American Justice My friend Susan

by francine Hardaway on November 12, 2003

American Justice

My friend Susan Wintermute Sinclair never sees it coming. A respected bankruptcy attorney, she first married an alcoholic who had an affair right under her hard working nose. Then, seeking financial security for her children, she married an entrepreneur who moved her to Missouri, where he operated a consumer finance company under rather business-friendly laws. She was finally divorced from him, took a job outside the country teaching law and moved on with her children and her life. We thought she was finally on the right track. But it was only the beginning.

She and Damian Sinclair, the entrepreneur, were married in 1993, separated in 1995 and divorced in 2000. While they were married, they were owners in Sinclair Financial Group, Inc., the consumer finance company. However, although Susan owned 25% of the stock and Damian owned 75%, he still controlled Susan�s shares. He controlled everything. Susan served as titular in-house counsel for a short while until full-time in house counsel was hired. Even during her brief stint as in house counsel, Damian relied on an army of outside lawyers and accountants for the �real� legal work. Everything he did was complicated and heavily researched.

In July 1999, Damian sold Sinclair Financial Group to its president, and two years later SFG filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile when he and Susan divorced, he gave her as a property settlement $3 million of the loans which he had received for the sale of SFG. (The trustee in bankruptcy now owns those loans, and Susan is working three jobs to support herself and the children. So much for financial security.) With the money from the sale of SFG, Damian bought himself a bank and gave Susan 5% of the stock.

The bankruptcy of SFG triggered a series of investigations involving Damian Sinclair, SFG and the bank. Damian filed several lawsuits. In September, 2001, after approximately eighteen months of operation, the Office of the Controller of the Currency determined that Sinclair National Bank was critically undercapitalized and closed it. The lawsuits were complicated, but in the end the government was able to destry Damian and the bank in the process.

A federal agent asked Susan to be interviewed about Damian, and presumably to be a witness. She voluntarily returned to the US for questioning. Unfortunately, she didn�t have any information that they could use against him, although they kept pushing her. Unfortunately for her, Susan had, indeed, signed the application for the Office of the Controller of the Currency for Damian to buy the bank. Damian and his in-house counsel had completed the application. Very soon after that, however, Susan got divorced moved on. She knew of nothing illegal Damian had done. But the government was heavily invested in the case after two years of investigation, and they really needed Susan to perform.

Naively, she assumed that if she came back to the US and met with the federal justice system, it would be acknowledged that she had no responsibility. She�s an attorney; she believes in the justice system.

But this is the post-Enron, post-9/11 Department of Justice. When the government was first informed Susan would bring an attorney to the interview, the prosecutor objected to the attorney. This frightened her and she cancelled the appointment. In response she was told there was an arrest warrant issued for her. She surrendered. The court released her to return to her job and family abroad. She later found evidence that the agent had perjured himself in swearing out the affidavit and so informed the court. Next time she returned to the US to appear in court, he had another warrant issued for her. It had now become personal. She again surrendered, but this time was tossed into a holding tank and later shackled. Again, the court released her to return to her job and her family. She had been subjected to the �Reid Technique,� a well-known way of forcing confession:

�The primary persuasive vehicle of the interrogation is a theme that offers moral justification for the suspect�s crime. The theme is presented as a monologue and the investigator discourages the suspect from offering denials or explanations for incriminating evidence.
The impetus for the first admission of guilt is in the form of asking an alternative question. This question presents the suspect with two choices concerning some aspect of the crime. For example, “Did you plan this out months in advance, or did it pretty much happen on the spur of the moment?” The suspect is encouraged to accept the positive choice (spur of the moment). In presenting and contrasting the alternative question, the investigator must not offer threats or promises. An example of an improper alternative question would be, “Do you want to be charged with first degree murder, which will mean life in prison, or was it just manslaughter, where it happened on the spur of the moment?”
Once the suspect accepts the positive alternative, active persuasion stops within the interrogation process.�
Susan didn�t break down. She isn�t guilty of anything. Unable to provide valuable information, she was charged with giving false information, or rather omitting information from the application for the bank she had signed shortly before her divorce. She almost had her passport confiscated. She has made four trips to the United States for further proceedings. Worse, we are now in the age of the Internet, and the Justice Department puts out press releases about every incident in the case.

So now if you �google� my friend, you will find a string of indictments, warrants for arrests, accusations, and other documents that can ruin someone�s life. The government, of course, doesn�t care about that. It doesn�t care about Susan�s reputation. It doesn�t care that she was subjected to intimidation to make her confess to something she doesn�t know anything about.

It doesn�t care that Susan�s old friends see exactly why this happened: Susan Wintermute Sinclair never sees anything coming.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia Gaudioso February 29, 2008 at 11:45 pm

I was Susan’s first secretary and a friend; I introduced her to her first husband, Jim. I am saddened to hear about her problems, but would like to reconnect with her. Would you please see that she gets my email and hopefully she will respond?

Thank you,

Marcia & Frank Gaudioso

joseph de la cruz January 3, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Susan, I hope all is well with you and your family. Your friend, Joseph.

Rlwalsh February 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Please let Susan know her old friend JoAnne Armijo Martin would like to re-connect. JoAnne doesn’t use FB or e-mail so I’m doing it for her. JoAnne will be in Branson, MO in April and would make time to see Susan. Thank you. RosaLee Walsh

hardaway February 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Susan lives in Germany now.

Francine Hardaway, Ph D

Lydia Cypher March 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Please tell Susan hello from Lydia in Phoenix, and that I congratulate her on getting on with her life and finding a way to make it work despite these terrible travails. I knew her only briefly at Snell & Wilmer before she married Jim Kemper, who I also knew from my earliest days in the legal business. Jim died young, but Susan and her children have survived, and hopefully, have thrived. Here’s a little memento: While at Snell & Wilmer, I put up a little 8 x 10 poster in my work area of the Mona Lisa with a caption that read, “Smile if you got any last night.” The firm made me take it down, even though as a secretary, no one but us chickens would ever see it. Susan, whose office was directly across from my secretarial bay, was on my side in the skirmish and said something to the effect of,”I don’t see what’s the big deal. Maybe she just means supper.” Wishing you love, laughter, and light, Susan! :-)

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