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July 18, 2011 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Marissa is an adorable toddler with a rare and terrible medical problem: West Syndrome, a.k.a. infantile spasms. Her father Mike has been active in the online Special Needs community, chronicling her story for years now at his blog Marissa's Bunny. Last year, his readers raised almost $30,000 through a ChipIn fundraiser to offset the costs of Marissa's neurosurgery. As a sort of 'thank you', and with the help of matching funds from his employers, Mike offered to give away and/or raffle 40 iPads to the special needs kids of his blogger friends, to be used as assistive technology devices for many of their non-verbal kids. This follows on the heels of several other iPad raffles he's held in the past year.

Guess what happened next. The Special Needs Parenting blog community is on the case: Ellen Seidman (and her commenters), Rob Rummel-Hudson, Sarah and Joyce Hely, Shannon Des Roches Rosa and others are putting together the pieces right now.
(previously on MetaFilter: the unravelings of Kaycee Nicole, JT LeRoy, Kodee Kennings, Alexa DiCarlo, and Amina Arraf)
posted by Asparagirl (183 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting story. It sounds like he's refunding money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on July 18, 2011


So, guy in over his head or complete scam artist? It seems hard to tell at this point.
posted by Partario at 2:12 PM on July 18, 2011


Seems more like the guy was in over his head and wasn't very straightforward about worming his way out of it.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:14 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. I read about it on Care2 this morning. Hopefully this isn't a scam. :(

One of the bloggers who won an iPod has posted a timeline.
posted by zarq at 2:18 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I knew Mike from an online parenting community and strongly feel that he's for real. Just in over his head.
posted by terrierhead at 2:18 PM on July 18, 2011


I would say "guy in over his head."

Rob Rummel-Hudson sounds a bit more charitable in his assessment, but that may be because he himself did a similar "chip in a bit" drive to get his daughter's first Speaking Device. (I can't remember the exact details -- something about how there wasn't any proof it would work or something like that, so the insurance was balking.) Rob sounded a little uneasy about criticizing this guy when he'd done a similar rely-on-the-kindness-of-strangers thing himself.

But I think Rob's readers feel better about his case because he has always been very up-front and open about the device and its use, and how it's actually helping ("Here's how we programmed it to make a dinosaur noise, here's the new case we got for it, here's the day my daughter used the device to say 'booger'...") And he's been successfully able to get more upgrades on his own steam ever since. So the people who donated in his case got more concrete evidence that the money actually went somewhere and did something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like he was in over his head. If he was really a scam artist, he would have just made up 40 sock puppets to claim they won the iPads or something.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on July 18, 2011


Mike may have said that he will refund the money, but it has not happened yet. And it's not just the entry fee money for the raffle, it's the ~$30,000 for the surgery that he raised, but suddenly people are realizing that no one has proof this surgery actually happened.

Furthermore, it now seems that even if -- if! -- Marissa exists, she may be a child that Mike knows in his community, not actually his daughter. Check out what the comments in this thread have been digging up on the past few hours. Now with alleged sock-puppety goodness!

Furthermore, it appears he's been planning on covering his tracks for some time now; check out his discussion of mysterious web hosting issues in this blog post, along with unconfirmed threats.

Finally, the very worst part of the story is not the lost money. It's that many parents supposedly changed around their children's IEP's or speech therapy options or turned down the possibility of getting a different assisstive technology device, with the assumption that they would soon be getting an iPad. And many parents of kids with special needs legitimately conduct online fundraising for their children's medical and therapy costs all the time; they will now be tarred by this situation.

As the mom of a young child with a fairly severe language disorder who loves the shit out of his iPad, this story is making me very GRARRR.
posted by Asparagirl at 2:22 PM on July 18, 2011 [21 favorites]


So, is the question here about the ipads or whether Marissa herself was real? I can't tell. But if Marissa was never real, I'm certain he would have posted about her "tragic passing" by now as a ploy for sympathy and a welcome distraction from the scam. They always do that.
posted by katillathehun at 2:23 PM on July 18, 2011


From the Rob Rummel-Hudson link:
So what happened here? Was it all a scam, and if it was, to what end? No one paid for an iPad or a raffle ticket, but apparently there were pleas for matching funds funds from Mike's apparently mustache-twirling, comic book villain bosses.
This isn't the case, IIRC -- I first saw news about the raffle on Halo fansite HBO, which reported:
Marissasbunny.com is holding a raffle - main prize is an iPad, but secondary prizes include a Joyride Studios 2002 First Edition Cortana figure, sealed in the packaging, and a Halo: Reach Legendary Edition. Tickets are only $2 - go buy some!
The link to the raffle post confirms the ticket price, but who knows if that history will be revised.

Also, searching HBO's archives (which frequently promoted Marissa's Bunny) turns up a lot more raffles that were held previously. I wonder how many of the winners actually got their prizes (or if there were any winners at all).
posted by Rhaomi at 2:24 PM on July 18, 2011


Well, let's hope everyone gets their money back and that the kids get iPads.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:25 PM on July 18, 2011


New in town?
posted by Asparagirl at 2:26 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a copy of "threatening email" in zarq's timeline link:

Hi Mr. Wuerthele,

I know who you are, and I know what you're doing with regard to the iPad scam, and all the other scams in which you've participated. I have all of your contact information, employment information, as well as your criminal history. I have archived your entire blog. I have a file that is ready to be sent both to the Fairfax County DA and police department, to Apple, and to every single parent who thinks they will be receiving an iPad from you.
Here is what you need to do if you want me to drop this issue without reporting you. I want you to
a) announce on your blog that no one will be receiving an iPad. I don't care what story you make up as to why this has happened, just announce it.
b) refund all the donations.
c) stop accepting money.
d) get the fuck off the internet, you crazy, disgusting bastard.

You have one hour from now to make the announcement on your blog (NOT in private emails) or the file will be sent to all concerned parties.

Looking forward to your update,
Me

PS I have spoken with Apple's legal department, and they have no idea who you are.

posted by burnmp3s at 2:30 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


I know who we can ask.
posted by clavdivs at 2:30 PM on July 18, 2011


Thanks for posting that burnmp3s. I was reading the blog post by Ellen Seidman and wondering what in the world kind of blackmail threat would get in the way of distributing legitimate raffle prizes. "Don't distribute those prizes.. or else?" sounds like the lamest Scooby Doo villain ever. This message seems a lot more realistic.

This whole thing is so crazy.
posted by bleep at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was wondering if that was going to make it over to the blue. I spent quite a few hours the other night reading the comment on LoveThatMax's website.

What a horrible situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2011


I have a file that is ready to be sent both to the Fairfax County DA and police department, to Apple, and to every single parent who thinks they will be receiving an iPad from you.

"Oh, god, no! I'll refund the money! I'll go to jail! Just please don't send the file to Apple!"
posted by Zozo at 2:38 PM on July 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: " I spent quite a few hours the other night reading the comment on LoveThatMax's website. "

Some of the comments there are absolutely heartbreaking.
posted by zarq at 2:41 PM on July 18, 2011


Feel like having steam pour out of your ears? Read this blog post from one of the moms who "won" an iPad for her autistic son.:

"When I read that Jakey made the cut, I started crying. My baby won something. The little guy --- who never runs a race, never competes for a team, and never enters contests --- made it to the finals. Simply awesome!...

Before Jakey could win, we needed letters from his therapists explaining how Jakey could benefit from an iPad. Of course, anyone who know this technological wonder also knows that Jakey would be in seventh heaven with this gadget in his hands. His ABA therapist at Children's jumped right on it and had a letter for me within a couple of days. Next I approached his case manager and therapists at school. This was decidedly more difficult. First, no one responded to my mails; then, I heard that they might not be able to do it since they were working on a backlog of IEPs. My frustrating was riding high. Their lack of assistance could mean that Jakey wouldn't qualify. Really?!?!? I only needed a couple of paragraphs, if that. Fortunately, one the therapists called me about an unrelated issue, and she agreed that Jakey would benefit from an iPad. A few days later and just in time for the deadline, I received another letter.

The foundation wrote that they would hopefully inform everyone on May 10th about who won the giveaway. Last week moved so slowly for me as I waited to hear."


Obviously, her celebratory blog post was written before the situation was all revealed to be a lie. No, worse than a lie -- a scam.

Mike now also has the personal and medical information on all of the children entered into the "raffle".
posted by Asparagirl at 2:41 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Apple does not allow the use of Ipads for prizes in contests, I can't find the equivalent US page, but here's the Canadian one.

I can see them sending a Cease and Desist, but Apple gift certs could have easily been substituted.
posted by dripdripdrop at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2011


This is heartbreaking; I have a special needs child and I can only imagine how the duped families and donors feel right now. I wish there were a way to at least make the iPads happen for the families in need because assistive technology is expensive, and it's hard to get schools to integrate it unless you provide it and show them how it would be valuable for your child.

And as a side note, Rob was one of the journalers, along with Becky from Becky Says and our own xingcat who was helping work through all the Kaycee Nicole entries and run down leads (calling about obits, etc.,) before we decided we knew enough to legitimately call bullshit on the endeavor. Sad that he's been online to get entangled in yet another far-reaching pseucide.
posted by headspace at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2011


(Well, not that this guy committed pseuicide. You know what i mean.)
posted by headspace at 2:47 PM on July 18, 2011


So the final comment on one of the blogs indicates the Mike who has been running the blog and taking donations may not actually be the Mike who is the father of the little girl (ie, he just allowed people to assume that he was)? This just seems like a tawdry scam.
posted by maxwelton at 2:52 PM on July 18, 2011


Apple does not allow the use of Ipads for prizes in contests, I can't find the equivalent US page, but here's the Canadian one.

