The idea for Humanwire came to me like an epiphany one day while walking on the boardwalk in Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country on the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by Syria and Israel. It’s famous for being “in the middle” of the wars of others. My wife was from Lebanon and her entire family is of Syrian descent. Thus my son is half-Syrian and we visited the region regularly.
So there I was walking by the sea when several kids about three or four years old came running up to me and started begging for money. They looked just like my son though no adults were present, despite being so young. They were all over the boardwalk. They were displaced Syrian children living on the streets. When I gave one of the kids a dollar he immediately started to run. One of the bigger kids caught up to him and started beating him to get the dollar and then ran off with it. Some of the kids chased after him and the rest came running back towards me for more.
If there were any homeless children alone in downtown Boulder where I live they wouldn’t last five minutes before being swooped up and cared for by the town. Yet the people of Beirut are just as capable and caring, how could this be, I wondered?
If you recall, many scholars predicted the Arab Spring would end up in Syria where it would linger, and boil with proxy wars. In the exodus from the Syrian war over the years, Lebanon received more Syrians per capita than any other country in the world and today more than one out of four people in the country are new and displaced. The wars of the region have devastated the Lebanese economy in too many ways to mention and I watched each year as my wife’s family became more affected. The country has such a history of being torn apart, people were not at all fazed by the bomb that exploded across from me in Beirut one day near Horsh park that killed many, or the bomb that went off downtown that destroyed a building on the same block where I parked the day before.
I was told the situation with the kids on the boardwalk was dangerous and people were too afraid to interfere. It’s a real-world Oliver Twist scenario where the children take the money back to their employers (not their parents usually, but others who employ them), and that the activity is common with terrorists and groups from Syria that operate against the government militarily. Though that may be the case for some, I saw children on the streets all around the country everywhere I looked. There are displaced people of all ages everywhere trying to get by with no resources of any kind.
I imagined I could use a tool like GoFundMe to create a campaign for a family in need, raise funds through my network, and then help a family get on their feet and plugged into society, and then I imagined a platform that allowed others to do the same, specifically for displaced people who would otherwise never be found.
Aside from being focused on displacement, the difference between the Humanwire platform and a GoFundMe-like platform is simple: instead of bringing a cause to the platform yourself, the cause is already there waiting to be discovered. Once someone selects a displaced family, they become the host for that family and can use the platform to meet their family over video chat, raise funds, and then order distributions based on what they deem is best for their particular family. Humanwire then acts as a delivery service with a team on the ground to fulfill the orders for products and services generated by each sponsor. The concept removes the charity from the middle and establishes a direct connection between the donor and the recipient.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to host a refugee in your home for a while to help them integrate into your society? In reality, Humanwire is a digital version of this type of support. Instead of bringing someone displaced from another country into your home yourself, which is typically impossible in the U.S., you can help a displaced family where they are.
To begin I spent a few months with my head down in code building the online platform and then I set out to find a partner in Lebanon. After some research, I came across a charity named Lebenese4Refugees in Beirut and they agreed to assist with the idea. I began working with one of their company contractors, Mona Ayoub, a woman who grew up in Lebanon. Mona’s first language is Arabic though she is fluent in English and her willingness to help seemed sincere. She was attending a university and nearing the end of obtaining a master’s in finance.
Mona wanted to live in America, it was her dream. What she wanted, at least, was a way out of Lebanon. This is not an atypical sentiment. The ongoing fighting and political turmoil around Lebanon over the decades caused the majority of the Lebanese people to leave the country. Historically, the main route has been Brazil and interestingly, there are more Lebanese people living in Brazil than Lebanese people living in Lebanon. Brazil has an enormous, supportive community with political power in the country. Mona regularly noted that she was hoping to graduate, get a Brazilian passport, and leave Lebanon.
We located one of the most desolate, forgotten-about camps in the country — a series of mostly cloth tents on farmland on the border with Syria — and we signed up the first twenty-five families, all of who were registered with the UNHCR, and thus were tolerated by the Lebanese government as they awaited return to Syria. Not one of the families wanted to come to America or go anywhere else, they just wanted to go home.
Since I was able to build the site myself the startup costs were extremely modest. My main expense was paying for Mona’s time to fill out forms for the first twenty-five applicants, just a few hundred dollars.
Once the site launched and the first campaigns were taken, as fast as I could add new campaigns, they would get snapped up and donations started growing exponentially. When a new sponsor sent out a notice of their new beneficiary family to their own network, one of those people would become inspired to meet a family themselves and host their own campaign, and then send out a message to their network, and so on. At the camps, after seeing their tent neighbors receive regular deliveries of food, toys, clothes, phones, appliances, and medical care, families began streaming into our office from camps around the region to add their applications.
After selecting a campaign, sponsors used the appointment setter tool to schedule video chats with their families. This is where sponsors established a true bond with their families and learned what kinds of needs their families had.
The business model served the idea well. This was the first time I’ve ever started a business that had a model to generate revenue from day one. This was also the first time I’ve ever started a business that had a model to generate revenue, period. Anytime someone selected an amount to give to a refugee on the site, the system would first take the donor to a new page to consider giving an additional amount to Humanwire to operate on top of the amount they selected. The algorithm made a suggestion of ~10% to 25% of the donation amount to be added on top for Humanwire operations. Each donor had to either accept our suggestion for Humanwire operating expenses, opt out of the suggestion, or add their own custom amount and then approve the final total.
In the screengrab above, you can see how a donor who enters $5 for the Al Dandal family (of which the full $5 would go to that beneficiary), is prompted with an additional suggested fee of $2 for Humanwire operating expenses, bringing their total up from $5 to $7. Donors could edit the amount and leave $0 for Humanwire if they wished, and some did. This mechanism as well as the wording and text as seen above was introduced with the launch of the website and never changed.
Most accepted our suggested fee. The cost to service campaigns was usually not expensive since most were consolidated by location or region and could be serviced efficiently. When it came time to distribute, sponsors logged into their account dashboards and placed orders against their balance, the funds for the orders would be sent to Lebanon, and then we did the deliveries right to the family’s tent, or for example, scheduled hospital and civil appointments and our drivers took the families where they needed to go.
For each delivery order in the system placed by a sponsor, we took photos showing the moment when the goods and services were delivered to the family, and then uploaded the photos and receipts into the ordering system which reconciled the campaign accounting and made the photos and information available for the sponsors. The sponsors then followed up with video chat sessions and their own means of communicating (WhatsApp is the most popular communications app used by Syrians in Lebanon) to stay in touch and grow their relationship.
A month after the site launched and it was clear it was working, I went back to Lebanon to visit the camps on the border, meet beneficiaries, set up partnerships with vendors in Beirut and around Bekaa Valley to service the camps, and in no time at all, I had a floor in a building in El Marj near the camps, a full team with Mona becoming a full-time director, a formal business set up in the U.S., and hundreds of beneficiaries.
Donors and sponsors loved the Humanwire platform which put them in control, and they were delighted to see their direct impact take place in real-time.
Humanwire expanded with incoming opportunities. I began operating the same way in Turkey, first with twenty-five applications from a single person on the ground in Istanbul who could manage twenty-five displaced families to start, then growing a team from there as more people from around the world connected one to one. In a year’s time, I had operations inside of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Malaysia.
After sponsors raised funds and placed orders, while we would attempt to find and obtain virtually any good or service requested by a sponsor, since so many people needed the same kinds of necessities on a regular basis, I programmed what we called the “Go Delivery” system. This enabled not just the sponsor, but anyone in the world to click to buy goods for the beneficiaries on demand.
Because the platform was automated and the teams were tightly organized, I worked directly with each country through a single director at night — for example, Mona in Lebanon — and did business development and customer service with sponsors in the west during the day.
Each morning at 5 AM I left my home in Boulder on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and walked east down Pearl Street towards the dawn with the same recurring visual images in my mind as I arrived at my office above the walking mall. I imagined what life was like in the war zones Humanwire was operating in for the families we sponsored around the world. I was in touch with their day-to-day concerns and their daily routines and the profound similarities and differences to my own life and routines. I walked inspired by the beauty of our pronounced and striking seasons in the place I consider one of the best towns on Earth, a place I choose to call home over all other places. I’m living one of the most comfortable lives in our world today and the extremity in the differences in “fairness” is intense. It would be difficult for anyone to not be constantly aware of their privilege and the dichotomy in this way. The daily stories of what Humanwire families were going through were constantly at the forefront of my mind, a constant reminder of the absurdity of war and the precious and short life we all share here together.
There was a significant risk I always had in mind with regards to building this startup business. I considered it my biggest risk. Everyone I knew in my wife’s family and their friends in Beirut would not travel to the region where I worked when I was in Lebanon because it was too dangerous. They never did. That made me nervous each time I went. I was especially afraid of the videos I saw coming out of the region from terror groups. There are many security risks.
I also felt safe in a strange way, as did many sponsors who came to meet their families.
While most people know very little about the experiences of people fleeing war, the most common story at the time was the plight towards Greece. You have probably seen pictures of the boats and heard of the deaths in the seas. In 2016, less than a year into the startup, I was solicited by Anna Segur, a woman who also lives in Boulder, about expanding into Greece. Along with another group of women, she came by my office to meet one day and asked if I was interested in working with them on some ideas they had in mind.
In return I presented them with two options for working with Humanwire: a) Humanwire could itself expand into Greece and operate there as we did in other countries, as long as they could obtain the first twenty-five campaigns and find us a director who was local to service them, or b) they could build their own business and license a white-label, Humanwire-like platform. The secondary business model was to provide other charities with a platform to help with fundraising and more personalized beneficiary support (more on this below).
Anna followed up to say that she was not interested in starting her own business, and that she was not interested in working with the other women who came by, but that she herself would like to be the temporary director for Greece on a voluntary basis and had connections in the country that she made while on vacation to try and set it up for us.
As it turns out, Syrians who fled to Greece at the time were in a very different situation than people who were displaced in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon where we were already working. Each person who made it ashore in Greece was told they had the right to obtain asylum. They would have little say over which country in Europe they would be sent to, perhaps they would stay in Greece or go to Germany, or France. The conditions where they were housed outside of Athens for the many months during the paperwork were some of the worst conditions in the world. We determined that, unlike the other countries, most people in Greece could benefit from a very specific and comparable, uniform kind of support, including temporary housing, a moment of peace while they waited on their asylum applications (it was too traumatic of a time period for people to work or learn a new language even if they could, we found), and then support in moving from Greece to whatever country they would be assigned to.
Unlike the other campaigns on Humanwire where the sponsor who raises funds mostly decides what the budget will be and how to allocate the raised funds, we created an approximate, flexible budget for each family in Greece based on their timeline in the asylum application process, listed the predetermined goal on the site along with each campaign, and each sponsor raised money to meet our goal, while Humanwire managed the funds and created our own internal orders. The sponsors were purposefully not involved in deciding what and when to distribute in Greece. This was very different from everywhere else where the sponsors were meant to have near-complete control over how their funds were allocated.
The overall plan in Greece was uniform and simple: put each family in an apartment in Athens, pay their bills and food each month, and then pay for their ticket to reach asylum. We used AirBnbs in Athens, month-to-month leases, and many longer leases when the price could be negotiated. We were escaping families out of their wretched and dangerous environments into relative calm and asylum. We called the new Humanwire program “Tent to Home”.
When Humanwire first launched the Tent to Home campaigns the amount of work that was required became disproportionately large. As the temporary director of Greece, Anna was not in Greece, she never traveled to the camps, and she had other unrelated work in Boulder along with her family that required her time. My expectations were low from the start because she was only interested in helping to set up and she was volunteering without pay. I purposefully did not use volunteers anywhere else in the company or in any other country, I paid everyone who worked for Humanwire a competitive wage to help with self-fulfillment for them and consistency and reliability for the company.
Unlike the other countries, the extra amount of work to operate Greece was the impetus for hiring my first employee in Boulder, Jacqueline T. Jacqueline’s first job was to take care of Greece-related work each day and assure that Anna’s work was properly reconciled.
While Jacqueline worked exclusively on Greece and learned the system, I spent that first week on a development sprint that would allow Jacqueline to more efficiently manage Anna until Anna was replaced with a director.
