Bo Mitchell and his wife, Gari, discuss his involvement in a business scandal that led to him serving 11 months in prison for bank fraud. The couple describes how God used this situation to transform and heal their family. (Part 1 of 2)
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Bo Mitchell: But laying in that bunk and lookin' out the window on the big barbed wire, thinkin', I was never shakin' my fist at God, but I did think, "Are You sure you're in control? (Emotional) 'Cause it doesn't quite feel like it."
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John Fuller: Well, that's Bo Mitchell and he and his wife, Gari are with us today on "Focus on the Family" with a powerful story that you are going to appreciate. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I'm excited about the conversation today. We're going to speak with two very good friends, Bo and Gari Mitchell. And we have done things together. Bo often speaks on behalf of Focus on the Family. He helps us with events that we've put on. These are great people and they have an incredible story. In fact, years ago, they shared some of that story with Dr. Dobson.
I think it was back in 1994 and we're going to talk more in depth with them at this time because we have worked with Tyndale and published a book with Bo and Gari that I think will impact so many people to learn how to get through difficult days when you don't feel or sense that God is walking with you. And you're gonna benefit from it.
John: Yeah, in fact, the book is called Grace Behind Bars and in this book, Bo and Gari share very transparently about some of the struggles. And Bo is right now the chaplain and senior advisor for the Colorado Rockies, our hometown major league baseball team here in Colorado. And Gari is the director of consulting services with Crosswalk Fellowship. And they've been married for over 45 years?
Jim: Hey, first of all, congratulations on being married 45 years.
Bo: Thank you.
Jim: I'm talking to Gari, not you, Bo. (Laughter) That's incredible, Gari. How could you put up with him?
Gari Mitchell: Oh, thank you, Jim. It's been wonderful for probably 26 of it. (Laughter)
Bo: Very nice.
Jim: Hey, I love that honesty. Welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Bo: Thank you. Good to be here.
Jim: It's been a while. You finally decided to put this down in a book. It's a powerful story. We're gonna get more into that detail, but let's start by letting the listeners hear more about who you are, where you're comin' from, the type of people you were back then, and then we'll get into the trouble that you found yourself in. Um … tell us about your families and what it was like for each of you growin' up. Let's start with Gari. Why don't we start it there? Gari, what kind of family did you come from?
Gari: I grew up in a really great family. I have an older brother, two younger sisters and terrific parents. I remember my mom making these great meals every night and we were just close. I grew up in Denver and graduated from South High School and then went to the University of Colorado. I always loved music. So when I was right after high school, I joined a singing group called "The Folks About Town." And I sang in this group for a long time and Bo and I actually met through that group.
Jim: Let me ask you this, Gari. You seem to be in some ways and you know, Bo, you and I are buddies, so take this right, you seem to be an anchor kind of person, meaning you're solid. You're the anchor, asking the right questions. Is this the direction we need to go? Where are the boundaries? Is that a fair description when I describe you that way?
Gari: So, what you're saying is, I'm kinda even keel and Bo's not? (Laughter)
Jim: Well, you can describe it however you'd like. (Laughter)
Gari: He's totally even keel.
Jim: You know, typically that's how God pulls us together as couples.
Jim: We're not exact people. We don't think the same way typically. We're opposites. And when I think of you two as a couple, married 45 years now, I think of you in that way, kind of the person that's saying, can we really afford that?
Jim: You sure you want to do that? Is that fair?
Gari: Yes, that's fair and I thank you for that. (Laughter) I would say that I'm definitely more an introvert and he's definitely more an extrovert. We both love to be funny. We love humor, but I would say that's an accurate—
Jim: Well, that's good because—
Gari: --very accurate.
Jim: --as we unfold your story—
Jim: --humor is critical because of the difficulty you're into. Okay, Bo—
Bo: By the way—
Jim: --he's puttin' his hand up.
