’t. I don’t. My best friend is my wife. All right. I don’t have what people would consider friends. Because of I, it’s hard for me to trust people. It’s hard for me to open up to people. I’m an introvert and I fight being an introvert by being this extrovert. You use the word addiction, and it is absolutely an addiction. It is absolutely. And I view it as that. I don’t say I’m asked by a lot of a lot of press and everything. Would I ever do this again? And I’m hesitant to say no. Because I view this as an addiction. I think if I say no, I’ll never do it again. That that opens up that that means that there’s a blind spot there that opens up an area where I have to worry about things. So what I say is, is that, you know, I’ve not done it. And the longer I go without doing it, the more chances I have of not doing that. But I will never say that I would not I would say that. It’s like I hesitate to say that I’m a good guy. I say that I’m becoming a better person. All right, I just I don’t I really do view it as and I’ve been to AAA, I told a lie to get the drug treatment program in prison because it gave me time off. And that was the best lie that I ever told it was. Turns out it was not drug rehab, it was nine months of CBT cognitive behavioral therapy where they teach you that your thoughts determine your feelings, your feelings, determine your actions. And if you change the thought process by guide your actions will change at the end of the day. And I’m a true advocate of that. I believe that bar none. All right, so I’ll take that seriously. This when you use the word addiction, I think you’re absolutely right, you know that addiction doesn’t have to be to drugs, or gambling or anything like that. It can be to person, it can be to crime, it can be anything else like that. I think there’s a lot of truth that cybercrime especially can be very addictive, you know, you don’t have to see the consequences of your actions, you don’t have to see the damage that you’re doing to your victim, where if I were to victimize someone in person, I see the consequences, I see the harm that I’m causing. But cybercrime is such that, you know, you’ve got the ego that’s there, you’ve got these communities that that help boost the ego, where you have this completely different identity, and everyone kind of looks up to you, especially if you’re at the top of the food chain, everyone relies on you, you become a god in that environment. So it boosts your ego, it’s very addictive like that it’s almost a game, it’s in a lot of circumstances. So you’ve got all these things in play that I do believe makes it an addiction, it’s very hard to overcome that you don’t see very many people that stop their life of crime to begin with. And you see even less people that stopped those, those online criminal activities.


Mike Malatesta  33:27

It’s funny, you mentioned that you’re introverted, and you have to sort of force yourself to be extroverted because I was I was been following your social media posts since I first since you and I first talked on the phone, and you’ve got a lot of opinions. So you weigh in frequently. A lot of stuff arranges things, yeah. Which is not something i i expect. And you know, I wouldn’t expect most introverts to do. So is that a way that you sort of tell me about Tell me about that?


Brett Johnson  33:56

You know, I do, I’m the guy that I do have a lot of opinions. And I can easily, you know, I don’t like to leave the house a lot. When I when I go on conferences, I’ll go down and I’ll give my speech and I’ll hang around and answer the questions and everything. But as far as you know, having dinner and network with people and hanging out like that I’m like, go back to my hotel room, when I’ve had my wife travel with me and things like that. She’ll go out, like, if I’m going to a new place, I typically just stay in the hotel, you know, she’ll go out and investigate the city and everything like that, and I’m the guy that’s just give me my little steam deck or Nintendo Switch appy for a while. I do comment a lot on social media. And the reason for that is I have always been the guy that says the shit that needs to be said, you know, I’m, I’m this perpetual outsider if if something needs to be called out, I’ll call it out. It’s benefited me more than not it’s cost me some jobs. But you know, I I have a problem with, with the little guy not being able to speak up, you know, the like I talk a lot on, on LinkedIn about Zell fraud. And I’ve been told time and time again, hey, none of these banks are ever going to hire you. Because you keep hammering them, you keep talking about this was not the right thing to do. And my thing is, is everyone knows that the banks could implement proper security, but they’re not. Why isn’t anyone else calling this out? And the reason is, because they’re scared of losing a client, a contract, a job, a friend, something like that. And I’m like, No, guys, you gotta just tell it like it is. And the problem. The problem is, is that the problem is, is that now that I’ve turned my life around, I’m kind of this black and white guy, I don’t see things in gray a whole lot anymore. So it’s like, call it out saying what it is, be truthful, let the chips fall where they may. So it’s that motivation of you know, somebody’s got to say what needs to be said. And I try to be fair across the board. I do. But I am opinionated. But I’ve tried to be open minded as well.


Mike Malatesta  36:05

From what I’ve seen, I agree with you. It’s, it’s, it’s fine. It’s great. It’s fine to have an opinion, but you’re not a dog. You’re not dogmatic. I try not to be at least I haven’t seen that.


Brett Johnson  36:15

You know, if someone if someone tells me something, if I’m wrong about something, I will say you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I see your point of view, and go like that. If and sometimes it’s hard to swallow that pride. You know, yeah, you’re right. I was wrong. So Yeah.


Mike Malatesta  36:31

Were you a leader when you were in prison? Yeah,


Brett Johnson  36:33

that was the weird thing. So I was a big spring, when everyone found out that I was a secret service snitch. And even there, I was not the guy that that bowed down to anyone that joined gangs, I had my own, you know, I just did my thing, and people would tend to follow. Certainly by the time I got to I did my drug drug abuse program at a place called Fort Worth. And at that point, I was absolutely one of the leaders of that program. And it boils down to I don’t, I don’t, I don’t try to be a leader. But it boils down to just not following what people want. I think that you follow what’s healthy. But I don’t think that you should be a sheep that you shouldn’t. I don’t think that you adopt people’s opinions that you I think that you that you form your own opinions. Those may agree with other people, but you don’t you shouldn’t have pundits tell you what to do, or tell you what to think. And I think that’s a lot of what’s wrong with society these days.


