Other People's Money
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Michele A. Fletcher doesn't look like a financially strapped woman only six months out of prison.
She's wearing a sharp black pantsuit. Her hair is perfectly straightened, her makeup carefully applied, her nails French-manicured. A long costume-jewelry cross hangs from her neck. Her prim appearance is as deceiving as the massive credit card scam for which she was convicted.
She's sitting in a bookstore, behind a table covered in slick fliers promoting her self-published novel, "Charge It to the Game," calling it a "remarkable story" and describing the protagonist as "coldblooded and conniving."
It is a story, she says, based on her life.
The woman who lived the religion of buy-now, pay-never materialism is trying to shape a new identity -- as an author.
Old friends and curious acquaintances show up at this first book signing at the Mall at Prince Georges to see what has become of the Michele Fletcher who resided in the seven-bedroom Mediterranean-style home in Glenn Dale, owned three upscale hair salons and had a loving husband and three beautiful daughters. A picture-perfect family.
Except she and her husband financed that picture with the stolen identities of more than 40,000 people in what area authorities have described as one of the largest local fraud schemes in recent history.
Fletcher wrote her book while doing 2 1/2 years in prison -- six months of that in a halfway house. It is the gritty tale of a headstrong woman who took what she wanted -- in this case, a slew of bodacious jewelry and Manolo Blahniks.
Today, Fletcher sees her future riding on her novel's success.
But sales are slow at the first book signing. Her former nanny Smiler Haynes is one of fewer than a dozen buyers at Karibu Books. It is the first time Haynes and Fletcher have laid eyes on each other since Fletcher's arrest four years ago. The women hold hands and giggle.
Haynes says later that she was truly surprised when dozens of federal agents raided the Fletcher home one morning in April 2003. She had been clueless that her employers hid a credit card imprinting machine in their home office, where they embossed hundreds of blank cards with numbers from stolen Visa registers.
Haynes buys a book and passes it across the table for the author to inscribe.