No One's Gonna Muzzle Me!

Mom always said, "Don't burn your bridges."

Incredulous, I responded, "Do you know who you're talking to?"

I burn my bridges. It used to take me a long time to summon up the courage, yet, ultimately that's what I did. Still do.

While revising my first novel at night with the assistance of a wonderful editor, I worked by day at a company that shall forever remain nameless. Let me tell you, I spent several sleepless nights trying to decide whether to quit and go broke as the job market had already closed up, or to continue to do things that compromised my good name. My wonderful career devolved to that. Instead, I decided to do nothing. It didn't matter - they went ahead and did things in my name. I can't disclose the details, not because of the confidentiality clause in my contract, but from a conversation with their corporate attorney who grabbed me by the arm and leveled with me in privacy.

"These are the most despicable criminals in the world. You breathe a word of what goes on here, even in your books, and they'll use their power to ruin you. Even better, you'll be found in a puddle of blood. You won't be the first."

His sincerity and concern scared the shit outta me. Besides, there were rumors and it wasn't good, if not downright abhorrent.

"Don't worry," I told him. "My book's a comedy about a corrupt luxury hotel. Insofar as using any of the people in this office in any of my books, no way. I prefer to pattern my characters after three-dimensional people."

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't go on living in perpetual fear of legal consequences and wrote an email to all senior management stating how and why I couldn't do my job. In other words, I burnt my bridges. Within five seconds after pressing the send button, I received a phone call from human resources. At first, they fired me and claimed insubordination. I asked them, "How can I be insubordinate if I refuse to do things that may be legally compromising?" Then, they called it attrition. Saying I was incompetent would stretch the bounds of reality.

But I fucked with the wrong people. They tried their best to destroy me.

After applying for unemployment, I received an official, not a format letter and met with one of their top people.

"We were notified from your former employer that you intend to publish a novel."

I nodded.

"Unemployment is for people looking for a job, not to subsidize you to write a novel."

I laughed. "Four hundred and five dollars a week is a subsidy?"

She ignored me and continued, "Should you publish a year after you cease receiving unemployment, not only will we claw back all monies received from unemployment, we will levy a $10,000 fine and make sure you go to prison for at least a year for fraud. We intend to make an example of you."

So, they got their way and I received bubkas.

It gets better. A few weeks later I went for an eye exam. Afterwards, I bumped into one of the senior honchos who laughed in glee to see me, no doubt gloating. It was a brilliant coup for him to fuck me over with not receiving unemployment.

"Are you working?" he asked, imitating concern.

"No," I told him. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction about the paucity of employment opportunities where I competed against thousands for lower level positions. "I'm onto bigger and better things. My book's not even published and it already came in top 20% of breakthrough novels in a national book competition."

"Terrific!" said the sly bastard. "Let's keep in touch. Put my contact info in your phone."

"I can't," I responded. "My pupils are still dilated from the eye exam."

With that, he took my phone and added all his phone numbers and email addresses, personal and business.

By the time I returned to my apartment building, a courier messenger greeted me in the lobby. He handed over a thick envelope. Inside was a letter from the company's external corporate counsel with a cease and desist for publishing the novel, stating I was in violation of the confidentiality clause in my contract. They claimed my book, written about a corrupt luxury hotel, was a thinly disguised book about them. Which is wild because the company was in a whole other industry. I guess the word 'corrupt' in the description got to them.

Through my contacts, I found an intellectual property lawyer with labor law background. What got to me was that they wanted to get a copy of the book pre-publication! HA! I made my attorney add one sentence (which I can't write here) that gave them pause and eventually drop their bogus claim. But, I knew the game. They wanted to ruin me.

Not even a month went by when I received a strange phone call from my bank. "Did you purchase $5,000 worth of baby clothes at Babies 'R Us?"

"No, I'm not in the habit of purchasing any baby clothes considering I never had children."

That phone call was followed up by countless others. And then the bills poured in. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. I spoke with security departments at several of the companies who kindly mailed me digital pictures of 'myself' where I'm typically a man, sometimes African-American, sometimes Caucasian, at least two decades younger than me.

