Hey guys. If you’re worrying why I’ve been absent the last few days, well, here it is. I’ve been working on this.
So…here we go with another long post that has not been very fun to write.
First, let me say that every person, myself included, has skeletons in their closet. It’s part of being human. I don’t expect or demand perfection of the people in my life (or even of the people I admire) and I don’t at all get a kick out of airing other people’s dirty laundry on my blog. This is not high school.
However, ten days ago comments appeared in a reddit post (which is now deleted). In those comments Sarah Morehead was accused of numerous things including embezzlement. Immediately rumors and speculation began to fly across multiple social media platforms, some of which were grossly exaggerated, some of which were false, and some of which, sadly, were very true. And just like Hemant Mehta did with We Are Atheism, when the people to whom we donate money are accused of such things transparency ought to be achieved one way or another — either at the hand of those in charge, or by media outlets (which is a a really nice way of saying “bloggers and journalists” in this case) doing the work to find out what’s going on.
So where do I factor into all of this?
Months ago Sarah contacted me, very emotional, saying that she believed Teresa MacBain was gunning for her position at Recovering From Religion. Sarah told me that Teresa had somehow gotten Darrel Ray, the founder of RfR on her side. Shortly after Sarah no longer had her positions with RfR, Apostacon, and the Reason Rally she contacted me again and I put her in touch with Anne Orsi, the legal contributor for this blog, to help answer any legal questions Sarah may have.
I also began investigating what happened. If Sarah had been wronged, I wanted to help clear her name — not just because the innocent shouldn’t be punished, but because to this day Sarah Morehead, to my knowledge (and that caveat is important), has never wronged me at all. In fact, she has been very good to me. I wanted to repay that with my own effort to get to the heart of what happened. The point is that by now I feel I have a lot of information the general public does not.
In an attempt to mitigate the amount of hearsay and rumor-mongering regarding Sarah, this post is to divulge not all of the information I’ve acquired over the last few months, but some of the information I am able to provide. All of it has to do with Sarah’s dealings with the Apostacon conference.
First, several names will be used in this piece. Here is a short list of why these people and their relationship to Apostacon:
Meagan Wilson, Apostacon Treasurer
RJ Redden, Apostacon President, Webmaster
Josiah Mannion Apostacon Vice President
Jill Fitzgerald, former Apostacon Vice President/Secretary
Amy Ellefson, former VIP Coordinator
Beverly Carlson, Apostacon Secretary
Last Friday I sent Sarah an email asking for her take on some of the things I’ve seen/heard, with a promise to include them in this post. My goal is to be as objective as humanly possible and that simply cannot happen without giving her an opportunity to respond to some things.
While all of Sarah’s responses are here, I have rearranged the order of some of the questions to create a more coherent timeline (this in no way affected Sarah’s answers). Sarah’s responses in red:
Hey Sarah. After you lost your position with the three major orgs I started digging as hard as I could into it and have continued doing so to this very day. Given that whispers are beginning to emerge of what took place I’ve decided to blog all the information I have to help cure some of the misinformation floating around.
I wanted to reach out to you to give you an opportunity to respond to some of the facts (if you so choose). Considering the large amounts of confusion and speculation going on within the community, I want to post soon. However, I also want to give you time to comment on some of these. If you want to get your input in, I’ll need it by Sunday night at 11:59pm.
All of these questions are dealing with Apostacon.
Here we go:
First, looking back through all the documentation, I’m a bit confused about how you became President of Apostacon. Were you voted in? Appointed by the board? Something else?
Per Apostacon’s bylaws, written by Jill Fitzgerald and discussed, modified, and then approved by Meagan, Beverly, Nikki, Erin, Robert, RJ, Tom and myself, allow for a maximum three year term. Meagan and I both were on our last year this past year which was common knowledge. Neither Meagan nor I “lost” our position with Apostacon, our 3 year term ended. Bylaws as approved (and screenshot of discussion/approval) in link.
Section 3. Election and Term of Office: Each director shall be elected for a term of 3 years however the term may be extended until a successor has been elected. Directors may be re-elected to successive terms. Election to the Board of Directors shall be by majority vote of the members of the Board of Directors, which shall occur, except in the case of filling vacancies, at each annual meeting thereof. Director terms shall be staggered so that approximately half the number of directors will end their terms in any given year.
Section 4. Officers: The Board of Directors may designate from among its members a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and such other officers as it may consider appropriate with such duties as it may prescribe. One person may hold two or more board offices, but no board officer may act in more than one capacity where action of two or more officers is required.
I “became” President of Apostacon the same way Meagan “became” the Treasurer and Jill “became” the VP and any/all other positions were decided – we discussed and voted on these, and many other decisions over lengthy meetings as a group that included the directors per the incorporation papers, and several other active volunteers.