We had orders being executed throughout the day by teams in the various countries where each director would enter in completed orders, including the amount of the spend and photos to prove the spend, and when they hit “Complete”, the system would automatically convert the pending orders to complete, balance the donor’s account, and then send an email to the donor with the updated photos, receipts, and other relevant information. It was so automated, it almost never required my involvement in any of the other countries.
Due to the number of errors being entered in by Anna, the new feature added an extra state for Greece on all orders. It first sent any update from Anna to Jacquline instead of to the donors, Jacqueline would look over the order and make any corrections, and then Jacqueline could change the state to send it back to Anna as a pending order when there was an error, or allow the order to go out to the donors when Jacqueline could fix it or confirm that it was correct. I never confronted or complained to Anna about this, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plan Anna and I had together was to replace her with a director in Greece from the start so I decided instead of asking her to change, I would change the system to accommodate her.
Though Jacqueline was my first major hire in the U.S., I had been assembling an executive team as the majority of the executive work for the company would not be my forte.
I had a Boulder law firm on Pearl Street that was on retainer. They set up the first entity Humanwire LLC and advised on many business matters, including the non-profit setup. I had a formal adviser who was always gracious and willing to meet, a long-time Chief Finance Officer (CFO) of the Boulder-based company, Techstars.
I also brought in my accounting firm from New York to help determine international accounting needs as I had never worked out of other countries in this way.
Working as a team, I put everyone together, heard their excellent advice, and then I decided the startup structure would be comprised of one for-profit business and one non-profit business. The for-profit would own the intellectual property (the computer platform) to license out to other charities for example with the original offer to Anna to white-label the platform for her own charity which she was not interested in, and the charity entity, Humanwire, the refugee platform, would have free use of the intellectual property.
Throughout the first year of operating Humanwire as a for-profit LLC business where it started, most contributions originated from within a sponsor’s network of family and friends in microdonations (for example in small $5 and $25 amounts), and thus the lack of non-profit status and an inability to provide tax-deductions was usually not a deal-breaker for donors. There are many non-monetary benefits to consider keeping a charity as a for-profit, even if as a B-Corp or like-structure.
The impetus that compelled me to want tax deductions and become a non-profit for Humanwire was related to the growing number of requests from large corporate groups that would bring in major support if it could be tax-deductible. We had multiple Fortune 500 companies that wanted to make Humanwire beneficiaries their holiday gift program to promote throughout their companies, encouraging their 1000’s of employees to give for the holiday season, but their corporate terms required that we allow tax-exempt donations.
The end organizational plan then became to set up a second entity and apply for tax exemption, and if-and-when I received it from the government (when you submit an application it can take three to six months typically), and then after the charity became fully set up, the for-profit entity with the intellectual property would become a dormant potential value that I imagined could be useful later down the road. It wasn’t the focus but it was a door I wanted to have open for any demand.
Despite this thinking as a mere future potential, a small seed capital firm in Boulder found out about Humanwire and solicited me to invest in this business model.
There was a lot of discussion around the arms-length relationship between the two companies. I spoke with my advisors and the investors about it at length to assure I felt comfortable with it. Accepted industry practice allows for me to be at the center of both companies, while the for-profit charges the non-profit for use of the intellectual property just as it would any other charity at a competitive market rate, though I was only interested in donating it to Humanwire to use for free, as an example of what could be done. The investors were adamant about establishing a percent that Humanwire the charity would pay, so I was willing to entertain that idea which we decided to leave open until something new and better was built and ready to be offered.
The gist of the initial raise was $370,000 for ~30% share in the for-profit company and we began building what would be a scalable, white-label platform with their local design and development firm. We also began preparing slides to raise a larger round of capital through their investor network.
The investor proposition was simple: provide and support customized, white-label replicas of the platform to charities (I only cared to offer it to other charities, it would not be for regular commercial businesses) in exchange for a relatively small % of each transaction generated through the use of the platform. Beyond the unique feature set there is a lot of room for disruption to drive down the percentage that third parties take from international charities beyond standard credit card gateway fees.
The two new seed investors in the Boulder firm also wanted to be named “co-founders”, though the company structure and significant organic growth had already been demonstrated. You might think of that as a red flag, I did. On the other hand, it was still early, and having two more partners with a lot to add with that level of conviction can be a far greater gain than the loss of a mere vanity title and more shares of a lesser value. A true co-founder status is obviously a lot more of a role than just a seed investor alone. Such a status suggests you are going to roll up your sleeves and put a lot more sweat-equity into it, especially with regards to the business itself, sharing not just in the rewards, but also having a willingness to share in the responsibilities and risks for the business.
There was another detail that initially gave me pause. Their plan to spend the $370,000 was to give almost all of it to themselves, their own local design firm that they owned and worked at full-time. Of the $370,000, and for giving up ~30% of the for-profit business, I only received $20,000, but they received $350,000 into their own firm to manage for their own expenses.
I’ve read quite a bit about seed investment and venture capital and I’ve also interacted with and followed quite a few Silicon Valley-type startup investors but I had never worked with an investor before. In the early days of blogging, I learned a huge amount from investors and entrepreneurs who shared stories and anecdotes for online startup businesses. Though I’m am artist at heart, such a project requires a business structure to do what I want to accomplish at the scale I believe is possible. My motivation for continuing with a deal dependent on their investment into their own company relied on the final outcome which was meant to lead to a worthwhile asset for mine. As for the $20,000 in cash I received personally from the deal, I turned around the same day and deposited it right into the charity business operations to help it grow.
It dawned on me at the time of investment that the role Mona played at Humanwire, even as a paid director in one of many countries, was more like a partner role, actually. The operations we scaled up in Lebanon were large and efficient and she put a lot of effort into it. We had become very close on a day-to-day basis, communicating through email and text throughout the day. I saw her as knowledgeable, sharp, tuned-in, communicative, dependable, and effective.
Bringing on partners, establishing a deeper operating agreement, and moving further towards the charity setup led me to gift Mona 5% of the for-profit company with the investors and a formal operating agreement, shares that would vest for her over a 3-year period, a valuated gift of over $50,000 at the time. She would also get any per-rata distribution as if she was vested during the vesting period. She would also remain an employee of the Humanwire charity and be paid monthly as an employee separately, possibly moving to America if we could obtain a visa, taking on the role of CFO or Executive Director.
Since people are almost never allowed to come to America on a Lebanese passport alone, once Mona obtained her Brazilian passport, she applied for a visitor’s visa to America with her Brazillian passport. She then came to Boulder and celebrated the new partnership. We went to dinner with the new investors and she took some executive meetings. Before returning to Lebanon, I suggested she spend some time in New York City, the true melting pot of America, from where she sent me this message.
Shortly after her visit, in December 2016, we received the letter from the IRS that we were approved for tax-exempt status and that we were legally allowed to provide tax-deductible receipts for donations for the first time. This meant that donations in the past were retroactive to the application date. This was the impetus to start moving operations out of the for-profit and into a newly forming non-profit entity.
Closing out the first year of operating, the biggest lesson I learned about charity business is that there is a “giving season” that can throw your business for a loop if you are not prepared for the ups and downs that surround it. The lesson I learned the hard way is that the week before Thanksgiving, the number of contributions starts going up steeply, with contributions peaking out about a week before Christmas at literally 10X what they would be on a normal month, and then on Christmas eve, within a time frame of just hours, contributions fall off a cliff to almost $0, and then don’t begin picking back up again until February. To operate, I needed to build up staff to handle the 10X activity, but then drop the staff back down after the activity ended, on a single day. The high and low peaks of the year are back-to-back.
Just as I was preparing to wind things down at the end of December after our first year, having learned the lesson fortunately while much smaller, Humanwire sustained a 10X peak right past Christmas and into January and started going up higher into February. We were swooped up by an extended media cycle, fueled by a new president in the U.S. who was quick to set new policies in place that limited immigration and put up bans against travelers from various regions. With a drop-off of support from the United States for people harmed either directly or indirectly by war, many people reacted by coming to the Humanwire platform where they could take matters into their own hands.
Around this time, the investors came back and said that their design firm was changing, and they reduced their enormous staff on Pearl St. down to almost no one. The project was already months behind the agreed-upon, padded schedule. The team we were working with including the senior designer they assigned to us left and while the investors said that they would still move the project forward, they would only have one developer to build it out, instead of a team of developers and designers, and the single developer would also be working on other major projects simultaneously.
I thus decided to renegotiate with the investors. They ended up with just a few shares, we agreed at their suggestion they should move to an investor-only role as opposed to a co-founder role since they were suddenly more busy working on their own business, I took the development project back on, and they were released from delivering on the $350,000 intellectual property. I was still more than happy to have them as investors and we continued forward developing slides for a new round.
Despite the setback, due to the strength of the Humanwire platform as it was, opportunities were incoming at a growing clip.
A sponsor connected us with a marketing firm in Denver, the largest independent brand firm in America. They loved the Humanwire refugee cause and assigned their best talent with a large team to give Humanwire their highest-level client package.
I worked with one of the three official refugee settlement organizations in Denver to provide a free white-label version for their refugee settlement program for people who lived in Colorado. Government funding is not adequate to cover the expense of refugee integration alone. The contract involved 0% to my company, it was donated without any % off the top.
I created a brick-and-mortar school in Lebanon to accommodate the families that had sponsors with no schooling options available called The Butterfly Effect Center. You can read about why and how I booted it up.
While it hurt, Humanwire was absolutely not a first-responder-type of organization. I specifically refused most cases that required urgent care, as we were a startup and I was aware of the dangers that could happen, even accidentally, while trying to manage responsibilities around human lives. Sometimes issues would come up with families and their needs were suddenly urgent so we did our best to help in any way we could. Trying to move money quickly was always the main problem.
When money was held for so long that it would throw us off, I used my personal funds to cover, a method I expected would happen in starting up the company from nothing. There were times when I used money that my wife and I had already set aside, for example, to pay for my son’s preschool in Boulder, knowing that the school was going to charge a late fee, but I communicated with the school and it was worth the fee to help families with more urgent needs while PayPal and Western Union did their checks. The banks were moving so slow and had such tiny daily limits, at times my personal accounts and my own ATM cards became temporary business accounts. I was constantly making payments for services and salaries to get us through, and each time I would try to pay myself back, I would be up against a daily limit, or find myself putting the money right back in the next day to help the company stay afloat. Starting from scratch can take a toll on your personal world to reach your first goals for sustainability.
The method I was using to prioritize available funds was a stop-gap for the period we were in, though it was not going to be a secure method for the long term, and as we moved to set up the charity, we needed to update how we managed funds in our possession. It was a problem that everyone was aware of, as I often noted it was a problem that I was personally responsible for. I wrote numerous times that we would need to fix it with our new charity business setup.
We needed a new feature to track every single donation through the process of its travels, from being acquired by PayPal or Stripe, to being released into our bank account days, weeks, or in some cases months later when held up by OFAC, to being moved to Western Union or any other 3rd party, to being held up by OFAC again, or even returned, to eventually being received at the destination country, to finally being available for sponsors to place an order with the available funds. Having separate campaign funds filled with microdonations all held up in a single batch without knowing which beneficiaries’ funds were being held wasn’t the only mistake I made, tracking the status of each dollar through the banks would resolve other issues too, including failed credit-card transactions and refunds which became a significant problem for our internal accounting, too.
In March 2017, a few months after we were granted our tax-exempt status, I was invited to make Humanwire the topic of a women’s hackathon at Galvanize in Boulder. Over 100 programmers were given four major problems to solve that came out of Humanwire, one being how we could transfer money more efficiently and effectively since it was our biggest technical problem.
Of course, crypto was explored. Transfer fees were (are) still much steeper than other methods like Western Union, and locations and methods in the region to exchange digital to cash in smaller quantities are still rare and less trustworthy, and thus even more expensive. You can transfer crypto to crypto inexpensively but the fees to convert cash to crypto and then convert back to cash are cost-prohibitive. There is likely a solution to a crypto method somewhere, I continue to look for it.
For an immediate resolution, I considered creating multiple kinds of bank accounts, though I settled on a software solution that updates the status of each micro-donation, and thus separates out available funds from funds still making their way or being held up. This would also help donors to see that a delay might not be within the control of the company. A long-term solution included a reserve to cover instant, on-demand ordering.
Throughout this period, when things got tied up, Mona was accommodating with her own salary, as she would offer to defer payment voluntarily. It was gestures like this that contributed to my interest early on in offering her partnership share.
