The case is ongoing but many people have become suspicious of this fundraising campaign because of the numerous inconsistencies in the facts given about Stephenson's medical condition, treatment options and the fact that all funds that were collected went directly to Stephenson's personal bank account. Overall there are many aspects to Stephenson's fundraising appeal that give it a serious appearance of impropriety.
Skeptical observers believe the fundraising campaign was launched by Stephenson in December, 2004, after his dismissal from the Renton , Washington , based Black Box Voting non-profit organization. Using his name recognition throughout the "vote fraud" investigation movement, Stephenson appears to have primarily played upon the sympathy of many people involved in left-wing progressive political websites (including Democratic Underground, DailyKOS, Truthout.org and the "We The People" blog at PDAmerica.org) and other web forums. It is also alleged that Stephenson used an 8000 name list of e-mail addresses that he collected during his brief run for Secretary of State in Washington, as well as capitalizing on radio pleas, and democratic organization call lists.
Over the past six months, this fundraiser morphed from a personal plea for donations to continue his "vote fraud" work into a dramatic emotional appeal to save his life from the ravages of pancreatic cancer by sending Stephenson to Johns Hopkins for a procedure called the "Whipple".
The precise amount that has been raised since December, 2004, and how it has been spent is unknown. It has been claimed that just over $50,000 was raised and that the funds were used to pay Johns Hopkins Hospital . But it could be that several hundred thousand dollars were raised and only a portion was given to Johns Hopkins as payment for the Whipple surgery. Only Andy Stephenson knows because all funds that were collected were sent directly to Stephenson's personal bank account via Pay Pal and Amazon Honor System and also via checks made out to him and sent to his personal post office box in Seattle .
I. Andy Stephenson and how he became a fundraising icon in liberal internet circles.
There is quite a history of Stephenson soliciting funds on Democratic Underground and other liberal message boards for both personal and "professional" uses. Stephenson officially joined the staff at the non-profit organization run by Bev Harris of Black Box Voting ( www.blackboxvoting.org ) in approximately fall of 2003, when Stephenson was also running in the democratic primaries for Secretary of State of Washington. Stephenson admittedly only ran in this primary to use his platform to bring attention to what he believes is election fraud in the electronic voting industry. Black Box Voting (BBV) is also the name of a book written by Harris and co-written and published by David Allen of Plan 9 Publishing in December, 2003.
Shortly after the release of the book, Harris and Allen went their separate ways with both sides threatening to sue when Harris took the book to a bigger publisher. This move began a bitter war between the two parties that often spilled out quite publicly on the internet and Democratic Underground, specifically. During this time, Andy Stephenson remained part of the Harris-run BlackBoxVoting.org and a staunch supporter of Harris.
The mention of Black Box Voting is offered here only for the purpose of setting the groundwork for what was the beginning of a two-year run, thus far, by Stephenson to solicit funds without providing any accounting or oversight in liberal internet circles. Without laying any blame on Stephenson directly for any of the BBV fundraising questions that have been raised, it is important to note that Bev Harris began her large fundraising pushes in liberal internet circles only after Stephenson joined her small team of paid staff. Today, Bev Harris is no longer welcome to participate on any liberal message boards other than her own because of the serious questions raised about her use of donor funds and, specifically, because of a continued refusal on her part to account for the money she and Stephenson raised through internet solicitations, pleas from popular liberal radio personalities such as Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes, and her unwillingness to produce the documents she claimed to need money for.
The relevance to Stephenson is that for over a year, Bev Harris and Andy Stephenson appeared to be inseparable in their work on election fraud and they traveled the United States together and even went on investigation trips outside of the country. For all who looked on, Harris and Stephenson appeared to be committed to their cause and to each other's professional careers as election fraud activists.
This happy relationship that brought in what some in the know estimate to be well over $700,000 in donations from the liberal community broke down suddenly after the smoke from election 2004 cleared and BBV had produced zero evidence of election fraud. Donors in the liberal community became even more incensed when they realized they had donated to an organization that appeared to be on what seemed a wild goose chase when the other vote fraud investigators were attending hearings in Ohio set up by Rep. Conyers.
Without warning or notice, Stephenson was suddenly fired by the Board of Directors of BBV.org and was out of the good graces of Harris . It came as a complete surprise to all who were following the Harris/Stephenson activism. Harris had been barred from the liberal internet community for many months but Stephenson was still welcome to post updates and seemed to elicit confidence on the part of many. In literally one day, Stephenson went from being a primary cohort of Harris and making what he has said was over $40,000 per year (sometimes quoted as $60,000) plus health insurance at BBV (plus what some say are many fringe benefits) to being unemployed and destitute.
Thus began Stephenson's own plea for donations on DU for living and personal expenses. For this he teamed up with already disgruntled David Allen and began a campaign focused on maligning Harris (whom the liberal community already felt was a foe) to elicit sympathy for his financial plight.
The purpose of mentioning any of the BBV/Harris saga which seems to offer more questions than answers, is provided solely to lay the framework on which Andy Stephenson came to begin soliciting for PERSONAL funds.
