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Patricia Cornwell Headshot

Stranger Than My Fiction

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E pluribus unum was officially replaced as the motto of the United States in 1956, the year I was born, when Congress passed an act making "In God We Trust" the official motto.

I would like to trust in America's God but I'm no longer sure Who that is. I would like to believe in America's claim of justice for all.

Right this minute I don't. I hope it won't be true that I never will again.

___________________

After three years and millions of dollars -- more than I paid for a decade of trying to catch the most notorious serial killer of all time, Jack the Ripper -- I didn't get my day in court this month.

The trial for my lawsuit against my former business management company, Anchin Block & Anchin, was postponed just weeks before it was to begin when an unrelated criminal case took priority in Boston's federal courthouse. Next, that criminal trial was postponed, too, with no option of our recovering my long-scheduled court date.

I've done a lot of reflecting during a time when I should have been in a trial that might finally end a true horror show produced by Anchin. I've begun to wonder where I live and if it really is the America that ensures justice for the people and doesn't favor institutions that do the bidding of those in power. I'm an individual citizen, simply one. I'm not a bank or a huge accounting firm. If I didn't have money and means to protest, I would be ruined. It's possible I might even be wrongfully imprisoned for a crime I didn't commit.

These past three years have been the most harrowing ones of my life. I'm sure the opposition loves to hear that. It certainly seems they've done their very best to mount a campaign of terror against my family, friends, my partner and me. I guess the point was to teach me a lesson for daring to instigate a legal battle against a financial institution that I believe completely violated my trust, and grossly and recklessly mishandled my money and just about every aspect of my life they had legal power over and controlled. Anchin Block & Anchin was a meteor hurtling through space toward my unsuspecting small planet. I'm forever damaged by them and so are people I love.

The postponement of my trial against Anchin, which was due to begin on September 10, isn't the first time my war against this accounting firm with every advantage has run into delays, roadblocks and a series of unexpected and shocking assaults that include Anchin and its former principal Evan Snapper falsely accusing me of criminal activity that could have sent me to prison. This accusation came mere weeks after I filed my lawsuit against Anchin, and it would be the better part of a year later when the Department of Justice (DOJ) finally closed the case against me at the end of 2010. (My counsel was informed that I wasn't a target and that the investigation was over. Whether this decision was based on their awareness of problems in the case or the Grand Jury refusing to indict me for something I didn't do, I'm not allowed to know.)

I continue to face a stiff administrative penalty from the Federal Election Committee because of Snapper's use of my money for illegal campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore. I don't object to paying a fine, as my funds absolutely were used by Evan Snapper to violate federal campaign laws, and those civil laws hold me accountable even if I didn't know a violation had occurred. What concerns me enough to write this blog is that I continue to fear that my lawyer Joan Lukey and I may not be fighting on a level battlefield.

It may be more than a coincidence that when Ms. Lukey filed the multi-million dollar lawsuit in October 2009, Anchin quickly retained the services of James Cole -- a Washington insider who soon after would be nominated by President Obama to serve as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, the number 2 position at the Department of Justice. Anchin hired him not to defend them against my civil lawsuit, but to launch a strategy of an entirely different nature. Unbeknownst to us, after retaining Mr. Cole's services Anchin went straight to the DOJ, supposedly to "self-report" illegal campaign contributions Snapper made with my funds. From my point of view, Anchin's motivation wasn't to "come clean" but to destroy my character and my life.

I was aware of some contributions that Snapper made or reimbursed with my money, but not that they were wrong. He's a lawyer and an accountant, and I had no idea anything he might instigate on any front was against the law. Nor did I know the details of what was given or how reimbursements were made or that Anchin personnel falsified financial records to hide the illegal scheme. For Anchin to go to the DOJ and blame me for all of this only weeks after I'd sued them for millions of dollars in damages should have been suspected as an obvious ploy to derail the lawsuit. One might think federal agents would have considered that carefully before storming my camp.