Apple can make whatever baloney assertions they want but the right of first sale prevents them from saying I can't resell or give away an iPad in the US. They can prevent me from using their trademarked collateral in my contest (sort of, though they can certainly out-lawyer me in any case) but once I've bought that iPad it's mine to do what I like with.
posted by phearlez at 2:55 PM on July 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


blogzilly:
For the past few days, via telephone, I have been speaking at length with Heather, who writes Little Wonders about her daughter Zoey and the rest of her beautiful family. And direct from the Credit Where Credit is Due Department, this is 100% her idea, I am just the one writing this statement because...well...verbosity and me? We get along.

But it is our intention, along with some friends of hers and possibly others who might wish to participate voluntarily, to make the attempt to finish what has been started that both of us think will not be completed.

Our mission?

We are going to make every effort possible to get these children their iPads. And I don’t mean the contest iPads. I’m talking about this from an entirely different angle, because like I said, as far as I am concerned, those iPads don't exist, because the website says they are not going to ship until this is sorted out, and I do not see that happening.

Now, should I be wrong in this assumption that they are not coming and should the contest iPads show up to the other 38 people at the same time that we hope to be successful in our restoration efforts? So be it, the kids will have two iPads and they can sell one of them, give them away, whatever they please. The iPads will be theirs to do with as they choose


But that is irrelevant to me at the moment, because all that matters to me, to us, from this point forward is restoring some kind of balance, remaining positive, and staying focused on what matters most.

And that’s exactly what we hope to do.

We are, currently, smack dab in the middle of figuring out various ways of exactly how to accomplish this task, which we are calling Mission iPossible!, and as we know more you will know more.

I can tell you that it would take months to establish our own Non-Profit Organization as a 501(c)(3) through the IRS. We do not want to wait months, so we are looking into alternatives. Possibly piggy-backing with an existing 501(c)(3) organization, something like that.

Why do I bring this up? Trust. Because if it comes down to some kind of fund-raising campaign, a 501(c)(3) will provide you with a legitimate tax deduction for larger donations and a record of its existence will be reviewable through the IRS and also through GuideStar, THE source for verification of legitimacy for non-profits. If you want to know if you can trust it? They are the place to check it out.
Mission iPossible. They already have a donated iPad, available to give away.
posted by zarq at 2:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


As people pointed on in a couple places on the various blogs, one of the strangest things about Marissa's Bunny was that he always showed pictures of the two kids in the family, but never pictures of the parents. Many people who blog about their kids are just the opposite--they don't mind showing their own faces but they show their kids from behind or in silhouette if at all because they don't like the idea of pictures of their kids floating around on the internet. This of course makes it harder to confirm "Mike's" identity since nobody has a clue what "Mike" looks like.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:57 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What baffles me is his claim that his boss would fire him if he revealed the company he worked for. That just doesn't make any sense at all. Was there any internal logic given for this?
posted by desjardins at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2011


Seriously, what company wouldn't want the great press of donating 40 iPads to special needs kids. From the way he was talking I was guessing his boss was someone unsavory, like maybe he worked for Blackwater/Xe, since he supposedly telecommuted for a company in NC.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:02 PM on July 18, 2011


One of "Marissa's Dad"'s comments on Love That Max:
Reports of iPad deliveries were given to me by the people responsible for shipping. My bosses and I are still working out the truth from the lies we've all been told about ship dates, quantities shipped, and arrivals. And as soon as I have verifiable truth about any of this, I guarantee you I'll share it with you all. I do know that the primary individual responsible for the lies is no longer working for the company as of Saturday. We've been provided a great deal of conflicting information by all of the people involved with shipping, and we have no idea what to believe at this time. As far as transparency goes, I did mention I was going to personally supervise the mailings after the investigation is complete. Photo documentation will be provided following investigation completion to all people who request it.
Ah, yes, the skillful deployment of the passive voice: mistakes were made! By persons other than myself! Fair or not, this always reads to me like the linguistic equivalent of "where there's smoke, there's fire."
posted by scody at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wonder if the registry address for Marissa's Bunny is for real; It's not far out of my way home from work.
posted by phearlez at 3:05 PM on July 18, 2011


If it smells like a scam ... it's likely a scam.
posted by ericb at 3:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything this guy says is convoluted. Its forty Ipads not four thousand. If they have been purchased and they have the addresses of the 'winners' then they could easily be shipped in a couple of hours.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:11 PM on July 18, 2011


I did some research into this a few days ago at Shannon's request and did a big brain dump of all the names, screen names, links, IP numbers, domains and so on for her and another parenting blogger. The guy's identity was pretty obvious, but there didn't seem to be an actual non-profit or "foundation" set up. He also ran some giveaway raffles before the ipad one; I noticed one promising thousands of dollars worth of Visa cards, with no indication of where those cards had come from, and no announcement of the winners. It was also notable that the photos of the child never had the parents in the photo.
posted by geeklizzard at 3:14 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


What baffles me is his claim that his boss would fire him if he revealed the company he worked for.

But he got fired anyway...but still won't name his bosses, and doesn't really acknowledge that his bosses ever had anything to do with it anymore. There's no logical ties between the earlier statements and the later statements; it's all self-contradictory and evasive. "In over his head" he may be, but he has gone well beyond the point of just saying, "well....um, the iPads aren't real, sorry" -- he's given out so much information that's blatantly untrue, 'scam' is the only way to describe it. So sad for the parents involved; I'm stepdad to a special needs kid, and this would come as a devastating blow to our household's emotional stability - to be promised so many things, then to be lied to over and over and over would be far worse.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:15 PM on July 18, 2011


If the contest itself was actually legit and a mefite wants to put everything together, I'd be happy to chip in to make it right for the families at least.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:16 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there was a trustworthy organization that took donations of iPads for direct use by special needs kids, I would totally give up my old iPad 1 to a kid that could use it. Is there anything like that?
posted by mathowie at 3:19 PM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Blasdelb: "If the contest itself was actually legit and a mefite wants to put everything together, I'd be happy to chip in to make it right for the families at least."

Four members of the special needs community are already on it: Mission iPossible
posted by zarq at 3:19 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fair or not, [passive voice] always reads to me like the linguistic equivalent of "where there's smoke, there's fire."

Never attribute to subterfuge that which is adequately explained by shitty writing.
posted by Zozo at 3:21 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh bless you, geeklizzard. You also were one of the people who exposed the Amina affair, yes? You should get an "Official Exposer of Online Frauds" Internet merit badge, or something like that.

Please tell me that the rumors are true that this guy has been reported to the authorities in Virginia?
posted by Asparagirl at 3:22 PM on July 18, 2011


When will people finally realize that legitimate people who legitimately are asking for a charitable donation are outnumbered ten to one by the scum of the earth who are just trying to scam you out of your cash?
posted by Poet_Lariat at 3:23 PM on July 18, 2011


mathowie: "If there was a trustworthy organization that took donations of iPads for direct use by special needs kids, I would totally give up my old iPad 1 to a kid that could use it. Is there anything like that?"

If you're not comfortable donating to the Mission iPossible drive, you might consider donating one to your local public school district. Or to any private local school that serves your community. They most likely already have a procedure in place to accept donations and offer you a tax write-off. Reports like this are growing more and more common.
posted by zarq at 3:26 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


And they won't care if the iPad is used or old, either.
posted by zarq at 3:27 PM on July 18, 2011


Marissa is an adorable toddler with a rare and terrible medical problem: West Syndrome, a.k.a. infantile spasms. Her father Mike has been active in the online Special Needs community, chronicling her story for years now at his blog Marissa's Bunny.

I read this far before I started thinking it was a Kaycee-Nicole–style hoax. I suppose the hoaxers have already won.
posted by grouse at 3:33 PM on July 18, 2011


One legitimate way to get ipads to kids who can use them... Donors Choose. My wife is an SLP at a public school and has used a non ipad tablet computer (that she got through Donors Choose) and her own ipod extensively with her special needs students.
posted by drezdn at 4:13 PM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mike now also has the personal and medical information on all of the children entered into the "raffle".

Clearly incredibly valuable information. Let's stay on point here.
posted by yerfatma at 5:08 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm wanting to weigh in here.

Mike's real. Marissa is real. Her condition and developmental delay are real. The family was beggared by co-pays (US Healthcare).

I've "known" him for more than 10 years in another online community. I remember his joy at Marissa's birth and the devastation when her seizures started. We watched and hoped along with him.

In Mefi Projects is the link to a book our "community" of friends put together hoping to raise money for Marissa and her family (it didn't). A Gamer's Alphabet was praised but not purchased.

"Man in over his head" is exactly right. I don't know if Mike did anything nefarious or not. I do know his desperation.

I haven't been in touch with him. He's withdrawn for good reason, I suspect.

Yes, a lot of people got hurt and possibly are out some money. He may well have broken the law, but my heart still breaks for a dad who maybe went crazy with grief and the pain of not being able to do anything but watch his beloved child not get any better. I've watched his hopes die and watched him clutch at any possible chance for her.

I'm not defending or explaining what might have happened. I don't know what happened.

But he's real and so is that child.

