CONTEXT: I signed a franchise contract, realized I’d been defrauded and witnessed the franchisor’s participation in a major privacy crime… all in one month. All that action is in early chapters of the book.
In this chapter you learn what happened when I tried to settle to get away from offenders I knew to be very dangerous.
I’m saving the best chapters for publication in the full book, but I feel this one is worth sharing now. It demonstrates how the fraud and litigation I was subjected to pushed me back into the world of using publicity to stand up for victims’ rights.
And while the Federal Trade Commission considers what to do to restore the economy and protect fair competition, they need to be considering how much unjust litigation and unequal contracts are harming small businesses and responsible Americans and immigrants.
Again, I’ve fictionalized the name of the franchise and the “characters,” but all of this is available in public documents. I allow “Horace” and the other “characters” to speak for themselves by accurately quoting their original emails.
And remember, this is just a DRAFT. Once I complete the full book, I’ll revise this to make it cleaner and will publish the full story in chronological order so that it’s easy to follow.
I found an attorney in Houston and gave him $1000 from savings to draft a settlement proposal. My plan was to try to be as outwardly friendly and professional as possible, and to say absolutely nothing about Langford Iris’ privacy crimes and sales of illegally gotten data.
It does no good to talk to criminals about their crimes, I thought. They’ll just deny and deflect. It’s safer to let sleeping dogs lie.
My new attorney advised me to call the Texas Secretary of State to find out if Langford Iris had filed a simple business opportunity exemption form.
“The form is firmly required by law,” he explained. “Filing or not filing is a small technicality, but it’s a very important one, and these cases are won and lost on what seem like insignificant technicalities.”
“Okay,” I said. No surprise there.
I thought about the “technicalities” of the dangerous ALL CAPS statements I’d signed. It may not matter if they defrauded me and I witnessed a crime because technicalities may be all the court will care about.
“A lot of the smaller, newer franchises forget to file their exemption forms,” he continued. “And when they forget, it’s almost impossible for them to win in court. If Langford Iris forgot to file theirs, that’ll increase the chance them settling. So call the Secretary of State and find out.”
I googled the phone number and dialed.
“Texas Secretary of State,” a woman answered in a sprawling Texas drawl.
“Hello,” I replied. “I’m calling to ask if a Dallas franchise called Langford Iris Associates filed their business opportunity exemption form.”
“One moment, please,” she said. The phone clicked.
If they forgot to file, this hell might be over, I thought. All Langford Iris had done for me was rob me of a few months of time, cost me money for travel, and taken an emotional toll. I’d learned far more about the officers’ lack of ethics and respect for the law than I had about executive search. I never had any desire to learn more about intimidation techniques… yet here I am, I thought. What a depressing turn of events buying this franchise has been.
The phone clicked agin.
“Nope,” the woman said. “There is no filing from a franchise called Langford Iris Associates out of Dallas.” Her tone of voice was one of chastisement for Langford Iris.
Wow, she’s really disappointed in them, I thought. She takes this form very seriously, I thought as I jumped out of my seat and ran my feet in place.
“That’s such good news,” I said. The excitement in my voice was as clear as the chastisement in hers had been. “Are you sure they didn’t file it?” I asked. “No chance you’ve made a mistake?”
“I’ve looked,” she said, now in a friendly drawl. “It is definitely not here. Congratulations, I guess.”
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “It’s such good news. They’re an awful company. I just got caught up in the most disgusting and complex fraud.”
“You should report to the Attorney General’s Office,” she told me. “They need to know about these things.”
“I will,” I said. “Thank you very very much.”
I immediately made the call to the Texas Attorney General’s Office to learn about the process of reporting. I decided against making a formal report that would become a public record because all I wanted was to settle and get away, not start a public fight.
I knew more than a thing or two about public fights against powerful entities considering my work for the Mormon podcaster John Dehlin. Dehlin spent all of his energies in a public brawl against the Mormon church. I want to get away from the world of public fighting, I thought, not back into it.
My attorney wrote up the settlement proposal. “Let’s ask for all my money back,” I said, “as a starting place. Hopefully they’ll counter by just suggesting we both walk away from the table. We can sign confidentiality agreements and whatnot and this can be over. But I can’t afford to lose $15,000. I need this money for my kids. It’d be dream if they’d give me the 10% of my franchise fee back.”
“Well, I wouldn’t count on that,” he said. “But it does make sense for them to settle considering their missing exemption form.”
