The Secrets Factory

Registered Agents Inc. has for years allowed businesses to register under a cloak of anonymity. A WIRED investigation reveals that its secretive founder has taken the practice to an extreme.
Inside a drab one-story office building in Post Falls, Idaho, a little-known American company has built the machinery that enables hundreds of thousands of businesses to operate in near-total secrecy.
The company, Registered Agents Inc., is a one-stop shop for people seeking to incorporate a business in any US state, often in those with advantageous tax policies, while obscuring their identities. According to five former employees of Registered Agents Inc. or its subsidiaries, the company routinely incorporates thousands of businesses on behalf of its customers using fake personas. Former Registered Agents Inc. employees say that the company’s widespread use of personas is an outgrowth of its founder’s obsession with privacy and a desire to push the boundaries of incorporation laws.
The registered agent industry, which incorporates businesses and acts as a point of contact for legal notices, is already effective at masking the identity of who owns a company. Registered agents have many legitimate uses, and states often require that a company have a registered agent. In some instances, however, these services have benefited “oligarchs, criminals, and online scammers,” according to a 2022 investigation by The Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Experts say a lack of adequate federal and state regulations of registered agents helps to make the United States a hotbed for money-laundering and other shady business dealings.

In a typical scenario, a registered agent would incorporate a company on behalf of a customer. An employee of the registered agent company would list their name on the incorporation documents, sometimes providing the company’s email address and office as contact information. That process provides business owners one layer of secrecy, preventing anyone who looks at state records from determining the real owner of a company.

Registered Agents Inc., according to the former employees, routinely goes one step further, incorporating companies in the names of fictional personas created by the company’s founder, Dan Keen. It’s unclear what benefit Registered Agents Inc. or its customers receive when a company is incorporated by a fake identity.

WIRED’s analysis found that these companies are registered in 20 different states and appear to provide services ranging from law enforcement training to landscaping. Many of these companies with officers using an alleged fake name were registered to addresses known by sources to belong to Registered Agents Inc. For example, six allegedly fake names were listed as officers for 887 of businesses registered to the same address in Sheridan, Wyoming—an office of Registered Agents Inc.

Registered Agents Inc. declined to fully answer WIRED’s detailed set of questions about its business practices.

“To put it plainly, your assertions in this question set are outdated and patently wrong about Registered Agents Inc.,” the company said in a statement. “Therefore, at this time Registered Agents Inc. will provide no comment as it is apparent that you, Wired and its editors attempt [to] fit a pre-arranged narrative through publishing false facts and other blatant lies.”

Registered Agents Inc. says that it has offices in every state in the US and in Washington, DC, allowing it to offer its customers the ability to register a business anywhere. Many of those offices are small outfits located near state government offices, so its employees can easily submit paperwork. (The Sheridan office is located just a block away from city hall.)

Registered Agents Inc. has expanded beyond incorporation services, building custom software to manage entire businesses. Last year, it acquired Epik, a domain registrar and web hosting company that had previously catered to far-right extremists.

Much of the company’s high-level operations and development take place in the Pacific Northwest, including Spokane, Washington, and Post Falls, Idaho. The company has two major subsidiaries: Two Barrels LLC, which develops software, and Corporate Tools LLC, which enables its customers to manage the filings of multiple businesses.

“Somebody will hire [Registered Agents Inc.] to create an LLC, and then [Registered Agents Inc. will] sign all that paperwork with fake identities and submit it to the Secretary of State,” says Mikhail Slyusarev, who worked as a senior software engineer at the company for more than six years. “There’s no oversight, you’re not really answering to anybody, and you’re just making shit up.”

ON JULY 29, 2015, Registered Agents Inc. updated the name listed on its own incorporation documents it had filed with the Wyoming secretary of state. While Keen had previously signed as president and registered agent of the company, the new registered agent for the company was a man named Bill Havre.

Registered Agent Inc.’s website featured a vivid yarn detailing Havre’s life story, according to an archived version of the site from December 2021. Havre grew up on a small ranch in Wyoming and studied medicine at the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1970s, the bio read. But shortly after enrolling in classes, Havre returned home to Wyoming to tend to a family emergency, eventually starting his own businesses in the state.

“After gaining some insight into the nature of starting a business, Mr. Havre was intrigued by the business entity formation process, particularly concerned by what at the time seemed exorbitant fees paid to attorneys to complete and file corporate formation documents,” the website said.

