Friday, June 17, 2005

Martha Chronicles

INDICTMENT. She “willfully and knowingly devised, and intended to devise, a scheme and artifice to defraud prospective authors and to obtain their money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.” In pursuance of that scheme, as United States Attorney Glenn T. Suddaby’s construes her Federal indictment, she

*pretended to be at least two GreeneLanders, a book publisher and a literary agent.

*“demanded and accepted a variety of fee payments prior to publication of a given book, including initial payments to publish, separate fees for representation by a literary agent, separate fees for editing, separate fees for illustrations, separate fees for a Special Markets Program, and separate fees for a prospective author to purchase copies of her own book prior to publication.”

*“offered a variety of excuses for non-publication years following the initial payment, including, problems with illustrations, problems with printers, lost manuscripts, computer viruses, failed computer disks, and production backlogs…”

*”made false representations regarding book signings, international book fairs and expos, complimentary cruise vacations and travel, as well as appearances on television talk shows.”

*filed for bankruptcy so as “to insulate herself…from the demands of dissatisfied prospective authors,” and then “reconstituted” her publishing operation under a new name and “continued to solicit payments from the same prospective authors under the auspices of the new entity.”

The alleged perpetrator of that alleged scheme is Catskill’s Martha Ivery, 56 (a.k.a Kelly McDonnell and other personae). Following a lengthy FBI investigation led by Special Agent William Chase, Martha was indicted (6/1) by a Federal grand jury on charges of mail fraud (15 counts), credit card crime, and lying in bankruptcy court. Arraigned in Albany (6/3), Martha entered a plea of Not Guilty and currently is free on a personal recognizance bond. Evidence is still being marshaled by Assistant U. S. Attorney Thomas Capezza) and by Victim Witness Co-Ordinator Rachel Feeber in Albany ([518] 431-0247).

SCAM CENTRAL, according to the prosecutors and complainants, was 291 Main Street in Catskill, across from the post office (and above the law offices of landlord Ed Cloke, the former District Attorney). There, for around five years until 2003, Martha operated Press-TIGE Publishing Company (later New Millenium); alter ego O’Donnell, the literary agent, made do with a post office box in Leeds.

THE SCALE. The charges against Martha stem from a sub-set of complaints that were voiced in recent years. Many of those complaints were relayed to the FBI after being voiced to Writer Beware, an organ of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (www.sfwa.com). “As usual with indictments of this sort,” says Victoria Strauss (writerbeware.com) “only a fraction of Ivery's fraud is included: just sixteen of her nearly 300 victims, $55,000 of her "take" of more than half a million dollars, and one of nine documentable instances of false sworn testimony before the bankruptcy trustee.” (The latter instance consists of claiming that “Claude Roussan” was a real person—a publisher--rather than a Marthian invention). Martha allegedly ran

a soup-to-nuts operation: writers came in through one of the agencies (which charged "marketing" fees and pressured clients to accept paid editing services) and were then passed on to one of the publishing companies (which charged several thousand dollars). The connection between the agencies and the publishers wasn't revealed; to further the deception, clients were encouraged to believe that the Kelly O'Donnell who ran the agencies and the Martha Ivery who ran the publishers were two different people. Writers who paid fees to Ivery--whether for agenting, book doctoring, or publishing--frequently didn't receive the promised services. Manuscripts submitted for agenting were never sent to publishers, or were placed with vanity publishers…which paid kickbacks to agents…. Promised editing was never completed or was poorly done. Books contracted for publication were never produced, or if produced, weren't marketed. In addition to whatever fees had been agreed upon, Ivery bombarded authors with demands for even more money for nonexistent services: publicity, warehousing, even a Press-Tige cruise (not surprisingly, the cruise was canceled and authors never got refunds). Ivery was notable for her attempts to intimidate dissatisfied clients and people who attempted to expose her activities. Authors were told that she would "blacklist" them so that publishers wouldn't look at their manuscripts. Writer Beware staff received death threats. She was also adept at fabricating outlandish excuses to explain her habitual nonperformance. For instance, in the aftermath of 9/11 she variously claimed to have been "seriously burned" in the disaster, or to be in mourning for relatives who'd been killed. She had numerous heart attacks. She frequently got cancer. As both Martha and Kelly, she died several times. Of course, with so much to remember, once in a while she got her lies mixed up. One pesky author, shocked to learn of Martha's sudden and tragic death, was later somewhat taken aback to receive a call from her. As a result of numerous author complaints (and lobbying by Writer Beware), a criminal investigation into Ivery's activities was launched by the FBI in 2001. Writer Beware assisted the case agent…. Under pressure from the investigation and dogged by increasing public knowledge of her scammery, Ivery decided to fold the business. On June 19, 2002, Press-Tige Publishing filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York…. At her first bankruptcy hearing… Ivery testified under oath that all the authors listed on Schedule F of her bankruptcy petition had canceled their contracts with Press-Tige. This was a lie.... Ivery didn't provide any of the documentation that she was directed in writing to bring to the hearing. Ordered to present it at the second hearing, on August 20, 2002, she again failed to bring the material, and again perjured herself on a number of issues. She also admitted that much of the testimony she'd offered at the previous hearing was perjury....

