Get Rich or Lie Trying – Part 9 (Wolfgang's Big Score)
One in the Hand
Wolfgang and his cohorts from the National Institute for School and Workplace Safety were hard at work in 2000, trying to get their fledgling consulting business off the ground. Reports from the Indian River Press-Journal from September show an example of his pitch:
This district did indeed go on to purchase training workshops from NISWS, as a result of the safety audit.
Accounts like that pop up in newspapers all over the place, as Wolfgang does his traveling salesman routine, bouncing from one school district to another and hawking these products and services.
But at the same time, it’s evident that they simply weren’t doing enough business from just these small one-off deals. The NISWS crew were still missing something.
Part of the problem was that the political connections they had been counting on weren’t paying off yet; for the first year or so after starting the business, they were probably too proud to call in the favor. But in August 2000, a series of emails starts; the senders would change over time, but the recipient was always the same: Governor Jeb Bush.
Ron Davis sent out the first feeler. (NOTE: These emails are public records because they were sent to the governor’s office.)
Sent: Wednesday, August 23, 2000 11:46 AM
Subject: School Safety and Security
NAME: Ron Davis
ADDRESS: 249 Kettle Court
Casselberry, FL 32707
We met several times during both campaign’s in Orlando, as well as in Seminole County School District, where at that time School Security Director WOLFGANG HALBIG and I had the honor of spending time with you on how we had made National News on making this school district so much safer and aware of special training to all employees, which we designed and directed.
You requested us to get back with you after the ELECTION, to discuss further the need for all School Districts in Florida to at least see and evaluate what we have to offer.
Since, we too have moved on. We retired and started a National Company in School Safety and Security along with a Retired School Superintendent. See our web site www.nisws.com
I am a retired State Law Enforcement officer from FLORIDA. 17 yrs as a State Trooper and 8 yrs with Lawson Lamar, State Attorney Office Investigator. I was honored to be State Trooper of the Year in 1987 and received by Gov. Martinez and Cabinet. We are still trying to get to see you, per your request. We can truly help more districts, if given the chance. With respect and love to family.
RON DAVIS and Family
Davis received a one-sentence reply, and it was from a secretary, not even Bush himself. Basically they just brushed him off.
Clearly miffed, he responded a couple days later, pushing harder to try and get that long-awaited meeting with Jeb.
From: Ron Davis <[email protected]>
To: Florida Governor
Date: 8/29/2000 2:21:01 PM
Subject: RE: School Safety and Security
Dear Ms. Murray
Thank you for your response, we will be in Talla. on Sept. 8th meeting with F.D.L.E. Comm Tim Moore and staff reference our track record in helping school districts and law enforcement working together, per our training and software package that Attorney General Janet Reno praised when we met her in Wash. D.C.
Last night in Lake Mary, Fl. we met with Attorney General Butterworth, who also asked us to come see him, as his interest for our kids and school staff remains a priority.
We are still needing to see the Gov. or Lt. Gov, hopefully on the 8th or 9th, as they requested during their swing through Seminole County School District many months ago, and saw what all we have done and are doing for other counties and now other States. As the Gov. of Nebraska told us “Jeb Bush should be very happy to have you guys in his State assisting him in the school safety and security program” see per our web site www.nisws.com, because press was present
I did not have the heart to tell him, we have yet been able to see him, even though he asked us to meet with him months ago. Can you assist us please, let it show true that the little people can still be heard and seen.
Thank You So Much
I doubt very much that Jeb clicked their silly website. But here’s what he would have been met with if he had, courtesy of the Wayback Machine:
The spottiness of the Wayback Machine means we’re missing a few image files, but even for 2000, this is a pretty sparse website. Putting yourself in the position of a school administrator, one who is weighing whether this recently-founded “National Institute for School and Workplace Safety” business is legit or not, I think at best you’d still be wondering.