My heart breaks for them still, in spite of the pain others have experienced via his actions.
posted by reflecked at 5:22 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reflecked, have you ever actually met Mike and Marissa? Face to face, I mean.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:28 PM on July 18, 2011


reflecked: “I've ‘known’ him for more than 10 years in another online community. I remember his joy at Marissa's birth and the devastation when her seizures started. We watched and hoped along with him.”

Links? I mean, I know this is a family's pain, but if it's already on the internet, it's public. At this point, it seems like it'll save everyone grief if we can just verify that Mike is real and move on to helping out, right?
posted by koeselitz at 5:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, but I know well a friend that has. You can call it FOAF-ness if you like. Seriously, though.. I really have been part of the same group as him for more than 10 years.

He and his wife didn't think they would ever have children. We delighted in their wonderful news.

The newborn pics of Marissa were adorable and he was in heaven. Then, at the age of 3 months, she started seizing. It's the same child... all along... we followed the ups and downs and the hope and anguish. We watched them slowly lose ground from a comfortable existence to having to move into a spare room in Marissa's mom's family home.

This was real. It's still real.
posted by reflecked at 5:33 PM on July 18, 2011


Joe in Australia: “Reflecked, have you ever actually met Mike and Marissa? Face to face, I mean.”

This isn't an idle question intended to hurt, reflecked. Remember that when the Kaycee Nichole thing happened, there were people – members here, even – who had known and corresponded with Kaycee for years – who had acted as "her" spokespeople, who had defended her and help raise funds, etc. I know it's tempting to dismiss these questions as heartless, but at this point I think they're just natural. When questions of veracity come up, the best thing we can do is answer them directly and immediately with all the information we have.
posted by koeselitz at 5:34 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Not to drag the past back into it, but: even if you've talked to someone on the phone, you can't necessarily say that their story is what they say it is. I understand it's painful, but it can be more painful to let questions like this linger.
posted by koeselitz at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do recall that, koeselitz, and understand the suspicion. The internet is a very scammable environment.

But I've never met you either, and yet I have read Mefi enough to know you're at least a real person.

I'm not defending Mike. I'm trying to make him human for you all as you discuss his trouble.. both the trouble he has and the trouble he probably made.
posted by reflecked at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2011


One of the commenters wondered why there were never any photos of this Mike person actually with Marissa. Are there any?
posted by Gator at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2011


But he's real and so is that child.

Respectfully Reflecked, the man took over $30,000 from people and lied for months about non-existent iPads. Also as Rhaomi reported above the man has been using this special need girl to run raffles for several years now. There are several dozen raffles that at least. His stories about his employers, his relationship to the special needs child and pretty much everything else are turning up to be lies.

Respectfully, you have never met the man and nothing he has done seems remotely legitimate.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, obviously there's a real person behind the persona, but that doesn't mean any of his claims are necessarily true.
posted by Gator at 5:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]




I'm not defending what he did.

Several years =3, though. That's how long he's been struggling. Marissa is just over 3 years old.

I do not know if he ran a scam. It appears the iPad thing was, but I do not know.
posted by reflecked at 5:41 PM on July 18, 2011


You (collective) seem to mistaking my intent here.

Other than putting a little bit of a human face on Mike, I am making no claim to knowing what went on with the iPad giveaway.
posted by reflecked at 5:43 PM on July 18, 2011


reflecked: the internet has long cons and then it has really long cons. The ongoing incurable sick kid charity auction is a pretty standard one. The same exact thing happened to the largest poker community except it was to the tune of $10,000. The only reason the faker was caught was that someone noticed him losing big playing online and the cracks started to show. This was a community that even demanded he provide reams of real documents about medical treatments and he did (expertly fake and stolen ones.) The lengths some people will go to in order to make a dishonest dollar are amazing.

Don't worry, it doesn't mean you're gullible (whether he is real or his kid is real or he's just turned into a scammer by desperation)-- you're just a good person. It sucks that there are people out there who craft elaborate scams rather than use their abilities creatively to like, write books. The only defense is that eventually, some cynical bastard will come along and disbelieve everything that can be disbelieved, given enough exposure.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:44 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


reflecked , We don't know that Marissa exists. We don't know that she is his child. He has NEVER once posted a picture of him with her together. You don't know that Marissa exists or is his child. We don't even know that Mike exists or what his real name is ( as yet) . Those are the facts.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:45 PM on July 18, 2011


reflecked: “I'm not defending Mike. I'm trying to make him human for you all as you discuss his trouble.. both the trouble he has and the trouble he probably made.”

You want to make Mike real for us, but – only way he can be real to you, much less any of us, is if you have detailed confirmation of his existence. If you can offer that, then you can provide us with a valuable service. If you can't, I think you owe it to yourself to ask the questions that the rest of us are asking.
posted by koeselitz at 5:45 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forgive me, but I am becoming so cynical that I am going to just skip ahead and assume that there is no Marissa. Saves time that way.

Oh, there is undoubtedly a little girl who has epilepsy -- she is even featured having a seizure in the one and only video online from the "marissasbunny" YouTube account. And she looks just like the girl in the photos from the blog. So there is *A* little girl out there with an awful disease. Poor kid.

The question is, who is she? What is her connection to Mike? Why are they never seen together in photos or video? If she is not his daughter, do her parents know photos and video of their child are being distributed as a moneymaking scheme for tens of thousands of dollars by some guy on the Internet?
posted by Asparagirl at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2011


I am becoming so cynical that I am going to just skip ahead and assume that there is no Marissa.

That might be a good reason not to moderate the thread. It's awful enough without assuming the worst.
posted by yerfatma at 5:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to drag the past back into it, but: even if you've talked to someone on the phone, you can't necessarily say that their story is what they say it is.

In addition to the other scam artists listed at the end of the FPP is the case of author Armistead Maupin being 'taken in' and wholly believing that his many phone calls with 14-year-old HIV/AIDS sufferer Anthony Godby Johnson were real and legitimate. Far from it.

The experience with the fraud/scam led him to write a novel on which the movie Night Listener was based.
"But I'm acutely aware that the possibility of fraud is even more prevalent in today's world because of the Internet and cell phones and the opportunity for instant communication with strangers."*
posted by ericb at 5:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


As someone who has epilepsy, if anyone had posted a video of me having a seizure - at ANY age - I would be righteously pissed.

This isn't to weigh in on Mike in any way, but just to say that I feel bad for Marissa that this is out there at an age where she has no control over it. This really intimate, embarrassing, and uncontrollable thing was posted online for anyone to see. And she couldn't possibly consent.

I blog about my son (who isn't special needs) and I try very, very hard not to post anything that I think he will be embarrassed by when he's old enough to see it. I absolutely know that Marissa will not want a seizure available for public view.

Maybe his intentions were good, but I just bristle that this girl has something so incredibly private being put out there when she's too little to have any kind of say in it.
posted by sonika at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2011 [17 favorites]


she is even featured having a seizure in the one and only video online from the "marissasbunny" YouTube account

I know nothing about this situation, and I don't have kids, but do actual parents do this? Post private video of a child's medical problem for the entire world to see, forever? What the fuck.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


That might be a good reason not to moderate the thread.

Point taken. I will back out now and sit quietly.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:59 PM on July 18, 2011


I hope this isn't a derail, but I wish Apple would find a way for parents of these kids to get an iPad w/o having to spend a ton of money--and by "these kids" I don't mean just those who were taken advantage of in this incident.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Asparagirl: This is how it happened on the poker forum too (long and divergent thread here if you want to dig around for tips on scamming).

Here's a relevant quote when it was known that the guy was a scammer but still being debated whether or not he and his girlfriend and their baby were real:

"Like it just seems like Vig has been setting this up for awhile. I remember pasting a thread about a poker hand, and we argued over something stupid and since I've always hated him he said let’s put this behind us and then pasted some hot picture of his wife. I just didn’t understand at the time why he did that. In general, if you go through his past posts he is constantly posting images of his family which should be considered kind of awkward. It’s like he went out of his way early on to set an idealistic image to use for later on. In most of Vig’s past post that he has a history of asking for money/soliciting/promoting his website and his charity tournament etc.

Also Mrs.Vig/Vigorish both go out of their way to convey there situation to much. “Hi I am Mrs. Vig also known as BBV MILF and I have cancer, I’d appreciate any donations” when her avatar has a picture of her...– like that just seems incredibly fake. Vigorish runs his own website so he is definitely capable of being computer crafty and setting up a nice scam. Whether his original intentions were to give money to his wife or pocket it to begin with is unknown. Whether his wife was even involved with it I don’t know. It could also be some random person who has access to a crap load of pics, that has time to pull an elaborate scam unlikely but for all we know its still possible. "


Soon it became clear that the whole thing was fiction and had been brewing for a year or so. First he invented the girlfriend, then the baby, then the disease, and the next thing we knew there was a charity drive.

Liars grow like cancer on message boards, feeding on good will and casual fellow-feeling. Beware of anything that seems too good to be true.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:07 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm glad this finally got posted, I saw it at Squidalicious when the story still broke and there are still tons of plotholes that have yet to be filled. I don't know the guy at all and I also felt like it was a scam right from the get-go.

One of the people behind the "SNAvenger" who sent the email to Mike (the email that concludes: get the fuck off the internet, you crazy, disgusting bastard.) had no problem revealing who they were in the latest Mission iPossible blog post:

I started to look around a bit on the Internet, and right away I found some information that made me go, "Huh?" I enlisted a dear friend of mine, Darcy [Editor's note: The other 1/2 of the SNAvenger Identity], who is far, far more technologically savvy than I am. She found even more evidence that all was not right. We became convinced that there were no iPads, and that families were being lied to. We sent the organizer of the "giveaway" a very harsh email, demanding that he stop accepting donations to his Paypal account, and that he tell the "recipients" the truth.

