You really have to admire Greg Lindberg for writing a self-help book. This is, after all, the insurance mogul who allegedly pilfered $2 billion from his policyholders to live large; was accused in The Wall Street Journal of paying spies to tail models he wanted to date; and spent $50 million on lawyers to get his conviction for bribing the state’s top insurance official overturned after he’d spent 633 days behind bars.

As it happens, 633 Days Inside is the title of Lindberg’s new memoir. In it, he invokes Winston Churchill, Sergey Brin, and Miguel de Cervantes to show how genius works—or more particularly, how his genius works. And he’s currently training that genius on his latest obsession: living forever.

It’s not surprising that the Durham native has his eye on longevity. Once he’s retried on the bribery case this fall, Lindberg will jump right into a second prosecution, that one the result of a federal indictment filed in February that charges him with draining his companies to pay for yachts and mansions. Girding for the long haul, he fills his book with lines like, “The biggest lesson I learned from my fellow prisoners is what resilience really means.”

What he doesn’t talk about in the memoir—at least in any meaningful way—is what sent him to prison in the first place: the millions he spent on campaign contributions in Raleigh, and how he stumbled into an FBI investigation that anyone who passed influence peddling 101 should have seen coming. 

As a result of that elaborate sting, his companies have been seized in a blizzard of state and federal actions, his fortune has largely evaporated, and his private life has been turned inside out. 

But the 53-year-old isn’t down. Far from it. With a pugnacious streak and batteries of high-priced lawyers to help him wield it, Lindberg is ready to press his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if need be. 

Chasing immortality, Greg Lindberg is pumped up. 

I reach Lindberg via Zoom at his home in the Tampa area. A federal judge has restricted his movement to the middle district of Florida. “Fortunately, I can travel freely from Naples all the way to Jacksonville, so it’s not too bad,” he says. “And I don’t need a plane. So I got rid of that and saved a bunch of money.”

A decade ago, Lindberg was a wealthy but low-profile Yale economics grad who traded in distressed companies. Then he got interested in insurance companies—the kinds with humongous cash reserves—and the commas on his net worth started moving. In a whirl of life-changing moments, he divorced his wife of 14 years, began dating starlettes whom he secretly had followed, and moved into a $5.5 million mansion in Raleigh. 

The insurance commissioner at the time, Wayne Goodwin, helped Lindberg by upping the cap on the assets that his insurance companies could invest. The ceiling was raised from 10 to 40 percent, giving Lindberg a gusher of money that allowed him to keep up his buying binge, which also included a $44 million super yacht he called Double Down.

In an April 2019 file photo, Wayne Goodwin speaks with an aide at the Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh. It was his first interview after federal bribery and conspiracy charges were lodged against donor Greg Lindberg and state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

After Goodwin narrowly lost his bid for a third term in 2016, Lindberg approached the GOP winner, Mike Causey, with an offer to donate $10,000 to his next campaign.

What happened next filled two weeks of testimony at Lindberg’s bribery trial.

By his own account, Causey gave off mixed signals. Although he made it clear he wouldn’t accept the donation for an election that was still four years away, he agreed to put in a friendly call to the insurance commissioner in Michigan to help Lindberg with the acquisition of an insurer there.

Soon after that call, one of Lindberg’s aides called Causey to thank him for the assist. He also mentioned that Lindberg’s company, Global Bankers Insurance Group, planned to make a large contribution to the state’s GOP with an understanding that a portion would be diverted to Causey’s reelection. As Causey testified during a marathon appearance at Lindberg’s trial, “I wouldn’t call it a bribe. It looked like some kind of reward for me to make that call.” 

The offer weighed on the commissioner enough that when he attended a forum about health care fraud in Charlotte that fall, he sidled up to a federal prosecutor who’d just made a presentation. “I may have a couple of situations that I’ll be calling you about,” he told her, according to his recollection at the trial. 