II. Stephenson presents Self as `cause' for donations
It is relevant to note that Stephenson appears to have a primary technique for soliciting donations: he has third parties make the money pleas. At BBV, he was the third party. For many months, it is believed that he was a salaried employee of BBV but this was not disclosed to the communities to which donations were solicited. After Andy was fired from BBV.org he immediately began fundraising to pay his living expenses and claimed he needed to continue his work "saving democracy".
A. December 2004. Andy needs money because Harris fired him and he is penniless.
In December, 2004, some of Stephenson's `friends' at Democractic Underground started a collection plate to help Andy through the tough times till he found a job on the basis that Harris had stiffed him and because of his "important work" in the election fraud arena.
After the `breakup' between Harris and Stephenson, he claimed to be penniless . To this day, Harris asserts publicly that Stephenson refuses to cash his final paycheck from BBV from December, 2004, for $4000. Overlooking this fact, the liberal community rallied around Stephenson to collect an unknown sum of money. All money collected went into a personal paypal account for Stephenson. Only Stephenson knows whether 10 people or 100s or 1000s of people donated to him for personal expenses to get him on his feet. No one knows if such donations continue.
What is also relevant is that there was no talk in liberal internet circles by Stephenson about any job search. Stephenson's partner Ted Edmonson is also unemployed yet the pair owns a house in Seattle , WA that has, as reported by Stephenson, a taxable base value of over $400,000.
B. Early February 2005. Andy needs money because he has Hepatitis-C.
Two months after having been `fired without cause and without notice' and allegedly without severance, Stephenson had not made any public disclosures about what he might be doing to ensure his financial security (i.e., finding a job). Whether he was hitting the pavement or not is impossible to say. But one night a post appeared on Democratic Underground about Stephenson being terribly ill and having been rushed to the hospital . Within a number of days, word on the message board was that Stephenson had Hepatitis-C and requests for donations to help him followed since he had no insurance and he would need money for medical and living expenses.
It is not known how much money Stephenson raised between December, 2004, and February, 2005. Again, all donations were made individually and directly to Stephenson's personal internet accounts as well as mailed to a U.S. Postal Office box in Seattle , WA .
C. End of February 2005 to April 2005. Everyone feel sorry for Andy... it could be CANCER!
On February 23rd Stephenson posted on DemocraticUnderground that his doctor had told him his tumor was "consistent with malignancy" and asked for people to donate money to help him with his expenses. It was this post that started the ball rolling for his latest drive for donations. At this stage his main solicitors were William Rivers Pitt, David Allen, and a small group of close "friends".
On March 9th "Will" Pitt posted documents, originally hosted on a website owned by David Allen, on Democratic Underground hoping to offer proof that Stephenson was indeed sick and required the donations. At this point there was still no mention of Johns Hopkins and the documents posted show a "stent" insertion along with some unknown redacted procedure preformed on Feb 18th.
Those documents may have cleared up concerns at the time, however, in light of events that followed they only cast more suspicion on the cancer fundraising and Stephenson's claim that the Seattle hospital where he received his surgery wasn't able to continue his treatment.
D. April 28, 2005 . Big Push for Big Money.
As stated above, the last known surgery date scheduled in Washington state was April 20th . Late on April 19th, Stephenson posted that his surgery was postponed. There were a few public disclosures in April about a possible treatment option at the renowned Johns Hopkins University hospital. Not much information was offered for the next week until a surprising and colorful campaign was initiated on April 28th by Elizabeth Ferrari and an unknown number of liberal posters on DemocraticUnderground.com seeking $25,000 as a down payment for major surgery and participation in an experimental vaccine study for Pancreatic Cancer at Johns Hopkins.
Stephenson launched an elaborate team of supporters to serve as third party money solicitors. The name value of Mike Malloy, William Rivers Pitt, and Thom Hartmann were employed as celebrity endorsements for Andy's need for a "Whipple" procedure available only at Johns Hopkins to fight an already-diagnosed cancerous tumor on the pancreas.
It was claimed by another friend of Stephenson's, Arlene Martinez aka Flyarm, her husband's boss Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, used his position and influence at Johns Hopkins to get Andy into a "test vaccine program".
Organized by Elizabeth "Beth" Ferrari aka sfexpat, with the agreement of the Administration of DemocraticUnderground, a group of supporters proceeded to spread the message far and wide to over 200 websites, forums, blogs, listservs, email, and radio that Andy Stephenson was going to die without this surgery and experimental vaccine program.
The message was clear. Johns Hopkins was the only place Andy's life saving surgery could be performed and they were demanding 50% payment upfront of the $50 thousand cost for the procedure. The date of this surgery was set for the second week in May. All money was to be donated to personal accounts belonging to Andy Stephenson.
One of the dates claimed for the surgery was May 2nd; this was also the day that Beth announced that the fundraiser successfully reached its goal of $25k . But later news broke that Johns Hopkins now needed all 100% of the $50 thousand upfront and the race was back on to raise another $25 thousand dollars before the new May 10th surgery date.
