After all the legal ducking and dodging--the attempts to put off the imposition of a prison sentence when the victims were already there in court, ready to give impact statements--after all the unclear answers to very clear questions about whether attorney Larry Reed was still representing convicted mortgage fraudster Larry Maxwell--the moment came after long years when the victims could finally rise to speak.
For that matter, Maxwell's family members could have also rose to speak on his behalf. None volunteered to do so, when Judge Chu opened up the opportunity to speak to "anybody in the gallery." There were actually some small gasps as the realization set in: none of Larry Maxwell's family were going to rise and speak in his defense, not even to say, "He is kind to his children." In fact, word was that out in the hallway two of Maxwell's daughters had apologized to John Foster "on behalf of our father." Foster described the two as "very gracious."
John Foster--the REAL John Foster--rose to speak at a podium a few feet away from the prosecutor's table. I'd heard how difficult this was for him. How he is not naturally sociable, gregarious, or a public speaker but a classic introvert. John Foster reportedly gets shy and uncomfortable if he has to make a phone call...
There had been talk of John Foster not speaking at all. Written victim impact statements had already been submitted. Strictly speaking, it wasn't necessary that any of the victims actually speak before the judge since their written statements had already impacted the sentence. The point of today's statements was psychological, a kind of catharsis to rise, to speak, to say how they were wronged, how they hurt, how deeply they were impacted and how much they needed to know the system--as impersonal as it could be at times--actually gave a damn about their being victimized by the likes of Larry Maxwell.
Foster rose to speak and gave one of those speeches a man or woman might give once in a lifetime: this is who I am. This is what is important to me and how I became MYSELF. And this is how circumstances I did not seek out or deserve have almost crushed me, almost ground me into dust; and yet I stand here and I tell my story, I proclaim my EXISTANCE to the whole universe.
John Foster first made it clear he was the REAL John Foster, not some crackhead named Kingrussell with a stolen identity; a fact he felt needed to go in the record, first of all. He talked about how all his life he was raised to be independent, to work hard, to build wealth. At the age of 18, his father dropped him off to begin college. Foster was told not to ask for money from his father, and all his life he never did. During the first couple years of college he would save money by not eating on the weekends. His very first house was A DUMP, and yet he fixed it up, sold it, made a profit...bought ANOTHER house.
"I never bought toys," Foster said, "like a motorcycle." Instead, even at a young age, Foster worked at "building wealth" so he could retire. He didn't consider himself a brilliant man. He drives a delivery truck. The job is hard on the body and you don't continue working a job like that when you're old.
"This has totally destroyed everything I am about," Foster said. In his late 40s, he was forced--for the first time in his adult life--to ask for money from his father. Foster had been so obsessed with paying bills on time that "somebody could take out multiple homes" on his credit. The crackhead "imposter Foster" Kingrussell had cashed checks at, for example, a casino. The phone at the home at John Foster and his wife, Melony Michaels, would ring off the hook all day with people trying to collect money. They'd even call John Foster's SON.
Being an identity theft victim was an endless series of memorable humiliations. After shopping at J.C. Penny's for school supplies, Penny's wouldn't accept their own credit card because John Foster's credit was THAT BAD. John Foster now finds himself overloaded with bills, with no help to give his kids in college, no Christmas, no birthdays. Foster is forced to carry a "get out of jail free" card with a special password. He is the only person in the state of Minnesota in a special database of identity theft victims.
Interest, penalties, charages on outstanding bills now happen to John Foster CONSTANTLY.
"It's very expensive being broke," he noted, dryly.
To add to these insults and injuries, at first the authorities were of NO HELP AT ALL. His wife, Melony Michaels, hung up on the FBI because they were so rude to her. When they turned over a file of information to one local police department, the file was lost, leading to a months of delay.
At that moment, Detective Cardenas--seated behind me--leaned forward to whisper and point out it wasn't HIS department that lost the file in question, it wasn't the BLOOMINGTON Police Department that did THAT. For the record.
At the podium, continuing with his victim impact statement, as though reading Cardenas' mind at that moment, John Foster said "Detective Cardenas has come through in every possible way" and "ever since he got involved, things have moved forward." Foster also gave credit to Janet Havlish--the friend of Melony Michaels--who "played a key role in getting information loose" at an early point in the investigation. Foster said if everything had been left to him, John Foster, his life would have been "dead in the water" because he hates to "even make phone calls."
Foster expressed shock there were "so many crooked people involved." Foster was really warmed up, now. He was on a roll. Years of being Larry Maxwell's victim, years of being a social introvert were spurting out like bright red arterial blood. Foster said he didn't want Maxwell to "think about what he did wrong" but rather to "think about the wrong that he did."
"This is not a victimless crime," Foster said, near the end of his statement. "This is a nightmare."
In the spectator gallery, Janet Havlish whispered, "He hardly says 'boo' and now THIS!"
Judge Regina Chu--who took in this long, impassioned statement with focused attention--told Foster he had been "a model of financial responsibility and unfortunately that made you a target."
The whole time Foster gave his statement, I couldn't help but look over at one of Maxwell's family members. Her face did not appear to convey shame, or regret, or even frustration. I could only read her facial expression as smug and satisfied.
But, I wondered, why? Was it because Larry Maxwell's flim-flamming had finally caught up to him, as she figured it would? Was this expression the result of "inter family politics" and not related to the things John Foster was saying as part of his victim impact statement?
Or did this woman actually think somebody like responsible suburbanite John Foster deserved whatever he got, just because he didn't grow up in the same way as Larry Maxwell, down in Alabama? Honestly, that was the way I interepreted the look on her face, which was not passing and momentary but long and lingering.
Facial expressions are not a deep mystery. They can be read and interpreted, to some great degree. As a military psych tech, (91 Foxtrop, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss, Texas) I was actually formally trained in the reading of "facial affect."
Well, sometimes you expect to see one kind of facial expression...but you see something completely different. You don't know how to explain it, exactly and precisely, but you know...it doesn't fit. It doesn't belong.
It is what the psych people call "inappropriate facial affect."
John Foster finished his victim impact statement. Maxwell and his family did not appear to be moved. But, then again, they weren't the ones deciding the prison sentence. In fact, the sentence had already been decided, its rational written down in black letters. John Foster could have approached the podium, burst into tears, emitted sounds like an injured duck, apologized, walked away...and the results would have been exactly the same.
The "max of the max" sentence hovered over Larry Maxwell, the number of years already decided and predestined. But The State--in its power and majesty, represented by Judge Regina Chu in a severe black judicial robe--doesn't just hand out a dramatic 16-year-sentence like issuing a drivers license. No, first there has to be drama, ceremony, RITUAL, even.
The daughter of Melony Michaels--a young woman whose college financing had been disrupted by Larry Maxwell's fraud committed against her parents--would be the next to testify.
To be continued...