Maybe that’s normal for a new business, but remember that this is a business that’s supposed to be based on decades of experience from the three men that founded it. We don’t really learn anything specific about what Wolfgang, Ron or Richard have accomplished that would make them qualified to hawk school security products. (Then again, it’s not like Wolfgang could brag about the period when he’s mostly known for buying the Quadro Tracker hoax [see Part 7: Principal Wolfgang and the Fake Bomb Detectors.])
The website did go into some detail on what services would be sold to school administrators, those who filled out one of NISWS’s lead-generator forms during one of Wolfgang’s presentations.
Another section of the website gave some insight into the level of business the NISWS crew were drawing at this early point in their campaign. They listed 28 different districts, scattered mostly around the east of the US.
Though they didn’t give any info on exactly how much each of these clients bought into the NISWS product catalog. These may just have been presentations from Wolfgang, any nothing more, in many cases.
Finally, on another page, Wolfgang reveals that long-term, he was planning on holding a 2-day conference for school-safety administrators (and vendors) in Orlando.
Anyway, what is evident from the NISWS website archives is a confirmation of what we’ve already gleaned from the newspaper coverage: Wolfgang and his buddies were indeed doing business. They didn’t fall right on their face. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what they envisioned when they though Jeb was on board. The dream was fading.
In October 2000, it was Wolfgang’s turn to send Jeb an email. He sent it under the all-caps subject line “A PROMISE IS A PROMISE” and specifically summoned the memory of the moment he and Jeb shook hands, at Project Excel two years before. Oddly, he doesn’t state whatever the “promise” was, specifically:
From: Wolfgang Halbig
Date: 10/6/2000 5:26:10 PM
Subject: A PROMISE IS A PROMISE
My name is WOLFGANG W. HALBIG, I am the former director of PROJECT EXCEL an alternative school for students who have been expelled from public schools in Seminole County.
You were our guest twice with parents and all of our students appreciative of your visit. We provided excellent media coverage for your visit.
You extended your hand to me, and promised that if you were elected governor of our state that you would extend an invitation in discussing school safety and alternative education.
I believe in you and your brother in providing new vision and leadership for America. I am a naturalized citizen of this country who earned the privilege. I taught American Government in High Schools hoping to share my passion about government and on how we can make a difference.
I just gave the keynote speech for SAFE SCHOOLS in the state of NEBRASKA, invited by the Commissioner of Education and the Governor of the state of Nebraska. I am currently training over 1500 school resource officers and school administrators through the Federal Cops program across the United States, one of those national programs is slated for Tampa Florida in August.
If you know anyone in a company called FAMILY FIRST out of Tampa Florida, they evaluated our program and would be an excellent reference. AS YOU CAN SEE I AM TRYING…. I have no political clout except for my passion for our children and teachers in public schools. All I can do is ask for your consideration, you have children as does your brother, teaching character education is vital, I have always been taught that a promise is a promise. I am only asking because I believe in what we are trying to accomplish.
THANKS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.
WOLFGANG W. HALBIG
2561 GRASSY POINT DRIVE a 201
LAKE MARY, FLORIDA. 32746
p.s. I saw you at the Charlotte, N.C. Airport and you asked me to EMail You.
It is possible that this email did persuade Jeb to do something for Wolfgang. Or it might just be a coincidence. But just six days later, on Oct 12 2000, the governor’s office announced the appointments to that year’s Partnership for School Safety appointment. And Wolfgang was on the list. An official letter of commendation from Jeb himself followed a few weeks later.
This document, by itself, is revealing as to Wolfgang’s life at this time, though not in the way you might think. It’s the mailing address: He was still occupying the apartment at this point. Living his bachelor life. But it wasn’t long after this when a significant change happened in Wolfgang’s family: Kathleen took him back.
The Halbigs weren’t in a hurry to remarry, but they did live together again, after this. Wolfgang’s ex-wife Kathy had bought a house in Apopka (in neighboring Orange County) back in 1997, and it appears Wolfgang moved in with her sometime around 2002. The family was reunited; their son Erik was 20, and Karl was almost 19 .