Even if Mike of Marissa's Bunny is guilty, which it appears he is, I was pretty damn surprised that someone who had sent a threatening email to another person would come out and cheerfully say "yeah, that was me!" Going to the authorities seems like it would have had the same outcome, why did they feel a need to create an anonymous stalker account to harass the guy?
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:08 PM on July 18, 2011


For the same reason batman wears a mask.

(Only kind of a joke)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:12 PM on July 18, 2011


I can't argue with belief.. or disbelief. Anything is discountable once belief (or non) happens.

I remember when Mike made the vid. He put it out there because the form of epilepsy that affects Marissa is easily mistaken in infancy for a normal neurological phenomenon as some crucial brain hookups are made. Babies can be very jerky; sometimes it's a pathology.


Marissa's mental development halted at 3 months. She's never going to know about the vid that her papa made in hopes of showing some parent somewhere that perhaps their own infant's seemingly normal spasms need to be evaluated further.

Peace out, people.
posted by reflecked at 6:13 PM on July 18, 2011


Via Google the child may to be listed repeatedly in weekly prayers in the bulliten at an Annandale Catholic church. The father is also listed in various online places going back to 2005. Also the blog was registered as a notable local blog by the Washington Post.
posted by humanfont at 6:14 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


reflecked, the point some of us are trying to make is that you only have Mike's word for any of this. On this other forum (which you haven't linked to), were there ever any photos or videos of Mike with Marissa?
posted by Gator at 6:16 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Marissa's mental development halted at 3 months. She's never going to know about the vid that her papa made in hopes of showing some parent somewhere that perhaps their own infant's seemingly normal spasms need to be evaluated further.

To me, that's even worse. She'll never be able to consent to this and this invasion of her dignity is just OUT THERE.

Seizures look different for everybody. NO ONE should be diagnosing seizures based on YouTube videos. You absolutely should not take your infant to the neurologist because you saw a video on YouTube. You should take your infant to the neuro if you have suspicion that they are indeed having seizures. It's best to err on the side of caution and run to the ER for any loss of consciousness or uncontrollable spasming, especially if accompanied by fever.

Videos on YouTube are NOT a resource that parents should rely on for assisting in a diagnosis for their kid. It instills fear in parents whose kids are completely healthy ("but they did something just like that once and I'm SURE they've got that!") and doesn't in any way assist parents of kids who do have seizures as their seizures might not look anything like what they're seeing.

As a card-carrying epileptic, my advice to any parent of a kid who may or may not be having seizures: Go to the pediatrician for any loss of consciousness or uncontrollable spasming. Be persistent. Be your child's best advocate and make sure that their symptoms are explained and controlled. See a neurologist if it EVER happens again. Keep at it.

Don't invade your child's privacy by posting videos of their seizures to "help" someone else. I am totally embarrassed to have anyone see me have a seizure. It'd be like someone walking in on me having sex. I am completely vulnerable. When I wake up, I'm confused and if I don't remember how you, dear bystander, got there that's rough. If I found out someone was taking advantage of me to VIDEOTAPE it? And then post it on the internet?

I'd kinda almost rather have a sex tape out there. Honestly. It's THAT personal.
posted by sonika at 6:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [31 favorites]


A blogger by the name of "Gina Pants" seems to have unearthed Mike's other screen handle on a Mac resource forum where she claims he mentions raising the $29,000 with a ChipIn.

yeah, I'd say it's not looking good for him. The radio silence is pretty damning. I do feel terrible for the families who were promised the iPads... the special needs community is rarely on the radar and there are a lot of families out there having a tough time, especially when it comes to a device that can do a lot for their kid.

(disclosure: I have a kid on the spectrum and he's using an iPad at his summer school and adores it. I'd give a left arm to be able to afford one, but it's probably never gonna happen.)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:34 PM on July 18, 2011


I just don't understand how people can weave a web of lies and carry it forward for so long.

I was an observer and participant in the whole Plain Layne Hoax, in which a Minnesota man, Odin Soli, passed himself off as a young woman and led a lot of people, including a Maclean's Magazine reporter who wrote a story on Layne, down a merry path of lies. In this case no money changed hands (at least, as far as I know), but many people felt they had had their trust destroyed.

I can see echoes of that whole situation here, and in so many other Internet-facilitated hoaxes.
posted by Quiplash at 6:57 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Participant" is probably the wrong word, as it implies I took part in the hoax; I did not, but I did pick up Odin Soli's discarded website addresses for a short period in an attempt to tell people what had happened when Plain Layne suddenly disappeared. It was only through the detective work of a number of people that the true story came out, and he confessed.
posted by Quiplash at 7:01 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


One last comment and I am outta here for tonight: this sort of stuff breaks my heart.
posted by Quiplash at 7:04 PM on July 18, 2011


A blogger by the name of "Gina Pants" seems to have unearthed Mike's other screen handle on a Mac resource forum where she claims he mentions raising the $29,000 with a ChipIn.

She also seems to be the one who determined that the Marissa's Bunny Foundation was only registered last week... long after it supposedly was founded in order to coordinate the iPad giveaways. This is just one of a crazy number of inconsistencies that just don't stand up to basic scrutiny.
posted by scody at 7:07 PM on July 18, 2011


Heck. Reflecked could be Mike for all we know. She (he?) is defending him awfully hard. Or she could just be a really trusting soul who doesn't want to believe all this.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:12 PM on July 18, 2011


I don't think we need to go that far and turn on our own without more substantial proof. reflecked has been a member here for many years, and if she were this Mike character, she'd be claiming to have met him, babysat his kids, thrown a baby shower for Marissa's mom, all that. Remember, there were people in the Kaycee Nicole thread who vigorously defended her as well, but they were just as (if not more) duped as everybody else.
posted by Gator at 7:21 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Not to mention that the Marissa's Bunny blog had been around for a long time. Hell, one of the bunnies appeared at Pax with Jonathan Coulton and Penny Arcade also helped the cause. Clearly if anyone had even a slight doubt, they probably thought it had to be legit partially because of that. Mike seems connected to a fair number of "real people," co-hosted a podcast called 20 Sides of Nerd and the fundraisers appeared on major gaming websites. People didn't have a real reason to suspect they were duped until the iPads never showed.

One thing I did notice is that often times the winners of his giveaways seemed to always give their prizes back to be re-raffled... which on the outside seems like someone trying do do a kindly thing, but also looks like a red flag. Not to mention that if this guy has been around for three years, you'd think someone would be crowing about winning something from the many raffles and yet a google search turns up nothing.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 7:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heck. Reflecked could be Mike for all we know. She (he?) is defending him awfully hard. Or she could just be a really trusting soul who doesn't want to believe all this.


I'm real too. That hurt. :(

I am not defending Mike's actions. I do believe he's real. I also am aware of the controversy surrounding vids of a child having seizures. In that particular case, I've some sympathy with Mike's stated intent.

The people that say I haven't got a link to stand on are correct. The forum we both belonged to for so long wasn't ever one where a person puts up pics of themselves. As people had kids through the years, baby pics did happen.

I'm not stupid, nor am I gullible. I've been on "teh internets" since 1996 and have seen a lot of crap, a lot of hype, and a lot of misdirection and flimflammery. Over a long period of time, I did get a sense of the people I was hanging out with, talking with about everything under the sun, collaborating on art projects, and being supportive and enjoying each other's company.

I stand by my sense that Mike and Marissa, are real. This is all terribly sad. It looks like he did some bad bad stuff, but I don't have any reason... and I am an educated, reasonable, perceptive person... to think Mike's fake and Marissa is a scam.

The only thing I'm leaning on is the doubt that he and the child are real. That I dispute.

I don't really have anything else to say on it right now.

You're good people and rightfully angry at the idea that someone would scam the Special Needs community. I don't know what happened there. I'm very sad for everyone.
posted by reflecked at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


correction: I dispute the idea that Mike and Marissa are not real.

:)
posted by reflecked at 7:46 PM on July 18, 2011


reflecked - I appreciate what you're saying here and I understand that you have faith in the Mike you know, but to reiterate one of the salient questions that I don't think you touched on yet, do you recall ever seeing Mike and Marissa in a picture together?
posted by XMLicious at 7:58 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


jesus, how times do you people have to ask reflecked this.
posted by clavdivs at 8:02 PM on July 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


This guy claims to be the child's godfather.

Mike aka bifflugnut mentions dragging him to a Dave and Busters meetup in Maryland on a random gamer forum.
posted by humanfont at 8:03 PM on July 18, 2011


From a comment from "Stephanie" from this here:

In our case, this has affected some of my son's treatment plan! We travel 300 miles for therapy services. He was getting Augmentative Communication therapy @ Rehab Institute of Chicago. We had originally decided to order something like a Dynavox computer for Christopher ($4000 - $10,000 depending on accessories). Now that would have been covered by insurance and would have taken the entire year limit for DME purchases. About that time we found that we were awarded the iPad. Our therapists were thrilled, because it was more versitile than a straight communication device. We made weekly appointments through out the summer.

Every week, we would have to show up empty handed. Every week, our therapists were getting more and more frustrated - we were taking up appointments times for people who actually HAD devices to use. After last week when we had been told the iPads were mailed, then they weren't etc., our therapists said come back when you have the tools for therapy.