Gari: --Helen Dye [sp?], who is one of our best friends, passed away a few years ago, she would very respectfully say, "Those of us that know Bo and Gari the best, know that Gari really wears the pants." (Laughter)
Jim: Well …
Bo: Bo is just following her lead. So, that's kinda what you're saying.
Jim: But no it's not what I'm sayin', Bo. It's just sometimes, you know, usually between a couple, God makes sure somebody is sensible. (Laughing) That's what I'm sayin'.
Bo: He didn't work.
Jim: It's not about pants or no pants. It's just about who's got the sensibility to say, "Hey, are you sure?"
Jim: And that's fair. Now you do like to have fun and that's why I enjoy just hangin' out with you when we do the Focus events. I love your personality. It is extroverted. It is outgoing. You want people to feel comfortable. That's how I would describe you, but you describe yourself. What were your growing up years like and who are you and what kind of family are you comin' from?
Bo: Let's see, my dad, Dale Mitchell, was a great major league baseball player in the '40's and '50's. He nine and a half seasons where he hit 312 for the Cleveland Indians and then was traded to the Dodgers.
Jim: You were how old when he was playing the big leagues?
Bo: Seven years old when he quit, so my earliest years were spent just attending ball games, going back and forth from Cleveland to Oklahoma City where we lived. But because of my dad's fame as an athlete, sports was the major theme in our home.
Now my mom was a two-fisted loving Christian, so I was gettin' that at the same time I was getting the message from my father, "If you hit 450, son, that's good. If you hit 200, that's not good, not acceptable."
Jim: So, really performance based.
Jim: But his life was that way, too. That's what he lived by.
Bo: Yes and it didn't bother me. I thought, good, I need to know 450's good; 200 stinks. So, it didn't bother me at all, but it was very competitive and pretty intense. We had alcohol issues with my dad from the time I first can remember. It was never knowing for sure [if] you're gonna get stroked or swatted as a kid, 'cause what kind of mood was dad in? He was a great guy, funny, obviously great success in business after his baseball career 'cause of his competitiveness, but tough.
Jim: Let me ask you, because not many children have the experience of growing up in a professional athlete's home, whether it's football, baseball, basketball, whatever it might be. And our culture lifts up the sporting world so profoundly. It's kinda like back in the gladiator days of Rome. I mean, they get away with things that most people don't get away with. They are on a platform and command the attention of the media in ways that normal people don't. What was that like being a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old, going to the Cleveland Stadium and probably doing some road games? Was it heady? Did you understand at 7-years-old that, hey, my dad's pretty much the stuff?
Bo: (Laughing) Yes and no. I mean, on one hand, he's just dad. On the other hand, especially in the '40's and '50's, if you think about it, the NFL was just starting to grow in its popularity. The PGA Tour was really about the same state. Arnold Palmer hadn't yet lifted it to where it is today. NBA not much, so if you were a major league baseball star, you were one of the most famous athletes in the world and that's what my dad was.
But I was always just proud of it. I always had this feeling that more was expected of me because of who he was, but that didn't bother me either. I just thought by the fifth grade on, you know, this is fun, yes, but it's more fun to win. It's more fun to clobber these people we're playing. It's more fun to score 20 points than not score any points in basketball or hit a homerun and strike out. So, none of that bothered me, but I was just proud of my dad.
Jim: You had an experience I think in the World Series, your dad did, but it affected you and your mom and your family, when he was part of a World Series. Describe that whole event, 'cause I think it brings all of us a little closer to who you are and who your dad was. What happened?
Bo: I was sittin' in the stands with my mom. It's what you're referring to, Jim, at the 1956 World Series on October 8th. It was the fifth game of the series, Yankees against the Dodgers.
And I got to go to the World Series that year because my big brother, Dale, Jr., had gone in 1954 when the Indians got clobbered by the Giants. But on that day in 1956, the Yankee pitcher, Don Larson, was mowing down the Dodgers and pretty soon the word spread nationwide and millions of people were tuned in to what turned out to be the only perfect game ever pitched in World Series history. So, no hitter is good. It means nobody gets a hit for the opposing team. A perfect game means, nobody reaches base—no walks, no errors, nothin'.