What my research revealed:
Here are the Bylaws Sarah sent to me, but there is a problem: they were never voted on and/or approved (this is what the Apostacon board tells me, and I can find no minutes of any meeting to contradict that account). In the google drive folder Sarah linked to me I found the following image (which I assume is the one she intended to confirm her account):
But this confirms that there was a draft up for review, not that they were ever voted in. And, if this were the case, it wouldn’t make sense that the board would call an emergency meeting to remove her, presumably at the end of her term:
So, what could refute this? Any record of those bylaws being voted in. Should it ever pop up I will include it here and re-write this entire section.
The reason I asked Sarah this question is because no record of a vote exists in any of Apostacon’s records. To quote Josiah Mannion, the current VP (and the rest of the board corroborated his account): “Sarah was never voted in or ratified. She assumed the mantle, or presumed it, rather.” So as clear as I can tell even Sarah’s appointment is kind of a muddy situation.
This isn’t necessarily damning. It seems everybody else went along with it at the time and the bylaws were never voted in. I just want the information to be out there as it may or may not contribute to the greater story.
Now we move on to one of the major issues I came across, getting bank access for the Apostacon treasurer:
On Nov. 4, 2014 Meagan, then the treasurer of Apostacon, wrote a check to the Omaha Doubletree for most of the money in the Apostacon account — $15,000. However, the full bill was $28,683.53. She asked you to deposit the check from Brown Paper Tickets from the Tyson event (which was issued on Sept. 25th, meaning you all-but-certainly received it the following week) ASAP in order to pay the remaining $13,683.53. Meagan received no answer from you.
On Nov. 28, 2014 Meagan emailed you to ask if the hotel had been paid. She received no response. Do you remember why not (or do you have records of responding to her)?
We had a LOT of phone calls and in-person meetings, usually on weekends. Not having an email response doesn’t mean there was no response. We also texted and used FB messenger extensively. Meagan frequently emailed as a way for us both to stay aware of what we needed to do. I recall the issue had to do with separating Apostacon’s banking from Omaha Atheists banking, which is how it was set up when it was an Omaha Atheists and/or OmahaCoR effort (which itself was confusing). I don’t recall the specific details beyond that considering the amount of time that has transpired and my limited access to records.
For somebody trying to get to the truth of a matter the unfortunate thing about telephone conversations is that there’s no way to confirm whether they took place or not. Documents are great. Documents don’t lie.
So here are some of the documents I do have:
All in all I’m in possession of 30 different text/screen grabs of the Apostacon treasurer trying to arrange to have bank access over the course of almost an entire year (this discounts the number of times it was done in person and over the phone which is almost certainly well above zero). And images like the ones above show that Sarah was at least acting as though she was willing to provide login information so that Meagan could access the bank online. But it never happened until Sarah was no longer part of Apostacon.
Giving someone online login information does not require their presence, and that’s what I was asking about. It appears in multiple conversations that Sarah had acquiesced to giving the Apostacon treasurer the online login info so that the treasurer could have access to the bank (like a treasurer ought), but each time failed to do so.
Also, Meagan tells me that when she says “no response” she means no response of any sort that she can recall: phone, email, or otherwise.
This appears to be malfeasance of duty at best, intentional at worst.
On Dec. 2, 2014 You opened a new checking account at US Bank without permission from the board and deposited the check from Brown Paper Tickets. You had sole access to the account (i.e., the Apostacon treasurer could not get into it). From this account you paid the Doubletree two months after the bill was due. Why go through all this? Also, by this point you’d had the check for about two months. Why take so long to deposit it?
Because we were setting up an account separate from Omaha Atheists. Please share screenshots of communications indicating I did not have permission to do this, as we discussed it at length and the bylaws allowed for it. We decided on US Bank because it was near Meagan and I both. We didn’t deposit the check right away because we were waiting to coordinate schedules to set up the account together during banking hours. There was a history of funds “confusion” between the Omaha Atheists and Apostacon, and we were starting fresh with the new account.
While combing through text messages and emails I have confirmed that, indeed, Sarah and Meagan did wish to set up an account separate from Omaha Atheists. That much is true. And I followed up on Sarah’s claims here to find they check out. My information was incomplete on this point and Sarah was 100% clean on this (this is why I sent her the email to get her side of the story to begin with).
However, there are some sticking points (that will be relevant later). First, the bylaws, to my knowledge, were never voted in. But even if they had been, they would not have allowed for the President to simply open up a new bank account without the appropriate board members present:
Still, communication between Meagan and Sarah suggests Meagan was, in fact, well aware that Sarah was going to use that money to open a new checking account to distinguish Apostacon from Omaha Atheists and that she was OK with it. My verdict here is that Sarah is clean.