We decided that if we could get a visa she would come to the U.S. to set up the 501c3 and handle the finance for the company. I felt Mona had performed for us in Lebanon and would be great growing into the role. After I regained most of the shares from the investors, I gave Mona an additional 5% sweat-equity value for a total of 10% of the for-profit company value.
With Humanwire I wanted to spend my time developing and designing the platform but I only spent about 10% of my time on it. I would be more content taking that walk into work each day not to run the company but to run the design and development department as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), not Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Becoming CTO is what I defined for myself as a benchmark for success when I first got started and I was attempting to get into that position. I was focused at the time on putting the finance team in place first. I knew I could build the original idea into something, launch it, and spark the momentum, and that’s something I get fulfillment from but I know my ceiling from prior experiences, and when I saw the scale of what Humanwire had become, I began to race more quickly. Bringing on an accountant, a world-class financial advisor, investors, and Mona as a graduate of finance, I was attempting to surround myself with the right people.
After Mona and I began training Layla A.K., our soon-to-be director in Lebanon to replace Mona, a months-long process due to the size of our operations and our school, a significant problem for our beneficiaries in Greece emerged in May.
It became clear that many of the families we were hosting in Greece were off-schedule with their asylum process, and many were being told that future dates had become entirely uncertain. This would mean their funding would run out based on their current expenditures and we worried that many of the sponsors would not want to continue to raise support for them to linger, e.g., to pay for their indefinite, possibly perpetual rent in Greece. Since everyone was in housing when the UNHCR announced the change in the asylum process, we wanted to make a change. We found a program that the UNHCR had booted up in response to the same issue and we worked out a partnership to transfer families out of Humanwire housing and into their UNHCR program.
Anna wrote the following email on May 18, 2017 to me and the Tent to Home team in Greece as a reflection of our recent work:
“The original mission of TTH as Kayra and I envisioned it was to provide short term housing for vulnerable refugee families in camps while their asylum applications were processed and they were transferred out of Greece. Our original target was families that arrived to Greece prior to March 20 2016 and were all eligible to be transferred to another country, it was just a matter of waiting. We really appreciate Andrew’s flexibility in allowing this type of nontraditional campaign to operate on Humanwire platform and believe it has been successful. Through this program we have moved 134 people/31 families out of camps into apartments so far. Currently we are housing 25 families in Athens and we have 2 others in Thessaloniki that receive support as well. This month (May) the first families in our Athens program have actually started to leave off to their other destinations as we originally planned. We have 2 families leaving this week as well as another 3–4 that will be leaving in the next 30 days. We have a large number of single mother reunification cases for Germany that are currently on hold as there is a 70 family per month quota and a queue of 4,000 in line. We are continuing to monitor their status and see what can be done to expedite the process.
However, now the majority of the applications that we receive now are for people who arrived after March 20 2016 and are only eligible for asylum in Greece. Therefore they will need long term housing. I do not feel that Humanwire platform is suited to offer long term housing as sponsors want to commit to a concrete and finite goal, not never-ending support. For this reason, in my opinion it would be best for us to:
– Graduate the families that are already in the program, allowing the relocation/reunification cases to leave and transferring the families that have asylum in Greece to another housing program.
– Transition the Greece program to be more in line with the other Humanwire country operations- launching sponsor managed campaigns to provide specific support and deliveries of items to refugee families. We have a great team of Arabic-English speaking volunteers on the ground that is capable of handling this type of operations.”
Soon after this, Anna said she was tired and wanted to stop volunteering. She said our ability to set up the team in Greece wasn’t going fast enough and she was spending too much of her day-to-day time working on the cases. Since Humanwire was in control of the support and funding instead of the sponsors in most cases, it ended up taking a major effort to manage the families and all their needs in Greece.
As we attempted to phase out Anna and transfer families into the UNHCR housing program, and Jacqueline and I began working more closely with the volunteers on the ground in Greece to transition, Anna became upset with the way we were managing it and tried to get back involved. Suddenly, she started demanding that we keep her informed of all of our activities, though she was just a volunteer and had no such say. She began demanding how the funds should be spent and when funds should be sent, a role she never had control over before.
During a video chat staff meeting that I set up with all the directors from all the countries, the first staff meeting Anna had ever attended (she had not yet met or corresponded with any of the directors or employees from other countries, nor anyone on my finance team including my NY accounting firm, investors, lawyer, or financial advisor), she took over the meeting in her introduction to tell everyone that she was upset with the way Greece was being managed, specifically that money wasn’t going to fill orders the way she wanted, and that she quit. I asked her on the call with everyone to confirm that she was quitting on the spot as I found it surprising since she was in the middle of work that would be left up in the air on that very day. She said on the call with everyone that yes, she quit and that she passes her role onto the director we had on the ground in Athens at the time that we were attempting to onboard.
The next day, she followed up with an email to say that she wanted to be removed from the website and all social media accounts. When Jacqueline attempted to confirm how Humanwire would send funds to Greece since Anna would no longer act as a link, Anna wrote that she had already gone to the bank and removed herself from the Humanwire bank account.
On Wed, Jul 12, 2017 Jacqueline wrote:
Andrew will send through the WU. We would like to have Florence as the point person to coordinate all funds to Greece, and send all funds to Florence via the bank card she has, and via WU when needed. When Florence needs to get funds to another person in Greece, she can then obtain the funds and transfer them. Does that work moving forward?
On Wed, Jul 12, 2017 Anna Segur wrote:
That will not work. Florence can coordinate funds for Athens but we have two families that are 400–600 km outside of Athens (Ali and Banan) that will have to go through Kayra. Kayra would like to get all of Banan’s funds paid out this month and Ali has 2–3 months more of funding. Florence doesn’t leave Athens and doesn’t work with people who leave Athens to go up north.
Please note that Florence’s card will stop working shortly as I have taken myself off the HW account and she has my card. Then Andrew will have to WU to her or figure out an alternative way of doing transfers.
Anna wrote above related to having formally quit without notice her suggestion on how to manage the activity and team in Greece that she imminently left behind, but also that “I have taken myself off the HW account”, however, she had not in fact been removed from the account, her ATM card remained open and she began to take money out of the bank after she quit, secretly for weeks, with the company Humanwire ATM card, all of which was extremely unexpected.
She took thousands of dollars before we could figure out how since her account was canceled. It was difficult for me to presume she was doing it because she was actually trying to steal, I couldn’t help but assume it was some kind of good intention she thought she had but that she was severely confused. Since she wasn’t willing to talk about it, when I wrote to her to cease and desist, she made excuses, writing that she wasn’t using the card, and later writing that she canceled it with the bank and that the bank made an error. Even if it was true that the bank made an error and left the card linked to her account name open, she kept using the Humanwire ATM business card nonetheless, though she no longer worked for the company.
When we saw that our new director in Greece who took over for Anna was able to still use the card, we tried to work with her but unbeknownst to us, she kept using the card under Anna’s direction to withdraw as much as she could, maxing out as much as she could get from the card without waiting for her formal requests to be handled.
Then on July 25th, completely out of the blue with no discussion of any kind, Anna posted to her personal Facebook page that she was in control of all the Humanwire Greece campaigns and that they were no longer with Humanwire! She never asked or hinted that she was interested before. She announced that Tent to Home was part of her new business with her new business partner Kayra, and she posted a link that had a general PayPal account with no terms of service regarding how she would use any funds or to whom anyone was donating to — just generally, to send money to her for anyone and everyone. The announcement that she took over all of Humanwie’s business in Greece was news that I learned about accidentally when I was scrolling a Facebook group page related to displacement in Greece.
Still, all this time trying to communicate with her and take her seriously despite her unwillingness to have any kind of discussion, as I prepared to write up a public announcement that Anna’s Facebook post wasn’t true and that Anna put up the post on her own without speaking to anyone, it dawned on me that perhaps the best solution would be to let her have it. She was creating a huge disruption for me with errors and misunderstandings, and she wasn’t just bullying me, she was treating all of my staff in mean and belittling ways. We would be more effective by reducing the regions we worked in until we were more established. Though, when I offered in a friendly way to let her have Tent to Home she was unwilling to address what assets and money would be involved. She simply refused to discuss it even once over any medium and just went on her merry way attempting to take whatever she decided she wanted.
At this time Anna was still withdrawing funds through Greece from the Wells Fargo bank somehow even though it seemed the card was finally canceled so I created a strategy to stop using the bank account and told my directors that I decided to temporarily divert all incoming funds to a different account so she would not be able to gain access.
After I emailed the director in Greece yet again to ask if she had been taking funds or if someone in Greece had truly stolen the ATM card that the bank was not connecting the dots on, she wrote on July, 28th: “I used the card this morning…Anna, Kayra and I work as a team”…and then she quit, providing a formal resignation letter.
This led me immediately to the nearest Wells Fargo branch to ensure the account was canceled and that Anna would not be able to steal from the business. By the time Wells Fargo and I stopped her, Anna had taken over $10,000 from the account. There is a full report that Mona and I both worked out in detail, signed, and submitted to the Wells Fargo Fraud Department.
Layla, then the full-time director in Lebanon, took on the remaining Greece campaigns after our team-lead in Greece quit. Over the following 48 hours, Layla, whose first language is Arabic, contacted and spoke with every single family in Greece directly and made sure to immediately accommodate anyone who had urgent matters as a result of any disruption from Anna and the loss of a team in Greece. None of the families had any urgent concerns. All of that communication and the details of each family status were thoroughly documented at the time with a long chain of questions-and-answers by Layla in date-tracked Google documents. We were prepared to support anyone even if they did not have a budget. We let each family know that they should contact Layla at any moment with any concerns or requests and we would be there for them.
I tried to understand Anna’s actions since she was not communicative. She only said before she quit that she didn’t agree with the accounting practices and wanted Tent to Home to have its own bank account. But we were moving to update our practices, and I was fine with setting up a separate account. We went to the bank together to set it up. So I assumed the main problem was her lack of familiarity with a grant I obtained for Greece.
One evening, an incredibly generous and selfless man in Denver came across the Humanwire website and felt compelled to donate. He got out his calculator, went through each campaign page sorted by Greece, added up the remainder of all the goals for all of the campaigns, and then emailed me to say that the total was $45,000 and that he would write a check for $45,000 so that everyone could get into an apartment immediately without waiting for the sponsors to finish up their fundraising.
We did that immediately and as sponsors continued to raise funds for their campaigns, we worked with the donor to replenish and reallocate his grant to other areas of Humanwire. Anna was not involved in any executive decisions regarding the grant, the allocations, or replenishments, and she was unaware of who the donor was or how funds were allocated and reallocated, but only knew that it was internally called “The Denver Fund”, and that she could make requests for distributions which I almost always approved.
I should point out that Anna was never once from day one in a position to withdraw or order money without explicit, written, systematic approval. Each time money was requested for Greece, or any country, an order was placed by the director or designated on-the-ground team member by logging into the online ticket system, filling out a form with the exact amount of the request and date-of-need, and then the order would go into a pending queue until the request was formally approved. One of my daily tasks was to log in and approve or manage every single request ticket in the system from every director for every distribution for every country. This was a universal process. But suddenly, after she quit, she started to take money — tax-exempt donations in this case — on her own, without telling anyone. Even if she once had the authority to take company funds from the company bank account without approval (this never happened but even if she once had that authority), she can not quit the company and start taking charity donations from the company with the company card.
There is no controversy here. Even if you justify it to yourself, or see yourself as Robinhood, you can not quit a company, then use the company card to withdraw $10,000 after you quit, especially when you tell the company that you removed yourself from the bank, when you never had the right to withdraw money without approval in the first place. And when the company tells you to cease and desist, and you go on and on to withdraw money from the company bank card, it’s straightforward criminal theft.
In Colorado theft of more than $1000 but less than $20,000 is a class 4 felony (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18–4–401(2)) holding a sentence of between two and six years imprisonment, with parole for a minimum of three years, plus a fine of up to $500,000. ( § 18–1.3–401(V)(A).)
I have no interest in filing any claims though I wish to emphasize this point in no uncertain terms. The manner and method of how the funds would be distributed in Greece for campaigns, as noted above, was different than other countries and it was up to Humanwire to decide how it would go, not Anna, and in the majority of cases, not the sponsors. With the exception of a few cases that were set up like traditional Humanwire campaigns, Humanwire had the right to determine the service plan and individual distributions on our own for almost all of the campaigns, as the sponsors clearly knew when they signed up for the predetermined goal amounts set by Humanwire for the particular campaigns in Greece.