We are now at the bottom of a two year waiting list. So, even if it were to show up tomorrow - my son misses out.


So her son's treatment has been set back by two years! Mike might have thought his little scam wouldn't really harm anyone, but this shows how much harm he has actually caused.
posted by marsha56 at 8:05 PM on July 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


.... and back again as I remembered I didn't answer a question a lot of you asked, and I see clavdivs just mentioned. Nope, I have never seen a picture of Mike. But then, it's entirely possible he's never seen a picture of me, either.
posted by reflecked at 8:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops, that "here" should point to this page.
posted by marsha56 at 8:06 PM on July 18, 2011


One thing I did notice is that often times the winners of his giveaways seemed to always give their prizes back to be re-raffled...

From Wuggie Norple's second link: "Congratulations to 71 year old Grandmother of 9 Peggle Helen from New Mexico."

Bit odd that her first name is the same as an iPhone game app, isn't it? And odd, too, that it took three times to give away an Xbox. And odd, too, that for all those other apparently successful giveaways, not one previous winner seems to have independently come to Mike's defense to verify that they, indeed, received the goods they won.

Marissa may in fact exist. Her existence doesn't take away from the fact that her dad -- or someone purporting to be her dad -- appears to have been running a con.
posted by scody at 8:09 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm confused. I'm not sure if this is real fake shit, or fake fake shit. However, the blogs linked in the original post are inspiring.
posted by carter at 8:17 PM on July 18, 2011


Stephanie's comment also got me to thinking about the inefficencies of insurance spending $4000 to $10,000 for a Dynavox with accessories, but same insurance company can't/won't pay < $1000 for an iPad and some apps.

I know there are all kinds of technical/logistical/legal/regulatory/etc reasons why this is so, but frustrating all the same.
posted by marsha56 at 8:21 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Profile of Mike Weurthele from his pre-bunny days. (Google Cache)
posted by humanfont at 8:21 PM on July 18, 2011


scody, yeah, it is bizarre that nowhere do we actually see the winners replying to any post saying they had won something... until the latest iPad giveaways.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:24 PM on July 18, 2011


And another person who won an xbox in one of the raffles, but then decided to have it raffled off again...
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:33 PM on July 18, 2011


reflecked: here's a situation by way of comparison:

At the point where the aforementioned Rob did the online funds drive for his daughter's communication device, there were already dozens of well-known online writers who had met the entire family in person. People all over the country knew Rob personally, and had met his child. This was the gravy atop the dozens of videos and photos he'd shared—not in a secret online community but for anyone in the general public to consume—on his website.

When those people vouched for him, and passed on the plea for PayPal donations, they were personally staking their reputations on the line. There was never a single question, not for one second, that his daughter was real, as was her rare neurological condition, and that every penny donated went to a $7,000 communication device from a company called Prentke-Romich. It was a more expensive device than the one their insurance company wanted to pay for... but it was also a more advanced language tool. The insurance company determined that Schuyler wasn't intellectually worthy of the more advanced device, even though she had tested well on it. So they refused to pay. Her parents said (like I think most of us would have), "Screw that."

I realize that you believe that the person you knew online as "Mike", you also knew online as "Marissa's dad". I realize that you believe fully that "Marissa" is real and truly suffers from West Syndrome.

But right now, if I needed to prove that Rob was real, I would drive over to his house and knock on the door and go, "Hey, wake up, the internet doesn't believe in you guys, can we make a video real quick and prove your existence and Schuyler's?" And he would go, "No, my mustache looks like shit, but I am happy to go online and provide myriad links and documents asserting my authenticity, and then, after I comb my mustache we can make a video —only then."

Because the moral of the story is that when you have asked for the public's trust (by soliciting donations for your sick daughter), you better be real, and you better not even think twice about doing whatever it takes to prove it.

Whereas this "Mike" has just run into the internet's original Bob-Whites of the Glen, and all he has to speak to his legitimacy is one person who knows him from the internet and has never met him, or seen even a photo of him, but believes that Mike is real and so is his story because a decade of BBS postings doesn't lie.

I'm sorry, reflecked, but I hope you can see the difference here, and why it matters.
posted by pineapple at 8:33 PM on July 18, 2011 [34 favorites]


I don't understand the alleged scam here. So he's running fake raffles for years and then decides fuck it, do a huge 40 iPad raffle but award them to real people, but not give them so they feel scammed and scream all over the net about what a scammer he is?
posted by humanfont at 8:36 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't understand the point of the scam, and I don't understand what he "got in over his head" in. It just looks like he wanted to give a bunch of people the run around for no reason? What am I missing?
posted by sweetkid at 8:42 PM on July 18, 2011


For those who are confused, I think Mike put a ChipIn widget on his website, and raised $30k, which he said was being matched by his bosses to pay for the little girl's surgery. These were apparently the same bosses that were going to buy the iPads, but then decided not to.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:50 PM on July 18, 2011


So the supposed "in over his head" part is that when the bosses backed out of the iPad giveaway, the guy didn't know how to save face and started spinning a web of lies? (sorry, don't mean to be dim).
posted by sweetkid at 8:53 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


the in over his head part is that he raised 30k with no intention of giving anyone ipads and then spent it, probably on not having a job, though potentially on his "sick kid".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:54 PM on July 18, 2011


And it seems obvious that no one had any reason to suspect any of it was a scam until now. The very same people now involved in attempting to get iPads to the winners now re-tweeted and re-blogged the Marissa's Bunny contests constantly.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:56 PM on July 18, 2011


Oh, well that sounds less "in over his head" and more like a regular old scam.
posted by sweetkid at 8:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The charitable read is that he started the raffle with some kind of intention to use the money to buy the ipads or get Apple or his "job" to donate them (this is on top of his many many regular donations apparently) but then couldn't make the details work or needed the money and just lost his shit and couldn't keep his promise. But I think he's gotten enough charity already, don't you? I'm sharpening my pitchfork at the moment.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:01 PM on July 18, 2011


Yeah, I don't see much reason to be charitable toward the guy, given the bits of story presented anyway.
posted by sweetkid at 9:07 PM on July 18, 2011


And it seems obvious that no one had any reason to suspect any of it was a scam until now. The very same people now involved in attempting to get iPads to the winners now re-tweeted and re-blogged the Marissa's Bunny contests constantly.

I'm lost... Can you explain what you mean by this?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:23 PM on July 18, 2011


Wait, are you saying that the people trying to get iPads are really just sockpuppets?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:30 PM on July 18, 2011


No they were saying that the people who are now unraveling the scam used to be his biggest supporters. This seems to be a very confusing thread.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:32 PM on July 18, 2011


The matter of identity is a red herring. Even if Mike has a beloved daughter named Marissa who has West Syndrome, and even if his entire goal in life is to raise funds for her treatment, it is still possible and even plausible that he engaged in raffle fraud, whether deliberately or accidentally, and that the victims of that fraud included families with special-needs kids.

Many people put their families' needs before their sense of right and wrong or of decency. Some people put their families' needs before the law.
posted by gingerest at 9:36 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


On Twitter: @marissasdad (name unknown), @geophf (Douglas Auclair, his brother & Marissa's godfather) & @Morgon (Jason Young, also Marissa's father). This is not getting clearer.
posted by scalefree at 9:49 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This net stalking thing is a bit creeper-like. I hope all y'all don't end up hurting bystanders.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Jinx, five fresh fish!

MeTa.
posted by lalex at 11:07 PM on July 18, 2011


Someone could do a FOIA for this: "enlisted in the US Navy submarine fleet" and it would also probably be good to do court record searches on the municipal and county level in all the towns Santos and Wuerthele lived in. That won't prove anything one way or the other about Marissa's existence or what Santos and Wuerthele did with the money raised, but it could turn up something. Calling their relatives and politely explaining the situation and asking if it's a real situation could also be fruitful. I don't have time right now to follow through, but that's more or less what I'd do. I hope someone will figure out and post the facts!
posted by geeklizzard at 11:11 PM on July 18, 2011


Nope, I have never seen a picture of Mike. But then, it's entirely possible he's never seen a picture of me, either.

...and if somebody asked me if you were a real person called 'reflecked' I'd say 'I have no idea, because I've never met them, or even seen a picture of them, and even if I had seen a picture, I couldn't say unless I saw them in real life too, and even then I could only say that they appeared to be the same person, but still not be sure they were reflecked. All I know is that somebody with the account name 'reflecked' typed these words into this forum at this time.'

I wouldn't, for example, say 'Why yes, and furthermore, I believe, based on no evidence whatsoever, that reflecked is the person's real name, and that the jumbo jet appearing in a picture posted by that account name is also real, and their personal property, even though I've never, ever seen the two of them together.'

All you know is that there's an account with the identity Mike. You don't know who posts with it (or if more than one person posts with it, or if different people have used the account at different times). You don't know if the person behind the account is really called Mike. You don't know if that person has a daughter. You don't know if the daughter's name is Marissa. You don't know that the daughter called Marissa has an illness. You don't know if there even is a girl called Marissa with an illness who isn't related to Mike. You don't even know that any of that information is actually linked to the infant depicted in the video, who could be a boy (my long-haired son is mistaken for a girl all the time) in another country who is shaking for some completely different reason. You have an account name, and everything else is speculation.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:39 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Jesus, this sounds like the type of collapse that usually follows the words, "Let it all ride on black."
posted by klangklangston at 1:20 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will not givewell.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is it so important to convince reflecked? Leave reflecked alone.
posted by vincele at 5:27 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whereas this "Mike" has just run into the internet's original Bob-Whites of the Glen

Only on Metafilter could one be reading a live-action scam exposé and run smack into a Trixie Belden reference.