Twenty-six up, twenty-six down and the last batter the Dodgers called to the plate was my father, Dale Mitchell. So, I can remember his name being announced over the PA system and my mother pulling me up real close to her and saying, "Son, keep your mouth shut. If your dad gets a hit right now, these Yankee fans might kill us." And I was thinking, "Wait a minute." I thought we were just watchin' a ball game here. This got rather serious.
And of course, not wanting to disappoint the whole world, my dad struck out, ended the game and that thrust me into therapy for the rest of my life. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, I mean, it's an incredible story, but it just paints that picture. Describe for us how you two met and how the Lord brought together these colliding forces in Bo and Gari.
Gari: Well, first of all, I always loved sports growing up. So, we had that in common. And we had some other issues. I had a few alcohol problems in my family, too. I came to Christ through Young Life when I was 19 and he came to Christ when he was 15 with Young Life. So, we had a lot of things in common when we met.
And then he had a roommate, Tim Evans, who was a good friend of mine, up in Boulder. And so, Tim Evans said, "Hey, I've got this friend of mine who's singin' in this night club with these two guys in Denver. Would you like to come down? So, he came down with this group and he walked in and I thought, huh, he's pretty cute. But then …
Bo: You thought I was extremely squirrely.
Gari: I did; I did a little bit, but …
Jim: I love the "But then" comment."
Gari: Yeah, but then, yeah. (Laughter)
Jim: He was really cute, but then …
Bo: There's more.
Gari: Yes, but then.
Jim: Fill that blank in for us.
Gari: He was his normal, you know, just outgoing, fun, really cute, 6'3", he's blond, he's handsome, blue eyes. I mean, I just thought this a pretty cool guy. But then when we were walking out, he said, "Would you like to go out sometime?" And I thought, "Oh, I don't know," you know, with working a lot. And then he looked at me and he was walkin' behind me and he said, "Boy, you have got great wheels."
Jim: (Laughing) Great …
Gari: And I looked at him—
Bo: --term for legs.
Gari: --and I said, "Well, what does that mean, wheels?"
Bo: Everybody knows that, right?
Gari: I just thought, oh, I really … but anyway, that's how we met.
Jim: (Laughing) Great wheels, you run fast.
Gari: That's how we met. And so, Bo …
Jim: You must have been running away from him. (Laughter)
Gari: No … anyway, it was so funny. So …
Jim: You said yes. That caught you, that phrase.
Gari: I said yes, it did. I wouldn't, you know, recommend that to anyone, but it was cute and then we started dating, well maybe a couple weeks later. I was just finishing up my time with this group and I was going to school at the time. The three of us were going to school at the time, and so I was kinda done with that. And then we started dating in a couple weeks.
Bo: I thought it was two nights later actually. And we got engaged in three weeks.
Gari: Well, that's true.
Bo: So, I view it as a God deal that we just talked all the time. So I was in the middle of basketball, baseball preparation at CU and I said to my friend, Tim Evans, "Wait a minute. This beautiful girl is a friend of your family's and you've never taken her on a date." He's like, "No, you think she's cute." And I said, "It doesn't matter anymore. You're out of the picture, (Laughter) 'cause I'm gonna take her out."
Jim: (Laughter) You cut the conversation off.
Bo: It was just a God deal. He put us together and our faith was at the point where we knew the Lord was—
Jim: And you—
Bo: --bringing us together.
Jim: --and you were in sports. You were trying to get on with a professional team. You played in the minor leagues and you came up. Did you come up for a season or two with the major leagues?
Bo: Just missed it. (Laughing) No, I never got out of A-Ball. I was phenomenal in high school, good in college and really sorry in the pros.
Jim: Well, that's a lot of good athletes—
Jim: --follow that same path.