We welcomed those sponsors who did want to do more than the flexible plan they signed up to raise money for and some did contribute and connect with their families way beyond what was sparked up by the platform, though with those few exceptions, donor funds contributed to Greece campaigns were specifically managed with usage determined by Humanwire, as Anna confirms in her email above in reflecting on the success of our work just before she quit. As this was a written, transparent, and daily practice, where Anna herself often proposed significant budget changes to campaigns that involved operating costs, material changes in budgets and plans for families, the funds that she took on her own after she quit were not part of any obligation to individual donors or any particular beneficiaries when she took them.
I had recently explained to Anna what I discovered in the process of setting up a charity ahead of Mona’s arrival, as detailed above: the method I was using to prioritize available funds was not going to be a valid method for running a non-profit charity and as we moved to set up, we needed to update how we managed funds in our possession. Considering the important prioritizations all of us at Humanwire were working on together as a team on behalf of the families to mitigate this problem which I created (a managerial mistake that I took responsibility and accountability for), while she may have been confused about what was obliged, she was acutely aware that the donations she was taking were not designated for families in Greece, she was aware of the fact that the majority of the funds she was demanding were not imminent (as seen for example in her email above to Jacqueline), and she was completely unwilling to have a discussion about it with anyone even once.
Specifically, around that time many orders had been placed by children in Illinois from a school-wide fundraiser for families in Turkey and Lebanon. It was one of the most disappointing outcomes. It wasn’t a life or death matter (there were never any life or death matters caused by Humanwire, it was the opposite), yet it was so important to me that those kids have a positive, new kind of charity experience and I failed miserably as a result of not securing the company from this type of external disruption. All of their funds were returned to them but now they are probably turned off for life and their family connections with people in Turkey and Lebanon have vaporized.
At the time Anna was taking funds from the bank there was a family in Lebanon attempting to get their own startup business off the ground that became affected and there was a setback for several Yazidi families in Iraq who had been persecuted in broad daylight. The sponsor of the families in Iraq could have gotten the funds she raised from her own network to the families on her own, but she was inspired by Humanwire’s toolset and those families ended up getting their funds caught up in this disruption before being returned back to the sponsor.
When Anna left, there also remained thousands of dollars in unaccounted for deposits on apartments in Greece she managed, and bills of thousands in claims on apartments where the families left the apartments a mess but Anna never alerted us to these expenses until she was quitting and never accounted for any of these losses in her tallies for a total of over $20,000 in losses from Anna’s actions. It’s unclear what she did with the thousands of dollars in housing deposits that were never returned to us, the greater portion of the $10,000+ in funds that she took directly from the account after she quit, and the funds she raised from our donors onto her own PayPal account (more on this below).
But the very same day that Wells Fargo and I worked together to finally stop her, the same day she was attempting to withdraw more funds, I got a letter from her lawyer demanding that I hand over an enormous amount of money to her or face harsh consequences.
We are attorneys for the class (“Class”) of Tent to Home beneficiaries that are the lawful owners of certain unlawfully withheld funds (“Withheld Funds”) now under your custody and control. Moreover, we also represent Anna Segur and Kayra [redacted], designated agents (collectively “Agents”) for the Class.
As you are aware, the Withheld Funds were earmarked by third-party donors for conveyance to the Class. As you may not be aware, but may not evade legal responsibility for, the Withheld Funds were conditionally proffered to you by such donors (“Donors”) in reliance that you would quickly and fully fulfill your fiduciary duty to the Class, i.e., promptly facilitate the lawful transfer of the designated money in full. Having carefully reviewed the surrounding email correspondence and supporting written records in this matter, by your own express admission, that has not happened.
An accounting of the Withheld Funds reveals they comprise not less than $37,756; or $27,185 pule $10,571 from the Denver Fund and funded campaigns, respectively. Both Humanwire, and you individually, are jointly and severally liable in full for the Withheld Funds. Upon information and belief, such liability does not appear to be limited solely to civil remedies…
Notwithstanding the foregoing, a non-litigious resolution may still be possible. In exchange for $25,000 consideration, to be paid by Humanwire and/or yourself in full no later than Thursday, August 3, 2017, our Clients would forego taking further action and otherwise release Humanwire from such claims.
In the letter above, Anna and her new business partner were making a claim for charity funds that amounted to almost $40,000 (according to Anna) but stated that they were willing to take a cool $25,000 on their own if I walked away from what you can see is further action involving a criminal complaint against me personally. The letter ended with “release Humanwire from such claims”. So I asked him, because there is no legalese or accounting with this letter, “What claims?”
Anna had never put in any money, she was a volunteer who quit and took over $10,000 unauthorized, she tried to take away all the business activity in Greece, so what claims could she and her new business partner possibly have, I wondered? He never explained why a volunteer should be in a position to make such a demand, he never presented any information related to what they planned to do with the money, or how it was that he came to legally represent all of the Humanwire refugees in Greece, or how he came to be in charge of representing negotiations for each donor who gave a charity donation as if they would each be fine with his offer to take just a fraction, how he came up with a number in the first place, how he came up with a settlement number, or how he arrived at their numbers at all. When I tried to call the lawyer on the phone to ask, he refused to speak about it with me and literally hung up.
When I visited his website to look more closely, I noticed he has the following text in all caps: ROBERT ENJOYED AN IDYLLIC CHILDHOOD IN NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND WHERE HE DISPLAYED UNUSUAL PROMISE FOR THROWING SNOWBALLS AT CARS. AS AN ADULT, HE HAS SUCCESSFULLY CHANNELED HIS GIFT OF AGGRESSION INTO CIVIL LITIGATION.
And if you wish to contact him directly from the site, the default subject line for his email was “I’M IN IT TO WIN IT”, also all caps.
Something else that stood out for me was a notice in the footer of his emails:
So that there is no confusion whatsoever on this issue, please be advised that any explanation(s) or rationalization of the recent irregularities involving Humanwire funds you have proffered are rejected in their entirety and are wholly at odds with the governing laws and instant facts. There is zero room to persuade us that your conduct may be explained away or was otherwise justified, permissible or sanctioned by law. We have also advised our client of this accordingly.
Since we must agree to disagree, this matter will now quickly resolve itself in one of two ways. The choice of which is up to you:
A. Make full restitution in the amount of $74,000 no later than 3 pm CST this Friday, August 11th. If you do so, standard non-disclosure and non-disparagement terms would attach. You would then formally separate yourself from Humanwire and move on; or,
B. Imminently face the full range of legal consequences, causes of action and unwelcome attention you have opened yourself up to. You should expect these to include, but not be limited to, both civil and criminal complaints.
If you prefer to take your chances on option B, it is difficult for me to overstate the seriousness and lasting consequence that may attach to your reputation and livelihood in doing so.
Now Anna’s demand had gone from exactly $37,756 (a very specific number to a dollar amount) with a demand to provide her with $25,000 for her own self, all the way up to $74,000, now twice the original claim and triple her first settlement offer, with no explanation as to why, now including not just Tent to Home but all of Humanwire — the entire company that I would just “formally separate” myself from. Anna would then take over as the new business owner, including taking charge of managing my staff, my business partnerships around the world, and presumably sitting in my own office chair on Pearl Street where she could pay herself a salary from my operations.
Also, in this second demand, he was no longer representing all of the refugees, nor Kayra anymore, but only representing Anna in what he clarified was a civil remedy for Anna specifically to obtain $74,000 and control of the entire Humanwire company, along with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in exchange for not alerting authorities or anyone else to the what she and her lawyer had done.
It would be difficult to make the assertion that Anna was acting as a whistleblower. A whistleblower does not make these kinds of demands, e.g. asking for 50% deals on charity funds for their own personal control as a past volunteer. And when rejected, the whistleblower would not come back and double the amount of their claim and demand to take over operations of the entire company while seeking an NDA. Certainly, a whistleblower would not take funds themselves unauthorized from a company after they left.
I discussed her legal letters with my lawyer, and I showed them to two other lawyers in Boulder through formal consultations to get well-rounded opinions due to the severity of Anna’s actions. “That looks like criminal extortion”, I kept hearing. Usually, when I ask lawyers for opinions they tend to be vague about making a definitive analysis about anything “Well, you never know”, they would more likely say. But you can see for yourself, and make your own determination. There was a straightforward threat to make a criminal complaint unless I provide Anna with $74,000 and the entire company within a matter of hours after I refused her $25,000 settlement offer. She clearly indicated that if I did make the payment of $74,000 to her personally, and if I gave her the whole company, I would be cleared to walk away from the harsh criminal threats that she was ready to open up, with an NDA to prevent me from ever talking in public about why she ended up in control of my company. There is no discrepancy here in my mind, it’s clear and distinct:
In Colorado, criminal extortion is the act of threatening someone with a criminal complaint and then providing an offer to withhold the complaint for any amount of self-enrichment and is often used as a threat to gain leverage in a civil matter. In this first threat, Anna sought to gain $25,000 plus all of the Tent to Home assets, and in the second threat, she demanded $74,000 and the entire Humanwire company. Each count of criminal extortion in Colorado is a class 4 felony punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 6 years and fines up to $500,000.
I’ve had people try to extort from me before and I’ve been extorted before. Now here was what appears to be an extortion event for the entire Humanwire business, plus $74,000 in cash without a single sentence of an explanation on why.
I’ve never read much about usurping and extortion being a popular topic of concern within business startups however it’s a rampant problem. Ask me about my experience at Rocketboom, which was exponentially more valuable to the many people who attempted to take from it. When you create something of value, there are various thresholds that bring on regular types of strife and extortion is one of the most popular I’ve seen in my life. This was the first time I had seen what looks like criminal extortion.
Though the email thread above ended in August after Anna quit and serves the purpose of illuminating that Anna did not have accurate accounting and that she was apparently phishing private charity data from Humanwire’s private user accounts, it appears Anna had this donor send money directly to Anna’s personal PayPal account all the way back on June 23, before Anna quit, a detail I just discovered now when looking more closely in creating this report. It seems Anna was telling donors to send money directly to her and to bypass the company, even before she quit as a volunteer. The email thread above appears to show that while Anna was working at Humanwire, and before she mentioned to the company that she was preparing to quit, she was redirecting campaign funds from donors directly to her own personal PayPal account without informing the donors that she was working on her own. If this is true, that she was soliciting our donors as a volunteer while working at Humanwire (the donor appears specifically unaware and concerned about it) this might be considered severe criminal activity too, both in and of itself and in further support of premeditated theft and extortion posed above. Furthermore, the donor would look to Humanwire to find out why their donation was not recorded in their campaign record, and hold Humanwire accountable for this money which Anna would have spent herself, without a record of any orders placed by Humanwire or the donor.
I wonder what happened to this donation and any other money she raised from our donors into her own personal PayPal account secretly before she quit.
In Colorado, person commits charitable fraud if she solicits any contribution and, in aid of or in the course of such solicitation, utilizes the name or symbol of another person or organization without written authorization from such person or organization for such use, a Class 5 Felony with one to two years in jail plus one year of parole.
In terms of the ongoing attacks, Anna rallied a man named Justin Hilton to join her, and they collaborated to become extremely aggressive in public and private with a narrative that money for Greece was missing, according to her own personal spreadsheets of all things.
Justin Hilton first emailed me one day to introduce himself in a way that led me to believe he was from the famous Hilton Hotel family. He said he had been donating through Humanwire, loved the concept, and that he wanted to fund a building for Humanwire in Istanbul to be used as a hotel-like shelter, and in the signature of his email he wrote “Justin Hilton, Hilton Properties”. After connecting with him and hearing about his big ideas for development, something didn’t seem right about how he represented himself, and I had to do research to learn that he and his company were not actually associated with the famous Hilton family of the Hilton Hotel brand of properties. In fact, he later told me nonchalantly that he was convicted of forgery for having interfered with a real estate purchase. Hilton wrote in an unsolicited email to me with his defense to the forgery claim:
Probation is a process that happens after someone is convicted of a crime and found to be guilty.
He stated, “On your side” with regards to the claims Anna had been making about missing money but he also had no facts. They began using my report against me to say that my method of storing funds was part of a criminal plan to steal from refugees.