Wolfgang emailed Jeb once again, in January 2001. It was a short message this time, with Wolfgang reminding the governor “I conduct safety and security assessment across the country” and attaching an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explaining “I hope this article will open discussion between you and our Department of Education. Students are bored and getting into trouble.” (However, the attached articles are not available, so it’s not clear quite what the context was.)
By the spring of 2001, Wolfgang was likely preoccupied with some trouble on the home front. It seems that his oldest son Erik was starting to unravel — and accumulate a criminal record.
The records from Seminole County start on March 4 2001, but it appears Erik was already in some kind of trouble at that point, because when the cops pulled him over that night (for failing to observe a traffic signal) he was also found to be driving with a suspended or revoked license.
This could be the result of getting busted in another state, or he might have had his license revoked when he was a minor. (Maybe both, I dunno.) But whatever started it, it soon got worse. Two months later, he got pulled over again, and caught with alcohol in his car while underage. If he’d waited two days he would have been old enough; but they found weed, too. And worst of all, he appears to have had a fake ID. A felony!
One can picture Wolfgang maybe wincing at his son’s run-ins with the law here, given his own law enforcement, drivers ed, and chief-disciplinary-officer careers. But mostly, the situation is just worth noting as being additional stressors on Wolfgang at this time in his life.
Meanwhile, NISWS was still struggling along. Then, a few months after Wolfgang’s son’s run-ins with law enforcement, a national tragedy occurred that changed everything for Wolfgang: the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. For firms like NISWS, the new “War on Terror” era signified the end of a their gold rush. Suddenly, Columbine was not on the tip of everyone’s tongue anymore. Terrorism was the new scare-word. And the entire funding environment changed overnight.
Five days after the towers fell, Wolfgang was quoted for an article about this new era of security measures, and in his comments sounded desperate for business, assuring readers their training “doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
A month later, in October 2002, Wolfgang’s appointment to the Partnership for School Safety and Security expired. It had been a valuable source of visibility and networking for him, but now this one single bone that Jeb Bush had tossed him was gone.
Then in November, there are signs that things were not going well behind the scenes at NISWS. It appears that Wolfgang tried to file a lien on a condo owned by a man named Allen Flood — who had been the president of a corporation called the Children’s Safety Network that had merged into NISWS back in 2001 (the day before 9/11, apparently).
Wolfgang filed the lien back in April, but now the court had issued its ruling: that the lien Wolfgang filed was “invalid, void, and of no legal effect.” And regarding Wolfgang himself, “the person signing the original lien was not the president of the corporation, nor was he authorized to execute the lien.”
According to NISWS’s corporate records, five days after Wolfgang filed the lien on that property in April 2002, he also filed paperwork to remove Allen Flood as the President and registered agent for NISWS.
That five-day gap may even have been why the lien was dismissed (since he wouldn’t have been President yet). But it’s pretty difficult to tell exactly what was going on here. Whatever it was, Wolfgang didn’t get what he wanted. And it seems like things weren’t going great at NISWS around this time.
The setbacks were piling up, and Wolfgang was probably feeling dejected by this point. He coped with these feelings the way he always did: by emailing Jeb Bush again.
This time he was outright begging for a job, and throws in his origin story (apparently giving up on reminding Jeb that they supposedly met a couple times before).
From: Wolfgang Halbig
Date: 12/21/2002 4:01:26 AM
Subject: Safe Schools Information Sharing Technology Program
I served as the school principal at an alternative high school called Project Excel In Seminole County, Florida. This is a second chance school for students who were expelled. As a naturalized citizen from another country who couldn’t speak a word of English, and still has a hard time sometimes. I wanted the responsibility of teaching and mentoring the most difficult students that others labeled as losers.