METAFILTER FOREVER!!!!
posted by orange swan at 5:38 AM on July 19, 2011 [13 favorites]


Many people put their families' needs before their sense of right and wrong or of decency. Some people put their families' needs before the law.

gingerest, I hear what you're saying. I hope this all turns out to be something that noble.

What my gut tells me, though, is that Mike became something of a sympathy vampire, hooked on the money and more importantly the attention, that came from the $30,000 drive. I suspect that he wanted to keep both the gravy train alive and solidify his hero role, hence the raffles "to help others" that no one can prove ever took place.

What tells me this is so is the timeline post that one of the iPad winners shared. Even when the wheels had started to come off the scam, Mike was repeatedly asking many people to continue linking and promoting the raffle on their own blogs.

Prompting a question: were there any iPad winners who weren't also SN bloggers? Was this all a massive publicity stunt to direct sympathetic donors to Mike's own site?

I believe there were never any iPads. I suspect what happened is that he planned for one of two outcomes.

1. Run an enormous fake public drawing to give iPads to special-needs families. Along the way, privately ask participants and supporters to chip in to "defray costs", and to promote your website to all corners of the Internet.

2. Fingers crossed that some generous individual or business decides along the way to get involved and contribute actual money or iPads. Do it Stone Soup style! Drag out process as long as possible, via lengthy application requirements on families, and extended storylines and apologies to information-seekers.

-or-

3. If #2 doesn't work as exit strategy, hide behind nefarious shadow boss and fake legal issues. Blame even Apple. It's The Man's fault, not mine.

4. Half-heartedly offer to return the money of the haters, when you get caught. Relax in the knowledge that the income you made over the course of the scam far outweighs the number of embarrassed people who want their $5 back.

If it turns out that Mike knowingly lied about having iPads to give away, knowingly collected extensive personal and medical histories from SN families, knowingly implicated his employer and used them as a shield and escape hatch, and knowingly collected hundreds or thousands of dollars in the process,

then he deserves to be fired from his job, and prosecuted by the Feds and local authorities for fraud.

Because it's not just about Marissa, if she's real.

It's that every other family in this story with a kid who needed help was tricked and used. Their faith in the goodwill of others has been crushed. They have been embarrassed in front of their school and medical professionals. They have been exposed to risk of identity theft (maybe this is how Mike got Marissa's photos and story in the first place, 3 years ago, by wheedling it out of Marissa's unsuspecting real parents by promising to help them).

And it's about those who gave him money, who will feel ashamed and stupid for having fallen for a con online. Because they'll never donate like that again. Could be a scam, you see.

I also don't believe the funds-matching employer exists at all, or that Mike is at risk of losing his job and health insurance. I don't believe there are any lawyers involved either.

Marissa is real, somewhere. Her name may not be Marissa. She may not be Mike's child. I do hope that she's received at least some of the money he has raised in her name. But my gut tells me no. Because I know actual special needs families, and they would never, ever commit such a fraud upon the heads of other families in need.

Call me a cynic. I'm okay with that.

orange swan: ;)
posted by pineapple at 6:02 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why is it so important to convince reflecked? Leave reflecked alone.

What? Why on earth for? Reflecked is the person who popped up in this thread defending Mike and claiming that his story is real. What part of that should be left alone, considering the circumstances? Anyone at all who comes into any MeFi thread citing a firm minority opinion and zero evidence is going to be addressed. As a site user since 2004, reflecked surely knows that.
posted by pineapple at 6:06 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Because I know actual special needs families, and they would never, ever commit such a fraud upon the heads of other families in need.

No disrespect to special needs families anywhere, nor to yourself but I have found in my life that any sort, from anywhere, can play the con and any sort, from anywhere can be the mark. No one's immune either way.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:19 AM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


Anyone at all who comes into any MeFi thread citing a firm minority opinion and zero evidence is going to be addressed. As a site user since 2004, reflecked surely knows that.

I know and I know how difficult this issue is for Metafilter. However at some point it seemed to me to turn into a majority piling on the reasons one person's minority view was incorrect. Once the majority has presented its case several times, why not let the issue rest? Metafilter is not a court of law.

It seems that minority opinions without evidence should be allowed to stand, especially since the minority didn't really break any rules or take an aggressive tone. I know Metafilter works the way you described, I am just not comfortable with it.

For what it is worth I agree with the majority opinion here. I just think that people who disagree should feel like they can express themselves as well.

This topic is probably better suited to Metatalk.
posted by vincele at 6:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


[folks, leave the net-stalking stuff out of this thread please? thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on July 19, 2011


Metafilter is not a court of law.

And no one's put reflecked on trial. People have laid out their reasons for saying that his vouching for Mike's legitimacy does not constitute proof, and asked him if he has ever seen a picture of Mike and Marissa together. Pretty reasonable and mild.
posted by orange swan at 6:57 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


>> No disrespect to special needs families anywhere, nor to yourself but I have found in my life that any sort, from anywhere, can play the con and any sort, from anywhere can be the mark. No one's immune either way.

Yeah, this is fair. I got a little hyperbolic there, because I meant to imply that the specific people I know would never do this, and instead it came off as "I know from all SN families, and they as a constituency would never never ever never...."

>> I just think that people who disagree should feel like they can express themselves as well.

vincele, I agree with you on this. But I also agree with orange swan that the responses to reflecked were reasonable and mild (a biased perspective, obviously, since I was one of those responses).

I'm just not sure how we reconcile the right of one user to express an opinion, with the right of another user to disagree with that opinion, in the case where there is a clear imbalance of sides, so to speak.
posted by pineapple at 7:40 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whereas this "Mike" has just run into the internet's original Bob-Whites of the Glen

I love you, just so you know.
posted by cereselle at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trixie will work everything out, never fear. She'll have to take some breaks to babysit Bobby, Mart will tease her about her math skills, Di will just toss her long dark hair and widen her violet eyes and complain about being nouveau riche, but Honey will be right by her side, Brian will cautiously advise, Jim will take Trixie's part whenever she does something stupid, Reddy will jump up on everyone, and Miss Trask will act chaperone on any needed trips. And it will all be good experience for the future Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency.
posted by orange swan at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mike may be a real person with a real tragic story and an actually devastatingly sick baby and still be a selfish liar. The two things are not mutually exclusive. Becoming the parent of a child with special needs doesn't automatically turn you into a saint (and I should know -- I am a special needs parent, and I'm as flawed as the next random human).

I've known more than one blogger with genuine, textbook pathological narcissism issues. (And when I say "known," I mean personally, in person.) I've met real people using real names who project a persona online that is at least based in reality, but also make a regular practice of making up or embellishing stories and deceiving or exploiting others for attention, approval and profit (but usually, it's more the attention and approval they crave). These people are worse for the community than the total impostors, in my opinion, because their lies and schemes are so much harder to catch and unravel.

The vast majority of the bloggers I've had the pleasure to work with or become friends with are genuinely awesome, sane, ethically grounded people who are as honest online as you can expect anyone to be. But like any community where the potential for fame is a constant of the membership equation (think acting, politics, etc.), the blogging community naturally draws more than an average share of narcissistic liars.

No matter what the real story is with Mike and Marissa, the victims here are the children and families who thought they were getting some desperately needed help. I sincerely hope that Internet Good will prevail and people find another way to get these kids some iPads.

Apple is happy to hype the benefits of the iPad for kids with special needs. I wish they would do more to help kids by making discounts or free units available to families in need.
posted by BlueJae at 9:03 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


You have an account name, and everything else is speculation.

You are, of course, correct. That Mike and Marissa are real people (I do believe this) was what I wanted to tell you. I think time will tell, and if there's been a crime committed, I am also sure that the proper authorities will deal with it.

My respect to you all for caring deeply about what is right.
posted by reflecked at 9:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is no question that a crime was committed; Virginia law prohibits running raffles like this unless you're a charity using the proceeds for narrow purposes.

I don't think anyone here is such a believer in enforcing every law on the books such that they'd hold it against someone for running a legitimate self-benefiting raffle; or at least I wouldn't. But breaking the law this way AND cheating people by never rewarding the promised prizes is incontrovertibly criminal behavior.
posted by phearlez at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2011


Photo of Mike with Marissa

(you know, supposedly)
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Photo of Mike with Marissa

(you know, supposedly)


Tineye doesn't come up with any matches, so it is possible.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:21 AM on July 19, 2011


Photo of Mike with Marissa

This is also a blog entry dated today, which is even more important, as Mike says:
That’s me with Marissa in one of the wife’s favorite pictures from August 2008. Marissa’s Bunny was simpler then. We’re going back to that. No fundraising, no giveaways, nothing. Ever.

Back to basics. Just a girl, her disease, and her bunny. I’ve typically been the one behind the camera. Maybe it’s time to change that.
No mention whatsoever of how he plans to handle the iPad situation; just that he's going to go back to blogging about his child. Is this how he's going to handle this? "Lalala I can't hear you"? Weird.

Also, Tineye has a very low reliability rate. I've seen it return "0 results found" on images of presidential portraits.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2011


He's also turned off comments.

