Friday, December 29, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Legitimate: A Word I Don't Like

Publishing is a dynamic field, and though a generally accepted (and understood) terminology exists, there's no Great Publishing Dictionary in the Sky where definitions are chiseled in stone. Thus, I can say (as I often do) that the term "traditional publisher" has no accepted industry meaning--that it is, in fact, an intentionally spurious label invented by one of the more notorious author mills--but I can't point to any definitive proof, or cite any recognized authority to support my statement.

Ditto for my currrent pet peeve, "legitimate agent."

Unlike "traditional publisher," "legitimate agent" wasn't always a meaningless term. Way back in the dark ages, when Writer Beware was first getting off the ground (okay, 1998), it was generally understood to denote an agent with standing in the industry--i.e., an agent who was reputable, experienced, and successful. Over the past few years, however, I'm seeing the term used more and more often to describe an agent who is merely well-intentioned, responsive, and non-fee-charging. Have you heard of Brand New Agent? someone will ask on a writers' message board. Yes, she doesn't charge a fee and she responded to my query in less than a week, someone else will reply. Oh good, the original questioner will say, without asking whether Brand New Agent has any relevant professional experience or whether she has ever sold a book. Looks like she's legit.

Why is this a problem? Because while it's great for an agent to be well-intentioned, responsive, and non-fee-charging, that doesn't necessarily mean the agent is reputable, experienced, and successful. Good intentions don't sell books, after all; promptness doesn't necessarily imply expertise, and not charging a fee, while commendable, says nothing about an agent's skill. (Here are some more thoughts on why skill is important.) Since you can no longer be sure, when someone says "legit," which set of descriptors they intend to invoke, "legitimate agent" has become as useless a term as "traditional publisher."

What I prefer:

- Reputable agent. An agent with a good standing in the publishing industry, i.e., a track record of commercial sales.

- Experienced agent. An agent with publishing industry experience, i.e., someone with the professional background to know what s/he is doing, as demonstrated by a track record of commercial sales.

- Successful agent. An agent who has sold, and is actively selling, books, i.e....someone with a track record of commercial sales.

Again, of course, there's no Great Publishing Dictionary in the Sky. So I can't claim any authority for my preferred terms, other than the fact that I think they are more useful. Nor can I assume that others will understand them in the same way I do--which is why I always try to pair a word like "reputable" with concrete information about the agent's clients and sales.

The point is that language is imprecise. Professional experience and achievement are far less ambiguous. Don't rely on terminology; always check the facts. And remember the Writer Beware mantra: Track record (or, if the agent is new, relevant professional background) is the bottom line.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 70 - Meeting a Writer Beware "Ambassador"

Last night I went to a Christmas party at the lovely home of a very famous author I've known for years. I was sitting in the chair nearest the door, when it opened, and several folks came in out of the rain, newcomers to the party. As I turned toward them and smiled, seeing them shedding coats and scarves, a nice lady smiled back at me and said, "Hi, aren't you Ann Crispin?"

Thinking I had met her before at one of the author's parties, I said, "Yes, have we met here before?"

She shook her head, "No. I recognized you from your recent picture in the Writer Beware blog. Congratulations on the Martha Ivery sentencing!"

What a nice Christmas surprise, folks!

The Ambassador joined my husband and me and we wound up talking about Writer Beware as the evening progressed...laughing over the antics of Barbara Bauer and Melanie Mills, and cussing a bit at Bouncin' Bobby, while making an earnest wish that 2007 will bring an end to HIS chicanery.

It was such a thrill to realize how far Writer Beware's message has spread. This nice lady has not only been an Ambassdor, spreading the word to aspiring writers about avoiding scams, she had also helped alert Victoria to several scams that needed to be included in the Writer Beware database.

So...tonight, as I finish wrapping Christmas presents, I plan to lift my glass of eggnog in a toast to all Writer Beware Ambassadors, everywhere, and say, "Bless them, Every One!"

Have a terrific Holiday and New Year celebration, folks. Be happy, well, and safe.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

Friday, December 15, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Why Scammers Are Hard to Put Away

The recent sentencing of literary scammer Martha Ivery to 65 months in the Federal pen has generated a huge amount of response--including some interesting questions. What's the big deal? some people want to know. Criminals get sent away all the time--what's so special about Martha? Other people are puzzled by why more literary scammers aren't in jail. How can they continue to operate with apparent impunity?