A contentious meeting at Causey’s office in November 2017 tipped the scales. A recently promoted auditor on Causey’s staff, Jackie Obusek, had hired a consultant to review Lindberg’s balance sheets, and the consultant raised concerns that he didn’t have enough cash on hand to cover a high demand of policyholder claims. The regulators in Michigan had similar worries.

As Obusek testified, “They wanted to better understand what Mr. Lindberg was doing with the insurance companies he had in North Carolina before they allowed the acquisition in Michigan to take place.”

To assuage those concerns, Lindberg’s staff brought 11,000 internal emails to show how they were managing his investments. He also agreed to a compromise in which he’d lower the borrowing cap that Goodwin had lifted, from 40 percent to 24 percent. (Obusek was pushing for 10 percent.)

But he also made clear that if Causey’s office continued to provide what he viewed as unflattering information to Michigan officials, there would be hell to pay. “If this deal falls through, I’m going to sue you for $200 million,” Causey remembered Lindberg threatening.

Still from a secretly recorded video of Greg Lindberg discussing campaign contributions with Mike Causey. (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia Commons)

A few days before Christmas, the federal prosecutor whom Causey met in Charlotte introduced him to an FBI agent in the bureau’s public corruption unit. The agent was new to the section, according to his testimony, but eager. During a meeting at the FBI office on January 4, 2018, the agent convinced Causey to wear a wire. 

Over the next seven months, Causey went to extraordinary lengths to push Lindberg over an already-generous legal line. He visited Lindberg’s mansion in Raleigh. He even interviewed a job candidate Lindberg was pushing in an Italian restaurant in Chapel Hill, Tarantini, that had been closed for them. But Causey had trouble getting Lindberg to promise anything beyond the money he’d offered nearly a year earlier. 

Lindberg had already delivered $500,000 to the state party, with the understanding that $110,000 would go to Causey’s next campaign. But Robin Hayes, the head of the party, was dragging his heels distributing it.

(Hayes, a former congressman, eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when he claimed to have never broached Lindberg’s concerns with Causey. A judge sentenced the 75-year-old to a year probation; Donald Trump, in one of his last acts as president, pardoned him.)

With the FBI getting impatient, Causey ratcheted up the heat. In March 2018, he arranged a meeting at the airport in Statesville, which is in the jurisdiction of the U.S. attorney’s office based in Charlotte. As his button camera filmed Lindberg, he repeated words that the FBI agent told him to say: “Greg, this is going to be a lot of work. What’s in it for me?”

Lindberg offered to set up an independent expenditure committee that he’d fund with $2 million to help Causey’s reelection—an offer that had the patina of being legal, since North Carolina law allows corporate entities to contribute nearly unlimited sums to such committees. But the law explicitly bars these committees from coordinating with campaigns, which Lindberg appeared to do by offering to let Causey pick its board members. 

The feds, however, wanted more than a technical violation of campaign finance law. After scores of taped calls and hundreds of texts, they wanted to catch Lindberg explicitly offering a bribe in exchange for a quid pro quo.

In a March 27, 2018 meeting at the Global Bankers headquarters in Durham, the billionaire walked right up to the edge when he pressed Causey to replace Obusek with another regulator on his staff, a well-regarded auditor named Debbie Walker. But the way he said it didn’t sound particularly criminal, which helped muddy the waters about whether he intended to go over a legal line.

“Greg, this is going to be a lot of work. What’s in it for me?”

Mike Causey

“We’re not asking for easy regulation,” he said as Causey recorded him. “We’re asking for tough regulatory scrutiny on an unbiased basis. Debbie does not have bias against us. Jackie does. It’s that simple. … She’ll be tough and fair. That’s all we need.”

Before Causey visited Lindberg’s home in Durham once again on July 25, 2018, he changed strategy. His body mic rolling, he told Lindberg that he was no longer interested in a legal independent expenditure committee.

“Give me something I can control,” Causey said. He suggested that Lindberg funnel the money he’d promised straight into the coffers of the state GOP, and then have it diverted to Causey—a criminal act, since North Carolina law prohibits “conduit” contributions that are made anonymously or through strawmen.