Hilton actually traveled to Turkey and instilled fear in my staff by telling them that they should consider quitting or else they could be charged with criminal conspiracy and that they were each personally at risk.
Justin’s threat to Mona in particular frightened her for her own safety. Mona had already arrived in the U.S. on her visitor’s visa with her Brazilian passport.
As a result of this hostile message, and the discovery that Anna may have gone as far as actually filing a complaint, I wrote Mona a formal letter stating that I take 100% responsibility for any claims they or anyone may have about the accounting. This is an important letter below to understand and remember for this story, as you will soon see:
There is also a second time they hit Mona with this threat. I wrote formally to Mona twice that I take 100% responsibility for any claims they have, hoping to help reduce any fear they were intentionally trying to instill in her. They went out to hit everyone from my staff.
They were threatening many people to be afraid that they would be convicted, but not because of any evidence that those people were guilty of a crime.
Their strategy had apparently become to instigate a criminal investigation for fraud, and then immediately begin telling people that I was under investigation for fraud. Here is an example of the kind of language Justin sent to me in personal emails:
“Hey Andrew — just want to be clear that I am being strident not only because many vulnerable lives will be profoundly affected by your actions over the next few days but also because I recognize that you have good intentions but are a little clueless on how vulnerable you are personally in this situation …This is the kind of case the FBI loves because it garners a lot of positive press for them ,Rich Tech guy sets up a charity , gets donations for refugee families and pockets the money “ that is the story that will be told to the public, jury and judge….
In his email, he seemed to be advising me based on his own criminal experience related to the forgery case he described to me above.
I noticed some people seemed to be attracted to Humanwire to help others as a means of helping themselves, though the majority of contributors to Humanwire were incredibly supportive, understanding, easy to work with, and they had a sincere desire to communicate, and help make it all work for the world. The threats from Anna and Justin to jail everyone, take over assets and control, and not provide any coherent or consistent rationale, combined with a clear lack of empathy for so many people involved did not seem to me to be born from the hearts of humanitarians. Even after the experience that Hilton went through himself, which left him on probation, he still felt compelled to cause incarceration for people he thinks “have good intentions but are a little clueless”. On August 27, 2017, Justin wrote to me in an email:
“Law enforcement has already requested information regarding funds not forwarded to the intended recipients. As you know better than any of us , the case against you already has you on the path to an orange jump suit.”
In another email that day he wrote:
“We both know that there are active investigations that will result in indictments against you and possibly Mona. Your deception has not worked on your staff and certainly it will not work on law enforcement. I have no power to put you in Jail , i am just another person you lied to and stole from. Only you have the power to end your freedom and you are doing an excellent job of it . You may have sealed your fate at this point , if there is a way to slow things down or face less severe consequences of course that way is stop lying and covering and begin paying back the money you took from the refugees .”
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I became startled by alerts going off from Facebook groups that Humanwire belonged to. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing…Both Anna and Justin would go through social media groups, copy-and-pasting the most harmful statements, one after another in rapid-fire succession in every group we belonged to.
They were relentless in contacting hosts and donors behind the scenes to spread their words through our network of donors. I was alerted that Anna was contacting people privately on Instant Messenger who were random strangers to her but she noticed on Facebook they had something positive to say about Humanwire, so she reached out to them to warn them I was under investigation for theft acting as if she had privileged insight as a whistleblower. I heard from one donor that once the donor simply questioned Anna in a non-confronting manner, Anna immediately blocked her without engaging in a conversation about it. Anna was everywhere on the internet to tell everyone that I was a liar and a thief leaving a wake of harmful comments behind.
In Colorado, certain untrue statements are so harmful that Colorado deems them to be harmful as a matter of law, per se, including the untrue statement that a person committed a crime. The state recognizes harm to people in three main ways, as a result of the defamation. Special Damages: These are damages to the person’s trade, property, business, profession, or occupation. General Damages: These include less easily defined damages based on a person’s lost reputation, shame, pain and suffering. Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for her actions.
The damage had by now far outdone the preemptive costs so Mona and I began looking for a specialty lawyer in Boulder to stop them. I made the terrible mistake of trying to rationalize with Anna and Justin and my own words dug deeper holes which they extracted and misconstrued. They were so outrageous in their actions, the feedback I had from others along with my own experience presumed that they would eventually burn themselves out and that people were not taking them seriously.
Justin Hilton’s language to me and people publically on our own Facebook page was so intense, he was the first and only person we ever had to ban from the Humanwire platform. It was such a monumental moment to have to ban someone, I involved all of my staff from around the world to provide feedback, edits, and rationale. Though Anna and Justin did a great deal of internal damage, they were unable to have a significant effect in the public sphere as their claims were not only ruthless and mean, they were never backed by any examples or facts. After Justin was blocked, there was a period of calm and I thought we had finally endured their harassment. I got word from my director in Turkey that he had been contacted by an investigator looking for records, but before he was able to gather them up and send them, he got a notice again that the investigation was called off and the request for records was canceled.
Then in September, I received a call from a reporter at The Denver Post named Christopher Osher. He said he was going to write a story that essentially amounted to what he had heard from Anna and Justin. I was actually relieved at first because I thought this would quickly end their bullying, once a reputable investigative journalist had a look at what was really going on.
I invited him over to the office and completely opened up. Osher recorded the entire interview with his recorder on the desk. I had the letters printed out from Anna’s lawyer, the theft report that Mona and I sent to Wells Fargo, and I was prepared to open up any evidence he wanted to see to verify my statements or respond to hers. Mona had already arrived and was in the office too, but was not asked any questions for the interview. He left that day with a massive smirk on his face and I told Mona that I thought the smirk was because he realized Anna was not telling the truth. I assumed the reason he opted not to look at any financial records, bank statements, reports, system records, or emails was that he saw Anna’s story was far-fetched and that now he realized it was a non-story. That ended up being a bad take.
When the story came out, my first thought was a state of disbelief. It was a one-sided feature that relied entirely on the claims and quotes of Anna and Justin and portrayed a conclusion that any reader would make that I was stealing donations meant for refugees while carelessly and recklessly leaving them to suffer. Osher had already indicated that the story was going to involve Anna and her claims, though what took me aback was that the story made no mention of any of my allegations about them, for example he made no mention of my allegations of Anna’s theft and no mention of my allegations of extortion with her letters and other activity. He didn’t even mention that I had any allegations for any of them, let alone detail them. He also made no mention that all of his sources were connected, and most were part of the same new business venture sharing resources together that they took from Humanwire.
I was also taken aback because he misrepresented the particular families he profiled and the material facts as if he never spoke to them or me about them. At the very least, had he mentioned my allegations in the story, the story would not have been as effective in empowering Anna and Justin’s public voice in our conflict, and it could have allowed the reader the benefit of scrutinizing their roles as well. Instead, it was a trophy for Anna and Justin to hold up and say, as the newly minted authorities on all things Humanwire, that they were right all along, and that they are the hero whistleblowers for going after Humanwire and bringing me down.
They found what society considers to be a professional investigative journalist to tell their story. There is no other conclusion the reader could make from the story except that I was a thief who stole from refugees and that Anna and Justin, along with this reporter, were whistleblowing the inevitable truth.
A Boulder CU engineering professor who loved Humanwire and visited the camps twice with his own family to provide workshops and courses for displaced families in Bekaa wrote “Sorry to hear about defamation in Denver Post”. I contacted the editors at the Denver Post in an attempt to escalate my concerns which led nowhere. I was disappointed in myself for letting this happen and knew it would significantly harm our efforts.
With Mona in the U.S., we had three primary objectives at the time aside from legal consultations to get Anna to stop her ongoing harassment.
Mona was provided complete and full access to all records, including the online system records, all bank accounts, receipts, and financial records, and her job was to reconcile the first set of books for the companies in time for our first tax report, 2) we were conducting a fundraiser for Humanwire operating costs and obtaining leaders for the new non-profit board, and 3) we wanted to obtain a visa for Mona that would allow her to work and live in the U.S. so she could act as a director of the non-profit.
Mona had successfully managed to get to the U.S. without the need of me or the Humanwire company as a result of her Brazilian passport and a B1 visitor visa, the same visa she came to the U.S. on the first time. But Mona was not allowed to work in the U.S. for pay under a B1. Even though she was a partner in the company, there was no way to use a B1 visa for her to earn a salary of any kind (she could only take a few types of very specific contractual meetings as a Humanwire partner) and no way for her to work as an employee or contractor even if the company wanted to pay her for her time.
In the below email from Mona, she was responding to my question about her working in the U.S. since she had come to put together our accounting. She said she couldn’t work for a salary in the U.S. until she obtained a different kind of visa, and then said that she was also not allowed to work without a salary. I found it odd that she could not spend hours while she was here working on her own company, though it turned out to be true I learned. A visitor on a B1 Visa can be here but they can not perform any kind of work for their own company and they can not earn any kind of pay.
I’ve sponsored two international workers in the past with my company Rocketboom so I was somewhat familiar with the process of obtaining a visa. We found an immigration lawyer in Denver and after a paid consultation and a series of questions and back-n-forths, on Oct 31, it seemed we had everything we needed (including converting our legal status in Lebanon from a legal umbrella to a branch/affiliate designation) to meet requirements for an L-1 visa and would likely get it. The L-1 visa would have applied for Mona as an intracompany transferee who worked in an executive position in a company located outside of the United States. No guarantee until we tried, but after the lawyer clarified we met the requirements and that obtaining the visa was very plausible within as soon as 30 days, I wrote to Mona with the good news and that we should move forward with it:
Instead of the expected celebratory response email that we found a way for her to live and work in America, the next day Mona wrote in with an elaborate resignation letter and a demand for ~$20,000 in salary and expenses, including $6000 for the months she had been in the U.S., even though the U.S. forbids her from claiming a wage during this period.
When I tried to put myself in Mona’s shoes at the time, as she was quitting on the first of the month, with a resignation letter that must have taken some time to put together, even in the face of a probable visa to live and work in the U.S., it seemed she was quitting because it looked like the company was no longer going to work, which would be a fair assessment, due to the public abuse from Anna and Justin fueled by their Denver Post story.
When Mona sent in her resignation letter on the 1st of November, now in the U.S. without any significant funds and no way to work — she wasn’t even allowed to look for work under the terms of her visa — I felt pretty bad for her.
I contacted one of Mona’s best friends, Ayman, the donor that gave among the most to Humanwire, a donor from the United Arab Emirates that I know Mona had a special friendship with:
When it comes to paying workers, as an employer, no matter who you have working for you, even if they are not allowed to earn a wage in the U.S. legally, there is a moral responsibility to pay them for any work that they did in fact do. When she sent me a debt document with her claims for back salary including $2000 per month for work during each of these months she was not allowed to claim, I felt it was fair that I pay as she did work throughout that period. I also said that I would personally guarantee it.
A personal guarantee is what I do for anyone when I’m working on a startup business that I’m in charge of. A couple of others had just left without their final paychecks as the company had crashed so badly by this point, and I personally guaranteed their final checks as well without them asking. In her debt document and resignation letter, however, she made no mention of forfeiting her partner shares. The equity, though realizable as if already vested for important distribution events, included a term that she can’t quit and walk away from the company and keep her shares before working for three years. So I sent it back with the updated language and added the typical NDA and personal guarantee.
She replied in an angry manner and seemed unprepared to give up her shares. She also said she refused the timeline to pay back the debt, which didn’t make sense because she was the one who proposed the timeline.
Though I would prefer to have her forfeiture of shares in writing, for I had been down this path before in a prior company and can tell you it is always best to get it in writing even if it is inferred, I had what I needed, so when she escalated her anger and suddenly threatened to sue, I wrote that I would sign her debt document however she wanted without any changes but oddly, she refused. I invited her to work it out with my lawyer if she didn’t want to work it out with me directly to get her debt document completed. It was as if she never actually wanted to sign it which didn’t make sense at the time.
Once she didn’t receive the first $10,000 of the $20,000 she demanded by the morning of November 9th, just nine days after she quit and demanded it for the first time, she took to Facebook, the final nail in the coffin for me and Humanwire.
When I first read this, thinking about the long road ahead for me to rebuild from scratch, I thought again, it didn’t make sense. Primarily because she knew we were still waiting on our Western Union statements to show where most of the cash in the company had gone, and that the number she came up with was not honest to the accounting she turned in.
