MYSOGENY AND DISCRIMINATION IN THE OBLITERATION OF AN HONEST, HARD-WORKING BIPOC WOMAN
At an early age I discovered happiness was to be found in helping others. It was for that reason that I became an attorney.
My dad was an attorney. During the summer months, I would go with him to court and watch him argue his cases. My exposure to his passion in defending the underdog to his astounding cross examination tactics convinced me that I wanted to follow his footsteps.
Sometimes dad would come early from work to spend what I now realize was quality time with me. While watching the Flintstones and Kojak, he fostered curiosity in me and instilled basic precepts of justice. That’s why he didn’t like the Road Runner and Tom and Jerry. He detested the predictable ending that the same character always ended up losing.
My father abhorred injustice. So do I.
WHEN MISOGYNY AND WHITE SUPREMACY EVISCERATES THE VERY ESSENCE OF JUSTICE
I’m an attorney born and raised in Puerto Rico. For the past 28 years, I have practiced civil, notary and environmental law in both the local and federal realms. Advocacy for environmental justice communities and the precious environment of my beloved island has been my passion and guiding light.
I obtained my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Studies in Environmental Law in New York City and Vermont, respectively. To my knowledge, never did I encounter racism, sexism, xenophobia or any other kind of prejudice or discrimination because of my origin or gender. If I did, I never noticed it.
My wonderful experience living in the United States for years made me skeptical in recognizing discrimination was a real societal problem afflicting American society today.
It wasn’t until November of 2020 that I experienced scathing discrimination from federal officers in the mainland United States. I learned how the racism and misogyny of officials within the United States Department of Justice for the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania entrusted with the responsibility of defending people’s civil rights can obliterate a BIPOC woman’s life.
FROM PUERTO RICO TO PITTSBURGH
Seeking to follow my bliss moving away from the practice of law, in 2014 I decided to rent my home in Old San Juan. I scaled down to a smaller, more modest home entailing lower expenses. I had purchased my house in 1997, meticulously and lovingly restoring it until it became a small jewel in the heart of the old town.
In October 2018 I rented my house through a reputable real estate agent to a naturalized French man who turned out to be a con artist and a criminal. Five months after living in the house, tenant Lancelot de Montsegur, a/k/a Patrice Berthome was indicted in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania for Intent of Mail, Wire and Bank Fraud in Criminal Case 19–055.
The first time I have felt discriminated for being a BIPOC woman resulted from the actions by the Assistant United States District Attorneys (AUSAs) and United States Probation Officers (USPO) that handled the case.
I never expected such treatment from USDOJ officials as I had had extensive and respectful working relationship with their extremely professional and considerate counterparts in Puerto Rico. In fact, from 2007 through 2015 I did notary work for the United States’ Marshals Service, going beyond the realm of my notary duties to ensure the transparency and highest professional and ethical performance I could provide.
The Puerto Rico federal officers (except one involved in this matter) have always treated me with respect and deference.
Conversely, the white men from Pittsburgh chose to deprive me of my property, privacy, life and due process rights and protect a naturalized French citizen, white, blue-eyed federally convicted criminal, in open disregard the clearly defined statutory duties listed in the United States Code.
The accused was released on bail and continued to live in the house since he was able to prove to the Court that he had a place to live as he had prepaid its rent for two years.
In November of 2019 the accused pled guilty to the charges filed against him. He continued to live in the house while on probation while awaiting sentencing. He was monitored by an ankle bracelet connected through an internet connection and had to be in the house between certain hours.
After entering the guilty plea, the tenant publicly bragged to third parties that he would continue to live in my house after the expiration of the lease and that he would eventually embezzle the house from me.
The probation officers in Pittsburg carried out a presentence investigation between March and June of 2020. Never did any probation officer interview me as landlady to verify the convict’s conduct as tenant, his compliance with the terms of the contract, his timely payment of utilities, nor did they request a copy of the lease contract.
