In November of 2017 I was illegally arrested on 9 counts of alleged felony theft for “welfare fraud.” I have been actively dealing with this persecution (a seemingly intentionally-orchestrated attempt to smear me and thereby shut down my advocacy work) for more than two years now; starting with the DOJ Inquiry initiated in March of 2016, followed by an exhaustive IRS investigative audit in 2017, and now dealing with the repercussions of my illegal arrest for the past 6 months.
When we found out the following big news on Friday afternoon (5/4) the very first thing I wanted to do was call my mom. Unfortunately my mother unexpectedly passed away in May of 2016, right after all of the chaos started. She is no longer there to call. Instead, my husband Len suggested that I write her a letter, so here’s a letter to my mom with the exciting news…
Friday, May 4, 2018
When my lawyer called to tell me the “good news” earlier today, I cried happy tears. Moments later I recovered from those tears feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world. How can I feel any degree of happy when two years of my life and many tens of thousands of dollars have been used up fighting bogus allegations and false charges? How can I feel satisfaction when at the end of this fight my life’s work (the nonprofit I founded) was destroyed and my reputation as an activist has been damaged just when I was building real momentum?!
The damage to my reputation is compounded by the fact that people not familiar with the facts of the case don’t understand that my “seemingly unrelated” illegal arrest on “Welfare Fraud” charges (9 counts of felony theft) was in fact, born directly from the investigation by the DOJ into the practices of my nonprofit. Everything stems from the DOJ’s nonprofit investigator miscalculating “benefits” I allegedly received from my nonprofit. His misleading calculation incorrectly pinned me with income I never “enjoyed”, which formed the basis of alleging the crime of receiving welfare I was not entitled to. So, you see, the DOJ nonprofit investigation led directly to my wrongful arrest and prosecution.
This has gutted me on so many levels. Most shockingly, after an audit of the DOJ’s calculation of my income, the IRS concluded that I did NOT receive the alleged benefits from my nonprofit. And, then the DOJ investigator, knowing of the IRS’s conclusion, proceeded to misrepresent to the prosecutor’s office and the grand jury that I received unreported income from the nonprofit.
While we were waiting for the prosecutor’s office to dismiss the criminal charges, the pending charges and bad press cast an inescapable dark cloud, making me seem like a criminal in the court of public opinion.
It seems like a movie, some legal thriller, but this is real life! This is my life of the past 6 months since my arrest; of the past two years really, since the original initial anonymous complaint to the DOJ.
While I am incredibly grateful for the hard work and diligence of my attorneys and the fact that some degree of justice was eventually served, this “win” leaves my little family four months behind on our mortgage, with shut-off notices from our utility companies, tens of thousands of dollars still owed to lawyers (and tens of thousands of dollars owed to friends for helping with legal fees to date!), unable to pay for therapies or any kind of special-needs summer activities for the boys, unable to pay for Len’s prescriptions and with a notice that our health insurance just expired. I also don’t have any paid work on the horizon, mostly because of my damaged reputation as a result of the arrest. It leaves us physically worn down to a point of extreme exhaustion and poor health. It’s so hard to feel like this is a “win”.
At the onset of all of all this nonsense when I told the legal team we hired to represent Lead Safe America in the DOJ inquiry that we (myself and the LSAF board) were innocent of the allegations, these attorneys advised me with a straight face that I personally could “not afford to prove my innocence.”(!) Of course they did not understand the army of supporters behind me; the thousands of people I have helped — and the lengths those amazing friends would go to make sure justice was served. I am amazed and forever grateful to each and every one of these people and I cannot express that gratitude enough!
As I am sure you remember, Mom, at the start of all of this crazy nonsense I had just organized a community town hall event in Flint with Bernie Sanders at my side and about a month later, I opened for Erin Brockovich. I had also just announced that my film was close to picture lock and in late post production and would “soon be in theaters”. How does one ever recover that kind of momentum after being arrested (figuratively — and literally!) in the middle of it? I will try. [BTW Mom, after the election Bernie said that the event that I initiated and organized in Flint was one of his favorite moments of the entire campaign!]
This is the “now what?” phase of my life. The “What’s next? How do I continue after all that has happened? How do I rebuild? How do I give the past two years back to my children? How do I recover all that I have lost?” phase.
We can never make up the two years of sparse holidays and birthdays where we could not afford any real celebration. We can never make up the two years of food scarcity and how that has impacted our children. We can never make up the two years of not being able to afford appropriate interventions and therapies for our disabled children. My friend Angela said “not to worry about it”; she said “their characters will be strong because of what we have been through”, and that “they have witnessed what it is to not give up and not give in, and they will always remember that.” Despite any growth and strength of character my children may have as a result of this experience, I can’t help but wish for my boys that they had not suffered in these ways during this time!
In the meantime, after all that has happened I continue to live in fear of what might be next down the road… what other false allegations can I expect because of my work doing what is right, educating parents, and protecting children against being poisoned by lead? Even in the confidence of my innocence, I am still living in fear of what “they” (the “great gray they”) might pull next to try to bring me down.
Seeing my picture on the front page of the local papers, along long with stories full of lies and misplaced assumptions was very painful for the kids and the whole family. I have lost good friends over rushed, poor journalism that sought to sell papers with sensational headlines and did not seek the truth. My biggest hope will be that this is somehow corrected, that the truth is shared as widely as the lies have been and my lost friendships will be rebuilt.
In the meantime I guess I will take this “win” as a Mother’s Day present for both of us. “Winning” means I can continue to help mamas everywhere protect their kiddos from being poisoned!
There is so much more to say, and I will write more in the coming days, but I wanted to get these initial thoughts down so I would not forget them. I love and miss you. I wish you were still here to celebrate this victory with me and to help me through the next likely equally challenging phase of this unexpected journey. Instead, I will share this on my blog so others can read it since you cannot.