Bo: The Lord had my ego harnessed enough at that point that I could look around and think I'm not as good as these other guys. And I could do this for 10 years. We were married, had a child by then and it was a good choice to quit. In fact, I called a press conference to announce my retirement and no one came. (Laughter)
Jim: Is that a true story?
Gari: No. (Laughter)
Bo: I made that up, sorry.
Jim: Okay, but let's move into what you did get into and that's the business world and real estate and you were thriving in that area, doin' pretty well. Take us to the story that is the story, Grace Behind Bars, the title of your book, that begins to peel back everything about who you are. What kind of business guy were you? I'm assuming at that point you're pursuing the Lord. You have a relationship with God. I don't know what that was like. You could describe it for us, but you were an honest person, right?
Bo: Oh, yeah. And Gari and I were very involved in ministry. We had been on the Young Life committee there in Boulder in our first years of marriage. We did Christian Marriage Encounter retreats, where we would teach together. And in 1982 Jim and Barb Dickson, Bob and Allison Beltz and Gari and I started Cherry Hills Community Church in Denver.
Jim: Which is a huge church today. I mean, that's big.
Bo: Yeah, 10,000 plus probably now members, but we were just kind of doing what we though was obedient. Now I, unfortunately, took the same competitiveness I'd learned from my dad in sports into the business world and into ministry. So, it was always a little bit, "Fire, ready, aim" for me. Just too quick on everything frankly and I thought there was something to be gained by thinking that quickly and responding to things that quickly.
So, business, I was never a big-time real estate developer, but I was doing well, making a lot of money. We would still see that all our heads needed to be in the game in terms of business. Our hearts were in ministry.
So, the very start of this story, Grace Behind Bars, happened in 1984 when Cherry Hills built a new building and some of the guys that had helped me to sign personal guarantees to build the church asked me 35 days later if I would borrow money to help them with some of their cash flow problems in business.
Jim: So, these are guys in the church?
Bo: Yep. In the church, good friends and I view 'em still today as good people that maybe made some mistakes, but hey, don't we all?
Jim: Well, that's generous, given the story that's gonna unfold. But before we get there, let me just remind folks, they're listening to "Focus on the Family" and today our guests are Bo and Gari Mitchell. We're covering their memoir, really their biography, Grace Behind Bars and we're about to crack that story open and uh … before we move there though, a part of this story, Bo, is Gari, you as Bo's wife, what kind of man is he at this point? What are you seeing? What kind of father was he to the kids?
Gari: You know, you said a minute ago, Bo, are you an honest man. And I've never known anyone other than, I mean, I've known a lot of people, but Bo has the most incredible reputation. He's a person that if he says he's gonna do somethin' for you, he does it. I've never known him to lie. All he cares about's helping people. He's just an amazing person and I've always been so very, very proud to be his wife.
And he was a great dad. He's always been a great dad. And he was very involved with business. I think he was working, I don't know, Bo, like 20 hours a week getting Cherry Hills started, for about five years.
Jim: On top of the regular job.
Gari: On top of the regular jobs. And he was going to seminary at the time during this period.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Gari: I always think that Bo can do like three jobs in the time most people can do one job. So, I just tag along and (Laughing) so anyway, when you say that, I just want everyone to know what a great person he is.
Jim: Okay, now let's move to the story, Bo. There you are, a good guy, responsive to all, tryin' to be a good Christian man by being there for your friends. This money has been requested by the community of believers to help build the church. Two of these guys put in some money. You feel, I'm sure, a bit obligated, 'cause you're one of the founding members of the church.
They then come back to you 35 days later and say, "Bo, we kinda need your help, too. Would you be able to do some loans in our direction for some business purposes?" Take it from there. What happens?
Bo: Gari and I are comfortable saying that I felt in borrowing this money to help these friends, I was doing something heroic and noble. The banker who asked me would I help them, was also a good friend, also a part of our Bible study groups in our church.
