Just $431,000 to go
- By MICHAEL GARTLAND
- Last Updated: 2:57 AM, August 4, 2013
- Posted: 12:05 AM, August 4, 2013
Twenty-five years after accusing an innocent man of rape, Tawana Brawley is finally paying for her lies.
Last week, 10 checks totaling $3,764.61 were delivered to ex-prosecutor Steven Pagones — the first payments Brawley has made since a court determined in 1998 that she defamed him with her vicious hoax.
A Virginia court this year ordered the money garnisheed from six months of Brawley’s wages as a nurse there.
She still owes Pagones $431,000 in damages. And she remains defiantly unapologetic.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Pagones, 52, who to this day is more interested in
extracting a confession from Brawley than cash.
OUTRAGE: Tawana Brawley attends an Atlanta rally with Al Sharpton in 1988, three months before a jury would rule that her rape tale was a hoax. She had been lying low until The Post last December found her living in Virginia.
NO E$CAPE: Tawana Brawley arrives at her nursing job in Richmond, Va., where she had been evading payment of defamation damages
Every week, she’ll think of me,” he told The Post. “And every week, she can think about how she has a way out — she can simply tell the truth.”
Brawley’s advisers in the infamous race-baiting case — the Rev. Al Sharpton, and attorneys C. Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox — have already paid, or are paying, their defamation debt. But Brawley, 41, had eluded punishment.
She’s now forced to pay Pagones $627 each month, possibly for the rest of her life. Under Virginia law, she can appeal the wage garnishment every six months.
“Finally, she’s paying something,” said Pagones’ attorney, Gary Bolnick. “Symbolically, I think it’s very important — you can’t just do this stuff without consequences.”
Pagones filed for the garnishment with the circuit court in Surry County, Va., in January, a few weeks after The Post tracked down Brawley to tiny Hopewell, Va.
Before The Post came knocking, not even her own co-workers knew she was the teen behind the spectacular 1987 case.
“I don’t want to talk to anyone about that,” Brawley growled after a Post reporter confronted her about her sordid past in December.
Employing aliases including Tawana Thompson and Tawana Gutierrez, she leads a relatively normal life by all appearances, residing in a neat brick apartment complex and working as a licensed practical nurse at The Laurels of Bon Air in Richmond.
She’s also raising a daughter, a neighbor said.
Brawley was spotted one morning emerging from her house with a young girl and a man dressed in hospital scrubs.
They left in separate cars — Brawley in a Chrysler Sebring and the man and child in a Ford Taurus. Brawley arrived at work about 30 minutes later, and the man pulled into the same lot minutes afterward.
Her current life is a far cry from the one she fled in upstate Wappingers Falls, NY.
She was only 15 when she claimed she was the victim of a crime whose shocking brutality sparked a national outrage and stoked racial tensions.
In her first meetings with police, the teenager responded to questions with blank expressions, nods and by scrawling notes. She said she had been abducted by two white men, who dragged her into the woods where four other white men were waiting.
But Brawley, a cheerleader, didn’t offer much detail. She didn’t give police names or detailed descriptions of the men she claimed had brutalized her almost nonstop for four days.
What she did share — that one attacker had blond hair, a holster and a badge — sparked a media firestorm in New York City, which was still reeling from the killing of a black youth in Howard Beach, Queens, by a white mob.
Firebrands Maddox and Mason and a relatively unknown Sharpton jumped into the fray. Within weeks, a suspect emerged — Fishkill Police Officer Harry Crist Jr., who had been found dead in his apartment three days after the Brawley “attack.”
But Pagones, a Dutchess County prosecutor at the time, defended his dead friend Crist, offering an alibi for the cop — they were Christmas-shopping together on one of the days in question. And on the three other days of the “kidnapping,” Crist was on patrol, working at his other job at IBM, and installing insulation in an attic.
Brawley’s handlers then claimed — without proof — that Pagones was part of the white mob that kidnapped and raped the girl 33 times.
Celebrities lined up to support Tawana, including Bill Cosby, who posted a $25,000 reward for information on the case; Don King, who promised $100,000 for Brawley’s education; and Spike Lee, who in his 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing,” included a shot of a graffiti message reading, “Tawana told the truth.”
A grand jury reached a different conclusion. The jurors, who heard from 180 witnesses over seven months, concluded in 1988 that the entire story was a hoax.
They determined Brawley had run away from home and concocted the story — most likely to avoid punishment from her stepfather, Ralph King, who had spent seven years in prison in the 1970s for killing his first wife.
Crist’s suicide was unrelated; he killed himself over a failed romance.
“It is probable that in the history of this state, never has a teenager turned the prosecutorial and judicial systems literally upside-down with such false claims,” state Supreme Court Justice S. Barrett Hickman wrote at the time.
For Pagones, the damage was done. His marriage unraveled, and he ended up leaving his job as a prosecutor. He continued to proclaim his innocence, making it his life’s mission to bring Brawley and her advisers to justice — and compel them to tell the truth.
In 1998, he won his defamation lawsuit. Maddox was found liable for $97,000, Mason for $188,000, and Sharpton for $66,000 — money that was paid by celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran and other benefactors.
Sharpton, now a national figure, has never apologized for his role in the hoax. Mason, an ordained minister who hasn’t practiced law since being disbarred in 1995, has remained mostly silent.
But Maddox, whose law license was suspended in 1990, continues the drumbeat for Brawley. He even tried to petition the Surry County court to halt the garnishment of Brawley’s wages.
He maintained that in New York, where the defamation case took place, two sets of laws apply.
“The common law applies to whites. The slave code still applies to blacks,” he said.
In a July 22 legal brief signed by Brawley and submitted by Maddox, Brawley contends she wouldn’t submit herself to the court’s jurisdiction because an appearance in the court, “which inferentially sympathizes with the Confederate States of America, would be contrary to the US Constitution and would amount to a ‘badge of slavery.’ ”
Brawley did not return messages seeking comment.
Pagones is still licensed to practice law but is now a principal at a New York-based private-investigation firm. He has remarried, has three daughters and a son, and lives in Dutchess County.
Brawley was ordered in 1998 to fork over $190,000 at 9 percent annual interest. She now owes a total of about $431,492 — a sum she could be paying for the rest of her life.
Or maybe not.
Pagones said he’d forgive the debt if Brawley admits the truth.
“I’m willing to consider anything,” he said.