I could understand why she would quit and make demands for salary, but the things she said in her Facebook post above were related to the misconception about how we generate operating funds which was misconstrued by The Denver Post, but not an accusation any donor ever made to us on their own, and she was aware of how Humanwire generated operating funds way before this point, even providing regular written advice about it.
When Mona left, and I began working directly with the professional bookkeeping firm in Boulder she had been provided, they emailed to say that the work that she did was 90% incomplete. On November 8, over a week after Mona quit, and one day before posting the above Facebook message that ended Humanwire, the bookkeeping firm wrote: “you have not provided documentation for over 90% of the outflows.” The main areas that still needed reconciliation, according to the bookkeeping firm, included “All foreign ATM withdrawals” (which would include the majority of the money Mona received), and “all withdrawals made in branches/stores” which required our Western Union report.
At the time Mona left, among other records she was still putting together, we were waiting on Western Union to provide a statement of all the transactions they had in their records. Western Union charges a hefty fee for using a credit card online versus paying with cash in-person so most of the Western Union transactions that were sent from Boulder to other countries required going to the bank, withdrawing cash from a teller, and then taking the cash to a Western Union branch. All perfectly tracked. But due to the cash exchange, we relied on the Western Union report to prove a massive bulk of fund allocation for our records. Without it, it would appear as if I was going to the bank almost daily to withdraw cash, but then there would be no more record of what happened to the cash as if the paper trail ended with the cash in my pocket.
Though the intra-account transfers and expenditures on the various accounts could look suspicious to anyone at first sight, she understood as the accountant the rationale behind it all, almost always a result of going with lower fees, daily cash withdraw limits, withheld funds, daily visa/atm card limits, business banking limitations, and generally not having an effective enough banking system which we were organizing and working on. It was one of the problems that I was inspired by because it’s a technical problem that almost all international charities have.
She knew I was not hiding anything from her, as we both worked tirelessly to obtain the documents from Western Union, dependent on them to provide it. She was on the phone with them trying to obtain the records too. So to say I was a thief instead of saying that we were still waiting on the Western Union document is quite a different story. She gave up waiting based on her own timeline related to quitting, so she never got to the bottom of 90% of the accounting.
According to her own accounting, a total of only $49,276.55 had been sent through Western Union, based only on paper receipts she had, however, the actual total sent through Western Union over that same period, including all dates prior to October 1, 2017, a month before she quit, was $142,311.17. That’s one simple document provided by Western Union.
Mona also didn’t reconcile intra-account transfers, incorrectly applying tens of thousands to her incoming donation column. Had she worked with the bookkeeper to conclude the books instead of leaving on an unrelated timeline, her books would have balanced simply.
Mona was a “face” of Humanwire and it was very harmful when she took to the public because she stated definitively, as a matter of fact, that I “stole over $100,000” and she did so acting as the authority of the accountant who stated she saw it herself. Until this writing, I’ve never responded publically to her claims or anyone else who continued with them from the date of her posting.
After Mona quit, and her timeline to make full payment passed, she went on a rampage, following in Anna and Justin’s footsteps, repeating what she saw as working for them.
The first thing she did was what Anna did with the Wells Fargo Bank account, even after she helped fight against the activity when Anna did it. She had a Humanwire company ATM card that we gave to Layla in Lebanon and she commanded Layla to start withdrawing as much as she possibly could each day, without telling me. Layla was allowed to take orders directly from Mona so that was not out of the ordinary for her, but Mona was not allowed to take money without it being confirmed in writing by me. Mona wrote to Layla (I later found) to distribute as much money as she could to pay for Mona’s back salary, even disregarding overdraft fees and the refugees in actual need. Though Mona was the accountant and had been a director in Lebanon, like Anna and everyone else in the company, she was not authorized to take money from the account unless pre-approved. Having just gone through this with Anna, I knew to immediately rush to the bank and cancel the ATM card at soon as I found out and worked with Layla directly to reconcile the several thousand dollars that Mona did take from the company after she quit.
In addition to the Facebook message, and the withdraw of thousands of dollars, Mona took over the entire Humanwire Instagram account and changed the password. She went to the Wikipedia article on me and added her allegations all over the article, and then tried to create a new Wikipedia article for herself as a musical pop star (her article was not approved apparently but I was surprised as she had never shared this type of interest with me as a serious one), and she tried to shut down our ability to operate in Lebanon. The following is a note she sent to the entire staff in Lebanon she once directed, again following in the footsteps of what worked for Anna and Justin by threatening everyone to quit, or else:
I thought Mona had a good relationship with the team in Lebanon, and I had a close relationship with the team members in Lebanon myself, but as it turns out, according to every staff member in Lebanon I spoke to about this, Mona was even more aggressive than Anna, with almost every staff member — and also to our displaced families — on a day to day basis, such that multiple people said they were too afraid to say anything to me due to her threats of retaliation.
To hear that Mona yelled at the staff daily, all day, and made threats to them, and even yelled regularly at the actual beneficiaries was heartbreaking and hard to fit in with the reality of what I saw because each day I saw her being very kind to me, smart, organized, and efficient. Such an international workforce demands a quality method for people to feel safe to anonymously report concerns as part of the feature set.
Humanwire also had a very tight relationship with the Lebanese Army. We allowed them to track us so that they could be aware of our activity and whereabouts, and they provided us with a layer of security for our staff. We notified them anytime our staff went onto a camp and then again when they came off a camp, and we could call upon them anytime for a response if needed. Mona called the Army and told them Humanwire should not be allowed to operate because I was a thief, but luckily to no avail. In fact, the contract to operate in Lebanon was in my name too, and the group in Lebanon agreed to allow us to continue, even after Mona’s threats above.
Back in the U.S., just after she quit, I was contacted by a detective for the police in Boulder who had now spoken with both Anna and Mona and read the writing from the Denver Post. The detective asked me to come in for a discussion about it.
A lawyer in my family who knew nothing about my situation knew enough to advise me not to go in and speak with any detective, not even with a lawyer. They said that based on formula, the purpose of the meeting would not be for me to go in and change the detective’s mind but for the detective to get me to unwittingly self-incriminate, a final step in their investigation before sending the case to the District Attorney with a recommendation to prosecute. I also learned that in certain situations it can be legal for a detective to lie to you. That is very scary, Google it. I was also advised that, as part of the inevitable process of being under a criminal investigation and being called in by a detective to discuss it, as soon as I refused to meet, the next step would likely be a physical arrest.
When I took a couple of consultations with criminal defense attorneys, a type of lawyer I’ve never had to call before, they also indicated that no one should go in for this stage of the process — they said I was late in the process of hiring a lawyer to pursue a better strategy of working directly with the District Attorney — and confirmed that it would probably be a matter of formulaic time before I would be arrested. It was a Catch-22. I could not explain what was going on, and if I didn’t, I would be arrested.
The firm I was referred to through my non profit lawyer was Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher in Denver and they agreed to represent me through the arrest, but after that, they would need a retainer that would be difficult to afford. I was way over my head.
My family held the bond money and had it ready to go assuming the police would come, and then they did. Two Boulder police officers came to my house in a car on November 15th and told me I was under arrest.
Though I was released four hours later after $1000 was posted, it felt like an eternity and it was definitely scary, but it wasn’t until I got home and read a copy of what they had charged me with that caused a type of sinking feeling I will never forget, due to the severity of the types of sentences that were being issued for such charges. I faced twelve years in jail.
This means something very different to me now than it did prior to going through this experience. When I would read news stories about people being sentenced, or threatened by a sentence of many years in jail, I had no comprehension of the significance of that threat. When I posted above, e.g. the criminal codes that I believe Anna broke, and see that it could add up to many more than twelve years, I wonder if you as a reader take this lightly. It never registered for me how big of a threat to your life this can be. I’ve never faced a more difficult threat, ever.
I don’t expect you to read this and understand that threat either, and I don’t want it for Anna, or Mona, whatever they were trying to do. My point with detailing this story is not to say they should go to jail for what they did as if that would somehow be justice for me, it wouldn’t.
Christopher Osher from The Denver Post was on hand that day to post my mug shot as part of his arrest story. This second story by Osher that appeared in the Denver Post was syndicated to my own local town in Boulder through the Daily Camera as the top, big bolded headline story on the front page, above-the-fold, with my mug shot arrest photo available in the story for everyone. I was downtown with my son that morning when I first saw it through the plexiglass window of a physical newspaper stand.
In the article, Osher took credit for the arrest, noting the significance of his prior reporting regarding Anna’s claims and his own investigative determination, as it was portrayed, that 100% of all funds that were contributed to Humanwire were supposed to go to the beneficiaries, and thus, according to his conveyances, which resulted in the related charges that were filed, the reader could infer that I was intentionally frauding donors anytime I spent money on operating costs because there could be no operating costs, and in addition, the conveyance that the commingling of funds was the mechanism for a scam to steal over a $100,000 personally for myself. He also didn’t mention anything about being released, as if I was still in jail. Yet, he did know that I had been released, he just opted to keep that information from the reader. “I’m doing an article on your arrest today. Do you want to make any comment?”, Osher wrote to me in an email.
The threat of being separated from my son for the rest of his childhood had finally broken me, and I became fully overpowered. This combined with a feeling of incompetence in explaining myself was the most terrifying situation, where the feeling alone took me to the lowest place I’ve ever been in my life.
With the weight of twelve years in jail hanging over my shoulders, everything took on a different state. With each little item I saw, no matter how regular of an item it was, such as a drinking glass, I became acutely aware of it, and wondered about the freedom of the person who made the glass, and how they were so lucky to be able to make such a thing, and that I was so lucky to have it, but that it might all be taken away from me. I might not be allowed to make or have even such a little thing anymore. Looking around at the world all I saw was the system and everything that people make and do, a system that I suddenly might not be able to live in anymore.
Listening to music and watching people laugh was literally impossible. Even as I played with my son, there was a period where I could no longer experience any joy, not even for a moment as hard as I tried. I felt I had completely lost control of my life and my destiny was in the hands of a legal system I knew nothing about and had never participated in before.
How could I have reached out to any of my friends or colleagues for help with these stories out there about me? Even feeling innocent, I didn’t feel I could call anyone or look anyone in the eyes. You can’t just say that the stories from an investigative journalist that led to your arrest were wrong or that the whistleblower is not being sincere and expect that to be enough. When my friends called it was hard to accept. I knew they loved me and I would be there for them just the same, but if I read the articles in the Denver Post about someone I didn’t know so well or only knew of, I would never want to talk to that person, ever. The writing was too persuasive, and the authority was too strong.
It was especially scary for me because I couldn’t just open up my file cabinet and pull out the books to show how everything reconciled, as this was left incomplete. I had a grip on accounting via the software I had written, and I knew where things stood from being deep into everything every day, so while I was confident, I was not sure how it would become communicated. Feeling completely incompetent and failing to explain with all my transparency what I thought would be so easy for me, I literally physically shut down.
The funds were eventually raised through my extended family to hire the experienced defense firm I found that guided me through the arrest and that was enough to revive me out of the panic as I felt for the first time in months I would have a professional look at the information and then speak the right language.
Before ever making a plea or preparing for a trial, the case continued for an entire year as my lawyer worked with the Boulder District Attorney’s office to come to terms with the accounting. Forensic accountants put all of the accounting together and traced literally every single penny. When they asked me for all the records including all the banking, Stripe, Paypal, and Western Union records, and all of my personal and business accounts, they would not accept a download or PDF, they would only accept a login.
After they made their determination by reconciling all of the records, they went back and did the entire set of books a second time working backward. The main thing they were looking for was any indication that I had personally taken any money, or to find a pattern that indicated I was trying. There was none.
The end result is that over the entire span of Humanwire’s operations from the day it launched until the day it shut down, I received a total of zero. It wasn’t a total of $130,000. It wasn’t a total of $100,000. It wasn’t a total any. It also wasn’t the case that I ran around at the last minute after the fact to make amends. In total, I worked over two years of my life without any money and absorbed many, many kinds of losses beyond just monetary losses, trying to get it from scratch to a sustainable place. I was the only person who took on all the risks, and the only person who stood up and took accountability for anything and everything. To clarify, again with an intent to clarify in no uncertain terms, I did not steal any money from Humanwire, I certainly didn’t have any intention to, and my personal earnings totaled out to zero.