Over the next year Meagan constantly emailed/contacted you asking for access to the bank account you created. For instance, in August of 2015 Meagan emailed you on the 11th, 26th, and 29th, each time asking for access and explaining that she needed the ability to write checks. On each occasion she received no response (and following months saw a similar trend). What happened?
Sept. 1, 2015 – You and Meagan go to US Bank to try to get Meagan access to the account you created back on Dec. 2,, 2014. The bank informed you that Apostacon’s incorporation information was not valid with the state, so they were unable to update the bank information at that time. You told the banker that they should already have copies of all the information and it shouldn’t be a problem. The banker said that she’s sorry and that there’s nothing she could help until the information on file with the state is up to date. You blamed the bank for numerous other mess ups (missing bank statements, etc.). You stated that you had already spent hours at the courthouse and will “have go to back to the courthouse” to get it straightened out later.
I looked into the process for incorporation in Nebraska. Everything is handled online or through the mail. If you did spend hours, it would have to have been in Lincoln and probably would’ve produced nothing. What happened when you spent hours at the courthouse?
We had to go in together to get her added on. I don’t recall saying I spent hours “at the courthouse” – can you share with me where I said that so I can look into it more? I recall spending hours dealing with the bank. We had to provide certified copies of the articles of incorporation etc to open the account. The bank did not have those papers scanned into their system, yet we clearly had an open business account. I don’t recall their explanation for this, just that we were both incredibly frustrated with the process.
The “hours at the courthouse” is how Meagan phrased it to me when I interviewed her. The conversation, as Meagan tells it, occurred in Sarah’s van after a trip to the bank didn’t work out. But, that is one person’s word against another, and I don’t expect people to make a decision on where trust ought to lie here without greater context.
But there’s more to this. By saying “The bank did not have those papers scanned into their system, yet we clearly had an open business account” Sarah attempts to place the blame on the bank for the incorporation papers, rather than herself. So let’s talk about that. Beverly had been trying to get Sarah to update Apostacon’s incorporation since January of 2015 (and the above trip to the bank occurred Sept. 1, 2015). I also emailed Sarah about that:
On Oct. 29, 2014, Apostacon received a letter from the state of Nebraska stating that Jill Fitzgerald had resigned as Apostacon’s registered agent with the state (I understand there were a few issues with you two culminating in her involving a lawyer to get some DVDs back from you — feel free to talk about that if you so wish). Meagan emailed this information to you. You asked for a copy of the letter that was received. This was sent two days later on Oct. 31.
When Jill was thanked for her service and not asked to return in a volunteer capacity with Apostacon by unanimous landslide. She refused to allow Apostacon representatives to pick up the Apostacon property in her home. When she put them all out in her yard/driveway, and they were retrieved by Beverly and Kayla (I believe?), her DVDs were returned.
On Nov. 25, 2014, you asked Beverly Carlson to be Apostacon’s registered agent with the state. Your explanation was that you being the registered agent would be a conflict of interest. Can you explain that? It seems to me that the person in charge ought to be the registered agent with the state. You said to Beverly that this involves “getting any official mail for Apostacon from the court.” Why would you not want that person to be you?
Beverly was an Apostacon board member. During one of our many meetings/discussions we decided to have her be the registered agent. Anyone approved by the org can be the registered agent, there’s no reason it has to be any particular individual. I don’t recall saying it was related to “getting official mail for Apostacon from the court” – can you send me where I said that?
Here’s the screen grab where Sarah says the job involved “getting official mail for Apostacon from the court”:
I did not get an answer as to why it would be a conflict of interest or why the president of the organization wouldn’t want the mail sent directly to her. This is a diametric pattern of behavior compared to, say, the check from Brown Paper Tickets for the Neil DeGrasse Tyson event. Sarah went online to change the address to which the check was shipped away from Meagan’s address (who was the treasurer) to her own. So Sarah actively wanted to be the recipient of some important mail, but for some reason she wished somebody else to be the registered agent with the state.
Between then and June Beverly tells you on multiple occasions that this hasn’t been taken care of. On June 5, 2015 Beverly told you at Meagan and RJ’s wedding that she received paperwork from the state of Nebraska stating that Apostacon’s incorporation had expired. What kept you from refiling it?
I remember telling her we were working on it, but I don’t recall the reason for the delay.
Point of clarification: it would turn out later that it wasn’t expired but had actually been revoked by the state for lack of contact. Three days later Sarah sent the following to Beverly:
However, when Sarah and Meagan went to the bank on Sept 1, 2015 (the date for which Sarah attempts to place blame on the bank), nearly two months later, the bank informed them that the group’s articles of incorporation were not up to date (and therefore Meagan could not be added to the account, but remember she also was still not getting the online login info from Sarah).