KELLY AT WORK. Among self-described victims of Martha was a woman who grieved through the web site called ripoffreport.com, which also is badbusinessbureau.com run by Ed Magedson. This author tells of signing a $3000 contract with “Kelly O’Donnell” in 1995, going through dodges galore, eventually rejoicing to see actual publication (with “shabby editing”) in January 1998. But no distribution. A listing on Amazon came and went in one week. And “I know she has many other victims,” says this dejected customer, because Martha (qua Kelly) “had the nerve early to have them call me for a reference.”

BOLD MARTHA? Another aggrieved writer, alerted by that message on ripoffreport.com, credited Martha with being “crafty, brazen, and audacious.” In the words of Mike, of Woodstock KA, Martha

strings people along as long as she can and milks them for as much money as possible. To her credit, her best selling book was about Bill Clinton and his plan for a better America, a book of blank pages (which closely commensurates with the promises she keeps with contracted authors). Her attempts to placate are amateurish and childlike at best. When no longer able to appease, she releases clients from their contracts (most of them) but they never see their money, because ‘the artists quit’ or other ‘problems’ beyond her control.

MORE KELLY. An additional, major channel which would-be authors used to air complaints was (and is) the Whispers and Warnings forum run by Angela Hoy as part of an ezine for free-lancers (http://writersweekly.com). Correspondent John Shriver, for example, responded to an earlier alert in these terms (5/2002): If this Kelly O’Donnell is the same one who misrepresented herself several years ago to me, she supposedly had a literary agency at Round Top, NY. After only one query letter she was telling me how great my book was (send me $2500) and that she wanted to see the entire manuscript (send me another $1000 for copying) and had several publishers in mind (send me $500 for postage). It did need some serious editing (send me $2000) but that could be taken care of in-house….The supposed contract offered to publish my book for a sum of $3990. Turned out it was a subsidy publisher in deep trouble with the [Utah] Attorney General plus 49 other states. When I requested the return of my manuscript, Ms. O'Donnell wanted $100 for postage and handling….

DITTO. “I entered into a publication contract with Press-Tige in August, 1999,” recalls Charley Scholl in a message aired on Writers Weekly.

Contract stated that my book, Dustin's Debut, was to be published in 6-9 months, with a 3 month clause for unforeseen circumstances. I was sent one copy of an unsigned, undated, contract. It was to be signed, dated, and returned within a specified time period with a cashier's check for $3950.00, the author's share of publication costs. I fulfilled my end of the contract, however, it took several e-mails from me from August through October before I actually received a copy of the completely signed and dated by both parties contract. I finally received that after sending an e-mail telling Press-Tige that I had, in fact, made a copy of the signed contract before sending it. Believe it or not, Press-Tige sent me the original contract and asked me to make a copy of it and send it back, she claimed her copy machine was down. Press-Tige asked for an initial disk copy, cover blurb, author photo, and other promo stuff in October, which I promptly sent. Nothing happened after that…

REJOINDER. Countering such moaning was another message received early in 2002 by Writers Weekly. It came from Jack Powell and voiced warm praise for Martha Ivery. After posting it, however, editor Angela Hoy noticed that the testimonial had come from Martha’s own word processor. She deleted the message, posting an explanation. Martha reacted with a touch of asperity:

For your information, Mother Fucker, Jack Powell was staying at my home as he visited Howard Stern in NYC last week. Asshole. You're not to [sic.] smart when it comes to anything, are you? especially people in general. Why don't you go back to the country you came from? No one in this country likes Japs and that is what you are, a stinkin, fucking Jap. Ms. Hoy. what kind of a name is that? if I had a name like yours, I'd shave my ass and walk backwards.