I told my attorney I’d send the email with the settlement proposal myself, copying him.
“That’s fine,” he said. “But the deadline they gave you on their letter of default was November 21. So it needs to be sent by then.”
On November 21st, I copy-pasted my attorney’s writing into the body of an email, titled it “Janai — Settlement Proposal,” put in all the right email addresses, and pressed send.
The response I got was very strange and unexpected. I had no idea what it meant.
Instead of responding to the content of my settlement proposal, or even an acknowledging that I had sent it, Larry, the in-house counsel for Langford Iris and Maxwell Associates, sent an email to me, to Horace and to some attorney in downtown Dallas whose name I’d never seen.
The subject of the email was “Green Card.”
Green Card, I thought. What’s a green card? Some kind of visa?
And the email’s content was only one line: “She received the certified letter on the default on November 17.”
Yes, I did receive it, I thought. So what?
I typed “What is a Green Card?” into my Google search box and pressed return.
“A permit allowing a foreign national to live and work permanently in the U.S.,” I read.
Okay… and…. what does that have to do with anything? It makes no sense.
I felt a crawling hot and cold fire creep through my skin again. It reminded me of how dangerous the Langford Iris officers were. They have so much power over me because of that contract. My heart pounded and I bit at my lip. But I knew I couldn’t stay with them. I knew I needed the annulment I should have fought for as a young bride.
Maybe a green card is a man thing, I mused, trying to refocus my thoughts on the present and the problem at hand. Maybe a green card has something to do with sports. Don’t referees hold up cards during football games or something like that?
Wikipedia had the answer: “A green card is used in some sports to indicate an official warning to a player who has committed a minor offense that does not warrant a more serious sanction.”
Jeez, I thought, it looks like they must do this so often that they have some sort of official boys’ club code language with some attorney in downtown Dallas. How do they expect me to know what “green card” means? And why was I copied on that email in the first place? Am I supposed to interpret this as me being a “team player” who has only committed a minor offense? And what minor offense? The minor offense of not giving them another $80,000 and returning to their franchise? What the hell?
And I wondered what the more serious sanction would be.
But, as I didn’t consider the “Green Card” email to be a legitimate response to my settlement proposal, I said nothing and continued to wait to hear from them.
On November 28th I received a termination letter written in very official language.
“Langford Iris Associates International, Inc. (“LIA”),” it read, “hereby gives notice that it is terminating the Franchise Agreement dated August 23rd, 2016 for failing to pay the sum of $79,200 due toward your franchise fee, and not remaining open.”
Well, that’s a relief, I thought. Lucky me. I’m glad to be rid of them. And of course I’m not going to give them $80,000 more. I don’t pay people to defraud me. Why would I?
The rest of the email was clearly some sort of form letter that had been written for other terminated franchisees. Most of it didn’t apply to me because I had never even started a business. I didn’t need to shut anything down because I hadn’t opened anything up.
I did snail mail back my training manuals, though.
The answer as to why I would be incentivized to give Horace another $80,000 came via email about two weeks later.
“Anne,” Horace had written. “I am reaching out to you as a final attempt at finding amicable resolution before proceeding with litigation. This email should be considered for settlement purposes only and subject to Rule 408 (Texas rules of evidence).”
“Finally,” I said aloud. “It’s about time you respond to my settlement proposal.”
Horace’s email went on and on about non-related topics. He used too many words via email just like he used too many words in person. It was is if, somehow, he had connected saying more or writing more with influencing people. Maybe it’s because all that talk really works for recruiters when they’re making phone sales, I mused. Or he probably just thinks I’ll be susceptible to his gaslighting.
However, buried in the middle of his excess, I found his point.
“Regardless of how we all feel,” he had written. “I believe we have two choices and one is to agree to disagree and find that settlement is better than litigation.”
Okay, I thought.
“As I suspect a lawyer will share with you,” he went on, “the process will every protracted, time consuming and expensive. I reference this because you frequently mention being a single mom with kids with limited resources. This is why I am truly trying to give you a way of resolving this now. You may be fully aware of the process but will share my insights on it [SIC]. We will file suit and you will be served with our claims. You will no doubt engage counsel and reply with a certified denial as well as your own counter-claims. We will service you with discovery and notice you for a deposition. I suspect your counsel will do the same with us. So we exchange all documents, emails and communications between us. Our counsel asks you a full day of questions with you under oath with a court reporter and videographer present. Your counsel will do the same with our corporate representative (most likely me) and perhaps others on our team.