The second question is the answer to the first--what happened with Martha Ivery is a big deal because it's so rare for a literary scammer to be caught, much less indicted and sentenced. Since Writer Beware's founding in 1998, just a handful of scammers have been successfully prosecuted. Here's the roster:

1998: Edit Ink
1999: Woodside Literary Agency
1999: Deering Literary Agency/Sovereign Publications
2001: Northwest Publishing
2004: Helping Hand Literary Services/Janet Kay & Associates
2005: Melanie Mills
2006: Martha Ivery

A few more--such as Cris Robins of the Robins Agency--have been successfully sued by individual authors, and a handful--such as Desert Rose Literary Agency--are currently under investigation.

So why is it so rare for literary scammers to be brought to justice? Why do they seem to fly so far beneath the radar of law enforcement? Here are some possible reasons.

- Literary scamming is a niche crime. Writers are a minority of the population, engaged in a specialized activity that most people don't pursue. There simply isn't enough of a threat to the general public to justify most law enforcement officials' interest. Also, because writers aren't necessarily very old, or very young, or members of other groups that are regarded as especially vulnerable, it's easy to say "caveat emptor." They should have known better.

- Per scam, the number of victims is small; per victim, the amounts of money are small. According to one lawyer we know, white collar crime doesn't get nearly the attention it should in the USA. When white collar crime is prosecuted, it tends to involve large numbers of victims and/or enormous amounts of money. Most literary scammers rook their clients for at most a few thousand dollars, and sometimes for as little as a couple of hundred. Their victim rosters typically number in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Over time, of course, this adds up--for instance, Martha Ivery's total take from her nearly 300 victims is estimated at over $700,000. Victim by victim and dollar by dollar, however, the take isn't impressive. It can be hard to convince busy law enforcement officials to get worked up about a dishonest agent who is averaging a few hundred bucks per client--especially where the agent appears to be providing some sort of service in return.

- Publishing is an arcane field whose rules are unfamiliar to outsiders. It can be very hard for people with no experience of publishing to recognize why certain things are potentially fraudulent. If you don't realize that literary agents work on commission only, it probably doesn't seem like a big deal for an agent to charge an upfront fee. If you aren't aware of the level of expertise an agent needs in order to be successful, you may not see why it's so deceptive for unqualified people to represent themselves as being competent to sell manuscripts (this is complicated by the fact that there's no licensing or formal training for literary agents, so there are no objective standards to point to). If you don't know the nature of the author-agent relationship, it may not seem especially unethical for agents to hawk their own editing services. If you don't know what an agent or publisher should be doing, it may be difficult to understand why what a scammer is doing is worthless. To make matters worse, none of these things are easy to explain concisely, and law enforcement officials may not want to endure a long lecture (and they're not always crazy about being told what they ought to consider a crime). Many of our efforts to lobby for interest in literary scams have been defeated by the information barrier.

- Scammery and incompetence look a lot alike. What's the difference between the fake agent who sets out to deliberately defraud clients of $500 apiece, and the amateur agent who believes that it's acceptable to keep his unsuccessful business afloat by charging fees? (For clients, zero--either way, they'll wind up with a smaller bank account and no sale.) In most cases, it's very difficult to tell--let alone prove it. When you take the other factors into account, you can see why law enforcement officials often would rather not bother.

In nearly every case where legal action was taken against a scammer, it has been the result of group action by the victims--as with the many writers who contacted the New York State Attorney General about Edit Ink--or the dogged persistence of a single individual--such as the unsung hero of the Martha Ivery investigation, FBI researcher Paul Silver, who simply would not let the case fall through the cracks of the system; or Det. Brian Elkins of San Angelo, Texas, who refused to allow scam artists Janet and George Titsworth to operate on his turf. This is why we ALWAYS encourage defrauded writers to complain to the authorities (the Overview page of Writer Beware includes a list of organizations where complaints can be filed), and why we persist in our efforts to alert law enforcement officials to the literary scams that are operating right under their noses.

This, by the way, is another reason why Martha Ivery's sentencing is a big deal. Since she was indicted on the actual literary fraud (as opposed to peripheral stuff like credit card fraud and bankruptcy fraud--she was indicted on those too, but the literary scam accounted for the bulk of the 17 counts to which she pleaded guilty), her case provides a precedent for law enforcement officials who may be wondering if it's possible to successfully prosecute a literary scammer. Not only that--the indictment and other court documents are an excellent crash course in literary scammery.