Martha followed that message with another in the same vein:

Ms. Hoy, or whatever the hell you call yourself. I hate Japs, let it be known to the world. Your grandfather probably was the one that bombed the American sailors as they were on their ships. That's why I can't stand you. You come to this country and think you can get everything for free, you are a terrorist. Scumbag. Put that in your mouth and suck on it. Asshole

(Angela Hoy is, as it happens, a WASP).

FICTIVE MARTHA. Before disclaiming interest in works of fiction (in favor of “How-to, New Age, Self-Help, Spirituality, Witchcraft/Wicca”), Martha ostensibly put out (“available in 1998”) Lilac and Lace, whose protagonist, according to the publisher’s clumsy blurb, is stirred with “inner feelings of love lost buried in her hurt spirit. Could she resist the temptation which aroused within her?” The story, prospective readers were assured, is told “with grace, authority and compassion” By whom? No author was identified.

MARTHA ON MARTHA. Among titles for which Martha takes credit as author and publisher are two in a series aimed at children. The first, Pickles and Peanuts, is touted falsely in the publisher’s blurb as “non-fiction” and, sub-literately, as “an exciting adventure for one little girl, and the discovery of events that take place on a horse farm, and how to take care of your horse or pony.” The sequel, Pickles and Peanuts Meet Sandpiper the Wonder Horse, is said by publisher Martha to be “written from first hand experience who are a third party to an emotional conflict.”

MENTAL MARTHA. “At one time or another, almost everybody has had a premonition come true. What if there was a way to harness this sixth sense and use it to fundamentally improve one's life?” Those promising words (1999) invite attention to a 222-page guidebook called What's Your Psychic I.Q? How to listen to your inner voice and let it guide you to a better life. The putative guide is Martha herself, who, says publisher Martha, “shows readers how to evaluate and enhance their intuitive ability through a series of creative exercises. She shows that psychic ability is a natural and beneficial component of everyone's personality--and when explored, it can open the door to knowledge that is hidden to the other five senses.” Copies are listed for sale on Amazon (new, $14; used, $34!) and on Barnes & Noble (current sales ranking: 604,706). What is more, a Portuguese translation seems to have materialized. Meantime, What’s Your Psychic I.Q.? has the distinction of being the only Ivery-authored book that is catalogued in Catskill’s public library. The listed copy, however, was checked out in January 2004 and not returned.

TALK AROUND TOWN. Since Martha has been a GreeneLand personage of long standing, Seeing Greene trolled for comments following the news of her indictment. Some excerpts: “How come it took them”—the investigators—“so long?” “We blacklisted her after getting calls and complaints….” “She took a one-year lease on a storefront for a news agency, and was in and out in a few weeks.” “What about the bigamy rumor?” “Which Ivery did she marry?” “She was a wonderful inventor of schemes that would bring untold wealth.” “What about her ‘Hollywood contracts’ and her ‘television contracts’?” “We had to stop doing business with her; she kept fiddling with the terms of her policies.” “I didn’t know we had such a clever, creative swindler in our midst. Makes me kinda proud.”

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Poet Dorothy said...

Nice blog to make the readers aware of fraud but I was one of Martha Iverys victims. Shes in prison now.
Love Ya
God Bless Ya
Poet Dorothy

deedee said...

I am the person referred to in this blog, who's letter is posted on ripoffreport.com. I had saved, documented, or copied every form of communication I ever had with Martha over the years. I was happy to step forward with those records, and pleased to see the eventual outcome as incarceration. That made me feel like less of a victim. My heartfelt thanks to all who were involved from beginning to end in bringing her to justice.

Doreen