I was an at-risk child in the United States, I never knew who my father was. Please consider allowing me to work with your administration, whether helping Mr. Regier or on your educational staff. My passion and honesty is crystal clear. Mr. Charlie Crist the former commissioner of Education, Mr. Jim King President of the Florida Senate has seen a part of my presentations. I would also recommend former Senate President Toni Jennings as someone who would support my hopes in your consideration.
As a former Florida State Trooper who was the first college graduate to enter the academy in Tallahassee, and leave as the class president not too bad being an at-risk child, no father as a role model and always destroying the English language. Please give me a chance, just as someone once had faith in you. You will not be disappointed in my work ethics and the passion for children and education.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.
This was clearly Wolfgang throwing out all the stops, desperate to get some kind of career resurrection going. But Jeb didn’t reply.
Red Flags, Real Heroes
There is footage of the Wolfgang/Sonitrol sales pitch in action. It’s from an evening on March 15, 2003, when the gang gave a presentation to Catholic Diocese of Orlando. And while all indications are that NISWS’s business prospects were looking pretty grim around this time, you wouldn’t know it from watching Wolfgang’s performance.
According to a later news article from the diocese, the audience was of about 900, and that looks believable from the moments when the camera pans around the room.
The content of Wolfgang’s presentation is very reminiscent of the 1999 clip, but back then he was a school board employee addressing congress. Now, as a school-safety consultant addressing a room full of potential leads, he’s much more animated. His charisma comes through, and at times he appears to have the crowd in the palm of his hand; they’re all teachers or school administrators, and so when Wolfgang hits his “disrespect” catchphrase, they of course eat it up.
With more time to monologue, Wolfgang goes into a few details about his life and family, once again hitting certain beats that correspond to his sales pitch. He even throws in a callback to his own catholic-school upbringing in Germany, among other riffs:
- “I never knew who my father was. And I’m angry. You know there are millions of children out there that need us more than ever?”
- “I’ll tell you what, my wife is a middle-school teacher. She is ready to quit. I’ll tell you. She’s teacher of the year, she’s ready to walk away.”
- “Don’t let people tell you how bad these kids are; you might be that one teacher who could save my son. My son got into trouble with drugs. If it weren’t for the teacher and school counselor who saved my kid? He’d be in jail.“
- “This state trooper says: Let me show you how we do it in Miami, Florida.”
The “we” phrasing he chose in his “never going to get rich in this profession” line masked the fact that he wasn’t one of them, a school employee, any longer. But it seemed effective enough. At times we can see ushers going up and down the aisles, handing out forms that will become leads for new NISWS business. And Sonitrol’s Bill Ford watching hopefully from the sidelines.
What was the Real Hero Foundation? Well, it was the name for Wolfgang’s organization that was going to collect signatures, to pass a new amendment to the state constitution: one that would require Florida lawmakers to spend one day a year working at a school.
In his 2012 deposition, Wolfgang is asked about the foundation, but he doesn’t say anything about any of this stuff. He just remembers that it was “a nonprofit organization that we tried to get started in helping school districts fund the Save-A-Friend Hotline.” Which… I guess is more honest, in terms of what he was after; the whole point of all this was probably to drum up publicity for NISWS, and if it ever passed, Wolfgang could expect the lawmakers to back school-safety funding increases after serving their time. (It’s very unlikely he ever collected even a fraction of the 488,722 signatures he would have needed.)
It did earn Wolfgang some more mockery in the press, at least.
Anyway, Wolfgang and the NISWS were still waiting for their breakthrough contract, a client that would buy a full slate of their products for a large number of schools.
The Big One
National Institute for School and Workplace Safety: Save-A-Friend Hotline Program Signs Big Maryland School District
HEATHROW, Fla.(BUSINESS WIRE) Oct 27, 2003:
The National Institute for School and Workplace Safety (OTC Pink Sheets:NIFW) has received a commitment from Anne Arundel School District to implement NISWS’ Save-A-Friend Hotline program. This will be the largest school district to adopt this innovative hotline program that focuses on saving children, not drugs, weapons, and crimes like its many competitors. In Florida, the SAF hotline in one small county receives over 150 calls a year, 40 more than the statewide BE BRAVE hotline that operates in 39 counties and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars more to operate.
