Ten years ago, Rosilyn Wells filed for bankruptcy.
Six years ago, she wrote a worthless check.
And now, she’s behind on her tax bill and she has a bench warrant for her arrest in Shawnee County.
All this according to Chicago area freelancer Michael Volpe. Writing for The Daily Caller, an online conservative media company, Volpe’s piece was touted as investigative journalism. But reading between the lines, the piece, as well as several other Daily Caller stories along the same vein, was clearly slanted to cast the Affordable Care Act in a poor light, and Wells was simply collateral damage.
The story, “ObamaCare Navigator Wanted by Police,” was mentioned in the Lawrence World Journal as a “controversy” on Monday. Then, print and television media outlets all over the state picked it up and in essence made a story out of the story.
It came two weeks after a Lawrence World Journal story about Wells, “Lawrence gets full-time navigator for Affordable Care Act.” That story informed the public about how Wells could help.
“Wells, whose position of outreach and enrollment specialist is supported through a federal grant, was hired to work in Heartland’s front office in May but later applied for the navigator opportunity. She has previous experience with the healthcare industry, working for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and as a volunteer for Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas.”
It appears Volpe received a tip and ran with it. His story doesn’t indicate any attempt to contact Wells and inquire about her side of the story. This is irresponsible, one-sided journalism at best. And it could have happened to anyone.
Many people over the course of the past decade have had to claim bankruptcy. Some because they lost their shirts with investments that turned out bad. Others, because they were encouraged to take on more mortgage debt than they could handle, or to enter into the Adjustable Rate Mortgages that were popular about the time. And still others because of lost jobs, health issues, divorces and yes, plain old poor money management. It’s not a crime to file for bankruptcy.
A story by Gerri Detweiler, “What you need to know about bounced checks” on Credit.com, points out bounced checks, “occur more frequently today thanks to electronic check clearing, which means banks don’t have to actually process your physical check. Digital “substitute checks” can now be presented instead. That means checks can clear within a few hours instead of a few days.” This was brand new technology back in 2007.
Detweiler goes on to list nine possible ways a check can bounce, only one of which is the crime of intentionally writing a check knowing you don’t have the money to cover it. Volpe’s story doesn’t indicate any attempt made to determine the reason for the bounced check.
Many people over the past few years experienced financial hardships and may be behind on taxes. The story failed to indicate what kind of tax Wells is allegedly behind on. Finally, Volpe failed to follow through on what the arrest warrant is for--we as readers don’t know if it is for a criminal offence, or if it might be a bench warrant for unpaid taxes. This is information that is available through the Open Records Act.
Luckily, Wells employer and coworkers are standing by her. And Tuesday, the Lawrence Journal-World ran a follow-up story answering some of the unasked questions of Volpe’s story.
In “Controversy surrounds Lawrence navigator for Affordable Care Act,” by Giles Bruce, Wells is quoted.
“I’ve made financial mistakes,” Wells said Monday. “I’ve bounced a check. I’ve got unpaid debts now that I’m still working to pay. I’m a single mom now. I’m climbing out of that hole.”
But she said that has never compromised her ability to handle someone else’s personal information and that will continue to be the case going forward.
It also quoted her employer.
Jon Stewart, chief executive officer of Heartland Community Health Center, said the irony of the situation is that Wells’ legal problems were largely the result of medical debt, something she is now trying to help others avoid by assisting them in signing up for health insurance. Wells was up front about the debt issues during her interview with the clinic, Stewart said.
“It’s pretty clear that Rosilyn Wells is a person who wants to help people who are in a situation like she’s been in,” he said.
Sadly, according to Bruce, another Lawrence publisher, Kevin Groenhagen, who is writing a conservative leaning book, did a search on Google and pulled up the 2007 story about Wells’ bounced check, and funnelled the information to Volpe. Shame on both Groenhagen and Volpe.
Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com.