All previous surgery dates fell by the wayside without public mention until it was announced on May 10th that Stephenson's surgery had been cancelled because the venerable Johns Hopkins lost Stephenson's cashiers checks in their mailroom and refused to perform the surgery until the money was found. The checks were allegedly found by one of Andy's supporters called "MissWaverly" on Democratic Underground and who allegedly works at Johns Hopkins. The next day Andy went in to Hopkins for a preliminary MRI. "MissWaverly" claimed this MRI would have cancelled the surgery the day before anyway irrespective of the lost check escapade. This MRI preformed the day after the cancelled surgery cast even more suspicion on the claims made the day before as many question whether Hopkins would do such a test after and not before the May 10th surgery date. The questions being raised about the validity of the May 10th surgery date also cast doubt on the claims that all $50 thousand was due on or before the 10th.
With this latest cancellation the bizarre turned down right troubling. On the afternoon of May 10th a Democratic Underground user posted that he had called Johns Hopkins and was told the fundraiser was a hoax. While this user was quickly banned, and his posts deleted, several other members also called and verified that someone from Hopkins was in fact calling the fundraiser a scam.
In the words of the Democratic Underground Administration these posts "lit a powder keg" under the website that acted as a home base for the fundraisers. "Skinner" the site's administrator and owner issued a statement expressing his own doubts about the legitimacy of the efforts to collect the money and stated he had been trying to verify the claims himself without success.
Stephenson then personally posted outlining the troubles he claimed Johns Hopkins had caused him due to their incompetence and insinuated that "trolls" had tried to tamper with his paypal account causing further hassles. He then went on to add that Hopkins had rescheduled his surgery for May 26th a full 15 days after they had erroneously cancelled his life saving surgery for one of the most virulent cancers there is.
"Skinner" announced that he would confirm that Andy was a patient at Hopkins when he checked in on the 26th in order to verify his claims. He stated the need for Andy to sign a waiver to release the hospital from strict HIPAA laws preventing them from officially commenting. This however didn't quiet the discontent now spreading to all corners of the internet and to the organizations that helped Stephenson collect the money.
On May 17th one of Stephenson's confidants who had spent the previous weekend with Stephenson announced that he did NOT have pancreatic cancer as had been reported and instead had "a tumor on the bile duct not the pancreas". After this admission William Rivers Pitt one of the celebrity endorsees posted a blistering critic of the fundraiser, its lack of accountability, and the lack of any verifiable evidence to substantiate Stephenson's claims. Specifically, Will Pitt asked for the following;
- If it was not the very serious pancreatic cancer, why did the surgery need to be done at Johns Hopkins?
- If a Whipple was not required, why was $25,000 and then $50,000 needed for this surgery? Andy could have gotten this far-less-serious procedure done back in Seattle for a hell of a lot less money.
- Why was I personally told this was pancreatic cancer? Why was I allowed to repeat this now-inaccurate diagnosis many times without anyone correcting me?
There have never been satisfactory answers to those questions or the questions that need to be answered to quiet those claiming Stephenson and his fundraisers committed fraud when collecting the money. Although it appears that Stephenson did have a procedure at Johns Hopkins on May 25th (moved up one day), to date, what procedure was performed or why it was preformed has not been verified.
The fundraisers, endorsees, DU admin, and Stephenson himself have closed ranks and in many cases done a complete about-face without offering the proof they were asked for and for which they promised the people they so eagerly solicited money from under seemingly false pretenses.
The official "line" now is that all donors are happy Stephenson received surgery on May 25th (moved up one day) and that all questions of fundraising methods have been simply reduced to an "academic exercise" to avoid similar problems in the future.
III. What we think.
We at Scamdy.com have a much different perspective. We feel that Stephenson and his fundraisers must be held to account for their actions, made to prove all claims alleged during the fundraiser, and made to account for all the money donated to Stephenson's various personal accounts.
We are already witnessing the residual cynicism this fundraiser has caused. Many legitimate, transparent, and worthy online charities are already suffering and unless Stephenson steps up and helps quiet his critics, one is only left to wonder what he has to hide and why would he allow others to suffer while doing it.
The three Questions we at Scamdy.com have been advised would remove the specter of fraud if answered are the following:
- When were you, Mr. Stephenson, first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and can you prove it by providing a diagnosis signed and dated by your doctor?
- Can you, Mr. Stephenson, provide proof, in the form of an official statement from Johns Hopkins, that your May 10th surgery was cancelled due to your cashiers' checks being lost in the Hopkins mailroom?
- Are you, Mr. Stephenson, willing to provide documents proving how much money you raised, and will these documents correlate with the running totals your fundraisers publicly offered?
A copy of this letter will be forwarded to the FBI's Internet Fraud Department at www.IC3.gov in 7 days after we have gathered signatures unless satisfactory answers are provided in the interim.
If you would like to add your email address to the complaint please visit www.scamdy.com
Comments are closed on this story.