Payments to Exonerees Attract Predators

When wrongfully convicted people get major compensation payments from state governments or police, many are “hit up for money by family or friends” or are targets of scammers, says an exoneree who advises dozens of them.

Most states compensate people who were wrongfully imprisoned in amounts that can reach millions of dollars. Exonerees can also win settlements from police agencies, and both kinds of awards can attract predators, reports The Marshall Project in the New York Times. North Carolina paid $750,000 to Henry McCollum in 2015 to compensate him for the 30 years that the innocent man spent on death row. Seven months later, he was broke. McCollum, who is intellectually disabled, then began borrowing money at 38 percent interest. McCollum and his half brother, Leon Brown, also intellectually disabled, were demonized and convicted in one of the state’s most notorious rape and murder cases.

McCollum, 54, and Brown, 50, proved virtually helpless as hundreds of thousands of dollars of state compensation were siphoned off by a sister; a lawyer from Orlando, Fl.; a self-proclaimed advocate from Atlanta, and her business partner, a college instructor from Brooklyn. By the time a federal judge intervened last year, no trust had been set up for the brothers and money intended for their care had been spent on predatory loans, exorbitant legal fees, multiple cars, women’s jewelry and children’s toys. Jeffrey Deskovic, an exoneree who established a foundation to help the wrongfully convicted, said he had advised 60 other exonerees on how to manage compensation and the unwanted attention it brings. The experiences of McCollum and Brown are extreme, he said, but the underlying issues are common. “All were hit up for money by family and friends or were targets of scammers,” Deskovic said.