Also, if the paperwork had been submitted and the fee paid, Apostacon would not have felt the need to reincorporate, essentially starting over from scratch, this past November:
It is left to the reader to decide if Sarah claiming to have handled the group’s incorporation with the state is the product of confusion or dishonesty.
Later that day [Sept. 1, 2015] Meagan informed you that you needed to link the Paypal account with the bank account to accept payments from particular people. She asked once more for login info so she could do this and, again, did not receive a response.
On Sept. 4, 2015, more than nine months after you set up a new bank account, the treasurer still does not have access. On this date Meagan asks for bank access and, again, receives no response. At this point I’ll stop reciting every occasion where this happened. Suffice that they are copious.
Sure – and we would attempt to coordinate schedules so we could both be at the bank together during business hours. This was no secret, and it frustrated us both quite a bit.
This, unfortunately, does not answer the question of why the Apostacon treasurer never had access or received the online login information despite constantly asking for it.
On Oct. 11, 2015 you emailed Meagan the login info for the Apostacon bank account at US Bank (the one you’d opened the previous December). This access was read-only for transactions because Meagan didn’t have your security questions. This is the first time Meagan had access to transaction information on the Apostacon account at US Bank. As Meagan recalls you said something to the extent of, “You’ll find out sooner or later.”
She and I had met the day before and decided for her to just have my login so we didn’t have to keep trying to get her added on. I had just had a death in my family and was pretty distraught, and needed to focus on them. I don’t know that I realized she only had “read only” access, my understanding was the login would allow total access.
Screen caps above show that Meagan was trying to get login information long before this date and that Sarah appeared willing, but never provided it.
On Oct. 12, 2015 Meagan proceeded to get into the bank account for the first time to view the transaction history via US Bank’s website. She discovers ~$25,000 missing and lots of unrecognized transactions over the next couple of days.
I’m not clear on the “$25,000 missing” – I was given a check for $25,000 made out to Penn and Teller’s manager, which I handed directly to him at the event. I’d have to go through “unrecognized transactions” to speak to those, and I don’t have that access. Meagan and I both had the bank card information.
In this response Sarah implies that this $25,000 check could resolve the issues Meagan discovered upon finally getting access to the Apostacon bank account. The problem with that is that the $25,000 check to which she’s referring was never in the Apostacon bank account, and Sarah knows this. This brings us to the Anonymous Donor:
For Apostacon 2014, an anonymous donor (referred to from here on out as “AD”) had fronted the money for Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s talk. It was understood that this was an loan to pay for up-front speaking fees. This donor was to be paid back after ticket sales had come in. Given the success of Apostacon 2014 this was easy to do.
AD agreed to make a similar loan for Apostacon 2015. Did you take that $25,000 check, a loan, knowing that ticket sales would prohibit you/Apostacon from paying it back? If you thought it could be paid back, what was your plan?
We had extensive ticket sales projections that we had calculated as a team (including with the AD) repeatedly, and in numerous configurations. The decision to hire Penn and Teller was made only after being as reasonably sure as we could be, considering ticket sales are never a guarantee, that we would see similar ticket sales trends as we saw in the previous three years. Again, I’d have to see what documentation I may still have of this.
So, here’s what I turned up on AD. I tracked him down and had a decent chat with him. This is part of what he told me:
I’d agreed 6 months or more in advance to make the loan. I pinged Meagan a couple of times about when it would be needed. I think Sarah was in contact with P&T’s people rather than Meagan. At any rate, P&T’s manager never called for the money. I handed Sarah a cashier’s check as we left Omaha for TX. That’s the last I heard of it until about a month after the conference when Meagan called to tell me that I likely wouldn’t get it back, that Sarah had mismanaged funds and then “lawyered up”.
It should be noted that the board elected to send Meagan with this message, this was not Meagan going solo. She was just the messenger.
So AD agreed to make the loan 6 months out, but the check wasn’t requested or handed to Sarah until shortly before departing for the conference, by which time Sarah was already aware that paying AD back would be impossible (as I will show later in this post).
Josiah Mannion, currently the Vice President of Apostacon (who rode to Apostacon with Sarah), tells me this:
Glenn Alai requested payment prior to Penn & Teller performing during the evening. Reluctantly, Sarah sends me to retrieve the check from the donor from her van. I got the check from the van (I can’t remember precisely when, but this seems about right, although it may have even been the day before that I fetched it from the van, and then got sent to Presidential Suite to fetch it again? Something like that), saw the amount that it was for ($25,000, I think the amount showed through the window of the envelope – I may have actually seen and known the amount before I was sent to fetch the check, either from seeing it in the glove box prior to leaving or sometime on the drive down – I know I was either in or by the vehicle when I initially saw the amount), knew that AD could not possibly actually afford this, and felt disgusted.