“When I was overseeing campaign finance in the state, I’d always tell the leadership of the major parties, “You have to be really careful about money that comes into your party,’” says Kim Westbrook Strach, who stepped down from the state Board of Elections as executive director in 2019. “You cannot earmark it without disclosing it.”

Yet a Lindberg aide who was also present at the July 2018 meeting suggested they do just that: An initial payment would be made to the state GOP on the understanding it would be earmarked for Causey, followed by a larger one that would be made as soon as the commissioner reassigned Jackie Obusek. As the feds listened, Lindberg added: “So resolved. [We’ll] get on the horn with [state GOP chief] Hayes right away. Get the check over to the commissioner. By the end of August, you get the balance. We get Debbie Walker.” 

North Carolina State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. (Alan Campbell/Rocky Mount Telegram via AP)

On August 3, 2018, Hayes transferred $230,000 into Causey’s reelection campaign from the GOP’s account. Once Causey got confirmation, he emailed his FBI handler a record of the deposit. He also sent a screenshot of an unrelated blog post as a kind of coup de grace: 

“So how do you make them your bitch?” it read. “You get them to do things for you when they think they’re getting the upper hand.”

In his book, Lindberg uses the term “low social” five different times to describe his inability to pick up on personality cues. He also repeats it in our talk. 

“I’m just very low social, naturally,” he says. “And when you’re like me, it only takes one Mike Causey to ruin your life. In hindsight, I should have declined [to contribute]. But when your state insurance commissioner asks you to help his campaign out, you feel obligated. And that was the beginning of the train that I got on. I didn’t analytically sit down and say, ‘Oh gee, I need to do this.’ I felt I had to do it.”

The August 2019 bribery indictment from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District was jaw-dropping, even by the standards of a state that has seen its share of corruption cases. A fraud count alleged that Lindberg “executed a scheme … to deprive the citizens of North Carolina of their intangible right to the honest services of the commissioner … through bribery.”

Courtesy of Global Growth / Greg Lindberg

Some legal veterans questioned whether it was an overreach. After all, amid 723 texts, 252 calls, and more than 150 emails, the only incident that occurred in the Western District was the meeting Causey set up at the airport in Statesville. So it was not surprising when Lindberg and a pair of aides showed up to their 2020 trial with a defense that turned on the argument that Causey had gone to extraordinary lengths to set him up.

Causey, a 72-year-old former insurance agent, is known for brass-knuckled populism. Having tried and failed to win election to the office six times, he finally won in 2016 by 38,923 of nearly 4.5 million votes cast, then began irritating members of his own party by going his own way. (That’s been on display in recent months as he’s bucked the GOP by opposing a bill involving Blue Cross.) At the bribery trial, Lindberg’s lawyers painted the insurance commissioner as a kind of wannabe G-man, furtively running around Raleigh like he’d watched too many Jason Bourne movies. 

“In fact, sir, again, everything that you’re doing is designed to try to get Greg Lindberg to come out and offer to do something illegal, is it not?” one of the defense lawyers, Paul Johnson, asked at the trial.

“No. No, sir,” Causey replied.

During summations, lead prosecutor William Stetzer attempted to dispel any notion that Lindberg was a victim. “Bribery happens behind closed doors,” he said. “And in this case, the payments are cloaked with a veil of legitimacy.”

But for all the heated language, the case turned on a fairly mundane legal point—one that the trial judge, Max O. Cogburn, admitted he was straining to apply. In asking Causey to switch auditors, was Lindberg trying to influence an official act?

Lindberg’s lawyers argued that he’d come to the edge of that, but not beyond.

“People give donations hoping things will get better,” another of his lawyers, Brandon McCarthy, told the jury. “And that’s okay. It’s not okay to get a guaranteed benefit. If they had crossed that line … it would be a different matter. But they didn’t. They hoped things would be better. That’s it.” 

Judge Cogburn disagreed. In his instructions to the jurors, he said that if someone was attempting to influence a public official to do something that was “lawful, desirable, or even beneficial to the public,” it was still bribery.