Can anyone with better eyes than mine tell if this picture looks like the same guy as the one in humanfont's link upthread?
posted by Gator at 10:25 AM on July 19, 2011


I have a question about sick child blogging in general: When parents publicly discuss their child's illness and name doctors and write about appointments and treatments, does any of this violate HIPAA? Also if they change insurance companies, couldn't an insurer look at the website as evidence of pre-existing condition and deny coverage?
posted by asockpuppet at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2011


I'm pretty sure parents own the HIPAA rights for minor children, and I doubt they would have a blog if they were trying to cover up a pre-existing condition for purposes of gaining health insurance, but also there are probably better and more obvious ways for insurance companies to determine pre-existing conditions.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2011


No mention whatsoever of how he plans to handle the iPad situation

He's already admitted that there never were any iPads (actually what he said is "There are no longer any iPads" which doesn't mesh with his emails from the last several months stating that iPads were in, iPads were shipped, etc. etc.) Ignoring the issue is exactly what he's going to do. I don't know if that's better or worse than pseuicide.

I don't understand this "matching funds" thing at all. Didn't he raise nearly $30,000 through ChipIn? Wouldn't that buy 40 iPads?
posted by muddgirl at 10:43 AM on July 19, 2011


Metafilter is not a court of law.

Although a court could be the name for a group of MeFites. A murder of crows. A pride of lions. A court of MeFites.
posted by katillathehun at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I prefer "a beanfield of MeFites."
posted by Gator at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Mike's official story is that the ChipIn $30k was for Marissa's treatment, and that the iPads were being funded from some other source, right? His employer or something? I don't understand where he thought he was getting 40 iPads. Also it seems like this particular giveaway isn't a raffle, since families didn't need to pay anything to enter. Who was funding the iPads? Why should Mike refund the ChipIn donations if they aren't related to the iPad giveaway, assuming Marissa and her condition are real?
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2011


And I thought his story was that any money donated after the 1st of the year was for his 501c Foundation. Foundations can't be set up for individual benefit (and it turns out, there is no foundation).
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2011


He's already admitted that there never were any iPads

I'm aware of this; I was referring to his omission of any future action on this situation.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2011


thirteenkiller: "Also it seems like this particular giveaway isn't a raffle, since families didn't need to pay anything to enter."

The entrants were encouraged to donate to defray the costs. And in some recorded postings of the contest (linked above somewhere), it was actually listed as a $2 entry.
posted by gilrain at 10:53 AM on July 19, 2011


Yeah, there won't be any future action - he's been caught. My bet is that he won't blog at that site any more (or perhaps a couple token posts).
posted by muddgirl at 10:55 AM on July 19, 2011


They were also encouraged to promote the donation links to friends, family, etc. Maybe not legally a raffle, but set up to look like one to encourage donations? Shady...
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2011


Oh, I see he talks about fundraising specifically for the iPads, so I guess I'm wrong about the purpose of the ChipIn account.

I thought I read somewhere upthread that Mike said he would dip into Marissa's surgery fund to fix the iPad issue, which confuses me more since it suggests there's two different (and possibly imagined) pools of money.

on preview: thanks gilrain - did the entry fee go into the ChipIn thing?
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2011


I think he was asking for donations for the surgery last year. In this comment he claims that the $29,000 was private donations for surgery (I presume that would be this ChipIn), and "Fundraising after January 1 is for the Foundation." So you may be right, thirteenkiller. I don't know how much he raised specifically for this 'iPad raffle.'
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2011


One comment at Love That Max indicates that it was about $4400
posted by muddgirl at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2011



And I thought his story was that any money donated after the 1st of the year was for his 501c Foundation. Foundations can't be set up for individual benefit (and it turns out, there is no foundation).


Allegedly, according to the comments in the Love That Max blog posted above, he just registered the foundation within the past week.
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2011


I don't know if that's better or worse than pseuicide

Heh. Nothing could be better than a good pseuicide!
posted by orange swan at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2011


A raffle, as I understand it, means that you buy a ticket or tickets and the winner is determined by chance. The more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning. This was a contest; the entrants had to write essays and provide proof of their child's medical condition. In theory, the entrants should not have had to "donate" anything to have a chance of winning. I, for example, would have had zero chance of winning because I am childless. But I could have donated to the contest anyway.

It's not just semantics; I think it's important to distinguish a raffle from a contest because that differentiates the intent of the money from both the givers' and the recipients' points of view.
posted by desjardins at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2011


The above is not intended to be legal definitions of either a contest or a raffle.
posted by desjardins at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


When parents publicly discuss their child's illness and name doctors and write about appointments and treatments, does any of this violate HIPAA?

Gah, this drives me crazy. HIPAA does not, and was never intended to, prohibit or regulate one private person talking about a medical condition with another private person. You can tell your hairdresser about your mother-in-law's hemorrhoids, I can talk about my child's medical treatment (even on the internet), and (yes, it's true) your co-workers (although likely not your HR person) can talk about your miscarriage, all without violating HIPAA.

HIPAA very specifically applies to health-care providers, health insurance companies and plans, and Health Care Clearinghouses. Not private citizens. Lots more information here.
posted by anastasiav at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2011 [20 favorites]


desjardins - I think there's some confusion because "Bifflugnut" at Marissa's Bunny did run several more traditional internet "raffles" on different sites last year (like this one), where you ask people to comment or vote on various blogs to enter their name in the raffle.

This was definitely a contest, but an odd kind of contest where the number of prizes would increase as more donations were received, which incentivizes the "winners" to convince their friends and family to donate.
posted by muddgirl at 11:35 AM on July 19, 2011


It's the same guy. I've also seen a picture of this guy and his wife on a social network. Sorry no links. I checked it out end to end. They guy and his kid are real. The iPads are fake. The whole thing is just so depressing and bleak.
posted by humanfont at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2011


I'm pretty sure parents own the HIPAA rights for minor children

Yes, that's correct. But even if the child wasn't a minor, HIPAA isn't really applicable as far as I can tell- it has to do with "covered entities" like hospitals and doctors' offices, not individuals. If you felt your mother was violating your privacy blogging about your health struggles, you might have a case under some other law, but HIPAA wouldn't be applicable.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


On preview, anastasiav already said it well!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2011


Gah, this drives me crazy.

I merely asked a question. JESUS.
posted by asockpuppet at 11:59 AM on July 19, 2011


It's the same guy. I've also seen a picture of this guy and his wife on a social network. Sorry no links. I checked it out end to end. They guy and his kid are real. The iPads are fake. The whole thing is just so depressing and bleak.

So, what was the plan? Why did he run a contest for fake iPads?
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2011


You know, I would ask those of you who are concerned about the privacy / future embarrassment of the children of bloggers who write about parenting a child with special needs to consider this: Some of us discuss symptoms of our children's disorders in public with the view of erasing the stigma. People didn't used to talk about breast cancer because they thought it was embarrassing. People didn't used to talk about depression, either, because that was stigmatized. I think it's pretty much universally recognized now that the taboo against talking about those illnesses was bad for people who had them.

I am not a "special needs parenting blogger" in the titular sense but I have written publicly in the past about my son's sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia. I absolutely do worry about what he will think about what I've written about him when he's older, and I've written about that worry, too. I know he's too young to consent thoughtfully to my writing about him, and I don't want him to be embarrassed or hurt, or feel put into a box by anything I've written.

But I also sure as hello don't want him growing up thinking that his condition is something that should only be talked about in whispers.
posted by BlueJae at 12:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


Gah, this drives me crazy.

Sorry - it's not you. There is SO MUCH misinformation out there about HIPAA, and a lot of it is really damaging. I apologize if you felt like I was somehow being dismissive of your comment.
posted by anastasiav at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2011


BlueJae - I was a child with "special needs" or whatever you want to call it, and I would be horri-fucking-fied if the Intertubes had been around when I was a kid and they'd written about me or posted pictures of me that would never go away thanks to the Wayback Machine et al.

I am sorry for your child and what you must go through - I know my mother went through a lot - but do you know what it is like to be on display all the time? To have doctors poking and prodding and taking pictures and talking to med students like you aren't even there? Jesus christ that was my life until about 1988 and it's only been the last few years that I don't think about it all the time. I cannot imagine what it would be like if it were omnipresent. I had to get my medical records from Children's hospital recently, and they were about 150 pages. I got to page 2, put them in a drawer and won't look at them again.

I get that parents need support from people who understand their situation, and when the kids are older, they also need to find a community. The internet makes this super easy. But really stop and think if you (general you, not BlueJae) are objectifying your child and if he or she could consent to that objectification.

All and any typos due to grar
posted by desjardins at 2:19 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


I hope none of that sounded like "oh poor me," because my life is awesome now.
posted by desjardins at 2:21 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


First of all, sorry I'm late to this discussion. I just signed up so I could participate. (Pineapple was 100% correct in everything she said, except perhaps for my mustache, which really is probably beyond salvation.)

I think every parent who writes about their special needs child (whether online or in print) does so with an eye towards how that child may feel about it down the line. I believe very few of us make that choice lightly.

I do think that for a lot of kids, it's more a matter of how much input they'll have at some point, rather than whether or not they are out there and their privacy is being compromised. There's a generational remove at work, I think, where most neurotypical or otherwise unimpaired kids today are living their lives online. For those special needs kids who are aware of that online world and their place in it, the key is sensitivity towards their wishes, as much as those wishes can be determined. If they can eventually become the stewards of that online presence, we as parents who are charged with protecting our kid's best interests must have that transition in mind from the very beginning.

