Forfeiture Victim Stories

When Punishment Is So Harsh
That Forfeiture Seems Incidental

The Story of the Avery Family of Kentucky
as told to Kathy Bergman

Photograph of grandma Eddie Avery, and grandson Slayton
Last update December 30, 1995

I received this information in a telephone conversation with Michele Avery, and have attempted to repeat what she told me, the best I can. Any mistakes made in dates, names and details are mine. -- Kathy Bergman, F.E.A.R. Board of Directors

On September 26, 1995, in a federal courthouse in Bowling Green, Kentucky, John Paul Avery, 56, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. That same day, his daughter Michele received a 10 year sentence and his daughter Sherri was told she will be spending the next six and one-half years away from her children as a prisoner of the United States of America too.

Approximately two weeks later, Michele Avery's husband, Ricky Daniels and his friend, David Tapley, were sentenced to five years and two and one-half years respectively, much less than the family they testified against. And, as unbelievable as it seems, the Averys are paying the price for crimes they knew nothing about.

Here is their story:

On February 17, 1994, Daniels and Tapley were busted in a surprise raid on an underground marijuana growing operation located on 50 acres that belong to the Averys near Albany, Kentucky. Then, in order to keep from serving long prison sentences, Daniels and Tapley agreed to testify against the Averys, including Daniels' own wife Michele. Tapley also agreed to wear a wire tap in an effort to obtain evidence that could be used to indict John Paul and his two daughters. Apparently Tapley was successful, as he claims he has received $10,500.00 from the federal government for his efforts, and a fairly light sentence, considering he and Daniels were arrested with 1,276 marijuana plants and 35 pounds of harvested marijuana.

Michele Avery has since divorced Daniels.

John Paul Avery left the Bowling Green courtroom on Sept. 26 and spent the next two weeks in a local jail, awaiting his trip to a federal facility. He is now in the U.S. Medical Center, at Springfield, Missouri. He is not doing well.

Both Michele and Sherry have been confined to house arrest since their sentencing. They are waiting to learn which prisons they will be sent to, and are allowed to spend only eight hours a week outside their homes. Each night they receive a phone-call generated from Colorado, checking to see if they are at home.

Daniels and Tapley, although also awaiting prison assignments, are not under house arrest. Michele claims there is some doubt whether Tapley will actually go to prison.

Any day now, when the women are sent off to pay their debt to society, they will be leaving three children behind. Luckily, there is a grandma Avery who the children can live with, but she will have her work cut out for her. Michele's daughter Summer is nine and has hydro-cephaelis -- she wears a shunt to drain brain fluids. She is unable to walk and cannot care for herself. Although Sherry is married, her two young children will be staying with their grandmother also. As I was speaking to Michele last night, I kept thinking, over and over, you CAN'T go away from your little girl that needs you so much for ten years. You just CAN'T. But she will.

Michele told me that neither she or Sherry testified during their 17 day trial, although she felt she should. "You'll go to prison if you take the stand," her attorney told her. During the sentencing hearing, Judge Thomas B. Russell had the women take the stand so he could speak to them, however. Michele said Russell badgered them, saying things like, "there is no way you could not have known about the growing operation." I wonder, was he trying to justify the federal mandatory minimum sentence he was handing out? We'll never know.

They DIDN'T know of the hidden grow room though, Michele says. And, she says, of the 120 fingerprints found, none belonged to the sisters, and only one belonged to their father, and that was on a portable piece of equipment. All the other fingerprints belonged to Daniels and Tapley.

The Averys were tried together before the same jury, in a case that took 17 days. Nine of the jury members were women. There were an awful lot of good looking men in uniform testifying against them, Michele chuckled to me. Prior to the trial, she said, details of the bust and speculations about the growing operation dominated the local tv stations and newspapers. Although they (Michele and her father) own only 50 acres, by the time it hit the newspaper, the farm was a 250 acre spread. And, a new home that John Paul and his wife were building at the time of the bust was referred to as a "marijuana mansion" in the newspapers, inferring that the money to build the home came from selling marijuana.

