Editor's Note:Contributor Marla Stevens was the first person to join Bilerico as a contributor in April 2005. Neither she nor her wife, Phyllis Stevens, have donated any money to Bilerico Project.
UPDATED AT THE END OF THE POST
Phyllis Stevens, chairperson of the Iowa chapter of Marriage Equality USA, was arrested late last week on charges of embezzling $5.9 million dollars from her employer, insurance company Aviva USA. Her wife, Bilerico Project contributor Marla Stevens, has been named in a civil suit filed by the company for benefitting "as a result of the conversion of funds."
Phyllis and Marla Stevens are former Indianapolis residents and were active for several years in Indiana LGBT politics. Phyllis worked for Indianapolis Life; the couple relocated to Des Moines when the company merged with Aviva USA.
Authorities arrested Phyllis Stevens Friday in Las Vegas and charged her with money laundering and wire fraud. She is currently in US Marshals' custody.
According to the Des Moines Register, the thefts happened over a five year period. Phyllis "allegedly devised a program to have fictitious agent commission payments paid by Aviva into a bank account jointly held by the two women." In an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, FBI special agent Kevin Kohler described how the theft was discovered.
Stevens' scheme was discovered [by] an Aviva employee, Alisha Wittstruck, in the company's Topeka office during a review of a report of policies that had lapsed. When a policy lapses, agents are required to pay back a portion of the commission they collected.
Wittstruck noted that a $62,112 commission had been paid on the recently lapsed policy and that "this commission was many times greater than the policy premium." The commission was credited to an agent listed as Mark Peoples.
After investigation of the claim, company officials discovered that the company had paid $1.7 million during the past year in commissions to Peoples' agent account. Peoples had been employed by the company, but had never previously received any commissions. In addition, company officials discovered that the home address used for Peoples matched Stevens' home address in West Des Moines.
Company officials placed Stevens on leave Sept. 23 after confronting her with the situation. Stevens denied any wrongdoing. She was escorted from the building. Stevens then traveled to Indianapolis where she attempted to obtain $170,000 in cash for what she told an official at a branch of National City Bank that "she was trying to obtain as much cash and traveler's checks as possible because she and her partner were planning to travel to Germany."
A History of LGBT Activism
Both Marla and Phyllis Stevens have a well-respected history of LGBT and progressive activism. Marla founded one of Indiana's first gay rights organizations, LGBT Fairness, and was the first Statehouse lobbyist focusing solely on LGBT issues. Marla was also one of the first Hoosier LGBT activist to use direct action techniques to draw attention to gay rights.
When Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins Engine Company announced in 2000 that it would offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, the religious right organized a "prayer gathering" outside of the company's headquarters. Marla joined Bilerico-Indiana contributor Chris Douglas to help Jerame Davis and I organize a counter rally in a local park that drew hundreds of Columbus residents and LGBT people from across the state.
In the picture, Jerame is speaking at a press conference held on the steps of Columbus City Hall. Marla is in the background with other invited state leaders that spoke at the media event. The counter rally was the largest LGBT protest in Indiana for several years and generated quite a bit of positive press.
Phyllis Stevens has been financially supportive of several LGBT friendly politicians. In May she created the Rainbow Equality PAC which has given money to prominent Democratic politicians like Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Murphy. Finance records show that since October of 2005, she gave $14,669.07 in state political contributions. Since January of 2007, she has donated $15,213 to federal candidates.
Update from One Iowa spokesperson, Justin Uebelhor:
I came across your blog posting about Marla and Phyllis Stevens. I want to clarify one thing. The Iowa Republican blog post you link to is wholly inaccurate. Their main contention is false: the LGBT Fairness Fund is not affiliated with One Iowa or our PAC in any way.
The LGBT Fairness Fund appears to be a federal PAC based in Indiana that can give to federal candidates. The Fairness Fund PAC (the political arm of One Iowa) is an Iowa registered state PAC that can only give to candidates for state office. There is no connection between our PACs, nor has Marla ever been employed by our PAC.