And the whole meeting took about 10 minutes. So what was wrong with me in those days is too fast, not enough checks and balances, too confident that everything I touched was gonna work out, too loud, too aggressive, too much ego, too much pride. If we want to start a church, we buy a building, we open the doors and everybody comes. Why wouldn't they? If we want to start a television program to talk about Christ, we walk into Channel 4, we present it to 'em and they say, "Sure, when do you want to start?" And I said, "I don't even know what I'm talking about."
Jim: So, really trusting, too. That's a key factor here. You had a trusting attitude towards those around you.
Bo: I did and yeah, and I love those guys and I felt what I did was noble and heroic and did the paperwork properly, I thought.
Jim: So, how much did you borrow?
Jim: And in essence, you borrow this money to give to these other people to invest in other things that you weren't quite clear on.
Bo: No, I knew that their company they had just purchased, a big company in Denver, was having cash-flow problems and I know this was to fund one month of cash-flow problems they were having. But I was happy to do it. And they signed notes back to me and the money was repaid in orderly fashion.
Jim: Timely way. I mean, you—
Bo: Timely way.
Jim: --met those obligations.
Jim: Did the money you repaid come from them or from you?
Bo: It came from them back to me.
Jim: And you paid it off.
Jim: So, everything seemed right and then, what happened? Who contacted you with some concern?
Bo: Seven years later the FBI asked if they could have an appointment with me. Well, we never had anything in our life worse than a traffic ticket, so why wouldn't I talk to the FBI?
So, I met with this guy, which I shouldn't have and he asked me to put a wire on and go to these same friends, a few of which had filed bankruptcy by then and had really struggled financially, 'cause in the '80s, the S&L crisis and the real estate collapse caused some damage.
And this FBI agent (Chuckling) didn't like it when I smiled and said, "You know, sorry, but I'm now a team chaplain for the Denver Nuggets. I'm associate pastor of a church. I'm not gonna put a wire on and get these people to incriminate themselves." I said, "I'll tell you the truth, but I'm not stretchin' the story to help you nail these guys for something you think was criminal."
John: So, he was asking you basically to go undercover and do some spying on your friends.
Bo: Yeah, that's what it felt like to me.
Jim: Well, and we want to say, you know, we want to respect law enforcement obviously. Sometimes some things go awry. They're trying to do a job. We have many friends in the FBI that support Focus on the Family and they're good people. So, I want to make sure we get that disclaimer in there, but sometimes law enforcement can get really aggressive in their duty and this might be …
Bo: Sometimes they cross the line, when this guy looked at me and said, "Well, in that case, we're gonna fry your rear end."
Jim: That's what he said to you.
Bo: Yeah and I said, "Can you talk to people that way?" And he said, "I can; I do; and I will follow through."
Jim: And what happened? I mean, there you are, kinda being in the vernacular of that underworld, I mean, you're being strung out there, right?
Jim: You don't have many good choices.
Bo: Correct. And Gari used the word "terrorize." We felt terrorized for about the next six months, wouldn't you say?
Gari: Yes, we definitely felt terrorized and then when Bo came home after the first meeting in August and he said, "This is the phone call I got. And I went and had this meeting." And he's like, "I've never been a part of anything like this."
And I said, "And we've never watched." There was a show at the time called "Law and Order." Anyone remember that? We hadn't …
Jim: It still airs, I think.
Gari: It is and we didn't know anything about anything. We didn't know anyone that had gone to prison. We didn't know of anybody that'd been in a criminal thing.
Jim: This wasn't your world.
Gari: This was not our world. It was just something that was so foreign to us and also with this loan that Bo did with these friends, this was the only business deal he ever did with them.
Jim: How does this continue to unwind then, Bo? What are the next steps that law enforcement now takes, or the FBI, to shore up their case and they're obviously going after somebody in this.
Bo: Yes and they said I was not a target and I got an attorney involved from our church. And he kinda thought it was all a joke.