If she can help us change things, Martha may wind up doing some good after all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Associated Content: Something to Beware

I've blogged before about the renewed popularity of content sites, where you can post your work (articles, videos, podcasts, photos) and earn some kind of income, often through ad clicks. While you shouldn't bet your next rent check on making significant money from such sites, there's no harm in using them--as long as you read and understand the fine print.

Associated Content ("The People's Media Company") is one such site. It offers users a choice between posting their content remuneration-free, or submitting for payment consideration (an Associated Content editor will review the submission and make an offer if appropriate). Unusually, if you choose the payment option, you don't earn from ad clicks--Associated Content pays you a fee. It's not a lot, and the amount is pegged to how much you post/how much you promote your content; nevertheless, it's actual cash money. And a lot of people seem to be signing on.

In order to post free content at the site, you must agree to Associated Content's Terms of Use. No doubt many people will simply click "I agree" rather than slog through the whole of this dense, small-print document--but that's never a good idea. If you read down far enough, you find the following clause (bolding is mine):

A. User Content.
By submitting any User Content through or to the AC Network, including on any User Tools or User Pages, but excluding any User Content you submit on AC Blogs, you hereby irrevocably grant to AC, its affiliates and distributors, a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, and fully sub-licensable license, to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, create derivative works from, transfer, transmit and distribute on the AC Network, in connection with promotion or elsewhere, such User Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate the User Content into other works in any format or medium now known or later developed. Notwithstanding the foregoing, when you submit a text, video, images , AC may modify the format, content and display of such User Content. The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such User Content, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws under any relevant jurisdiction. With respect to User Content you Post for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of AC Blogs, You grant AC the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such User Content on the AC Network or on any media. You agree that the foregoing grant of rights by you to AC and its affiliates is provided without any the entitlement of payment of fees or consideration.


Just by posting on the site, you're granting Associated Content the right to exploit your work in any way imaginable--and possibly to make money from that exploitation--without any compensation or consideration to you. Of course, the chances that Associated Content will actually exercise this right for any given piece of content are probably fairly slim. Also, since it's a non-exclusive grant, you aren't prevented from selling, re-posting, or adapting your work yourself. You may, therefore, consider it worth the risk.

(This kind of language, by the way, is not unusual on the Internet. For instance, you'll find something similar--though not as encompassing--in Yahoo's Terms of Service (see Clause 9), and also in the User Agreement of Triond.com (see Clause 5), another content site. As katya l. points out in the Comments section of this post, just about any online service will require you to grant certain basic rights, otherwise they won't be able to transmit content over the Internet without violating copyright laws. However, what Associated Content is asking its content providers to agree to goes some way beyond that basic license.)

For would-be paid content providers on Associated Content, the considerations are rather different. If you accept a payment offer from the site, you must abide by the Independent Contractor Licensing agreement--another dense, small-print document that contains the following license grant (again, my bolding):

(d) License Grant. Upon any Rights Grant, Content Producer hereby irrevocably (i) grants to Company a worldwide, perpetual, fully-paid up, royalty-free, transferable right and license, with right to sublicense, to reproduce, publicly display, distribute, and perform, transmit, edit, modify, create derivatives works of, publish, sell, exploit, use, and dispose of such Work for any purpose and in all forms and all media whether now known or to become known in the future, the right to retain all revenue and income derived therefrom, and any and all other related rights of whatever kind or nature; and (ii) waives and agrees never to assert any and all Moral Rights Content Producer may have in or with respect to any such Work in connection with Company's use thereof, even after termination of this Agreement (hereinafter, the grants described in subsections (i) and (ii) above are referred to as the "License"). The License shall be either (A) exclusive, or (B) non-exclusive, as designated and identified in the Application submitted by Content Producer in connection with such Work.

This is pretty much the same sweeping grant as the Terms of Use agreement; as with that agreement, you're required to renounce any financial compensation for Associated Content's use of your intellectual property. But there are two new wrinkles. The license you're granting may be exclusive--meaning that you could not exercise any of those rights yourself. And you must waive your moral rights.