This check was handed directly to Penn & Teller’s manager (and was issued to their managing firm), so the money would’ve gone straight from AD to Penn & Teller, never touching the Apostacon account. Therefore it could not be used to explain the $25,000 in missing funds discovered by Meagan. Rather than resolving those issues it actually compounds them by adding an additional $25,000 in debt that Sarah knew could not be repaid.
Long story short, it was nearly a year later that Meagan, the treasurer, got into the bank account you’d created, and then only by working with the bank after you were no longer executive director. This seems like avoiding giving the treasurer access to the group’s bank account. Why did this happen?
[Note: Sarah was the president, not the executive director – brain fart in the email on my part] The above does not explain why Meagan was never given the online login information for the Apostacon bank account. It would seem this was either 10 months of the worst luck ever or Sarah intentionally keeping anybody who wasn’t her out of that bank account.
Was this situation, of you having sole access to your organization’s bank account while others who should have had access did not, occurring with other organizations you were in charge of?
I unable to speak about other organizations.
Sept. 29, 2014, Apostacon received an email saying the application was denied. Apostacon team says you told them not to worry as there was 6 months to fix it.
I don’t have any record of the 501c3 application being denied. If it was, however, the IRS usually provides an explanation of how to fix this. This would likely have been the Treasurer’s department, I don’t recall and would have to look into it more.
I was not suitably clear in my email to Sarah here. I was referring to the patent application being denied. That was my fault.
On Oct. 9, 2014 Meagan reminded you that Apostacon hadn’t filled out their non-profit application yet. You never responded. Why not?
We likely had a phone or in-person conversation about this, but I know Jill was handling it as we reviewed her progress with it at several meetings.
On Oct. 30, 2014 Meagan again reminded you that Apostacon hadn’t filled out their non-profit application. Again, no response. Why not?
We likely had a phone or in-person conversation about this.
Meagan and all other members of the board do not recall such a phone conversation. Again, though, unlike documents phone conversations can’t be confirmed later with material proof. But for the purposes of this post I think it’s important to know what both sides are saying.
As for the 501c3 status of Apostacon, they have never been a 501c3 organization. Sarah says in response to the Oct. 9 reminder from Meagan that the application is being handled by Jill, but Jill had been removed from Apostacon’s board the previous day:
So by the time Sarah was reminded again on the 30th some decision about how to get it done should have been made for the sake of all of Apostacon’s donors. It apparently never was. The fact that Sarah was being reminded that this needed to be handled suggests it was her responsibility.What’s worse is that this asterisk was added to the Apostacon website in 2014 (the board says by Sarah’s request, so they assumed the paperwork was filed):
The extent allowed by law is essentially zero, and always has been.
But while we’re on the topic of mysterious charges, there is a litany of purchases from Amazon on the Apostacon credit card that I cannot reconcile (contributing greatly to the $25,000+ Meagan found missing). Let’s talk about some of the big ones:
On Dec. 22, 2014 There is an unknown transaction for $2,946.95 from the US Bank account you opened on Dec. 2 with the check from Brown Paper Tickets for the Tyson event. There was another $3,000ish charge on July 22, 2014 which, as far as I can tell, was to pay your cell phone bill along with late charges, presumably on the grounds that you used your phone for both work and personal stuff. However, it was never discussed with the board and, to my knowledge, you never got permission for this type of expenditure. The Apostacon board also tells me that you didn’t tell them about this. They only learned of it once they got access to the bank’s history.
Also, do you recall what the $2,946.95 charge from Dec. 22 was for?
On Feb. 23, 2015 There is an unknown transaction for $600.23 from the US Bank account to SouthWest Airlines. Do you recall what this was for?
I don’t recall from memory, and I don’t have access to look into it. Major expenses were discussed in meetings, and at length. A flight for Southwest was likely into Dallas for planning Apostacon.
The $2,899.44 charge was, in fact, a cell phone bill from Verizon:
I have been unable to track down the other $2,946.95 purchase, and it remains as much a mystery to the remaining Apostacon board as it is to me. There is no record of these things ever being discussed.
Also, the food bill for your room at Apostacon 2015, the presidential suite, was for $617.92. In retrospect, does that seem excessive — especially considering the financial straights you knew Apostacon to be in?
Volunteers billed their food to my room. I recall this being Meagan’s idea so these purchases would be more consolidated into one place.
