Did These 2 Activists Perpetrate a $5.9 Million Embezzlement Scheme?


The first thing Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project says in a report about Marriage Equality USA’s Iowa chairperson Phyllis Stevens (pictured, left) is that she nor her wife Marla (right, a Bilerico contributor) never donated money to Bil’s website. This is important to note, since Stevens was just arrested on charges of embezzling $5.9 million from her employer, the insurance giant Aviva USA.

Phyllis stands accused of money laundering and wire fraud, with FBI officials saying she manipulated policy payouts at Aviva (where she’s worked for 35 years) so commissions went to a fake employee who, uh, “lived” at Phyllis’ home address. (More explanation about the fraud here.) A fellow employee discovered the alleged fraud. And Marla, meanwhile, has been named in a civil suit as a beneficiary to her wife’s crime.

But that’s not where this story ends.

Phyllis and Marla are ardent supporters of LGBT causes, donating over the years to political candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Campaign, plus organizations like the Iowa Democratic Party. As Bilerico notes:

Both Marla and Phyllis Stevens have a well-respected history of LGBT and progressive activism. Marla founded one of Indiana’s first gay rights organizations, LGBT Fairness, and was the first Statehouse lobbyist focusing solely on LGBT issues. Marla was also one of the first Hoosier LGBT activist to use direct action techniques to draw attention to gay rights.

[…] Phyllis Stevens has been financially supportive of several LGBT friendly politicians. In May she created the Rainbow Equality PAC which has given money to prominent Democratic politicians like Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Murphy. Finance records show that since October of 2005, she gave $14,669.07 in state political contributions. Since January of 2007, she has donated $15,213 to federal candidates.

Oh, and then there’s this small matter: The couple, who married in Canada in 2003, have been filing joint tax returns as a married couple, something that’s, uh, illegal under DOMA. If all goes accordingly, both women are looking at hefty prison sentences, though it doesn’t appear federal officials are going after their tax filings, yet.

In the meantime, if the allegations are true, it’s an enormous setback all around. Not only will the political campaigns the women donated to be forced to give back that cash (Hillary is hard up for dollars, you might have heard), but this is a scarlet letter for Iowa’s activism, and it will be very easy for opponents to launch a “gays are evil and fraudsters” campaign.

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  • Cam

    In a weird way it does open up another attack possibility for DOMA. If the IRS goes after them for filing the joint return, they can sue saying that DOMA isn’t constitutional.

    That said, I feel like every other minority group, ethnic group etc… when one of our own does something so publicly stupid and criminal….i.e. thanks a fucking lot ladies for making the struggle harder.

  • Nick


  • MoHoTo

    Just because you’re lgbt doesn’t mean you’re honest. I have met as many crooks in our community as anyplace else. So the question is, if nature bestows upon us the same faults and virtues as anyone else — and society holds us accountable like anyone else, why can’t that same society bestow upon us the same treatment under the law?

  • Molly

    .well the girls have certainly been eating well with all the money they are said to have stolen.

  • anonymous

    @Cam: I felt the same way two years ago when almost every black gay pride event in the country seemed to be involved in financial misdeeds.

    Brooklyn,DC,Los Angeles,Seattle and Atlanta were all marred in scandal. DC even had TWO black prides held at the same time because of turmoil regarding money from the previous year.

    The annual beach party in Brooklyn,Ny was canceled this year because of the shenanigans of one flaming queen who took the money earmarked for the organization to not only fly her self and friends first class across the country on numerous occasions but even bailed friends out of jail. It is believed there will not be another one.

    It only take ONE to stain an entire group. Thanks a lot ladies for showing how blatant thievery crosses racial lines. May you and that queen who ruined a perfect, free outing for many of us in NYC during the summer share the same prison cell.

  • Tartuffe

    This certainly sad considering all the activism work you’ve done for the community, but you deserve all the jail time you get.

  • mitt

    I see cats.

    Lots of them.

  • alan brickman

    women hate gays because when they hear gay.they hear men….it’s just that simple..

  • OhYeah

    If they embezzled that much money they should have used it for plastic surgery.

  • Charles Merrill

    @mitt: Wicked witches from the west. They need to add more toads to the cauldron. Their brooms and pointed hats are losing power.

  • Helga von ornstein

    @OhYeah: In the case of these two I don’t think liposuction would have helped either.

  • aaron


    Oh snap.

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary

    These women obviously ate the evidence (insert FAT joke) in the form of the world’s largest PIE (Inserted)!

    BTW – I was embezzled by a Gay man, but, he went to jail!

  • scott ny'er


    LOL. Terrible. U r terrible.

Comments are closed.