Glorifying thugs and thieves

James H. Lilley

Michele Fletcher and her husband, Francis, lived the good life in a seven-bedroom mansion in the Glen Dale section of Prince George's County. She filled her 13-aisle closet with nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes, and the finest clothes. She and Francis bought five plasma televisions, two Mercedes-Benz automobiles, a Lexus SUV, and a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle. Michele had a six-carat, custom-made diamond wedding ring, and was quoted as saying, "Every woman wants to be able to have everything.

And that's just something I was able to do, and I just did it." She owned and operated three salons in the Washington D. C. area, and appeared to be a vision of a very successful woman. But Michele Fletcher and her husband didn't earn a single dime of the money they used to treat themselves to a life of luxury, and finance the businesses. They financed their lavish lifestyle through the stolen identities of more than 40,000 people.

In April 2003 Michele and Francis Fletcher tried to purchase a DVD player with a counterfeit Visa card at a Target store in Germantown, Maryland. They produced several forged identification cards at the time, and were caught by Montgomery County Police. Soon, they were the targets of a federal investigation, and a sting brought federal agents calling with a warrant. When the front door to their home came crashing down, their life of extravagance crashed with it. Their mansion was sold to pay a $183,000 debt of restitution, while federal agents seized cars, DVDs and other valuables.

In June 2004 Michele and Francis Fletcher were sentenced to prison after entering a guilty plea. She was sentenced to four years, he to five for their crimes. That amounts to less than a slap on the wrist for stealing over 40,000 identities. Still, it gets better. She served only two and a half years, six months of that in a halfway house, and he will be released in July.

I didn't know a thing about Michele Fletcher until I read about her crime saga in the June 2nd edition of the Washington Post. Not in the World and National section, or Metro section, but the front page of the Style section. Michele Fletcher, the identify thief, was treated to what amounted to a full-page spread promoting her book, Charge It to the Game. She claims the story is remarkable and describes the main character as conniving and cold-blooded. I wonder if she's describing herself?

In addition to the Washington Post helping her promote her book, which she wrote while in prison, she's been treated to opportunities by a local radio station. A Baltimore television station featured her on their morning show as a "credit card fraud expert." An expert, indeed, at committing fraud. So, she gives pointers on avoiding becoming a credit card fraud victim, while the show's host tells everyone to buy her book. She's done book signings from New York to Atlanta, and hosted what is characterized as an upscale party at a club in the District, a party to promote her book.

What seems to be forgotten is that Michele and Francis Fletcher didn't suddenly feel remorse for their life of crime. They didn't wake up one morning and decide that what they'd been doing was causing their victims to suffer, and that they should change their ways. They were caught in the act of committing fraud while attempting to further their exorbitant lifestyle.

That's when they became the regretful criminals and penitent sinners. In fact, according to the Post article, Michele said she wasn't even conscious of her crimes until the door came crashing down. What it sounds like is, that she quickly saw her life of fun and frolic, at the expense of others, coming to an abrupt end.

I find it difficult to believe that she wandered about, in a crime-shrouded fog, never knowing what she was doing until federal agents arrived at her door with a warrant. At that very moment, the fog mystically lifted, and she saw her evil ways. She went to prison, her values changed, and she penned a novel, even writing of the rottenness of materialism.

According to the Post, "In the world of urban lit, Fletcher's incarceration lends her novel street credibility." Yet, in the same article the Post seems to show her offering excuses for her life of crime, not confessing to wrongdoing and showing remorse. So, it seems that in crime, as in politics, it's easier to blame someone else for your faults and failures rather than accept responsibility.

Well, the Washington Post, the Baltimore television station and local radio stations might buy the penitent hogwash, but I don't. And I can't help but wonder if these people are really that naive? The repentant sinner, Michele Fletcher, would still be living the highlife, at the expense of even more victims, and laughing all the way to the bank, if she hadn't been caught. She and her husband would have continued to lie, cheat and steal to carry on their lives, and wallow in excess. But it seems our newspaper, radio and television executives and reporters couldn't wait to air the sad tale of the "reformed" crime queen.

Oh, yes! Reading the article in the Post, I get the impression that they feel sorry for Michele Fletcher because she lost everything. They describe how she's now living in near squalor in her mother's "old house" in Largo, Maryland. They point out how she has to drive a used Ford Explorer, and has very little in the way of new clothes. She has a few things she salvaged from her old life, a Louis Vuitton bag, and Ann Klein patent leather shoes with scuffed heals. Almost makes you want to cry, doesn't it?

I've written to the Washington Post, all of Baltimore's TV stations and several radio stations asking if they would help promote my novels. I've sent e-mails and made dozens of telephone calls as well. To date, I have received exactly one reply, that from the Post saying, "Publishing is a tough business." That's it. I haven't had the courtesy of even a "go to hell" from the rest.

I did, on one occasion about four years ago, speak with Don Scott of WJZ, who went out of his way to be helpful. He said he liked the idea of having me appear on the morning show, but it would have to be cleared through the WJZ offices. I followed his instructions, mailed a letter the following day, but I'm sill waiting for an answer. Yet, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia took time from his schedule to write to me about my article on the Virginia Tech massacre. I guess they get a lot of mail at WJZ and haven't gotten to my letter yet.

I haven't been to prison for fraud, theft or murder, and maybe that's why I can't get a response from anyone. I did utilize a different name from time to time when working undercover assignments, but I guess that doesn't count because I didn't steal the identity to further a life of greed.

I served my country and community, and began writing after 14 years in law enforcement. Wait a minute. Didn't the Post article say something about Fletcher's incarceration giving her novel street credibility? You mean I can't get recognition for street credibility after 25 plus years in law enforcement? Oh, I guess street credibility counts only from the criminal's point of view.

On the other hand, every media source on the continent rushes to keep our law breaking celebrities in the news. Yes, I also classify Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and our other Hollywood stars who make a habit of breaking the law as thugs. They're just rich thugs who think they can do as they please, and their fortune and fame will keep them out of prison.

They shouldn't be treated any differently than Michele Fletcher or, for that matter, a prostitute working the truck stop. Still, one of Paris Hilton's fans said, "She's too rich and too important to go to jail." I'm happy the judge in her case disagreed, and I hope Paris spends her full sentence on the inside looking out. The poor little rich girl is already suffering a meltdown behind bars, but she's the one who chose to do as she damn well pleased, and flaunting her fame and fortune has finally caught up to her. Too bad she won't be sent out into the general population of the prison. There, she'd find a whole new outlook on life.

I'm sure when poor little Paris is finally released from prison we can expect her to write a book about her days behind bars. Of course, she'll spend weeks or possibly months recovering from her devastating ordeal before she can write about prison life. Mommy and Daddy will have publishers lined up at the door begging to put her tragic story in print, while talk show hosts fight to be the first to promote her tale of woe.

And all the while, Paris will weep in front of the cameras and get richer by the tear. Who really believes crime doesn't pay? As long as the mainstream media and the tabloids clamor to glorify thugs and thieves, crime will pay and pay and pay.