In fact, the Averys lived for more than 20 years in a "basement" home, saving for the day they could build their own, nice house, with earnings from the family business, Twin Lakes Drilling, an oil drilling company with one oil rig. Michele did the books for her father's business, part time.

Although Sherry was indicted on three counts, Michele remembered that when the jury came back from deliberations, they had convicted her on four counts! The record had to be corrected of course, to reflect the actual three counts.

In order to send John Paul Avery away for a good long time, according to Michele, the government needed to prove he was guilty of a continuing criminal enterprise. To do this, she said, they needed to show that he had been a crime boss, of sorts, over at least five other people. So, Tapley testified that in fact there were five people under Mr. Avery: himself, Daniels, Sherry and Michele and up until three months before the bust (when he died in a freak accident while repairing his vehicle), the girls' 34 year old brother, who lived on the 50 acre farm. Michele believes that her brother probably was involved in the growing operation; in fact she says he was so clever that he probably designed and built the underground grow-room himself. But, she is convinced her father, like she and her sister, knew nothing about it. Since her brother was a bachelor, it was quite easy for him to do things that no one else knew about, except Daniels and Tapley, who were part of the operation, of course.

The day that law enforcement agencies came with a search warrant, three helicopters and between 75 and 130 men participated in the raid, according to Michele, including DEA agents and some local police and sheriffs.

Michele and her mother arrived home during the bust, to find a fire engine, ambulance, doctor and paramedics stationed outside their lane. They were scared and questioned why they were there, knowing that injuries can happen around an oil rig, and remembering it had only been three months since Michele's 34 year old brother had been crushed under his vehicle.

The paramedics responded "the law is up there and told us to be on standby".

Instead of an oil-field accident, however, Michele found her husband and Tapley in handcuffs, and dozens of men searching the 50 acres and eventually, her trailer home and her parent's basement home on adjacent properties. That day, only Daniels and Tapley were arrested, but it didn't take them long to try to push the blame onto the Averys as a means to keep from spending life in prison.

It was not enough for the federal government to criminally charge this family, though. They also want to take away their property. Civil charges have been filed against the land and several vehicles. That case is pending, Michele says.

Consider: five people were convicted on various counts for running a large scale marijuana growing operation. Two of those people pled guilty to lesser charges and testified against the other three, in a successful attempt to lessen their prison sentences.

Is it right that our laws allow a husband who commits a crime to implicate his wife to save is own ass? Is society any better off now that John Paul Avery is sitting in his wheel chair in Missouri, his medical bills being paid for by taxpayers? Does it make sense to take mothers away from their children, and lock them up for the rest of their kid's childhood years? What are the chances these children will go on to lead productive lives now? How long before the government is paying for their care also, since the next thing on the goverment's agenda is them forfeiting their home?

I do not believe society is being well-served here; especially when you consider that the men who pled guilty at the expense of two innocent women and their crippled father, will do little if any, time at all. What kind of system is this for heaven's sake?

This family does not belong in prison, and I'm mad as hell that they are being sent there! There must be a better, wiser way to punish mothers and fathers, so that their children don't get punished also. Is it really so very important to our country to fight this "war on drugs" that we throw away all compassion in the name of Justice? I truly do not think I can stand to hear another story like this. There MUST be something we can do to put a stop to this NOW.
Kathy Bergman
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights

FEAR-LIST Bulletin from Kathy Bergman 12/3/95

Sub: Update on the Averys

Michelle Avery called this weekend to tell me she and Sherrie received their prison assignments. They will be leaving Wednesday, November 15, for the Federal Prison Camp in Lexington, Kentucky. It is a coed camp that is supposedly fairly decent and only three hours from the Averys' home. They were shopping for steel- toed boots this weekend, one of the required items they must bring to the prison. Some things were just suggested: six pairs of shoes, two pairs of pajamas, sweats, etc. A few other things are "allowed": address book and photo album, etc. They also can have visitors, but unfortunately their mother cannot drive, so will not be able to take their children to see them. Hopefully, someone will.

When I posted the Avery's story, I made a copy of it and mailed it to Michelle, so she would know what I had written. She said it was basically very accurate. The only clarification she made was that in fact they were convicted in May of 1995 and have been wearing arm bands and on house-arrest since then, much longer than I realized. I mistakenly thought they had been on house arrest only since their sentencing in September.

