Reverend Jeff Grant wrote a powerful post on his blog, Prisonist.org, announcing that the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project in Greenwich, CT, for the first time in United States history, obtained a recovery from a U.S. Receiver for an innocent spouse after her personal assets had been frozen by federal authorities. The seizure of assets was the result of her husband being a defendant in a financial crime case.
In a recent blog post, Grant spoke of the plight of innocent spouses and children of white-collar criminals:
“There are innocent mothers and children suffering in silence in this country. In hiding places you are least likely to suspect. Their family names have been blazoned across headlines. Their children have been taunted, ridiculed and bullied at school. Their friends have abandoned them. They are whispered about, pointed at and disdained. They have been shunned in their churches, synagogues, and civic organizations. They cannot afford to feed themselves without food stamps, or to heat their homes without state aid. They sit with the blinds and curtains drawn – waiting for the day their homes will be sold out from under them.”
The first time I met Grant was last fall in Grand Central Station in New York City, where we spent several hours talking about the state of criminal justice in America, and the plight of white-collar families in particular. In November, I wrote a column for Forbes.com about his ministries, “Starting a Discussion on White Collar Crime & Recovery.” At the time, Grant started to give me some indication of how committed he, and the team he had put together, were to the life of one family – and how important their success could be for the innocent spouses and children of all men going to prison.
“We started to see a class of victims that had never been talked about before,” Grant told me in an interview, “spouses and children who are pulled into a legal quagmire because of the actions of someone else.” Grant was referring to this case where Josephina (real name withheld) and her two young children (ages 8 and 10) were living in a million dollar-plus home in the northeast. Josephina’s husband had been arrested for a large financial crime, put behind bars and is still awaiting sentencing. He had been the breadwinner, decision maker and the actions that led him to prison were as much a mystery to the family as they were the victims of his financial scheme. Certainly not all spouses are like Josephina, but far too many of them are.
“When we met this woman she was hopeless; she and her children were penniless and on the verge of homelessness,” explains Lynn Springer, Grant’s wife and partner in the ministries. Grant and Springer first met with this woman in June 2013, in the backyard of a common friend from the New Canaan Society, a men’s fellowship organization, the friend had approached Grant about this family’s terrible situation. Grant and Springer met with Josephina, who explained that the government had frozen all of her assets when it froze her husband’s. When he was taken into custody she was shocked to find only $150 in her bank account. When she met with Grant an Springer, she and her children were living on food stamps and state health insurance. Unable to tap any funds meant that she could not even leave her home to rent a smaller apartment. She had become a squatter in her own home, which was falling into disrepair. When Grant and Springer ascertained that she was not complicit in her husband’s crimes, they agreed to become her ministers and try to find legal counsel and a team to recover her assets.
“I understand that prosecutors have a job and an obligation to prosecute,” Grant said, “but this family had no support system in place.” While the two children were born in the United States, Josephina was from South America and had no support in the area. Once the family’s money was frozen, their friends were gone. Grant told me that she had no money for lawyers or accountants to pursue a remedy to her situation, even though she had assets that could be identified as being rightfully hers and not associated with her husband’s crime. Josephina could not even afford to get a divorce from her imprisoned husband. She was trapped.
Grant reached out to attorney George F. Hritz, Esq. (Kaplan Fox) who had 40+ years of large firm litigation experience – and a huge heart. “This was a whole new area of law for a new class of victims; what Josephina needed for legal representation did not seem to exist,” Hritz explained. “She needed a team of attorneys who would advocate for Josephina not as a defendant, but as a white-collar crime victim.” As Grant explained, “it was the perfect opportunity for ministers and attorneys to learn from one another, to show compassion, to become teammates, and to create a new field of ministry/advocacy.” With Hritz and Marion Bachrach, Esq. [a white-collar specialist at Thompson & Knight] on board, Grant and Hritz next had the arduous task of convincing a U.S. Receiver, assigned to Josephina’s husband’s large and complex financial crimes case, that Josephina was a crime victim who was at least entitled to the return of her personal assets that had been wrongfully frozen by the government. The forensics to prove what assets were hers alone, and had not been tainted by her husband’s activities, took hundreds of hours of time prove and months of negotiations to explain.
In February, a federal judge approved an agreement that had been reached with the support of all parties including the U.S. Receiver, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the S.E.C. There were no objections from any other of the husband’s victims. Hritz said of the settlement, “… we were able to achieve this resolution on behalf of this mother and her children only after it became absolutely clear they they would be receiving compensation only from the sale of her personal assets that had been wrongly frozen, and not from the sale of ‘tainted’ assets.” Josephina recently moved from the large family home into a home much smaller and commensurate with the settlement she received. This has allowed her to continue on with her life in a new and different way and to raise her children. Another sad but understandable consequence of this matter was that, in March, Josephina’s divorce from her husband was finalized. “It breaks our heart that the children will likely grow up without a father,” said Springer. “While we understand that people and institutions who did business with her husband lost money,” Grant said, “Josephina and her children were the first victims of this crime. We have found that this has unfortunately been the case in so many other families, as well. ”
Jeff Grant and Lynn Springer hope that Josephina’s story is just the beginning for their family ministry and a ray of hope for victims living with undeserved shame. “No more hiding, no more going it alone in fear, unknowing, grief and shame. We have been where these people have been and we are here to help them to the other side,” Grant explained, “”this is a story of shining a light on a dark place, a story of triumph.”
To contact Rev. Jeff Grant & Lynn Springer at the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project, Greenwich, CT: prisonist.org.
Reprinteed from Forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2014/06/09/a-new-class-of-white-collar-victims-the-family/#d5a31271f8db