Once upon a time, there was a pair of literary scammers named George Harrison and Janet Kay Titsworth. The Titsworths lived in San Angelo, Texas, and ran a "literary agency" called Helping Hand Literary Service (later re-named Janet Kay & Associates) that charged its victims an "expense reimbursement" of $100, $200, or $300, depending on how many publishers they wanted the Titsworths to contact for them.
For the money, writers received a "submission packet" consisting of a set of pre-printed publisher address labels, a form query letter on agency letterhead, and a return envelope. They were instructed to stick a stamp on the return envelope, place the letter, envelope, and accompanying materials (the writer's own query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters) in a manila envelope, affix the pre-printed label and sufficient postage, and drop the packet in the mail.
So unprofessional were these submissions, and so inappropriate the lists of publishers, that the Titsworths quickly became notorious among editors and editorial assistants. Writer Beware heard from more than one editor who contacted the Titsworths to forbid them from ever submitting to that publisher again.
More unusually for these kinds of cases, local law enforcement also took an interest. In early 2002, the San Angelo Police Department initiated an investigation, culminating in February 2004 with a raid on the Titsworths' home. Unfortunately, the Titsworths had already fled. A warrant was issued, and they were finally captured in September 2004 (having started not one, but two new "literary agencies" while on the lam). In April 2006, the Titsworths each pleaded guilty to one count of theft under $100,000, and received a sentence of ten years' probation apiece and a restitution order of $159,320.62.
A fuller account of the Titsworths' scam is provided in my blog post of May 2006.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end here--for, as sometimes happens, one scam spawned another.
The Titsworths had an employee, Leann Murphy (a bird of a feather, having had a bit of history with the law herself: she was sentenced and fined at least once for writing bad checks). In early 2004, just before the demise of the Titsworths' scheme, she set up her own literary agency, Desert Rose Literary Agency.
Dozens of reports received by Writer Beware confirm that Leann followed in her former bosses' fee-charging footsteps, requiring clients to pay a "deposit to help cover marketing expenses" of $250 (for six months) or $350 (for a year), plus a "reinstatement fee" of $75 for authors who chose to re-up their contracts. Fortunately, Leann didn't adopt the Titsworths' editor-annoying paste-on-label submission scheme, but authors who signed with her told us that they rarely heard from her once they'd paid the fee, and had trouble getting her to respond to requests for contact.
Needless to say, no book sales ever resulted.
Leann knew that Writer Beware was watching her, and wasn't happy about it--hence this page on her website, accusing "hate" sites of attempting to destroy the livelihood of independent literary agents. But Writer Beware wasn't the only one with eyes on Leann. Texas law enforcement was watching too. In 2007, Sergeant John Walker of the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office opened an official investigation into Desert Rose Literary Agency. Writer Beware posted an Alert on our website, directing complaints to Sgt. Walker, even as we continued to receive them.
I'm very happy to report that the investigation has been concluded. On April 9th, 2009, a Search and Arrest Warrant was executed on Leann Murphy at her residence. Numerous boxes of files, manuscripts, computers and other items were taken as evidence, and Leann was charged with Theft by Deception, a felony in Texas.
So, happily, another scam goes down. We're very grateful to Sgt. Walker and other law enforcement officials of Tom Greene County, who refused to tolerate literary fraud in their community, and took action to bring it to a halt.
We'll keep you posted as to the outcome of Leann Murphy's case.