She also updated me on the forfeiture case against their property. What I didn't realize the first time we spoke, was that the Marshals Service had removed Michelle's parents from their property when the 50 acres were seized. This left the original house (where Michelle's deceased brother once lived) and the big, new home Michelle's parents recently built, unoccupied. Michelle's Mom is now back in the basement home again, with Michelle and her daughter and will live here with the kids during her daughters' prison sentences, unless they win the forfeiture case.

One day last week, Michelle told me, the Marshals Service showed up and started painting the older of the two houses on the seized property. She was told they intend to rent the places out until the property is forfeited and they go up for auction. But, she can bid on the property when it is auctioned off, the officer told her!

I am just livid about the Averys being removed from their property and the fact that the government intends to collect rents! Does the 6th Circuit consider itself immune from Good? After talking to Michelle, I went to the FEAR web site and re-read the Supreme Court's words in Good. They plainly said the government has no right to rents from seized property until the order of forfeiture, because until then, the property belongs to the claimant (Averys). To me, that means the Averys should decide who is living there, not the government!

It is so very frustrating for me to hear things like this and wonder why the US Attorney's office in that area and the US Marshals Service continue to break the law. I also want to know why an attorney on the Avery's behalf hasn't stopped them.

--Kathy Bergman

Letter from Eddie, the Grandma left at home alone to raise the young kids

Photograph of grandma Eddie Avery, and granddaughter Summer

Dear F.E.A.R.,

Please find enclosed pictures of my family.
Sherry and son Slayton

My daughter Sherry has two small boys -- the oldest is five, the youngest is two.

The oldest was present when his mother got banged around by the troopers and DEA. He is so afraid, for weeks afterward he would hide in another room when a man he didn't know would come to the house. He still can't stand to see a police car.

One day this past summer a man that works for the government came to the house and he didn't know him. It took awhile to realize what was going on with him. He was afraid and talking as fast as he could. He was trying to tell the man he couldn't take everything. He had a little red Jeep at his papa's house, and he was asking the man not to take that.

Since they've taken his mother away he has been sick and all he can talk about is how much she loves him. He just wants his mama to come home. The doctor thinks we should put them in . . . [her writing trails off here.]
Michele Avery

Michele the other daughter has a 9 year old daughter that has never walked and has a lot of problems. She cries and every time someone comes by she knows she will start to cry and say no one if going to take care of her. Because no one ever has but her mama. Sometime it takes an hour or more to get her settled down and help her realize that she won't be left alone.

They are going through things no child should ever go through. She is awake at all hours calling for her mama. Michele is so full of grief she has just about given up on life.

And I as the wife of John Paul Avery and the mother of Michele Avery and Sherry Daniel is left here in very poor health, trying to keep the children together. No one offers any help. I don't drive and my granddaughter has so many doctors out of town.

I am sending you some pictures for you to see how they tore up the place we live in. It was awful. This was February 17, 1994. We had just lost our son November 30, 1993.

You can see the equipment they brought in here and how they cut the trees in our yard to make room for the trucks, and how the planes [helicopters] were flying over us. It was just like war. The only things they didn't bring were tanks.

I have lost all of my family in less than two years. We were a close knit family of course.

My husband John Paul is in federal medical center in Springfield Missouri. [He is paraplegic.]

People are so cruel in this town. It is awful. Even family and friends turn away, so cold and unfeeling.

I asked my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to give me strength to go from day to day. I also pray for these people who have taken my family.

I just live for the time the girls and their dad can call.

My children went to prison because of two mens' lies. So did my husband. 20 years for my husband. 10 for Michele, 6-1/2 for my Sherry.

My grandson Slayton told me if he had a magic 8 ball he could tell me when his mama was coming home. They miss her so bad.

I thank God I can be here for them. They sure don't have anyone else.

I've been through so much I am so afraid here all alone with three children. I wait until someone comes by to check the mailbox.

I don't know how much longer I can go on until God calls me home. I'm praying the children will be home to take care of their children, then I'll be ready to go.
Eddie Avery