With regards to the use of restricted and unrestricted funds, no restricted funds were allocated towards unrestricted purposes and, to the contrary, unrestricted funds were used for restricted purposes even when Humanwire was not obliged.
There were some misallocations, for example money from one family going to another family, though when it became clear to the prosecutors that I had not taken anything, and also that the information the District Attorney obtained from the Denver Post was incorrect regarding the portrayal that all money was supposed to go to the beneficiaries (it seems the prosecutors discovered this truth on their own when they saw that restricted and unrestricted funds were recorded in the software ledger from day one and separated at the level of Stripe and PayPal), my lawyer suggested we go to the District Attorney with a no-guilt, deferred sentence proposal as the quickest, least expensive mechanism to dismiss the case.
I first wondered why we couldn’t go back to the District Attorney and ask them to simply drop everything and call it a day. My lawyer said that was an option to propose and we weighed the pros and cons of his idea vs. mine.
The biggest problem with my idea is that to do so would require quite a bit more time and discussion with regards to the roles of Anna, Justin, and Mona’s involvement in this case and the crimes that they may have committed. For many reasons, it’s technically much easier for a prosecutor to accept a deferred sentence than to drop a case. This is a complex story to unwind and I’m only just now connecting all the dots, even still learning as a result of sitting down to write this, for I did not know what had truly hit me at the time. The case is ultimately financial in nature, not a he-said-she-said type of case, however, Anna said a lot that was not true, and it would need to be addressed. The additional legal expense would be enormous and the threat hanging over me would continue on. I was paralyzed in my life and in complete fear.
I found my lawyer’s proposal wise, as it would be much less expensive with time and legal fees, it would be a proposal that would carry much less risk due to the relative ease in which it could be considered, but that the end result would be the same for me with regards to my only goal at that point: to remain free to be there for my son. I just wanted it to end so I could be with him and move on. The lingering threat of being locked up was so intense to endure for such a lengthy period, while also being rejected by just about everyone in my life, rightfully so based on the way I was portrayed by the Denver Post, there was no question.
As a reader of the news, in my life, I had come to assume that anyone who makes a no-contest plea was basically guilty and using it as a mechanism to not have to say it out loud, but now I know that it has little to do with being guilty or not. It should in no way ever be assumed that anyone who takes a no-contest plea deal is guilty or innocent on the face of such a plea, it would depend in each case on other factors to formulate an honest opinion. It’s a lot like negotiating a business deal, which is typically an enjoyable process, a process that flows organically based on what tends to be desired, good, efficient, and effective for all. Nothing about this process was enjoyable because of the level of threat to my own self and my family that remained on the table. Going to trial to face twelve years in jail was the threat against me for not being able to negotiate a deal that the District Attorney would accept.
We did, however, go through each and every financial claim from every donor with the District Attorney. And Anna, Mona, and Justin each applied as victims, seeking money to be paid to themselves as their formal restitution claims. None of their victim claims were legitimate and they received no money. Again, after all that, Anna, Justin, and Mona received zero dollars for the claims they made because they were not true, and they were themselves in no way victims of me or Humanwire. There were a few others who predictably came out of the woodworks with bad-faith victim claims who were also easy to show as false.
The agreement we struck led to the full dismissal of all charges. All charges have now in fact by legal definition been fully “dismissed”. Further, as a mechanism to help compensate for the undue stress to me personally, the court sealed the records.
To be the most crystal clear and specific on this important point as I can be, Anna, Mona, and Justin all applied seeking restitution for claims stating that I should personally pay them each an amount for what they claimed was criminal behavior against them personally, as a result of an investigation that they brought on, as a group together, each joining the group with a claim for personal gain, and with each individual seeking an amount that would be thousands of dollars they would each keep for themselves personally. Anna, for example, made a claim that she was personally a victim to ~$50,000 that she demanded to be paid to herself personally to keep, not for any beneficiary or a result of any money that was from a donor. And in each of their claims, after being scrutinized ever so closely, they were universally rejected, and none of them received a penny from what was returned to donors after the District Attorney allowed us to unlock the remaining funds held by a motion to freeze our accounts after Anna’s criminal complaint led to my arrest.
Throughout the documents I obtained from discovery, Anna wrote emails directly to the police investigator and the District Attorney with extensive fabrications. For example. She showed them a cease-and-desist email from me and then said that I subsequently sent her 25 emails harassing her, when in fact I only ever sent one email to her with a formal legal tone insisting she stop taking funds and I have still to this day never written to her again. Saying that I wrote 25 emails when I only wrote one is the type of exaggeration she seems to make and to say that I was harassing her in this way was a direct lie to a public investigator that is of material matter.
She also lied to the detective in saying that I stepped down as CEO and was no longer in control of Humanwire which was beyond bizarre. She lied in writing to the investigator about the status of Humanwire being a non-profit when she joined. She lied to the detective in saying we told the refugees in Greece not to speak with Anna or her volunteers after she quit but it was the opposite, as we communicated that they should feel free to communicate with Anna if they wanted to, but that Anna and her volunteers were no longer with the company and that we were there for them via Layla. She lied to the detective by stating that we were still collecting funds for families on the website that were no longer in need, to convey to the detective that I was taking money with no intention of ever delivering it to the campaigns. She lied to the detective about the first staff meeting she joined where she quit in front of all the directors, writing that I was hyping up how great Humanwire was doing at that time, when in fact the purpose of the meeting was to discuss how difficult things were at that time which I spoke about at the meeting while taking accountability for the difficulties, and I provided updates on the types of improvements we would make. She incriminated herself when she admitted to the detective that she was working with her colleague in Athens to keep using the ATM card to withdraw as much money as she could, despite that she was not authorized. That’s no small mistake or misunderstanding from a few words here or there. There is no way of looking at it without viewing it as a serial.
In Colorado, although “Perjury” most commonly occurs within a formal proceeding, there are other instances in which an individual can be charged with second degree felony perjury or false swearing, specifically, when providing a false, sworn report to a law enforcement authority outside of, or independent of, an official proceeding. Knowledge of the materiality of the statement is not an element of this crime, and the defendant’s mistaken belief that her statement was not material is not a defense.
The above comment was also made publically after it was shown where this money went and the theft charges were dropped by the court, and it‘s still distressing to me because she lives right here in my own town, she is tied in closely with the city council, the local news writers, and local political activists.
After I was jailed by Anna’s formal actions with the Boulder Police, and even after it was shown her accounting was wrong and the charges were dropped, she still wanted me removed from the town and literally, physically beaten by the refugees in Greece, she wrote above in a message to the world.
Such off-the-cuff comments reach much deeper in their influence than you might think, for as you can see they are the same as the comments that she used to get the attention of the Boulder Police and The Denver Post in the first place. They are the comments that the parents of my son’s friends hear in his class. They are the comments that make their way effortlessly through a small town and they affect me and my son to this day.
I never noticed anything that made me think Mona and Anna conspired together, and while I gave Mona the benefit of the doubt as much as I could, Mona made multiple false claims that she was a victim at my expense that are even more serious than Anna’s, and only later was I able to put the pieces together.
After I had written to her friend Ayman (see above) hoping he might want to help her out, she collaborated with Ayman to place a formal victim claim with the District Attorney against me for an additional $37,478 in donor contributions which were provided by Ayman.
In the chart above, the first $17,000 they attempted to claim, from their own list they submitted, you can see was sent right to Mona in Lebanon via Western Union. In other words, she received that money in Lebanon to manage and spend. As for the rest of the items on the list, she accepted and managed all the funds too, completed all the distributions, emailed me and the donor each time to give a report on her distribution progress along with the actual receipts, and then she posted about all of them on Facebook after she completed each one. To be clear, Mona posted photos on Facebook about the successful distributions of these funds that she herself distributed and she showed pictures of herself doing the distributions on formal Humanwire posts on Facebook. They falsely claimed to the District Attorney through perjury, in an attempt to reward themselves with tens of thousands of dollars they knew definitively they were not entitled to, that I took these funds specifically for myself in an attempt to have me pay them this money in cash, on my way to jail for 12 years, as my punishment for stealing it from them.
It was hard to fathom that they were making this claim since Ayman, the donor himself, traveled to Lebanon to help Mona distribute the funds they claimed I took. The post below was written by Mona and the photos show both Ayman and Mona distributing the specific funds that Mona and Ayman claimed on the spreadsheet above that I stole:
The funds which Mona and Ayman claimed they were the victim of also included another distribution event where Mona used the funds to purchase heaters and heating oil certificates. After the event, Mona emailed me and the donor to detail how the money was spent per the donor request, and then Mona posted photos of the event to Facebook:
This claim from them also included the school-start up which went directly to Lebanon for Mona to spend on school allocations, and she did spend them on those allocations, and I have the receipts and photos of the equipment as she sent all of these records to us over email in her formal report when she completed it.
An interesting side-note: at the time they submitted this claim for the $37,000, based on the discovery I have, I believe they were under the false impression created by Anna that I was about to be convicted and sentenced to jail.
Mona also filed a report with Boulder County Human Services (BCHS) claiming she was the victim of wage theft. She claimed the same amount that she claimed as a victim to the District Attorney, which led her to file, not one, but eight wage claims in the Boulder Municipal Court for wages she had never asked for previously until she quit and included those same claims for the months that she was here working in the U.S. under her B1 visitor’s visa. With each of her eight claims for wage theft, I faced paying her the money I already offered to pay her in a debt document with a personal guarantee, plus 90 days in jail, times eight.
In the report she submitted to the BCHS, she wrote that she tried to get me to sign a debt document but that I “altered it”. She didn’t say in her report how it was altered, just that it was altered likely misleading the BCHS to think that I was somehow trying to trick her since I did not “alter” anything. When the investigator at the BCHS asked for my defense specifically to her wage claims in an attempt to help us settle our case out of court, I told the BCHS that I did not dispute her wage claims but that I would like more time to pay it, to deal with her other case first. When the BCHS investigator took this proposal back to Mona, she refused to consider any schedule for payment. So I proposed mediation. When the BCHS took the proposal of mediation to Mona, she refused to mediate. I wasn’t sure what else I could do. Since the BCHS was unable to settle it for us, they sent the case to the City Attorney’s office and they decided to prosecute in the municipal court on behalf of Mona as a victim of eight counts of wage theft, and the counts were filed against both Humanwire and me personally, wherein I faced a second criminal case, this time threatened by two full years in jail.
I had no choice but to take on the wage claim case myself, pro se, as I couldn’t afford to pay another lawyer to handle it and I was not going to be able to raise any more money from my family or anyone else, especially as everyone assumed I was a refugee thief due to the news.
I spoke directly to the City Attorney myself and said that I would plead not guilty with an “affirmative defense”. With an affirmative defense I planned to say that the company admittedly owes her the wages, but that as her employer, I did everything an employer must legally do if a company falls apart and can not pay, including offering to sign a debt document. The law provides a very specific list of criteria on what an employer must do in such a circumstance, and the courts recognize a fair defense when you can prove you met the list. This is the opposite of a regular trial where the strategy would be to defend yourself from whatever the prosecutor charged you with. In an affirmative defense case, instead of defending yourself from what you didn’t do, the strategy is to prove what you did do.
I then went before the judge pro se and gave a not guilty plea to all eight of Mona’s claims.
Due to the ease in which I was able to prove the desolate financial state I was in at that time, the brilliant lawyers at the CU Law school I was assigned to by the judge allowed me representation so that I would not be required to mitigate the significant risks of 2 years in jail on my own.
Mona claimed that she had not been paid for the year and that was not true, but while I was focused on the particular months she was paid to show what happened over the months of her claims, my lawyers had the great idea to go all the way back and calculate every penny she had ever been paid from beginning to end, for all the time she worked over the full two years at Humanwire, since we first met. Mona was the one in charge of the accounting on herself, so it would be important to reconcile her work and understand not just what dates she was paid, but how each payment was accounted for.
I was surprised then to find that she had been paid for everything already, including the months she was in Boulder, she just didn’t document it properly in her books. In each case over the two years, there is a record where she requested funds in writing, I responded that they were approved and that she could take them or that I had sent them, she replied that she got them, and there is a banking trail.