The rest of the Apostacon board has vehemently denied this to me. All of them deny charging any food to Sarah’s room. What’s more, the receipts look a lot like her kids were signing for food:
It should be noted that the $218.10 was to cover dinner and drinks for Penn & Teller. What’s left is hardly enough to feed her volunteers over the course of four days, but plenty for Sarah’s children.
But wanting to double check, I asked many of the Apostacon volunteers/board members to check their bank statements from that weekend and look for any food charged. All of them had charges for food the entire weekend, which corroborates their claim that they were unaware of any offer to charge food to Sarah’s room. In fact, Amy Ellefson had charges from a grocery store where she had gone to buy food for the entire weekend for her family.
Recall that this would’ve been at a time when Sarah knew full well that the money to pay Penn & Teller wasn’t there, as well as the money to repay their anonymous donor.
On Oct. 13, 2015 Meagan learned that Penn & Teller’s manager, Glenn, was calling people upset about Apostacon’s non-payment of remainder of money owed and that P&T were threatening a lawsuit. Why had Penn & Teller not been paid? Had you agreed to pay them the full amount up front?
At Meagan’s request you sent her, via email, P&T management’s contact information. Meagan asked you what she should do with that information via email and received no response.
Meagan texted you to ask if she is acting president of Apostacon and to tell you that there’s some serious conversations they need to have about the missing money in the bank account preferably the next morning. No response.
On Oct. 14, 2015 Meagan asked you for an accounting of all the Amazon purchases on the Apostacon card. You replied, “Yup, should be a ton of reimbursements too, I made her [Shanon Nebo] return a ton of stufd.”
My understanding was we paid them 50% at the event, and the remainder after we closed out. I’d have to find the contract and/or emails if I still have them. Regarding post-Apostacon communication, my aunt had just died and I was out of touch for quite a bit during that time. Prior to the event we had frequent communication.
You also said of P&T management possibly getting a lawyer: “He might be. Email him to talk and explain that we’ve been swamped, working on it all, and trying to figure out how not to be short. We needed more ticket sales, and are doing our best. Keep it in writing, don’t give any language that we won’t or can’t pay.”
This, as far as I can tell, was the last communication direct between you and Meagan. Considering that Apostacon didn’t have the money to directly pay them, did that approach feel dishonest to you?
I did not know Apostacon didn’t have the money to pay them. In year’s past the Apostacon books weren’t completed by Meagan this soon after the event, so I didn’t expect that she would know. Meagan frequently asked me to write her emails for her (she called it “fluffing”), so this was not unusual.
There are multiple reasons to believe that Sarah knew well before Apostacon 2015 that the money was not going to be there (and the above scenario is taking place after Apostacon 2015).
Then there is this facebook conversation between Sarah and Amy Ellefson (Amy has since blocked Sarah, so Sarah shows up as “Facebook User”):
Yep. We have about 400tix sold. Need 800.
I haven’t said anything to Meagan yet but I’m worried. If we don’t get some visibility it is going to be pretty rough
Amy Dorenkamp Ellefson
Are you sure you don’t want us to stay home? Someone else can certainly handle the VIP stuff. It’s nearly non-existent except for check in.
i think Meagan knows. She’s been a mess the last few times I’ve seen her.
She’s like that every year, fb memories showed me that the past two weeks lolol
Amy Dorenkamp Ellefson
Oh, boy. Thanks, Facebook!
But yeah. This is a close one. Hoping the news will get wind and say something about it, they’re ignoring us right now
Amy Dorenkamp Ellefson
Ugh. I’m sorry. What happens if it doesn’t work out financially?
I still owe the money, my reputation is shot, and wors t of all I let Meagan down.
Sadly, I must conclude that Sarah was fully aware that she would have no way to pay Penn & Teller the rest of the money owed, as well as no way to repay Apostacon’s anonymous donor. So telling Meagan to say “don’t use any language suggesting we can’t pay” would have been tantamount to telling her treasurer to lie.
What’s more, trying to hide those issues from the treasurer was grossly irresponsible at best. And then charging $400+ to room service over the weekend would also have been highly irresponsible.
Were there communication issues with P&T similar to communication issues with the Apostacon team? Did you try to negotiate with P&T for a lower price knowing that money was an issue for Apostacon 2015?
Not to my knowledge prior to post-Apostacon 2015, when I had to deal with my Aunt’s death. I was told by Meagan that we would be close, but fine.
Again, this appears to be untrue. In fact, Sarah specifically told Shanon Nebo not to tell Meagan how bad the finances were. And I can only assume no attempts were made to negotiate a lower price for Penn & Teller even though she was aware that the money wasn’t there, and wasn’t going to be, partly due to low ticket sales, partly due to mismanagement of funds by Sarah.