With this information, I alerted the credit card companies, banks, credit agencies. And my local precinct. What they informed me was astonishing: my entire personnel file was 'accidentally' dumped on the internet. EVERYTHING about me was public knowledge.

The most interesting facet was the detectives' refusal to investigate.

"It crosses state borders because it's an international ring."

Their refusal to bump it up to the FBI stupefied me. I wonder why they didn't, given it's still the largest case of identity theft in New York State. Luckily, I'm not legally liable for any of those charges. However, I don't understand why all the major credit card companies extended $50,000 lines of credit to dozens of people who couldn't spell my name or give my correct address. Not only that, if I knew I had that kind of credit, I would've led quite a different lifestyle than the modest one I've always had!

But that's not all, boys and girls. The fun got even better. After this episode ended, consuming my time, preventing me from revising and editing my novel, I received a letter from the IRS stating they audited my tax returns and I owe them $15,000.

I promptly phoned the IRS. "I owe you nothing. More than likely you'll end up owing me."

I don't want to get into every laborious detail. Simply shocking with what went on there.

My accountant stated, "I never saw anything like this in my 30 year career. How can the IRS not allow the deduction of your property taxes?"

"Doesn't it seem as if they're purposely doing it?"

"Seems to me like you burnt a few bridges," he replied.

It took two years of continuously mailing and faxing a 2" thick pad of paper. Records that were 'accidentally' lost in the IRS seven times. Eventually, I received the letter stating I owe them $0.

I met with the accountant. "They owe me a refund!"

He sighed, "Let sleeping dogs lie." Since then, he keeps far away from me.

While handling the identity fraud case, the IRS, I was confronted with ANOTHER situation - mind you, all of these situations overlapped each other. I was in the process of selling my apartment and contacted my mortgage bank to provide me with the proper documentation they had in their possession. With co-ops, if the bank loses the Share Certificate, they simply replace it with the one mandated from the co-op. But not this time. I spoke to at least 40 people in that institution and they were adamant in not complying with my request. Without that document, I wasn't permitted to sell my apartment.

What made it confounding was their absolute REFUSAL to give me that document. They wouldn't explain why they refused, they just refused. It wasn't as if they lost it, they told me they REFUSED to give me the necessary document. This was an ordinary request, something that's customarily done with co-op sales.

It turned into a Mexican stand-off. I had to retain another co-op lawyer who was the top one in the field in addition to the closing lawyer, costing me thousands and thousands of dollars. Then, the purchaser got indignant by this mess, stating it was my fault. He refused to pay the agreed upon purchase price and lowered it by thousands of dollars due to his inconvenience.

For weeks, my attorney and I phoned the bank and their attorneys requesting this information not to mention speaking to the co-op's attorney. At the same time, while still paying the mortgage, the bank illegally defaulted on the loan and was in the process of repossessing my apartment.

"This is insane!" I exclaimed. "Someone's intent on bankrupting me."

My attorney said, "In my 30 years of co-op law, I never saw such a thing! Who in the world did you piss off?"

Finally, I threatened the mortgage bank. "Perhaps you don't know who you're fucking with. I'm a published author, an award-winning one and quite savvy on the internet. You better fix this now or I'm going public."

They laughed at me.

I kept my word. It went viral. (It eventually led to a class action lawsuit.) The bank hit my website 200 times in one hour.

Within a few days, the repossession was miraculously reversed and the bank finally gave my attorney the ORIGINAL Share Certificate they held in their possession all along.

Don't tell me it's coincidence, paranoia or conspiracy theory. This shit doesn't happen in real life. But it did in mine.

Years have passed and I almost forgot the insanity that ruled my life. So, it stands to reason why I got nervous when I received this email today from linkedin:

We recently became aware that some LinkedIn passwords were compromised and posted on a hacker website. We immediately launched an investigation and we have reason to believe that your password was included in the post.

# # #

This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


U.Space said...

Damn, what a story! I had no idea. Those bastards!

maura stone said...

The fact that I wrote this may cause a ripple effect. Got my ear to the ground.