My lawyers filed a series of motions that led to the dismissal of my case however based on a different concept, unrelated to her actual wages, noting that the totality of the eight criminal claims against me was too significant and important in size to defend in such a municipal court setting and that Mona should file her claims in another forum, to allow me a more suitable system for a fair defense. In other words, it wasn’t dismissed because the judge found Mona’s claims to be false, my interpretation is that the judge thought Mona might still have a valid claim and that her claim should be treated fairly despite her lack of citizenship. Granted, the judge had no discovery from my side yet, we had not revealed any facts related to my defense, she had only heard Mona’s side of the story, which was the same for the City Attorney and BCHS. The judge cited the city council as a relevant body for laying out the fair limits of defense within a municipal court. In my opinion, the judge took quite a bit of time to clarify the thought and justification. It was a stark contrast to the lack of time and justification that went into the work by The Denver Post with regards to getting at what was true and what was fair. No one ever reported on this second criminal case launched by Mona where I faced two years in jail.
The City Attorney then appealed the case on behalf of Mona and won the appeal! The case returned to be reset for trial based on the determination that the municipal court was the appropriate forum for the particular claims in my case. Trial in the municipal court seemed inevitable.
My lawyers had not yet revealed a single fact or element of discovery — not one — with regards to the defense or affirmative defense we would take to Mona’s claims. Just before moving on to the trial, my lawyer opened up a conversation with the City Attorney for the first time and offered to continue the case so that we could discuss a breakdown of the finances with him, and show him for the first time our records that Mona was not telling the truth about the payments that were made to her, nor was she truthful about the offer I made to her with the debt document.
I went into the case thinking that Mona was owed salary but by this point, I had come to see that she was not owed any. We provided the City Attorney with a list of all her payments from the company from day one till the end listing exhibit numbers, dates, and banking transaction record identification numbers to match the set of accounting records Mona created for the company. They were all transactions to her for salaries that could not possibly be confused with distributions.
After the City Attorney showed this document to Mona he came back and said he would agree to settle all her claims of $19,000 and two years in jail for just $1000 and an apology letter.
The apology letter would not be from her however, it would be from me. An apology letter was an unusual type of request to go along with such an amount in such a situation. An apology for what? My lawyers did not say it outright, but I think they wondered if I wouldn’t do it as if she had finally gone too far. I wrote a sincere apology to the world for being in charge of something great and failing to make it work, which is totally how I feel, and I replaced the word “world” with “Mona”, wrote a check for $1000 and the case was dismissed before ever going to trial. It would be ridiculous to refuse the offer considering the moment before I faced 2 years in jail away from my son on a separate case while mitigating 12 years in the other case, a payment of $20,000 she was not owed, plus the additional time I would consume from the CU lawyers who had already worked so hard for nothing.
Her rationale for not moving forward with a nearly assured work visa that her friends said they would help pay for on behalf of the struggling company under attack by Anna and Justin, her intent to never sign her own debt document, her alligations of theft and fraud to the District Attorney, the eight fabricated criminal wage claims in the municipal court, the associated claim of theft for $37,000 she had already spent herself with Ayman as seen in the photos above, her public claims that I was a thief and she was my victim on social media that make up her Denver Post profile with a professional back-and-white Ghetty victim photography shoot, to my friends and collegues behind closed doors, and even to my own wife who felt so threatened that she too would be arrested and that our child would be left alone, as well as her demand for an apology letter, may have each been an attempt to support her application with The United States Homeland Security department stating that I implicated her in an embezzlement scheme and that she ended up in the United States a victim against her will, in hopes of obtaining a U-Visa which would allow her to live and work freely in America with few restrictions.
The document above which I found in discovery was prepared by Mona at a time prior to any determination with my case. If I had committed a crime (I did not), I already provided her with multiple, formal, written documents with legalese acknowledging she had nothing to do with such claims. You read one above that is comprehensive and salient. And even if I did commit a crime (I did not), that would not be enough to justify a U-Visa, for her U-Visa application is dependent on her being implicated for that crime. I made it through all of these cases without ever once pointing the finger at Anna, Mona, Justin, or anyone else, and I did not ever go after anyone, I only defended myself with verifiable facts from the claims that they brought on.
The U-Visa has several important criteria that Mona would not qualify for had she submitted a non-perjured application. First and foremost, the applicant must be a victim herself. She was in no way a victim of any kind by me, though she made many attempts to obtain that status and put in an application specifically as a victim of having been implicated for a crime that she said I committed. If she was actually suffering, perhaps she was truly a victim of Anna and Justin, or The Denver Post.
If she did not reveal the document I produced above to Homeland Security that cleared her of all claims at Humanwire in her application for the U-Visa, that would be a significant omission on her part with regards to the integrity of her application. More importantly, it should at least be required for her application that she show evidence of how she was a victim, in particular how it was that anyone implicated her in any embezzlement scheme for a crime that she did not commit.
Another criterion for a U-Visa requires the applicant to be useful to investigators, which requires that the applicant not perjure herself or lie for her own purposes within that process. Misleading and lying to investigators, and submitting false claims for money can not be considered “useful” if it mischievously leads official investigators down the wrong path. The U-Visa is an excellent resource for victims of crimes yet the design seems to prove useful for abuse.
While the U-Visa does not require that it be too dangerous to return, such that staying in the U.S. would be critical for her personal safety, she did use this application to warrant that she could not return to Lebanon because it was too dangerous…though in the same written communication she had with the police that I later found through discovery, where she wrote to the Boulder detective that she was planning to apply for a U-Visa, she included that she was first going to return to Lebanon to visit her family. She then did go back to Lebanon to visit her family months later, posted photos about it, and then returned back to the U.S. to continue working on her status as a victim who could not safely return to Lebanon.
There is another factor that is related to her access that is not transparent in this application. Even if it were too dangerous for her to go back to Lebanon, she is not here in the U.S. on her Lebanese passport, she is here on her Brazilian passport and she can safely go to Brazil which was part of her plan well before we ever met. The claim she put into Homeland Security pretends she is here on a Lebanese passport to justify the need to remain in America to avoid persecution in returning to Lebanon. In 2016, around the time she obtained her new Brazilian passport, she wrote “The good thing about getting a Brazilian passport is I have visa-free access to many countries” which indicates that she is free to go to many countries in addition to living and working in Brazil for her safety as a citizen of Brazil.
Authorities from the various departments in Boulder did not piece any of this together. I only learned about Mona’s actions recently, after the fact, from all of the cases she’s waged which resulted in all of the discoveries I was provided. Even to this day, I never filed any complaints with The Boulder Police, Homeland Security, or any other department and I do not wish to file any complaints. But I can’t continue to fear that she will come back to harm me one day when I am down while she lives her life in my town under the presumption that she has been victimized by me. That’s not right.
The purpose of my article is to defend myself from these public accusations, especially as they are related to the articles in the Denver Post (which are unfair and should be retracted) and their own public libel which remains on their various posts all over social media today, especially in the case of Mona as the company accountant stating matter-of-factly that I stole over $100,000. I tried for years but I could not live with myself without addressing the significant allegations that linger in the Denver Post articles due to the perceived authority of that information.
The narrative victim piece on Mona Ayoub in The Denver Post written by Osher can be summarized thusly:
After making excuses and not paying Mona her salary for almost two full years, Andrew then lured Mona to the U.S. for the specific purpose of harming her. When she arrived in Boulder, she began to ask for her salary but he rebuffed her, telling her she was an investor and thus wasn’t entitled to anything. After she found out Andrew had stolen over $100,000, that’s when he turned on her and started doing really bad things to her, including threatening to sue her. So she secretly started recording him and handed the recordings over to the police. When Mona confronted him one last time and demanded her $19,000, he said he would pay it, but he never did.
It’s the least substantiated of all his articles in that each material conveyance he makes is fully unsubstantiated, and also verifiably false. I believe the editor should look at their records and see that they have no information to substantiate a single conveyance in Mona’s story against the information I’m providing here along with the outcome of two criminal cases that she waged which were both dismissed, and then they should ask Mona to provide them with one of her secret recordings, or an email, document, or anything that provides any glimmer of truth to anything she’s said to substantiate this story, especially with regards to information about how someone blamed an embezzlement scheme on her and how that led her to do all the things she did. They could ask her for a low-hanging fruit such as a grouchy or rude remark I made to her, or show where I acted in a way that was not completely truthful or empathetic to see that she can’t provide anything. I was directly kind to everyone at Humawire. I never yelled at anyone even once. I never lied to anyone about anything big or small, I was reliable and I was accountable. Even when people were bullying me and I became defensive, I had empathy for them not just in how I spoke to them, but with the actions I took towards them.
There is nothing to substantiate her narrative about her salary, theft of funds, or anything of any kind in the article. After two years of working day in and out together as documented thoroughly in daily writings, after she finished mitigating her debt document, after she broke the terms of her Visa to be in the U.S. by demanding payment for work she knew she was not allowed to be compensated for, after she resigned, after all the recording she did, after she demanded ~$20,000 in a matter of days or else, after she threatened to sue me on November 4th, 2017 and demanded half of the payment by November 9th (a demand of $10,000 in just 5 days) when she wrote “If upon Thursday (November 9) in the morning, the funds have not been received, this failure will constitute a violation of “timely payment” according to both Colorado and Federal law. Expect legal actions to the full extent to be employed in pursuit of these monies”, after the morning of November 9th passed, after she published to Instagram and Facebook as the accountant that I was a thief and stole over $100,000— after all that and only after all of it — did I one time threaten to counter sue her, after all of that. But a review of her emails, any tapes she recorded of me that I know about or do not, all of the communication from day one until the end, daily logs of Instant Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, contracts, and any audio or video will only show that I spoke about, and then acted on, empathy, sympathy, professional and personal accountability for everything, and a sincere intent to lift her up due to my trust in her over time, based on her performance, such that she became a partner with little to no liability or risks, and with an opportunity to share in the rewards. She can not produce a single instance otherwise, and thus neither can Osher or The Denver Post.
Just before publishing this report, I noticed that Justin Hilton has since created his own charity site, called Safe Place International, registered it as a 501 non-profit, and has been soliciting donations using photographs that were originally from my website, for as I mentioned he commandeered away the project he was donating to in Turkey, hiring multiple Humanwire staff to work for him after they quit from fear they would be prosecuted as a result of his actions. I had a look at his donation process and there are no terms listed of any kind on the site. All donations seem to be unrestricted and go to him personally despite being advertised for specific campaigns and causes. The site indicates he is involved with building many shelters around the world though his 501c3 annual reports reveal his charity has zero liabilities.
He has a list of partners on his partners page and recently had Hilton Hotels listed as a partner, along with a Hilton Hotels logo. I learned that after Hilton Hotels was contacted to verify the authenticity of their partnership, the next week the Hilton Hotels logo was removed from his site. The same was true for Patagonia, I also learned. Apparently after Patagonia was contacted to verify their relationship, the partner image for Patagonia was removed from the site. As with Anna, I wonder who holds him accountable for the charity funds he makes under these kinds of conditions when he was so anxious to prosecute me for his misunderstanding that I was doing the same thing.
Did Justin, Anna or anyone mentioned above commit any crimes, actually? I do not have the authority to make such a determination. It seems to me that they did. Due to the extent of the damage to me which I only now admit to myself is much worse than I could have ever imagined this many years later, I’m here to protect myself from their libel which they and others continue to use against me. If you wonder why the Boulder D.A. or the Boulder police would not care about their acts, it’s because they did not know because I did not defend myself by placing blame on anyone else, and the discoveries I received came from different departments at different times. I only pieced this together myself recently, after the fact.
I took accountability for everything and I have suffered from this for years but hardly, because my life is privileged and my problems are faint compared to others who were again lost to the world in this story, the people Humanwire were effectively supporting. It would have continued to work, but ultimately, it did not because of me. I am sorry. I know that another person with more experience and insight would have handled these challenges differently and they would have succeeded in mitigating the obstacles I failed at.
Though I made many mistakes, I am here to clarify the false record that was portrayed through the perceived authority of The Denver Post and Daily Camera. This, combined with the libel that still permeates the internet from Anna, Justin, and Mona to this day, as shown in the screenshots above, justifies the need to clarify my side of this story and why I have taken the time to provide so much detail. One day, my son is going to come of age and find those damning Denver Post articles. I don’t want to have to sit down and tell him the truth in private and then have him wonder why I couldn’t stand up for myself in public. The same is true for anyone I love or may want to form a deeper relationship with in the future.