American writers may not be familiar with moral rights, which the US (unlike many countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention) doesn't acknowledge as part of copyright law. Associated Content's definition of the term (also from the Independent Contractor Licensing agreement) is as good as any:

"Moral Rights" means any rights to claim authorship of any Work, to object to or prevent any modification of any Work, to withdraw from circulation or control the publication or distribution of any Work, and any similar right, existing under judicial or statutory law of any country in the world, or under any treaty, regardless of whether or not such right is called or generally referred to as a "moral right."

In other words, you aren't just giving up the right to earn money from someone else's exploitation of your work, or to object to someone else's use of your work, you're giving up your right to be identified as the author.

Worth it? For payments that, according to the Associated Content FAQ, "range from $3-$20"? Some writers may think so. But for every ten writers who agree to Associated Content's Independent Contractor Licensing agreement, I'll bet there's at least one or two who didn't carefully read through the agreement, and are not fully aware of what they have given up.

Caveat emptor. Always read the fine print.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- The Sobol Award Again

As many of you probably already know, the Sobol Award is in the news again. According to a press release at the Sobol website, the organization has entered into an agreement with Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to publish all three award finalists. Per an article by AP writer Hillel Italie, Touchstone will pay hefty advances--$100,000 for world rights, or $50,000 for US rights only. (This is in addition to the prize money Sobol will give out: $100,000 for the winner, $25,000 and $10,000 for the second and third place finalists respectively.)

Announced last summer, the Sobol Award has become the focus of an amazing storm of criticism, in part because of its very high ($85) entry fee. As I've noted before, I do have a problem with certain aspects of the contest--the size of the entry fee (though I believe the contest administrators when they say it will cover administrative costs--including an honorarium for readers--and do NOT believe that, as some have suggested, the contest is using the fees as a profitmaking scheme), the fact that the ten finalists must agree to literary representation by Sobol (whose literary agency doesn't even exist at this point), and most of all, the idea that a big, expensive contest to "discover" unagented writers is an answer for anything that's wrong in publishing. I also think that for the most part, contests are a waste of writers' time; the only real way to test your marketability is to submit your work for publication. However, I've never thought that Sobol is anything but a serious endeavor--and certainly not a scam, as some people have labeled it.

Given all the negative atttention that's been directed at Sobol, I'm not surprised that (as Sobol's executive vice president of contest management, Sue Pollock, admitted to Hillel Italie) they've received fewer submissions than they expected, forcing them to extend the contest deadline to March 31, 2007. I'm sure that Sobol is hoping that the agreement with Touchstone will not only increase submissions (which it may well do--for aspiring writers, the lure of a publishing contract is far more powerful than the possibility of a big cash award), but persuade more people to take the contest seriously (so far, it doesn't appear appear to have changed many minds).

Of course, there are still questions. Will the contract terms be standard? Will the contracts be negotiable? How about the conflicts of interest inherent in a situation where Sobol the literary agency will be representing authors in contracts offered by a publisher that already has an agreement with Sobol the awards organization? What if one or more of the winning manuscripts is outside of Touchstone's usual areas of interest--will they know how to effectively package and promote such a book? This is not an insignificant question. Being badly published can scuttle a book's chances of success. That's why agents are so careful when they choose where to send a manuscript.

I also have to wonder about Touchstone's intentions. According to Mark Gompertz, senior vice president and publisher of Touchstone Fireside, "We were very impressed with Sobol's plans to harness the broad reach of the internet and through a very well-thought out editorial process find three great works of fiction. We can't wait to read them." That's great, and though it seems risky for the publisher to commit to books it has not seen and will have no part in choosing, one can see that it's a calculated gamble. Perhaps Touchstone is hoping to reap publicity benefits from the firestorm surrounding the award, as Macmillan's controversial New Writing Program has done in the UK. But the advances? $100,000--or $50,000 if the writer gives Touchstone US rights only--is way above the typical advance for a first-time novelist, and Touchstone is promising these amounts for not one, but three entirely unknown quantities. Does this make good business sense? Given my criticism of Macmillan's no-advance policy, it might seem inconsistent of me to question advance amounts--but though I believe that writers should always receive advances, I believe that advances should be reasonable. Perhaps the book(s) will do well, and earn out. But Touchstone may also be setting these authors up for failure.