“This will be several days of time and literally tens of thousands of dollars in fees and expenses and many months from now. We will then be ordered to court ordered mediation. At that mediation the mediator will attempt to do then what I am doing now. Of course then our fees are so high that our demands will be so much higher. On several occasions (different kinds of litigation) we have been offered an amount far greater than what was offered before litigation. We declined and referenced an email just like this one where I genuinely tried to do so before takin [SIC] action.
“However, for the exact reasons I stated, settlement does not occur. In a couple cases it was for an amount far greater. On one the amount in question was a fee dispute of just over 300k. We settled for them paint us 480k as by then we had 150k in legal fees at that point. Days of depositions, hearings and mediation. This is NOT to intimidate you in ANY way. This is GENUINELY me trying to educate, inform and yes warn (NOT IN A THREATENING WAY) you of what is to come. Email can be difficult to express emotion so please see this in the spirit in which I am intending – that is to avoid litigation not provoke it.
“It is not uncommon that in mediation the opposing counsel begins to talk about collectability of the disputed amount and using threat of bankruptcy (personal and/or professional) with us. In some cases bankruptcy did result and as such collecting a judgement was not possible. In my career we have never allowed this tactic to sway our strategy [emphasis added]. I can think of several times when in fact that threat actually occurred and bankruptcy is exactly what happened. It is truly unfortunate as it just never needed to happen but I believe people (myself included in past) allow themselves to be emotionally hijacked and take actions that only worsen their situation.”
“I do not want to be the person you feel intimidated you or forced you into bankruptcy or anything close to this. I also don’t want to do so over a sincere attempt at amicable resolution. This is a business dispute but I do empathize with you and that is EXACTLY WHY I am sending you this plea to avoid anything like that. We all have our personal stories Anne.
“I realize this is a long email. However, it will pale in comparison to the dozens of hours we will spend in depositions, mediations and hearings. In closing let me let you know where we are on this from a willingness to settle this matter amicably.
“We will accept ONLY the full remaining balance of your franchise fee (just under 80k) and waive any and all other financial demands. We will also release any restriction regarding practicing search by you anywhere and with anyone you want. This is only an offer to settle this matter amicably and is in no way reflective of what we believe is due contractually.”
I saw myself in the fire. Its red and orange tendrils were lapping at my skin. I was scared — terrified and shaking. But I still wasn’t burning. I’m uncomfortable and my body isn’t impervious, but this fire is familiar. I’ve been here before. I know this fire already and I’m not too terrified to stand in it.
And I know these people, I thought. I’ve met them many times in the past. Flashes of all the abusive people I’d known in my life took their turn cascading past my mind’s eye. I will not work with Horace or Langford Iris and I do not have $80,000 to spare. I bought this franchise because I wanted people to support me and help me. I didn’t buy it for this.
After considering for a few days, I decided my only response would be to document for Horace via email what I knew about Langford Iris and Maxwell Associates’ privacy crimes and sales of illegally gotten data.
I knew it would never do for me to write back and say, “If you sue me, I’ll report your crime to the authorities, because offenders predictably respond to that kind of threat with a victims’ battle cry of “extortion!” That sounded so John Dehlin.
So, instead, I simply wrote an email entitled “Documenting an Unrelated Matter” to put Horace on watch regarding how much I knew, and even the evidence I had — the audio recordings Margo had emailed me — of their crimes. The email was a list of what I had witnessed and what had occurred.
I hoped this would be enough to stay Horace’s “strategy,” to use a word he chose himself in the settlement email he sent me, of using litigation to bankrupt people he had defrauded, people more vulnerable and less financially well endowed than himself.
I thought back to his settlement email. “In my career we have never allowed this tactic to sway our strategy [emphasis added],” he had written. “I can think of several times when in fact that threat actually occurred and bankruptcy is exactly what happened.”
If Langford Iris were smart, they’d walk away from this and get me to sign a confidentiality agreement, I thought. Because I do know what I’m doing. I bought this franchise because I was trying to get away from abusive people and from what I already know how to do. I was trying to get away from everything related to Mormonism and John Dehlin and all of the hell of my past.
I don’t have $80,000 to spare, but I do know how to use publicity to fight powerful institutions. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
And I’d rather stand in this fire and fight than ever work for you.