In what condition would you say you left the presidential suite (your room for Apostacon 2014)?
The presidential suite is used for storage, overflow sleeping for anyone who needs it (I’ve had up to ten volunteers in my room in a night), snacks, etc. To my knowledge there was no concern with the condition of the suite when we left, and certainly no concern was mentioned when Meagan and I met with the event manager a week later. Nor was any concern mentioned to our Site Selection Agency representative. If there are any claims as to the condition being a problem, please send me photographs and I’ll be glad to review,contact the site selection agent, and try to recall any concerns.
Meagan, Beverly, and Josiah conveyed to me the following interaction with the site manager from Apostacon 2014 (for which they were all present):
During a site visit scouting hotels in Omaha for this year, the site manager Trish was the same person who had worked with us in 2014 at the DoubleTree. She no longer worked at the DoubleTree, but at this new site, and she told us the story of her getting in trouble with her boss for the state of the Presidential Suite upon checkout, to include red lipstick ground into the carpet and the grout.
She left her kids alone in the room for a lot of Apostacon. Lexi wasn’t allowed to see Tyson speak because she was needed to babysit her siblings. This is probably why the suite was is such a mess. The kids didn’t have much adult supervision the whole weekend.
There was also a room specifically for volunteers checked out for Apostacon 2014. I know because I popped into it a couple of times (I spoke at the event).
On July 16, 2015 there was a special discount code that Meagan had set up to be given out to TAM attendees. There was an email newsletter sent out that day, “If you’re headed to Vegas this weekend, keep an eye out for any Apostacon staff – they have a discount code for YOU! When you find Sarah, Josiah, or anyone who was (or will be) a speaker, or is an organizer/volunteer, just ask them for the secret code and enter it into the Eventbrite ticket page to get your discounted tickets today! But remember, when TAM! is over, so is this Super Secret TAM! Sale!” Upon review of the sales data, the discount was not utilized at all. Apostacon personnel stated that the TAM code was not given out to anyone during TAM, and that you did not talk about Apostacon while she was at TAM like you were supposed to be. Is this true? If not, what happened?
We absolutely talked about Apostacon when we were at TAM. Josiah, Shanon, and I all did so and the postcards were almost all picked up from the table. Just because the code didn’t get used doesn’t mean we didn’t encourage people to do so.
This is the account from Shanon and Josiah:
Shanon: I was responsible for designing all tabling materials as well as arranging their printing. I was also responsible for setting up all of the tabling supplies and manning the table. There were no Apostacon postcards. Apostacon was never mentioned. We had no materials for Apostacon at all and I was never directed to design or print any.
Josiah: I spoke with precisely one person about Apostacon, because he happened to be from Dallas. But that was out at the smoking area chatting and introducing ourselves to one another, as one does at conferences, and I was not asked or encouraged to speak about Apostacon in any professional capacity at all, although I did tell Sarah about that guy. I do not recall even being told about a discount code, much less asked to advertise it.
The relevance is that this was a trip expensed to promote Apostacon. However, this remains a case where no documentation is even possible, so it is the word of the Apostacon board against the word of Sarah. I realize this creates frustration, believe me. But as long as I’m attempting to be as complete as possible, people need to know what either side is saying even when there is no documentation to tip the scale one way or the other.
This brings us to Sept. 16, 2015, the start of Apostacon 2015 in Dallas. The hotel informed you that they did not have hotel rooms for anyone that night because they were oversold. While you said that you had apprised the hotel the conference’s room needs, the hotel said that wasn’t true.
The hotel that was oversold was for the Tyson event in 2014, not in 2015. I have emails regarding this, as I had to involve Hilton Corporate to resolve the issue, which they did quite smoothly and acknowledged their misstep.
Actually, I was 100% talking about 2015. Perhaps it was a mistake, but this is what the hotel had for Apostacon’s needs at the time:
It’s clear that for Thursday they indeed had no staff rooms. I have asked Sarah for copies of those emails and will post/revise should I receive them. I do know that when I showed up to check in as a speaker they did not have a room reserved for me, and that several other speakers had similar issues.
Like with the bank, Sarah claims this was the fault of the hotel.
Apostacon staff confirms during this time, while you were driving down to Dallas, that you wouldn’t take some of their calls. Why not?
I was driving through rural Kansas and Oklahoma for ~12-14hrs. There is virtually no cell reception and calls go directly to voicemail in that situation. I am quite sure I emailed them before I left to let them know this and we had discussed this prior to the date of the trip.