Whatever happens with this contest, whatever benefit it does or doesn't bring its winners, at the end of the day it's just another award. It's not going to fix what's wrong with publishing, because what's wrong with publishing is not that new writers need an alternative way to be discovered. Sobol isn't really an alternative anyway--it's just a different kind of slushpile, where most will be discarded and only a few will pass through the needle's eye.

Edited on 12/10 to add: M.J. Rose did what I should have done, and scoured the fine print of Sobol's Official Rules, Clause 5 of which has been amended to include the promised publishing contracts. The winner will indeed receive the big bucks, but the advances for the runners-up are somewhat more realistic: $20,000 for US rights, $40,000 for world rights ("at Simon & Schuster's sole discretion," which suggests it won't be up to the author to choose). Most interesting, however, are these two sentences:

Simon & Schuster shall in its sole discretion determine under which of its imprints it will publish the Manuscripts referred to herein. In the event less than 2000 entries meeting the minimum standard criteria of the Contest are timely received by Sponsor, Simon & Schuster reserves the right to not award any publication prize.


So S&S is aware of the importance of placing books with appropriate imprints--and it is also hedging its bets, in case the pool of entrants isn't large enough to make the contest really competitive.

Thanks to Teddy Gross, who drew my attention to this.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A.C. Crispin -- 69 -- Martha Ivery's Sentencing -- Part Two

As we sat back down in the Syracuse Federal Court, I studied the judge assigned to the case. He was perhaps in his early 60’s, regular features, a full head of graying hair, quite fit looking. His expression as he stared down from his high desk at Martha and Mr. Mott made me very glad that I was not on trial in his court. To say that his countenance was stern would be a vast understatement. At one point he looked out over the almost empty courtroom, and when his gaze crossed mine, I was instantly reminded of every legal transgression I’d ever committed...the funny ciggies back in the late 60’s, my speeding ticket a year ago (the first in over a decade, she said defensively...all of it flashed through my mind. I can’t imagine what it was like for Martha, with her double-digit record of felonies, to meet that gaze. I have a good imagination, but I couldn’t imagine this man smiling and playing with grandchildren.

After the formalities of stating the indictment and the plea were taken care of, Martha’s attorney, Richard Mott, rose and asked the judge to declare a hearing before passing sentencing. Mr. Mott pointed out that the two mental health professionals who had examined Martha Ivery arrived at different conclusions: the defendant’s psychologist claimed that Martha was so mentally ill that she was incapable of determining right from wrong, whereas the prosecution’s psychiatrist claimed that Martha was mentally competent, and that, furthermore, her tests showed evidence that she was lying about her condition.

Mr. Mott was thus asking the judge not to sentence Martha that day, but to agree to a hearing where each mental health professional would be heard and the judge could rule on whether Martha was mentally capable of determining right from wrong. The judge fixed Mr. Mott with a steely gaze and asked Mr. Mott, was he saying there were errors in the facts of the case? Mr. Mott admitted that the facts remained unchanged, but he said that the different opinions should be heard. The judge disagreed and said so. Mr. Mott fell silent.

Paul and I glanced sideways at each other, thinking “YES!” because this was something we’d been worried about. We were glad the judge saw it our way.

Next the judge asked if anyone was there who wanted to speak before sentencing was passed. I’d been coached by Paul, and knew that this meant were any of Martha’s victims present. The Assistant US Attorney stood up and said that the Victim-Witness Coordinator had brought statements that victims wished to be read before the sentencing was passed. The judge asked whether these documents were the same ones he had read, and the Assistant US Attorney said that the judge, Mr. Mott, and the representative from the Bureau of Prisons had all received copies of them. Mr. Mott objected to the statements being read. The judge responded curtly that he had read the statements before the hearing, and saw no reason for them to be read again. He did, however, order them to become part of the official record.

I had written one such statement myself, and I was tickled, because it was now going to be considered part of the official record. Yay!

I glanced surreptitiously at the clock hanging near the door of the courtroom. It was edging on towards 4:30. The judge looked straight at Martha and asked her whether she wished to say anything before he pronounced sentence. Martha and her attorney stood up, and she began to speak.

