Sarah Bradshaw, Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- New York businessman Steven Pagones will have to wait and see if the woman he was falsely accused of raping 25 years ago, in a racially charged case that gripped the nation, will pay up or flee -- again.
A Virginia court on Wednesday ordered Tawana Brawley's employer, a nursing home in Richmond, Va., to garnish her wages, Surry County Court records show. The 40-year-old nurse working under the name Tawana V. Gutierrez owes Pagones $431,492 after she lost a defamation lawsuit more than a decade ago, court records and the Journal archives show.
In 1987, Brawley was a 15-year-old Wappingers Falls, N.Y., resident when she was found in a trash bag, covered in feces and racial slurs. She claimed she was kidnapped and raped by a group of white men, and her high-profile attorneys and adviser, the Rev. Al Sharpton, later accused Pagones, then a prosecutor with the county's District Attorney's Office. That case brought national media attention and racial tension to the county.
Despite the court order, there is a chance Brawley could leave town, change her Social Security number and use an alias, as she is alleged to have done multiple times, said Pagones' lawyer, Garry Bolnick.
"We had her in various different places that we tried to serve papers," he said. "The legal process is sometimes slow, and that does give a defendant a step ahead of you."
She had lived in Washington, D.C., before settling in Claremont, Va., he said. The town is just outside of Richmond.
Brawley's boss, Honor Chriscoe of The Laurels of Bon Air nursing home, declined to comment and Brawley didn't return a phone message left at her workplace by the Journal on Thursday.
When a grand jury did not indict Pagones on the rape charges, he filed and won a slander lawsuit against Brawley, Sharpton and her attorneys.
"They destroyed his ability to practice law," Bolnick said. "This episode soured him on the whole legal profession and really prevented him in pursuing his career."
Brawley was the only one who didn't pay the restitution.
"We have never given up on tracking her down," Bolnick said, adding it was a combined effort of his law firm, Pagones' private investigation business and The New York Post that found her. "There was never a time when Pagones said, 'I am done with this.' "
Pagones couldn't be reached Thursday at his office in Beacon, N.Y.
Now that Brawley has been found, up to 25 percent of her paycheck could be garnished by her employer unless she met a low-income exemption based on a sliding scale, said Amanda Crouch, a Virginia-based creditors' rights attorney.
Generally, an employer collects garnished wages and turns them over to the court clerk's office until the period of garnishment is over, at which time a court hearing is held and the money is given to the creditor's attorney, said Crouch of the Richmond-based firm Bowen, Champlin, Foreman & Rockecharlie.
Brawley can fight the process only if she can prove that the court order wasn't properly served or that fraud was involved.
Contributing: USA TODAY reporter Natalie Diblasio