Neither did the probation officer ask about the renewal of the contract that was to expire on October 31, 2020, and the sentencing hearing was set for the first week of December 2020.
The Probation Officer admitted he never saw the lease contract prior to issuing his report. He never corroborated that the convict was up-to date in nonutility or rent payments.
All the above information is part of the summary of the living conditions, financial stability, personal behavior, current living situation, capacity to afford lifestyle, relations with the community, etc. that federal law requires the probation officer report to the court prior to the sentencing.
The Probation Officers didn’t bother to ensure that tenant preserve the property as it had been delivered to him, without causing any damage or stealing anything from it.
Upon agreement of the Pittsburgh AUSA and the attorneys for the defense, the Court consented to the confidential filing under seal of the presentence report. Hence, no person with interest could comment on the accuracy of its contents. This presented an undue advantage to the convicted party because the case took place in Pittsburgh, but his residence was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. By sealing the report, the Court didn’t grant anyone in Puerto Rico the opportunity to challenge the veracity or objectivity of the conclusions contained in the Probation Officer’s report.
When the lease contract expired on October 31, 2020, just as the tenant had bragged for months before, he refused to vacate the property. I filed a “Landlady’s Statement” before the Court explaining how the contract had expired, it had not been renewed, how he owed around $7,000 in utilities that weren’t included as part of the paid rent, among other things. The judge not only disregarded the statement, but condescendingly dismissed it in a demeaning way.
After appearing before the Court denouncing AUSA’S and USPO’S lack of transparency and USPO’s failure to investigate the convicted felon’s outstanding utility bills, his failure to pay rent, as well as the hiding of alleged assets, the parties filed subsequent documents under seal in order to avoid any public scrutiny of its contents.
The outlandishness of Department of Justice officials’ blatant discrimination against me is the fact that months prior to the March, 2021 rescheduled sentencing hearing, they were fully aware of the vandalism, devastation and theft that the white, blue-eyed man had perpetrated on my property.
Despite the myriad of property crimes that the tenant unmistakably carried out, the federal officials responsible for enforcing the law, victims’ and civil rights chose to look the other way, leaving the insignificant penalty included in his plea agreement unaltered.
The men that are supposed to look out for victims’ rights and the convicted individual’s full compliance with law, order, contractual and civil duties chose to protect a white, blue-eyed felon instead of an honest, hard-working BIPOC woman, depriving her of her only source of income and her property without due process of law or just compensation.
The federal officials shielded that man so that he could stay living for free during eight months until he had to report to a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania on July 2, 2021, while his victim endured hunger and misery.
Little did she know that was just the beginning of it.
Without any rational explanation set forth in the record, the AUSAs in charge of the case as well as the USPO uncharacteristically acquiesced to the individual’s removal of his electronic bracelet five days before leaving Puerto Rico and traveling to Pennsylvania to start serving his prison term. Any attorney with criminal experience understands how irregular it is for the Department of Justice to consent for the removal of an electronic bracelet of a French National convicted felon with dual citizenship in the island of Puerto Rico five days before he’s due to travel.
When I took possession of the house on June 6th, my world fell apart. It was then that I understood why the individual asked to have the electronic device removed. Half the house had no electricity. The internet antenna whose installation I had paid for a year before the lease contract, necessary for the bracelet’s operation, had been removed. The remaining electrical system in half of the house was unsteady, rewired, generating excessive heat and dangerously exposing the house to the occurrence of a devastating fire.
Not only had I undergone misery and hunger during the eight months that the individual had held my house hostage and I couldn’t generate any income, but I realized its conditions were so that I would be unable to rent it or sell it for what its value was supposed to be. Therefore, I would continue in a state of indigence indefinitely.
During the eight months that the individual lived for free in the house, I tried to have the electric service disconnected to no avail. Since he didn’t open the door to the utility’s workers to access the meter located inside the house, he left an electric bill under my name of almost $7,000.00.