Martha began by saying that she really cared about “my writers” and wanted only the best for them. She said she wanted to make restitution to them, and to help them. She went on in this vein, talking about how much she cared about “my writers,” for perhaps three or four minutes, kind of rambling about how she’d never intended to harm anyone, and wanted the best for them. Surprisingly, she didn’t apologize or say, “I’m sorry” in any way. (Maybe her lawyer had told her not to? Because it would be admitting guilt? But she’d already pleaded guilty...) She didn’t break down, but the conclusion of her apologia ended by her invoking “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Coming from the woman who had gotten a lot of victims because she claimed to be “Christian” and to be looking for authors of “Christian and spiritual books” this went right over the top, as far as I’m concerned. The judge probably didn’t know about this, but the irony certainly wasn’t lost on Paul and me. We carefully did NOT look at each other during Martha’s little speech.

After she stopped speaking, there was a pause. Both Martha and Mott remained standing as the judge fixed Martha with that look that would have reduced me to quivering jelly. Then the judge started in, and it was plain from his first words to Martha that he wasn’t buying it. He mentioned her double-digit rap sheet, and said he was certain that Martha did indeed know right from wrong, and committed fraud against her victims quite knowingly. He used words like “manipulated” and “machination” to describe how she had treated her victims.

Finally, the judge coldly ended up telling her that, mindful of her “shenanigans” he hereby sentenced her to 65 months in Federal Prison, plus three years probation. He ordered her to report for incarceration on January 9th 2007. The judge also ordered her to make restitution to her victims in the amount of 10% of her income, or 100 dollars a month, whichever sum was greater. Regarding the mental health issue, he announced that he was ordering her to have mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling, while in prison and on probation.

I have to hand it to Martha. She bore up under this news, which was certainly harsher than they had hoped for (they’d hoped she’d receive only probation). She didn’t break down.

The judge then exchanged a few words with the Assistant US Attorney and the gentleman from the Bureau of Prisons, regarding some of the materials (manuscripts, etc., I suppose) that had been seized during the FBI’s search of Martha’s office and home. He asked for a memo detailing what the prosecution wanted him to order regarding them.

Court was then adjourned.

Paul and I waited while Martha, her husband, and Mr. Mott left the courtroom, heading for the US Marshall’s Office to be instructed on where to report, etc. I sure didn’t want to run into her in the hallway. Even though she gave no sign that she knew I was there, I’m pretty sure she knows what I look like – my picture is on my website.

After he had gathered up his documents, the Assistant US Attorney (a good-looking youngish gentleman who wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of those lawyer shows on television) came over to shake hands with Paul and me. He thanked us again for our work on the case, smiling this time, and saying that he thought justice had been done. He was very happy with the sentence, he said, which, I gathered, was a pretty major sentence for white-collar crime.

Paul and I walked over to look out the huge window, and saw the city lighting up. Darkness had fallen. The Christmas tree in the plaza blazed with colored lights, and skaters glided and twirled around the little skating rink beside it.

After we left the courthouse, Paul and I walked to a little nearby place and had something to eat. It had been a long time since breakfast. When the server brought our drinks, (he had water, because he was driving, I had a beer) we solemnly clinked the glasses together and then smiled.

The next day, Paul took me into the FBI Field Office in Albany and I met many of the people who had taken an interest and even helped out with the case. The one I knew was the FBI Victim-Witness Coordinator, Dorothy Copeland, a very nice lady that I’d talked to many times over the years. Dorothy was the person I referred victims to when they turned up. She’s a very caring lady.


Before I left the Albany FBI Office to catch my plane home, Dorothy, Paul and I all posed for a picture in the lobby of the FBI Building. I’m the one in the center.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware

Friday, December 01, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 68 - Martha Ivery's Sentencing - Part One

Hi, Folks!

I'm back home now, after attending Martha Ivery's sentencing in Syracuse, New York, on Wednesday, November 29th at 4:00 P.M. in Federal Court for the Northern District of New York.

I had put off buying my ticket until the last possible minute, in case the sentencing was postponed yet again, but finally, there I was, walking into Reagan National Airport, ready for the four hour flight to Albany, changing planes at JFK. Four hours turned into 11 because of fog and weather conditions at JFK. Once we finally took off from Reagan, I wound up scrunched into my seat next to a large foreign lady who not only sat with her arms and knees spread, she took off her SHOES, John Candy style (believe me, I thought of Planes, Trains and Automobiles frequently that day!). When I finally got off the plane at JFK, I walked into an airport filled with people, all experiencing delays, and all grumpy as hell. Discovering that my connecting flight was as delayed as everything else was some comfort, so I bought and nibbled a chicken sandwich. Luckily, I only ate about half...