That 2015 document is the earliest recorded instance of the company using fake names identified by WIRED. Havre’s name was removed from the company’s website in 2022 following inquiries from The Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The Wyoming incorporation paperwork viewed by WIRED includes the full text of the state law against filing a false document, reminding registrants that doing so may be a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine. Former employees say that customers of Registered Agents Inc. typically aren’t aware that a fake name is used to sign their company’s incorporation documents.

Provided a copy of the Wyoming incorporation document, experts say using a fake person would likely violate the law. “This does look like it requires a real person to sign—Riley Park would seemingly be in violation,” says Gary Kalman, the executive director of Transparency International US, an anti-corruption group.

Former Registered Agents Inc. employees allege that Keen justified using fake names by saying it was a way to protect employees from being drawn into legal battles and being forced to testify about the company’s customers.

The laws for incorporating companies in America are decided at the state level, allowing a prospective business owner to shop around based on tax advantages, anonymity rules, and other considerations. Many state offices don’t fully investigate filings to determine if the signatories are legitimate, former employees of Registered Agents Inc. say.

“There is no federal requirement, there is no state-level requirement that these registered agents have any code of ethics. There’s no anything,” says Sarah Beth Felix, an expert on financial transparency. “For being essential gatekeepers to legitimize businesses, they’re grossly unregulated.”

Former employees say that the registered agents industry benefits from relaxed incorporation laws in states like Wyoming and Montana, where registering a completely anonymous company is as simple as paying a registered agent service as little as $200. That makes the US an appealing location for illicit financial activity even before the added layer of opacity by a registered agent.

According to two former employees, the company doesn’t screen to see if its customers are real people, or even if their email addresses are legitimate. Former employees say they raised concerns about not knowing the true identity of all of their customers to company leadership, but were dismissed. Experts and former employees said that verifying the identity of its customers is often not required for registered agents.

“You could say your name was Billy Bob and your email was BillyBob123, and we would have created an LLC for you,” the former software developer says.

“Dan takes it almost to an extreme. He tries to maximize what the laws allow in each state,” says Don Evans, who worked in a chief technical officer role at the company. “If people find ways to use his services that are in the gray area, he would turn a cheek to it.”

Keen started the company after running a tree trimming and landscaping business. Former employees said Keen worked tirelessly to build the business, often sending emails at all hours of the night.

“Dan put in a lot of effort, he worked nonstop,” says Matt MacKenzie, who worked as a legal compliance specialist for more than 11 years and was one of the company’s earliest employees.

When the company was a small upstart, Keen regularly listed his name on the formation documents of the company and its various subsidiaries in states across America. “It wasn’t until down the road a couple years later, where he started wanting to use full-on fake names and take his name off all the corporate paperwork for Registered Agents Inc.,” MacKenzie says.

Keen is described by former employees as a driven but eccentric businessman who is prone to micromanagement and sudden shifts in mood. Keen dresses modestly, former employees say, wearing shorts and flannel shirts, and is an avid skier and outdoorsman.

Keen often took a passive aggressive approach with his staff, according to six former employees. Two recounted Keen begrudgingly offering health care plans to employees after being told it was required by the Affordable Care Act, allegedly telling his staff they were “whiners and complainers” for asking for it.

Multiple former employees described Keen as “inappropriate,” saying he often made comments about employees’ physical appearance. Two former employees described him as making misogynistic statements, which allegedly included making sexual comments about women and frequently questioning their ability to perform their job.

Several former employees questioned the high-security nature of the office, which they say was filled with security cameras and required them to lock their cell phones in boxes. Slyusarev, Registered Agents Inc.’s former senior software engineer, says the phone system, which he says he installed, was capable of surreptitiously recording employee phone calls.

Former employees say that Keen chafed at government regulations and exercised complete control over the company and its operations. Keen has no website or social media profiles and doesn’t give interviews about his business.

“He thinks people are out to get him, or out to get the company,” Evans, the former senior employee, claims.

Details about its inner workings, including the ownership and management structure, are concealed from employees, who say they were discouraged from discussing it at the office. And the practice of using fake personas extends even to Registered Agents Inc.’s own workers.

When Don Evans began interviewing at Registered Agents Inc., he recalled first speaking over LinkedIn with Diane Brunner, who identified herself as a recruiter at the company. When he arrived at the office for an interview, he asked to speak with Brunner and was told nobody by that name works at the company.

Jack Stephenson, who claims to be a vice president and client relations director at Registered Agents Inc. on LinkedIn, is another fake persona, employees say. Stephenson frequently comments on the registered agents industry on LinkedIn. He lists a Bachelor of Business Administration from Utah State University on his profile, but an official from the university told WIRED they couldn’t find any records pertaining to Jack Stephenson.