After 12 hours of deliberations over three days, the jury came back with their verdict: guilty. 

On October 20, 2020, Lindberg walked into the minimum-security federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, to serve what he thought would be 87 months behind bars.

To hear Lindberg tell it, going to prison was the best thing that could have happened to him. 

“It was the height of COVID, and they put us in quarantine, five guys for 21 days,” he says. “We got our food. We had a TV. But that’s it. Until the minute I checked in, I was sending emails, talking on the phone. And then boom, nothing. It was like a complete detox.”

Those who’ve worked for Lindberg attest to his superpower in analyzing complex balance sheets. As he talks to me on Zoom, restlessly rocking back and forth with his eyes open wide, excitedly talking about his new passion, renewable energy, it’s easy to see a mind working at breakneck speed. 

“Every week I’m like a new me. It’s like, Huh, I made it.” 

Greg Lindberg

His self-published memoir races along at a manic clip, too, veering from quantum biology to the American justice system to his favorite team-building aphorisms. (Number 35: “One ‘C’ player on your bus can ruin your whole operation.”) But mostly, it’s a riches-to-rags story, told with breathy, this-could-happen-to-you tension.

His first job in prison, Lindberg writes, was cleaning toilets: “I had hoped to do something that allowed me to use my philosophy or economics degrees. Or my experience starting and turning around companies. Instead, I was a janitor.”

Still, he notes with characteristic self-regard that “I showed up every day and did an excellent job.” Eventually, he began teaching a class on entrepreneurship, and his book is filled with testimonials from inmates—most hand-written and addressed, “To whom it may concern.” One of them, a disgraced Alabama investor featured in the HBO Max docuseries Generation Hustle, noted, “I have been incarcerated with a wide range of high-profile inmates. Unlike them, Mr. Lindberg leads by example, is a natural teacher, and an inspiration to us all.”

In his spare time, Lindberg sat in the prison library, reading medical studies about the health and longevity benefits of fasting. His interest wasn’t new. He has nine children, ranging in age from 18 to a few months. Three are from his first marriage, three are with his girlfriend, and three have been born via surrogate with donor eggs. (Two more are on the way.) 

One of the women he hired, a Russian national named Ellen Alexander, wrote a pre-sentencing letter to Cogburn in which she recounted, “Greg told me that he believed [the] human body can live till 700 years long and his goal was to find that formula.” She ended her letter by saying, “I truly wish all his kids will have their father and provider and [that the] legal system will be kind to give us all that chance.”

Last July—633 days into his sentence—she got her wish. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lindberg’s conviction, finding that Cogburn erred when he told the jury that the billionaire’s conduct met the legal definition of trying to influence an official act.

The case is scheduled to be retried this November. But that may turn out to be the least of Lindberg’s worries. In February, the U.S. attorney’s office filed a second, broader indictment that carries a potential 40-year sentence. Based in part on an excoriating series in The Wall Street Journal, it accuses Lindberg of diverting $2 billion of his policyholders’ money into shell companies to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Listening to him, you wouldn’t know that he’s facing the prospect of being imprisoned well into his 90s. In fact, when I reach him, he’s almost giddy about his reinvention as an anti-aging guru.

“I’ve done 96 consecutive weekly fasts of more than 90 hours,” he enthuses. “That’s 8,600 hours in the last two years. My hair is dark red now. My skin wrinkles are going away. My testosterone is coming back. I’ve stopped taking any prescriptions. It’s just crazy what fasting has done to my body. If not for that, the stress would have killed me.”

Lindberg claims his fasts, which last four to five days, involve only drinking water, and when he finally sits down to dinner with the six kids who live with him, “I eat a couple of raspberries and a couple of blueberries, but everything [else] is a complex carbohydrate, like a vegetable or a serious protein, like fish or lamb.”