When we finally were boarded onto the small prop plane headed for Albany, I was seated next to a delightful young English lady with a beautiful baby girl, just old enough to stand up holding on to things, with a headful of golden curls. This child could have modeled, she was so cute. Unfortunately, the day had taken a toll on the kid, and shortly after I'd sat down, she began vomiting...copiously. I have one of those sympathetic stomachs. When my own kid would barf, it never bothered me, but that must be some kind of essential mom-hardwiring, because when the little girl started in, I really, really thought that half a chicken sandwich and I were going to part company.

The flight attendant, seeing my green countenance and gulping attempts to hold back my gorge, hastily moved me. But it was a small plane, and the smell quickly permeated the entire cabin. Right as I was seated in my new seat, we were informed that we'd be on the runway for at least another hour before takeoff...

The things I do for SFWA and Writer Beware, I swan!

At any rate, I did eventually get to Albany, which was the important thing.

The FBI researcher who "made" the Martha Ivery case, whom we'd worked closely with for about six years now, is Paul Silver, and he is the unsung hero of this story. Without Paul taking an interest in the case, Wednesday's sentencing would never have happened. (See some of the first blog posts I ever made in this blog for some of the "history" of the Writer Beware's efforts to get law enforcement to recognize the crimes Martha was committing.)

When I'd learned that the sentencing would actually be held in Syracuse, rather than Albany, Paul very kindly offered me a ride up there. I saved quite a bit of money flying into Albany rather than Syracuse, so I owe Paul yet another debt I can never repay. We had a late breakfast, then hopped into his car for the two-hour drive up. As we drove along beside the Erie Canal, we talked, reviewing the case, reminiscing about the years of working on this case, recalling our interactions with the victims, and hoping they would finally gain some closure from seeing Martha put out of commission. We were hoping she would get at least 51 months in Federal Prison, but we knew that her attorney was trying, even at this last moment, to say that Martha should be given no jail time because she was too mentally ill to realize she'd been committing a crime. Having dealt with Martha for all those years, and been on the receiving end of her threats, I wasn't buying that, and neither was Paul. All we could hope was that the judge would not buy her new "defense."

We arrived in Syracuse with plenty of time to spare, thanks to MapQuest, and the parking gods were kind. It was my first time visiting a Federal courtroom. It was a far cry from my country traffic court! The wall behind the judge's seat was red and white marble, with a huge bronze seal for the Northern District of New York centered there. The observer benches were upholstered in an attractive pale flowered pattern. They floor was carpeted, some shade between turquoise and teal. All of the desks were polished hardwood. The room was 12 stories up, and overlooked the city and the city plaza where the Christmas decorations were shining brightly as the sky darkened.

Paul and I were the first people into the courtroom. We sat down in the observer's area, on the left (prosecution's) side and waited. When the Assistant US Attorney who was prosecuting the case, and the Victim-Witness Coordinator entered, they came over to speak to us and shake hands, and thank us for our work on the case. They seemed prepared to counter the defense's assertions that Martha was not capable of discerning right from wrong. The Victim-Witness Coordinator had brought statements from some of the victims that had requested they be read, but the case had been postponed so many times that none of the victims had shown up...apparently they all thought it would wind up getting postponed yet again. But not this time.

The next person to arrive in the courtroom was Martha Ivery's defense attorney, Mr. Mott. Martha and her husband, Thomas Ivery, came in a few minutes later. Martha sat down on the defense side, next to her attorney. Her husband was the only person who came to be with her.

Unlike her other times in court, Martha did NOT wear a sweatsuit. She wore a black blouse with a tan and rust colored pattern on it, over a black sweater or tee, black slacks, and black running shoes. Her hair was longish and black, brushed back over her shoulders. She's 58 years old. If she was wearing makeup, it was very subtle.

(I was dressed in a pantsuit with a turquoise blouse, and Paul was wearing a suit.) All of the lawyers looked, of course, just like lawyers. One could have picked them out in a crowd.

There were also a couple of US Marshals present, and the usual court reporter type individual who was recording the proceedings. And a gentleman that I suppose was the bailiff.

About fifteen minutes after the hour, the door opened and the judge entered. "All rise," said the bailiff, and we all rose to our feet.

(To be continued...)

-Ann C. Crispin