Wolfgang Halbig, executive director of NISWS, and a former state trooper and school safety director says: “We should not be judged on how many children we put into jail, but how many lives we save.” As the driving force behind the hotline, he wants schools to focus on helping children through the difficult school years by having an anonymous place they can call and get help on suicide, abuse, threats, intimidation and bullying. “This is a live voice service whose job it is to ask ‘How can I help your friend’ not how can we put more kids in jail,” adds Mr. Halbig.
It is NISWS’ goal to add 100 new school districts a year to its Save-A-Friend hotline services, one school district at a time. Currently there are over 16,000 school districts in the U.S.
Anne Arundel was a huge district, compared to the ones Wolfgang and his pals had landed so far. And the district would be paying for NISWS’s services primarily through a recent grant obtained through the federal Safe School Initiative.
A couple weeks later, Wolfgang and his buddies put out another press release on this point, proclaiming that the federal funds for school safety were finally about to “flow” through more districts, and in fact were already improving their business prospects.
National Institute for School and Workplace Safety: The Safe School Initiative Funds Begin to Flow
HEATHROW, Fla. (BUSINESS WIRE) Nov. 10, 2003
The state and federal funds targeted to school districts for the purpose of providing a safer academic environment for all students have reached over $2.5 billion in 2003. With funding coming from the No Child Left Behind Act, Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the Department of Education, educators are now able to proactively examine and improve their safety and security programs without stressing the local budgets.
In a recent presentation to 300 School Resource Officers and Principals put on by the Justice Department’s COPS program, Wolfgang Halbig, Executive Director of NISWS, asked the audience: “How do you know how or what to spend the money on if you don’t first determine what your problems are? Accountability and getting the best bang for the buck are the keys to a well executed Safe School Plan, and reducing the negligence liability of the school district.”
NISWS has received over 20 calls from recently funded school districts (average grant over $500,000) and been invited to speak at numerous conferences as the educators determine how to spend these targeted funds in their schools. The highest demand is for the NISWS School Safety Plan and Emergency Management Plan that are an essential first step in implementing a viable safety or security program. NISWS also conducts independent safety assessments and is often asked to train local school staff in the proper method to conduct a school safety audit.
Within a few months, the Anne Arrundel connection was set to be the first one that truly, finally, paid off. The break they had been waiting for.
NISWS Lands Important Contract.
HEATHROW, Fla. (BUSINESS WIRE) March 16 2004
“The National Institute for School and Workplace Safety, Inc. (OTC Pink Sheets: NIFW), a Heathrow- based publicly traded company specializing in school safety and security issues, just received a $395,000 one-year contract to assess 122 schools and provide training for bus drivers, administrators, teachers, and staff in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. NISWS was selected over 15 national security companies that had bid on the project. The company is also providing the County with the “Save-A-Friend” Hotline Service and a character education program called “Break the Code of Silence.”
According to Executive Director Wolfgang Halbig: “Taking on a project of this magnitude is a big step for the company. NISWS has struggled for five years to prove itself as a leading provider of school safety and security programs. Our successful bid in such a large school district substantiates our position as an industry leader. Very few companies have the experience in the market that we have pulled together, it is nice to be recognized for our accomplishments.”
This one contract will double the revenues generated by the company in its best year of operation in a market misunderstood by many security companies. “Schools must trust you to let you in to help them,” says Halbig, the former Security Director for Seminole County Schools. “This is a face-to-face business that has taken us five years to break into the larger school districts. We have worked very hard to build our reputation in over 30 states and 100 of the 17,006 school districts over the last five years; this is our year to shine.”
It had been a long, desperate struggle for NISWS. But as of early 2004, the success they wanted, and the big payday they’d been chasing, were finally within their reach.
(continued in Part 10: The Long Way Down)
Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.