I ask how he feels. “After you get through 48 hours, you’re walking on water,” he replies. “There’s something that happens. A hundred thousand years ago, when we were on the hunt and five days with no food, our families were starving. But you know what? We were in a great mood. We had to be for survival. If we were not in a great mood, if we were depressed and tired and couldn’t find any polar bear to hunt, we were going to die.” 

He insists five-day fasting gives him “an amazing, positive attitude on life. Every week I’m like a new me. It’s like, Huh, I made it.” 

A still from Greg Lindberg’s Youtube video on changed strategy. (Courtesy of Greg Lindberg)

I know a little about anti-aging medicine. In the 2000s, I wrote a book called Steroid Nation that chronicled its emerging role in the performance-enhancing underground of sports. Since then, things like testosterone boosters and human growth hormone have gone mainstream through easy-to-find neighborhood anti-aging clinics. But I found myself overwhelmed by Lindberg’s casual use of terms like “quantum coherence,” as well as his certainty about five-day fasts. So, I ran his assertions past Natalie Newell, a registered dietitian with 22 years of experience at UNC Health. 

“I disagree it brings clarity,” she says, expressing some alarm. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. At five days, you’re not getting any health benefits. You typically see anxiety, poor concentration, fog, and fatigue. And at that point, you can convince yourself of anything.”

Lindberg’s freedom may prove fleeting. One of his closest business associates just settled a civil suit with the Securities and Exchange Commission, admitting that he helped breach their fiduciary duty to their customers. And the underlying facts in his bribery case haven’t changed. When he’s retried this fall, a new jury will still hear his voice on the recordings that Causey made. 

What has changed is the way his attacks on the Western District’s prosecutors have struck a chord. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus brief in his case, giving full-throated support to his argument that the prosecutors used an overly broad definition of bribery to ensnare him. And the ACLU accepted a showy million-dollar donation that he made to its Criminal Law Reform Project. (“People have taken to the streets nationwide to air their frustration with a system that is stacked against them,” he wrote in a press release announcing it.)

More significantly, his case fits a pattern in which appellate courts have been reigning in public corruption cases. In 2016, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated the corruption conviction of a former Virginia governor, Robert McDonnell, on the grounds that the government used an overly broad definition of “official act.” Since then, the courts have been steadily narrowing the definition. 

Josh Howard, a former chairman of North Carolina’s elections board who consulted with the state GOP during Lindberg’s prosecution, believes that Lindberg’s fight could have national implications. “This case is so exceedingly well-lawyered, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t go up to the Supreme Court,” he says.

So far, the biggest losers are the roughly 262,000 policyholders who’ve been stuck without access to their annuities since Causey seized five of Lindberg’s companies in what’s known as rehabilitation. A spokesman said the move became necessary when Lindberg failed to fill a $1.2 million hole in his balance sheets. 

As one 80-year-old Raleigh resident who’s owed $180,000 told WRAL, “It has just about ruined us financially.”

Earlier this month, a Wake County judge ruled that the holders of 65,000 annuities in one company could get up to 25 percent of their money back—a total of $444 million. The judge, Graham Shirley, is considering a similar arrangement with a second Lindberg insurer. But Lindberg’s lawyers have filed an appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, seeking a stay of that judgment.

On our Zoom call, Lindberg seemed bored talking about insurance. He claims that his new interest in renewable energy has led to 70 patents “that are going to repower the Earth.” It bothers him, he says, that anyone would still think of him as that guy who was throwing money around Raleigh four years ago. 

“The government tries to scare you,” he says. “They try to drain you, they try to roll you over. That’s it. That’s their playbook. Well, I’m not going to be drained, and I’m not going to be rolled. So, game on. I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. And I’ve proved it once. It’s Lindberg one, government zero. That’s the scoreboard.” 

Of course, there’s still plenty of time left on the game clock.

Correction: The number of hours Lindberg has fasted has been corrected, and who gave birth to his children has been clarified. 

Shaun Assael spent two decades as a senior writer with ESPN Magazine and as a member of the network’s investigations team. He was an executive producer of Pariah, the Showtime documentary based on his book, The Murder of Sonny Liston.

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