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Whistleblower Claims Custody Verdict Was Reprisal

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opednews.com

Reposted with permission from The Women's Media Center. 

(WOMENSENEWS)--Michele Egan-Byron filed a petition two weeks ago asking a state family court to vacate a four-year-old ruling awarding custody to her ex-husband. The lawyer who helped her file for a new hearing was arranged by U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida.


Michele Egan-Byron (WeNews)
 

It's rare that a public official takes an active role in a custody case but Egan-Byron's case is unusual: She says she lost custody of her son after she lost her job for revealing financial misdeeds in the workplace.

Thus, hers is not only a custody case; it's a custody-injustice case combined with accusations of whistleblower backlash.

She says reporting six years ago possible embezzlement at her employer--the AIDS Coalition of Volusia and Flagler County, a nonprofit that had about a dozen full-time staffers assisting patients in and around Daytona Beach--prompted angry supervisors and co-workers to testify against her during the court custody battle.

Her ex-husband, who Egan-Byron said abused her and their son, including duct-taping the son to a high chair, won custody in 2004 after a former co-worker testified against her. The attorney who currently represents her ex-husband said she would not comment on the case.

But her story began two years earlier, in 2002, when, in her first month as a caseworker for AIDS patients, Egan-Byron said she noticed money missing from patients' housing stipends.

When she reported her suspicions to her supervisor and nothing happened, she brought them to the Volusia County Health Department. After that, she claims, she was attacked twice physically in her office, which she reported to the police. She was fired in December 2002 after six months on the job.

Exposed Embezzlement at Nonprofit

Beginning in the spring of 2005, Egan-Byron began talking to law enforcement agents investigating the embezzlement.

The money turned out to be going to the father of a co-worker, Ebony Davis, who pleaded guilty to embezzling about $2,000.

The AIDS Coalition of Volusia and Flagler County closed in 2006.

Now Egan-Byron's custody petition asks a court in Florida's Palm Beach County, where she now lives, to take jurisdiction of the case from Volusia County, where she lived when she worked for the AIDS Coalition.

She hopes new jurisdiction will help, because her credibility has been improved by the recent guilty verdict in the embezzlement case.

"My allegations were validated and still that court would not send my son back," she said of her workplace allegations.

"I think my client got shafted," said John Fenner, the attorney Wexler helped arrange for Egan-Byron.

Fenner said Egan-Byron's credibility was undermined during the custody battle when her ex-husband's lawyer at that time used her allegations of embezzlement to make her look mentally unstable and no one investigated her claims. Now that her allegations are validated, he said, she deserves a second chance. "There's also a concern of how long do you keep this boy in the middle of a lawsuit?"

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