I have also seen, in my own child and in others, an unexpected result of that online presence: the manifestation of the earliest stirrings of advocacy. I don't think that's terribly uncommon, either. I think the key is keeping an eye towards responsible and positive community building.

I agree completely that objectification of ours kids is one of the biggest concerns we have. For myself, I always endeavor to write about my daughter in a way that paints a complete picture of the person she is, rather than as a vessel for a disability. I believe she has benefitted from the experiences she's had and the people she's met as a result of that writing, but shame on me if I ever stop being vigilant to the pitfalls that might open up as a result.

It's a tough line to walk, and we fuck it up from time to time, even with the best of intentions. In that sense, we're like every other parent in the world, I guess.
posted by rumhud at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [27 favorites]


His plan was a bunch of unintelligible nonsense. He had no plan, apparently it just happened. It is like a Cohen Brothers film.
posted by humanfont at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2011


Welcome to Metafilter, rumhud! An awful lot of us first found out about you here several years ago.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:01 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or more recently. *waves hello*
posted by Asparagirl at 3:06 PM on July 19, 2011


Thank you! I've been sort of lurking for a while, trying to get a sense of the community. I hate to be that person who blunders in without a clue as to how a place operates.

I don't directly have a dog in the Marissa's Bunny fight, but as someone noted earlier, I do feel a strange sense of connection in that my family did a similar grassroots fundraiser six years ago for my daughter. As far as the people who contributed were concerned, I guess in retrospect, they were engaging in a similar leap of faith, although as Pineapple said, there were a number of people in the online community who knew us in real life and could at the very least vouch for who we were and what we claimed to be all about.

If I were doing a similar fundraiser today, I think I would try to partner directly with the company that manufactures the device we were trying to attain, perhaps even giving control over dispersement of donations over to an agent of that company. I'm not sure how that would work, but I'd want to at least try to set up a level of accountability, and transparency. Looking back, it would have been frighteningly easy to take advantage of the trust of everyone who donated to my kid.

I guess it's easy to look back on the Marrisa's Bunny situation and see the holes in his story. People trusted where perhaps they shouldn't have. As I said on my own blog, I think parents of kids like ours assume a level of community with each other, and thus a kind of protection. We want to believe that we could never be taken advantage of by a fellow SN parent, to the point that I still hope Marissa turns out to be either a fiction or (more likely) someone else's kid being unwittingly used. The idea of people being taken advantage of by one of our own is deflating, to say the least.
posted by rumhud at 3:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Looking back, it would have been frighteningly easy to take advantage of the trust of everyone who donated to my kid.

It's been really interesting to watch the whole Marrisa's Bunny situation play out in contrast with the Michael Schofield dilemma. No one can possibly doubt the Schofield's exist - they were on Oprah, Discovery channel, etc. - but he's currently soliciting donations to make sure his rent gets paid and the utilities stay on. He's taking a lot of flack for it, too (he moderates comments; I'm sure there are some pretty harsh ones we never see, judging by those we do see). And, thus far anyhow, people seem to have been willing to give - possibly because they have such a firm sense that this is a real family who are facing a very real (almost unthinkable) medical issue with their child.

What this really points too, of course, is the complete disaster that our medical care system is. Reading Michael Schofield's blog (and sometimes, honestly, reading between the lines on yours) it is all too easy to see how a parent of a child with a devastating medical issue might end up in what feels like an unsolvable financial dilemma and turn to those oh-so-willing helpers and readers on the internet for assistance. Perhaps even asking for money to fund a surgery that will never happen. I get that.

What is much less clear to me is that if the iPad thing was an intentional scam, how he ever thought it would work. Because my reading of it is that there never were any iPads. So why collect all that personal information? Why make the promises without the product in hand? What on earth was there to gain???

ps: rumhud, I hope you stick around and become a part of this community. I think your voice here would be valuable, and I think you'll fit right in.
posted by anastasiav at 3:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was one of the folks who chipped in for Rob's daughter's communication device way back when. I still think it was probably among the best $25 I ever spent on the internet.

I'd be much more wary about donating to anything like that now without more assurances in place, and I'm not sure whether that's about the internet getting scammier, me getting more jaded, or what. That said, I work every day with special-needs kids now, which I did not at the time, and I've heard over and over again from the parents what a game-changer iPads have been for their kids. The idea of anyone taking advantage of SN families' desperation to get their hands on these devices makes me unbelievably furious.

I'm glad you're here, Rob. Stick around, please!
posted by Stacey at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


*Waves to rumhud* whom I met at JournalCon a million years ago and who was very gracious about telling me I was taking his seat. Thanks for showing up!

This whole thing is heartbreaking.

But it also sounds like the kind of thing Dooce might be able to help with...I wonder if she's heard this story? All it would take is one blog post from the Queen of the Internets and those kids might get their iPads after all.
posted by emjaybee at 5:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is much less clear to me is that if the iPad thing was an intentional scam, how he ever thought it would work. Because my reading of it is that there never were any iPads. So why collect all that personal information? Why make the promises without the product in hand? What on earth was there to gain???

QED there was no plan. Shit happened. Alternatively and this is just an attempt to construct something from his nonsense. He thought based on prior raffle experience that he would be able to sell enough tickets to buy a few iPads and clear little for himself. Instead he came up short and started extending the ticket sales to try to make up the difference. However because he relied on viral marketing, he had to keep adding winners to keep things spreading. Each new "winner" just dug his hole deeper. Compound this with expense management issues, such as an apparent lack of separation between personal and business items and the result is a mess.

Had he planned accordingly he would have known that his ticket prices were too low to account for his indirect costs such as SG&A and provide necessary margins to cover the costs of procuring iPads. A second tip would have been to secure any matching donation upfront prior to announcing the campaign.

I suspect legal and tax hurdles would prevent a corporation or employeer from making a matching donation in his case. Even if someone gave him a verbal comit there is no way given the issues involved accounting or legal would let the check be cut.
posted by humanfont at 6:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


And, let's be frank, what employer would match donations to a cause that is NOT registered as a non-profit/charitable organization, which means that they wouldn't even receive any tax writeoffs (among issues of legitimacy/legality, etc.).
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:03 PM on July 19, 2011


Rumhud! you're here! Woo! (I've poked my nose in and said the occasional comment once or twice over on your own site. This is a good place -- stick around.)

It sounds like the biggest difference between this iPadGate and the Big Box Of Words drive was that, as someone noted above, Marisa's father didn't have all that solid a plan. Or, the plan was a lot less stable (even if you take it on faith that there was an employer who did offer to do a matching grant for some iPads, it still seems a little...tenuous to promise a set number of them until you have the things physically in your hands). there just seems to be a lot less transparency in this instance -- which sounds as if it were perfectly innocent and naive, mind, but it also makes people skeptical.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 PM on July 19, 2011


desjardins, I really, really do respect your input but as rumhud pointed out, nearly all kids live their lives in the context of a family online presence these days and nearly all kids have had their baby pictures posted to Facebook and what would actually be weird in this 21st century context is if I wrote a bunch of stuff online and occasionally mentioned my son but never once mentioned that he has a medical condition that affects his life on a daily basis.

And by the way, I had the same issues as my son, to a less noticeable degree, when I was a child, and was never diagnosed or treated. I was bullied and punished at school and abused by family members for being "weird" and "difficult" and "crazy" and "clumsy" instead. And yeah, I'm doing great now, too. But I sure as hell wish my mother had been able to find a medical diagnosis for me and a thousand anecdotes from parents in similar situations in ten minutes with a keyboard, like a parent could now. It might have caused me some embarrassment but recognition and proper treatment would have saved me a lot of other kinds of pain.

It's great that you want to advocate on behalf of my kid and others like him, desjardins -- I truly do appreciate that. But I know him. I love him, more than blue skies or chocolate or kittens or freedom. And I've talked to him about whether he wants me to write about him (he says he wishes I would write about him much more often than I do, actually, but I don't trust his judgement at this age so I stay more conservative in my public mentions of him than he says would like). And you don't know my kid or love him and you've never asked him what he wants. So could you try to maybe give me, and other parents like me, some benefit of the doubt here in terms of our thoughtfulness and our intent? We writers who sometimes write about our kids are not all out for profit or fame on the backs of our children.

BTW Rob -- it's great to see you here. Your kid rocks. And I'll hope you'll tell her some random lady on the internet said so.
posted by BlueJae at 11:09 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Your kid rocks. And I'll hope you'll tell her some random lady on the internet said so.

I just told her. Her response? "I know."

I really have created a monster.
posted by rumhud at 3:25 PM on July 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


I just told her. Her response? "I know."

...This does not surprise me in the slightest somehow. (grin)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:33 PM on July 20, 2011


Just an observation, the blog entry and forum post humanfont links to above (re: the supposed godfather and the road trip with Marissa and her stuffed bunny) are nearly three years old; the blog entry has photos of a child who looks to be about four years old, and to not be profoundly disabled. Per the Marissa's Bunny blog timeline, Marissa would have been eleven months old at the time of the road trip.
posted by Scram at 11:10 PM on July 20, 2011


I think that's the godfather's child, referred to as one of Marissa's cousins. He's blogging about dragging the bunny around with his girls.

I could be wrong.
posted by moira at 12:35 AM on July 21, 2011


Thanks, moira. This story is confusing enough, sorry if I added to that.
posted by Scram at 7:29 AM on July 21, 2011


Best wrap-up post yet. With disturbing new details of how Mike had started collecting money for yet another (possibly fictitious) child's neurosurgery, too.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:16 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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