Jim: The attorney?
Bo: Yeah, I'm not sure he spent much time readin' the documents and even at some point, Chuck Colson, who had become a casual friend through a mutual friend in Denver, he said to me, you know, plea bargaining is a tough thing. You know, be careful, but he said, "You oughta pray there's something you did wrong technically. You oughta plead guilty so you can just sign your name and move on with your life."
Jim: Now this is Chuck Colson, the man who went to prison for Watergate--
Jim: --and became a wonderful Christian leader and built Prison Fellowship. But you would take his advice pretty seriously.
Bo: Yes. And a couple law firms that were advising me that just said, "Look, these people are tough to deal with." They normally, like you said, Jim, they normally are dealing with criminals. But anyway, having been promised probation, what it felt like is, the government was on a shopping spree through my life, just looking for anything I'd done. I likened it to, this'd be like the motor vehicle division calling you and saying, "You know, we have you on video for the last 20 years and we think there's a couple of moving violations in there over the last 20 years." That's what it felt like. They're shopping for something I did wrong.
And finally these loans you mentioned, they said this is called "straw borrowing." If you borrow money for a third party knowing that they can't borrow any more from a bank, in other words, you're kind of a middle man—
Bo: --that is written in a federal statute and is a felony. I said, "Well, I've never heard the term. Doesn't it matter that the money was repaid?" They said, "No, technically you did that."
Jim: That's the irony in this whole story is that everything on the outside, meaning the payment of the loan, the repayment of the loan took place.
Bo: Well, I got no fine from the judge, so I didn't pay a dollar fine. There was no restitution, because there wasn't anything owed. But it's just interesting that the statute itself says I coerced, induced and procured the commission of bank fraud. That's what I ended up pleading guilty to, thinking to save my family and my friends from this terror we were feeling. Plead guilty; sign your name. Go on with your life. So, with the promise of probation, that's what I did.
And this is really not what the book's about. The book's about how we recovered from this, because what happened was everybody seemed to get the message of this promise of probation except the judge. He kept referring to general deterrence in this final hearing, where I thought he'd tap me on the back and tell me to keep up the good work. And he said, "The least I can do for you is sentence you to 11 months in federal prison."
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that had to land like a hammer. You thought you were gonna, in essence, get your hand slapped for somethin' you didn't even know was illegal.
Jim: And now you're a felon.
Bo: Yes, I was. If I had been told that it's not the way we would've played out our end of the deal. We'd have fought 'em and gone to court.
Jim: Well, Bo and Gari, man, this is intense and not many of us are going to be convicted on a felony. And there's so much more we want to uncover with your story. Let's come back next time, continue the story and hear more about how God intervened and brought you through this gutter in order to teach you how to be more like Him. Can we do that?
Gari: We would love to do that. Thank you.
Bo: Thank you.
John: And we hope you'll be able to join us for the rest of the Mitchell's story. Now, in the meantime, get their book, Grace Behind Bars. You can order that when you call 800 - the letter A - and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or online - focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And when you donate today, a generous gift of any amount, we'll send a copy of Grace Behind Bars as our way of saying thank you for supporting the ministry of Focus on the Family.
On behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening and join us again tomorrow for more of this conversation with Bo and Gari Mitchell as we once again help you and your family thrive.
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Bo and Gari MitchellView Bio
Dudley "Bo" Mitchell is the chaplain and senior advisor for the Colorado Rockies, and the former chaplain for the Denver Nuggets. He is the co-founder of several organizations including Teammates for Kids, Providence Network, Crosswalk Fellowship and Game Day Memories. Bo's wife, Gari, is Director of Consulting Services for Crosswalk Fellowship. Prior to this, she was a senior consulting associate with Masterplanning Group International, a MOPS mentor and a board member for MOPS International and Valor Christian School. Gari also founded Cherry Hills Christian Schools. Bo and Gari have two married children and four grandchildren.