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Women accused of running literary scam

Aspiring authors say they were defrauded
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kathy Cunningham was an aspiring children’s author with nothing but rejection slips for “Frumpy’s Grumpy Day” when Martha Ivery’s publishing company offered to print it — for a price.

The North Charleston, S.C., resident and her husband sent $2,000 for a share of publishing costs and waited. And waited.

Uneasy feelings crystallized about nine months later when illustrations for her book came back from Ivery’s Press-TIGE Publishing Co. They were “badly done” copies from a Berenstain Bears book, Cunningham said.

“When I opened that, I said, ‘Does she think we’re stupid?”’ she said.

Cunningham is not the only aspiring author claiming to have lost money to Ivery, who’s accused of cheating others by dangling false promises to publish their books.

A federal indictment last month charged Ivery with defrauding 15 writers from 1997 through 2002. Advocates for writers say such operations prey on would-be authors.

“So often the worst aspect of these scams is that they’re not just stealing the money, they’re stealing the dreams,” said C.E. Petit, an Urbana, Ill., lawyer representing people who claim they were defrauded by Ivery.

Ivery, 56, is accused of defrauding writers as both an agent and a publisher.

Ivery not only ran Press-TIGE out of the sleepy town of Catskill, N.Y., but posed as a literary agent named Kelly O’Donnell, federal prosecutors say.

Allegedly lied about Sept. 11 attacksClients worked with both O’Donnell and Ivery without being told they were the same person. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Ivery told writers that O’Donnell died in the World Trade Center and O’Donnell said Ivery died in the attacks, according to A.C. Crispin, a science fiction writer who co-founded the scam-busting Writer Beware Web site, which is run by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Writers who sent manuscripts to O’Donnell/Ivery were promised such perks as book signings and TV talk show appearances. But they had to pay fees for representation and editing. Writers wondering about publication delays were told there were problems with illustrations, printers or computer viruses, according to prosecutors.

“This is a vulnerable population that is vulnerable to hearing what they want to hear,” Petit said. “And what they want to hear is ‘Yes, I’ll publish your book.”’

With millions of aspiring writers, and only limited capacity or desire to publish them, scammers proliferate. Some set up as literary agents who promise to get manuscripts published for an upfront fee. Then there are fly-by-night publishing houses that charge fees for services never rendered.

Ivery, whose own author credits include “Make Millions From Your Kitchen Table,” said her lawyer advised her not to comment. Her lawyer, Richard Mott, did not return calls Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment.

Many questionable publishers out thereCrispin said some literary scammers get caught — like a Kentucky couple accused of pocketing nearly $1.5 million from authors before 1999 — but victims are often too heartbroken or embarrassed to fight. And the amounts scammed from individual victims tend to be relatively small. For instance, the Ivery indictment lists individuals defrauded of between $1,665 and $10,025.

“Scammers tend to fly under the radar,” Crispin said.

Writer Beware co-founder Victoria Strauss keeps a database of almost 400 questionable literary agents and 200 questionable publishers.

Strauss said the FBI investigated Ivery after she and Crispin collected information from 100 victims, who together lost more than $100,000.

By 2002, Press-TIGE filed for bankruptcy. The criminal indictment against Ivery includes 15 counts of mail fraud, a related fraud count and one count of bankruptcy fraud for allegedly making a false statement under oath. Prosecutors said if convicted, Ivery faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charges, 10 years on the related fraud count and 5 years on the bankruptcy fraud charge. She also could be ordered to pay up to $250,000 in fines.

Based on sentencing guidelines, Petit said she probably faces at least seven years in prison if convicted.

Ivery is out on a $50,000 bond. Barring a plea deal, her trial is set for September.

Writer Beware operators say they have not heard complaints against Ivery for a couple of years, though other scams continue to flourish.

“Sadly, Martha is just the tip of the iceberg,” Crispin said.