Starting in late August of this year, a number of PLN subscribers have received letters from former contributing writer Dan Pens making a variety of outrageous allegations against me and other PLN board members. Dan's letters are the culmination of a five month attempt on his part to extort $2,500 from PLN . When his blackmail demands were not met, he carried through on his threats to slander me and other PLN board members.
In February, 2001, Fred Markham, PLN 's former office manager, disappeared after stealing most of PLN 's money, destroying PLN 's financial records, turning off our phones and stealing one final delivery of mail. [See April, 2001, PLN for details.] Dan Pens "resigned" from PLN shortly thereafter, claiming he had never liked me and because Fred's thievery was reported to local police (who have yet to do anything about it).
Fred's embezzlement was reported to the police because not doing so would expose PLN to criminal and civil liability for Fred's actions. This was based on the advice of PLN 's tax advisor and two Seattle attorneys, one specializing in criminal defense, the other in tax law.
Fred defrauded a number of other businesses before disappearing. He also failed to file PLN 's tax report for 1999 and 2000 with the IRS, which we have since done. Dan offered no solutions or suggestions on dealing with Fred's thievery. PLN 's board feels we owe PLN a fiduciary duty to attempt to recover PLN 's money, which ultimately is our subscribers' money.
Starting in April, Dan began to demand money from PLN in exchange for various materials he still has which belong to PLN (i.e., source materials for articles, completed articles, reader letters, PLN mailing lists, grant applications and donor information). Eventually, Dan resorted to demanding $2,500 from PLN , threatening to write to all foundations that have given grants to PLN in the past or might in the future; to PLN donors and supporters and prison activists, with claims of misconduct on the part of board members.
PLN refused to give Dan a penny because his allegations (for which he admits he has no evidence and which he claims is based on statements given to him by Fred and his associate Gary Taylor Rose) are false. Interestingly, it doesn't appear that Dan has sent his slander letters to people who know me personally.
One issue in confronting this type of defamation is that by responding to it at all, we spread it further than it might go on its own. Frankly, some claims don't deserve the dignity of a response. On the other hand, we don't want anyone to interpret silence on our part as an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, just as paying blackmail money would be.
PLN will soon post its financial statements for 1999 and 2000 on its website, www.prisonlegalnews.org. Because Fred Markham destroyed PLN 's financial records for 1999 and 2000 to cover up his thievery, the records for those years have been reconstructed by a CPA working with PLN 's Seattle bank representative and is based on the actual checks written on PLN 's checking account and deposits made into it.
From now on, PLN will post this information on its website each year. PLN offered to show Dan its financial records, including all cashed checks from 1999 through earlier this year, to prove that neither I nor anyone other than Fred Markham has misappropriated any money belonging to PLN . At first Dan said he wanted to review the materials, but when a Seattle attorney made an appointment to visit him with the records he changed his mind and said he did not want to review them, preferring to blackmail PLN despite knowing the falsity of his claims.
For its part, PLN is suing Dan Pens for extortion, conversion, interference with business relationships, libel, slander and defamation. Over the years, we have seen a lot of groups get involved in bitter internal disputes involving allegations and counter allegations that are difficult for an outsider to decipher. By taking this matter to court we can present our side of the story to a neutral party to decide who is telling the truth after reviewing the evidence. Anyone desiring a copy of the complaint and exhibits, which include Dan's extortion letters, can send $5 to cover our copying and postage costs. We will send a copy to anyone who received the slander letter from Dan at no cost. See: Prison Legal News v. Pens , King County Superior Court, Case No. 01-2-30974-9.
For those people who received a slander letter from Dan Pens, please feel free to contact me or the PLN office if you have any questions or concerns whatsoever. I don't just encourage you to voice your concerns, I urge you to do so.
From the outset, organizations involving prisoners tend to have credibility problems. I had been proud of the fact that PLN has faithfully served its readers and supporters. I have always viewed financial donations from our supporters as a sacred trust whereby people entrust PLN with their money to advance the cause of human rights in the U.S. That is one of the reasons I was both devastated and angry upon learning of Fred's embezzlement of PLN funds.
From its first issue, PLN has always been upfront with its readers. In fact, these editorials have been readers' view into PLN , our ups and downs, through crisis and victory, our wins and losses. Amilcar Cabral, the Guinean revolutionary, said, "Tell no lies, claim no easy victories." So it has been with PLN . I think it is important that PLN retain people's trust and confidence and our own credibility. I would like to think that almost 12 years of publishing and growing under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and weathering the crisis brought on by first the discovery of Fred's embezzlement and now Dan's blackmail scheme, can attest to both PLN 's endurance and integrity.
Dan apparently has sent different letters to different people in a ploy to elicit the most negative responses. Not surprisingly, he doesn't mention that his letters are the culmination of a failed extortion scheme. Dan was told that he would be sued if he libeled or slandered any PLN board members. He responded that if he were sued he would repeat his baseless claims to every Department of Corrections official, attorney general and law enforcement agency he could write to. To this day he remains unabashedly supportive of Fred Markham, despite Fred's proven theft of money from PLN .
At this point I hope the above will address any and all concerns that readers may have, and will lay this matter to rest. If it doesn't, by all means contact me or PLN directly. We would like to get back to the primary business of putting out the best human rights magazine in the world.
Our future plans for the next year include expanding PLN to 40 pages per issue to bring you still more news and information. To do so, we need an additional $500 a month above our current income. We also plan to expand our selection of books, and expect to have our cumulative index ready for shipping and our website ready to serve as a prison litigation research site on the internet. I hope that PLN can count on your continued support to make all this happen in 2002.
I have recently been moved to a different prison. The address appears on the masthead on page 2. If I am on your mailing list to receive any publications, or you otherwise correspond with me, please note the new address in your records.
Everyone at PLN wishes our readers a happy holiday season and best wishes for a more activist new year.
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