Monday, October 26, 2009

Accused $6M Lesbian Embezzler
Pleads Not Guilty

The Des Moines Register is following the case of Phyllis Stevens, a lesbian accountant accused of embezzling close to $6 million from the insurance company that employed her, and the paper ran two updates in recent days.

First up, the piece about her hearing on Friday:
Phyllis Stevens, accused of embezzling of $5.9 million from Aviva USA, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, computer fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Stevens, 58, made her first appearance in an Iowa courtroom following her arrest Sept. 25 in Las Vegas. She faces prison time and fines if convicted on the 18 counts from a grand jury indictment made public Friday. [...]

Investigators say that Stevens, using the name of a former company employee, manually adjusted the company computer system to credit commission payments to an account held by her and her partner, Marla Stevens. [...]

Court records say that Phyllis Stevens - once she learned that company officials knew of the scheme - flew from Des Moines to Indianapolis in an attempt to get cash from her account. She later flew to Las Vegas, where she met Marla Stevens. [...]

Campaign finance records have disclosed that the couple spent more than $170,000 in the past two election cycles on federal and state candidates in Iowa and in other states. The vast majority of the money went to Democratic candidates.
Marla Stevens, who has more name recognition among LGBT activists due to her visibility from stints like her job in the 1990s at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, remains free.

The Register yesterday ran an article raising many questions about the couple, with a detailed look at their public lives, especially on the web in the past few years:
Missing from the courtroom was her longtime partner, Marla Stevens, whom Aviva named in a lawsuit, claiming that she benefited from the embezzlement.

From Indianapolis to Des Moines, the alleged criminal exploits of Phyllis Stevens and wonder over Marla's role have become hot topics of speculation among friends, foes and acquaintances. [...]

In her 2005 blog, Marla Stevens described how her partner kept her job:

Phyllis "became one of seven people retained by new owners after the old company's agents threatened walkout if they didn't keep her. (She's brilliant and big on service provision and expertise.) " [...]

"Iowa and I are not a good match. Doing itinerate marriage-related political work elsewhere. (We fly a lot.) Have legal domicile I've never spent a night in," she wrote in her 2005 blog.

Bil Browning, the editor of the Bilerico project - a gay activist Web site in Indianapolis that hired Marla Stevens as its first regular blogger - said that he talked once or twice weekly with her over the past two years. [...]

I believe this unfolding case will generate much interest in the gay community and among Democratic Party stalwarts who know the Stevens', for quite some time to come, and expect the Des Moines Register will continue to give the story prominence.

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