I'm a crime writer who has worked with law enforcement including the FBI for most of my career. I'm not known for breaking the law. I have no record of any serious legal infraction beyond a DUI in 1993 that I've been completely open and sorry about. There was no good reason to assume that I was the one who had engaged in campaign improprieties. I wasn't the one who issued the reimbursements from my funds. I didn't write the checks, sign the checks, or even see them. I'm not a political potentate or a fundraiser or an activist. For the most part, when I've supported Republicans and Democrats alike, it's been because I know and respect the candidate or have been given a recommendation by someone whose opinion I value. To treat me and those I love the way the DOJ did is unconscionable. It's caused me to seriously question the democracy I thought I knew.

On the last Friday in January, 2010, the FBI descended upon my friends and family as if we were the mafia, deploying eight agents simultaneously to show up unannounced at various workplaces, a home, and even a nail salon to interrogate one of my closest friends and her husband, as well as my brother and his wife, all based on Snapper's false claims to the DOJ that illegal campaign contributions that he funded with my money were masterminded by me, that I recruited the participants (which, as it turned out, included almost a dozen Anchin partners, employees, spouses and friends, most of whom I had never even heard of), and that I directed all repayments. It would seem that Anchin and its counsel, James Cole, must have been quite convincing for the DOJ to implement such terrifying tactics against people with no criminal backgrounds or evidence of habitual political contributions.

I have no criminal record and no ties to individuals engaged in criminal activities, and yet the FBI didn't request my side of the story before it struck. I wasn't contacted. Nor was Ms. Lukey. Maybe it's nothing more than a coincidence that Anchin's attorney, James Cole, was destined to be the superior of the very authorities who went after us as if we were Mafiosos and our surname was Soprano.

A Grand Jury was convened that would sit for the better part of eight months, and not one Anchin person was compelled to testify before it or even to go to Washington, D.C. for interviews. Instead, the DOJ went to Anchin's plush headquarters at 1375 Broadway in New York City and questioned them there. In stark contrast, my people were compelled to testify before the Grand Jury in D.C., and eventually I was interrogated for eight hours by prosecutors for the DOJ's Public Integrity Unit in Washington while my partner Staci sat alone in a small windowless room, worrying herself sick about what was going to happen to me.

For more than six months, my civil suit and this terribly distressing criminal investigation continued on parallel tracks. During half that period, Mr. Cole's nomination as Deputy General Counsel was formally in process or publicly known to be impending, the confirmation slowed by Republican reluctance over his former role with insurance and financial behemoth AIG. One week after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Mr. Cole's nomination on to the full Senate, a major hurdle in the nomination process, the lead prosecutor contacted Ms. Lukey to tell her that the DOJ would seek to intervene in my lawsuit and halt it from proceeding.

Ms. Lukey was appalled by the coincidence of timing and the detrimental effect of stopping our case just weeks before the depositions of Snapper and the other key Anchin principals were scheduled to occur. She asked the attorneys of the DOJ's Public Integrity Unit to recuse themselves and appoint an independent investigator, emphasizing that it was important to prevent even the appearance of conflict relating to Cole's immediately preceding role as Anchin's advocate. The DOJ prosecutor's response was to "take umbrage," and beyond that, no one from the DOJ ever responded to her request in any fashion. Ironically, that same lead prosecutor recently became Deputy General Counsel at the FEC, the agency about to fine me. We're told he's recused himself from my pending investigation.

With my civil suit ground to a halt, I found myself in the midst of a criminal investigation and Grand Jury proceeding that I didn't deserve, and I did the only thing that I could think of to prepare for what might be the inevitable. I briefed myself. I prepared for the possible scenario that I might be wrongly indicted and convicted of the felony that Anchin continues to falsely accuse me of. In the summer of 2010, I toured a women's prison in Tennessee during the writing of my Scarpetta novel Red Mist. It wasn't just book research.

I was familiarizing myself with a penitentiary in case I ended up in one. I visited the library, the classrooms, the chow hall, the pods and death row. I talked to convicted thieves, drug dealers and murderers, deciding if I were imprisoned, I would volunteer to teach creative writing -- do whatever might be helpful to the inmates, some of whom might not have been locked up if they'd been able to afford a decent lawyer. Our criminal justice system isn't always fair, I kept thinking while I was there. If you don't have money, privilege, power and a voice, you might just be crushed.