Most appliances in the house didn’t work. All of them were physically trashed. Precious objects and electronic equipment in excess of $5,000,00 were missing. Threatening messages and ugly drawings were made in bathroom tiles.
Even though the crimes were carried out by a federally convicted felon, the FBI didn’t investigate the vandalism or theft, nor did it refer the matter to the Department of Justice for a review of the terms of the Plea Agreement.
The individual meticulously rewired the electricity of the house. When an electrician inspected it at my behest, he stated he couldn’t understand how come it hadn’t burned down. Positive cables were joined with the ground ones. Neutral cables throughout the house are ‘open’. There’s a hidden breaker box responsible for the instability of the house’s electricity. A plethora of cables were cramped into receptacles, connected against electrical codes, to produce heat by means of a joule effect.
A few weeks ago, a fire in one of the a/c breaker panels erupted. Luckily, the fire extinguished itself on its own due to the lack of oxygen as it occurred behind a gypsum board wall. I discovered it when I smelled the smell of smoke coming out of one of the breaker panels.
When I opened the panel that reeked of a mixture of burnt cables, plastic and rubber, I discovered that the havoc of the electric connections that had not been repaired by the electrician.
In both breaker panels of each floor of the house, the tenant had connected the ground cables to thick red positive cables disguised as grounds with green tape. I measured their current with a voltmeter. They were NOT ground cables.
The sick individual that rewired my house to destroy it sprayed a corrosive substance on the screws tying all cables so that none could be screwed off.
The voltage fluctuations don’t allow for the proper functioning of any appliance nor connection to the internet.
Statutorily, the US Probation Officers were supposed to visit the property where the “client” lives. That visit is not a cursory one. They are supposed to be observant; notice any irregularities.
Yet, the Probation Officers that discriminated against me failed to supervise what the white, blue-eyed male individual did to my property for months. In so doing, they deprived me of my property rights without just compensation and due process.
Had the Probation Officers diligently carried out their duty to supervise the individual during the eight months that he squatted in my house, they would’ve discovered that he wasn’t paying for the utilities and that the contract would expire prior to the original sentencing date. Never did they bother to interview me as was their duty to do so.
Furthermore, had the Probation Officers randomly visited the house as the law requires that they do, they would’ve noticed the rewiring work inasmuch as it even entailed the installation of a hidden third breaker box that I have been unable to access to this day. The vandalism that the tenant carried out wasn’t done in a single day and entailed substantial noise, physical and construction work that an average person would’ve noticed.
The individual that committed so many crimes against my property hasn’t faced any legal consequence even though part of his plea agreement provides that he was not to engage in any criminal conduct.
Conversely, the hard-working, this honest BIPOC woman that believed that traditional institutions would protect her rights from such unfathomable abuse at the hands o\f a convicted criminal under their authority has been living in hunger and abject misery, her property and individual rights obliterated, victim of white privilege.
MY DAD’S LEGACY: MY STRENGTH THROUGH THE ORDEAL
Perry Mason reruns were my dad’s favorite tv shows. He loved the character and his quest for justice. However, dad feigned indignation and loudly interjected in every episode’s turning point (just as Perry Mason cross-examined the star witness):
“THAT’S A LIE! CANNOT BE DONE IN COURT!”
To which I always replied rolling my eyes: Dad, it’s a tv show!
That was a ritual we both enjoyed.
However, dad’s absolute favorite tv treat were Western movies. Black and white, slow dialogue, similar plot. I didn’t get it.
Then I went on a tour to the Grand Canyon with a wonderful guide that took us to a couple of Western movie sets. I told him about my dad’s passion for that genre and my perplexity about his affinity for it. After a while he said to me: your dad probably loved Westerns: because they always had a happy ending.
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a good reason. To every bad situation, there must be a happy ending.
It took me 54 years to understand what age, gender and race discrimination feels like. Despite having unfairly suffered immense misery and hunger to this day, it has made me a more understanding and compassionate human being.
And for that, I’m grateful.