Mike Malatesta  37:35

And when you first when you first got out of prison, when you said, you know, you got your cat, and all of that was Yeah, was there anyone there to? To meet you?


Brett Johnson  37:44

Yeah, my dad, my dad was the guy who helped me escape from prison. I used and manipulated him into doing that. And he met me when I was out of prison, and he had been doing some of the tax fraud stuff. So he had some cash for me and all that. But that was, you know, the thing is, is you’re released from prison with the exact same tools you go in with and while I didn’t, I had no taste of breaking the law, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t accept some criminal proceeds. Those were, you know, I was completely and I do mean completely just lost, listless, didn’t know what the hell I was going to do anything else. And I was it was, it was destined almost destined for me to go back to prison. That’s what I was saying. I you know, I made that illusion earlier, that I had been dating the exact same type of women I had been dating, I was in the exact same mindset. I was prior to going into prison. It took those turnarounds for meeting my wife recidivating on that, and then finally, reaching out to the FBI, if Keith moreschi If that agent had not responded, I truly believe I’d be back in prison for 20 years. He gave me that validation. I mean, you really did. Michelle. Denise, Denise, caused me to accept responsibility. Michelle showed me what I did and continues to show me what a healthy relationship is. And then that FBI agent gave me that validation that I needed that, hey, you can choose to be a legal person, and it’ll be okay. So all those things together, it took all those people and meet me making that decision to turn my life around. It took all those people to end up me being where I am today. And at the same time, you know, I, I’ve got a great support group, the safety net of people that that consistently check in on me. And while I don’t have friends, I have people that care about me. And that means a lot. It really does. I cannot I used to be the very loner type of guy. And I still am to a large degree, but I’ve still got I’ve got a lot of people out there that consistently check in on me and they care about me and they have gained a lot of respect in this industry now of being the guy that will call things out that I know what I’m talking about. And you know, it took a few years but people really realize that hey, I’m serious about trying to help people. I go out of my way from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, I tend to be working all the time. Do you


Mike Malatesta  40:07

think you’ll ever go back into acting? You know, I


Brett Johnson  40:09

gotta tell you I? That’s an interesting question. Usually I’m asked, you know, do I have any regrets? And the answer is going to be the same. No, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be doing exactly the thing that I’m supposed to be doing. There’s not a doubt in my mind about that. I think that, you know, my entire history of everything that’s been done to me, everything that I’ve done to other people, has led to me being able to do what I’m doing today, right now. I love stage acting, I do. But I’m able to get on stage now. And not only have fun on stage, but also be truthful on stage to me and other people. And and there’s this whole growth thing, not just with me, but you know, the people that I talk to that it resonates. And that’s much more effective than going by somebody’s script on an employee or something like


Mike Malatesta  40:59

that. Yeah, you’re the character. Yeah, it’s your script. Right?


Brett Johnson  41:03

You know, the thing about acting is you’re always you’re always looking for truth on stage. And what I do now is all about truth on stage. So I’m doing what I want to do


Mike Malatesta  41:13

more truth every time, every time, every time. Well, Brad, thank you so much for spending so much time with me today, and sharing your story and wow, what’s the best place for people to I mean, I mentioned your website and stuff earlier, but what’s How do you want people to connect with you and who should be connecting with you?


Brett Johnson  41:29

Hey, you know, you know, the thing is, is that, you know, I talk a lot about cybercrime, identity theft, cybersecurity, I do that that’s, that’s my lane. But my other lane is this, this journey that I’ve got about trying to become a better person. So I talk a lot about that in my shows as well. So you can contact me on LinkedIn, you can reach out on my website, www dot anglerfish pH i You can find me at the Bret Johnson Show. I’m on Spotify, I’m on iTunes, some of these other podcast platforms as well. I will tell you this, if you reach out to me, you can find me on Twitter too. If you reach out to me, I’m going to connect back with you. If you ask me a question, you may have to chase me down a little bit. But I promise you, I will respond. I mean that I just believe if someone takes the time out to connect with me and ask me a question, I believe that, that not responding and not following you guys back. I don’t think that that’s the proper thing to do. I think that it just shows mutual respect for me, too. If you’re going to take the time to listen to me and engage you ask a question. I’m going to answer you back, you may have to chase me down because I tend to be a little busy sometimes. But I will get back with you. Alright, so if you’ve got any problems or anything like that, if you’ve got a question, please do reach out to me, I take that thing that stuff seriously.


Mike Malatesta  42:42

And I’m we’re living proof of that because I reached out and he reached out right away in a very unique way. So Bret Johnson, thank you so much for being on the show.


Brett Johnson  42:52

Thank you for bringing me on.


Mike Malatesta  42:53

I appreciate it, everybody. Thanks for listening to the show. And before you go, I just have three requests for you one if you like what I’m doing, please consider subscribing or following the podcast on whatever podcast platform you prefer. If you’re really into it, leave me a review, write something nice about me Give me five stars or whatever you feel is most appropriate. Number two, I’ve got a book it’s called owner shift how getting selfish got me unstuck. It’s an Amazon bestseller, and I’d love for you to read it or listen to it on Audible or wherever else Barnes and Noble Amazon, you can get it everywhere. If you’re looking for inspiration that will help you unlock your greatness and potential of order or download it today so that you can have your very own copy. And if you get it please let me know what you think. Number three, my newsletter. I do a newsletter every Thursday. And I talk about things that are interesting to me and or I give more information about the podcast and podcast guests that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve had with them. You can sign up for the podcast today at my website, which is my name Mike You do that right now put in your email address and you’ll get the very next issue. The newsletter is short, thoughtful and designed to inspire, activate and maximize the greatness in you

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Alexi Cortopassi

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