Throughout this ugly legal nightmare, I have had very real security concerns that were amplified earlier in the lawsuit when my attorney requested the return of a scale fiberglass model of a jet intended for me, but sent through, and then retained by, Snapper. It was returned, all right -- broken into several pieces and stuffed inside a used florist's box.

I don't know how others might interpret such extraordinary conduct, but I took it as an indication of a serious anger management problem and felt compelled to exercise extra caution when the litigation forced me into contact with Snapper. My personal concerns were such that, when we were set to go to trial this past September 10, we had security in place and a plan that included sequestering Ms. Lukey in an undisclosed location and making sure she was safely driven back and forth to the federal courthouse and her law firm every day.

What sounds like the plot in one of my own novels began with discovery of a $5,000 check for a "Bat Mitzvah gift," made out to Snapper, and supposedly from me for his daughter Lydia, whom I've never spoken to or met. It would seem a minor item in what is an extremely complex case that alleges massive mismanagement and much more. But, that "gift," which I absolutely didn't authorize, set off the firestorm that catapulted me, an avid friend and supporter of law enforcement, onto the wrong side of the criminal process. That "gift" triggered Anchin's clandestine reports to the FBI and DOJ, and later the FEC, when Snapper falsely claimed I authorized the check for his daughter as a secret "reimbursement" for a political contribution. Maybe he thought he was better off admitting to a campaign violation than telling his bosses and the world that he'd simply helped himself to $5,000 of my money.

Because of Snapper's false statements, the FBI was led to believe, among other things, that I was the mastermind of an elaborate conduit scheme that illegally raised almost $50,000 for Hillary Clinton through ticket sales for an Elton John fundraising concert in the spring of 2008. Snapper falsely accused me, and continues to do so, of planning the bundling, recruiting the people who made contributions, and then directing the repayments. He falsely accuses me of the same intentional illegality with Jim Gilmore contributions that Snapper and his wife made several months earlier. Snapper repaid his American Express card with my funds and continues to falsely claim that I was well aware of the details and knew that the act was criminal, although he also admits he never informed me such repayments were against the law. He never once went over the details of campaign law but simply said he'd "take care of it." I assumed he did so properly and legally.

Ultimately, Snapper pled guilty to a felony, his attorney informing the Court that Snapper lost his job, apparently not bothering to add that he'd remained in his same office at Anchin as a "consultant" at a reduced but substantial rate of compensation. As far as we know, he's still there today or was when we inquired quite recently. While he may not be found on Anchin's website anymore, as I write this, I believe that he still has the same Anchin office, phone extension, email address and secretary. Imagine that -- a convicted felon who may still be working for an accounting firm that proclaimed in the public record of my civil suit it hasn't received even one small punishment from DOJ or the FEC. This is despite the fact that in addition to Snapper, the head of a business unit and several other employees participated both in the scheme and, in some instances, the "cooking of the books" at Anchin that intentionally disguised the real purpose of the political reimbursements directed by Snapper. This included, for example, recording the reimbursements as relating to travel, lodging, and even design services. The obvious purpose was to prevent me -- or anybody else until I received the internal Anchin documents in my litigation documenting all of this -- from readily realizing the illegal nature of these payments.

Our civil trial against Anchin and Snapper for their breaches of duty and mismanagement has been reset for January 2013. We'll see if it's delayed again. After all, criminal trials are entitled to precedence over civil ones, and the Judge can't do much to prevent that. In the federal court, criminal trials are prosecuted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, which reports to the DOJ.

Meanwhile I fully expect this battle will move into the public forum -- where it belongs. If President Obama is re-elected, and I hope he is, maybe he should take a close look at those his administration appoints to serve the public objectively and without conflict or unseemly allegiances. Maybe it's time to hold financial institutions accountable for their greed and questionable practices instead of bailing them out and abandoning those they've financially ruined.

In this year of celebrating my 20th Scarpetta novel, I live with the poisonous sting of unwarranted assaults upon my character, and my very identity. I am a changed woman with a different cause, but this much I know. I'm not walking away from this fight, no matter how brutal. I look forward to telling the entire story to a jury of my peers. Then justice will be done for the people and by the people.

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