Josiah Mannion was in the same van as Sarah and gives this account:
During the drive down there was never any significant loss of reception. There is a stretch at the beginning of the drive, between Council Bluffs and north of St. Joseph’s, where there is poor data reception, but cell coverage is fine. I just made pretty nearly that identical drive just a few weeks ago, and can confirm that Verizon’s coverage is just fine. In addition, I specifically recall Sarah selecting what calls to take and what calls not to take, and it had nothing to do with reception at all, but rather, who and what she wanted or was able to handle at that time.
In addition, there was an extensive leg of the trip where my computer was accessing the internet from her phone so that I could help fix the programs.
I made virtually the same drive. The phone bill Apostacon discovered Sarah paid with the Apostacon credit card suggested she has Verizon, the same as me. My reception was just fine on the way there and back, which makes me inclined to accept Josiah’s account.
Another issue was that the hotel required 100% of the money up front or else they wouldn’t order food. After much negotiation the hotel then agreed to allow for half of the money up front. During these negotiations Meagan suggested that the hotel call Apostacon’s previous locations to confirm that the organization is credit-worthy. Caroline, your contact with the hotel, takes previous location names to make some calls. She eventually discovers that in 2014, the DoubleTree Downtown told her that we were over two months late paying (see the section “Bank Access”).
There was a card on file to hold the account, and we had already paid 10k to the hotel, which was more than the contracted deposit. Screenshots in folder.
To her credit, Sarah was correct about the $10,000 they paid to the hotel:
However, they were expecting $40,000 worth of food, hotel rooms for our invited folks, etc. The Apostacon card had a $10,000 per transaction limit on it and when they attempted to run another $10,000 for the other half of what was expected up front, the card declined because the money simply wasn’t there. It was at this point Meagan put a $10,000 hold on her own credit card since the hotel would not order food without half being secured up front.
The contract with the DFW Marriott specifically said that if the credit is not approved they can determine what is due in the beginning – and the Apostacon credit card was not approved the morning Apostacon began:
Luckily, the hotel still only demanded half the total amount, not the full amount.
Caroline stated that you had not been communicating with her on any regular basis leading up to the conference despite Caroline’s emails asking questions. Caroline also stated that the money issue was caused by the Apostacon debit card being denied twice when authorizations were attempted for the required amounts on the contracted dates. This seems to be in-keeping with reports I’m coming across from everywhere else. What was the reason for this?
I have at least 170 emails between me and Caroline, and that’s just what I still have access to, which means there are likely many more. I’m quite sure we had many calls as well. Caroline was told repeatedly that trying to authorize the full amount would be denied by the bank because it was over the daily limit (10k). I told her this, as did Meagan. They ran it through anyways, and it kept getting denied.
I have sent a request to Sarah for these emails to confirm her account. Will post if/when I receive them.
Meagan puts a $10,000 hold on her personal account so the hotel would order food (meaning it would only get charged if Apostacon failed to pay). Were you worried, due to low funds, that her card would wind up being charged?
I didn’t ask her to do this. In fact, I specifically asked her to wait until we were able to connect with our Site Selection Agent, who was flying at the time, to resolve the issue.
Later you told Amy that the problems were all Caroline’s fault and that the hotel is “playing games” to demand more money up front rather than waiting for payment. Do you still believe this to be the case?
I don’t recall this specific conversation or using that language, but in my review of the event with our site selection agent, she made it clear the hotel had what they needed to run the event as planned.
It’s the lousy thing about in-person conversations when trying to resolve what is true: you get two different accounts with no way to prove which one is true. However, in other conversations Sarah did use the word “scam”:
So, to my eye, accepting that “playing games” was used in person isn’t a particularly far stretch.
When asked about the contract details, Caroline offered a copy of the contract. I’m told that you dismissed the payment agreements as a “mistake” and said that the hotel should have contacted you. Caroline says that she tried numerous times to contact you and received no response.
I have at least 170 emails between me and Caroline, and that’s just what I stilly have access to. I’m quite sure we had many calls as well.
Again, I have asked Sarah to provide these.
On Feb. 29, 2015 Meagan discovers that email@example.com email account has been deleted. At that time you were the sole admin. Did you do this? If so, why? If not, how did this happen?
I texted to clarify that you meant 2016. Please provide any documentation that I had any access to the Apostacon domain after October 2015. My access to anything Apostacon related ended in early October 2015, shortly after Meagan and I met and she was given my logins etc, and I was not aware of this occurring whatsoever.
Meagan claims to have only received the bank login information when Sarah was removed. The current Apostacon board has also been trying to acquire ownership of their web domain through their hosting company:
This makes very little sense if any of them had access to the domain. So the question remains, if Sarah did get locked out of the Apostacon account, how did it happen and who did it?
To be clear, in January a formal request was submitted to Sarah for the login information to a variety of accounts associated with Apostacon:
Username and password for justhost (hosting account for apostacon.org)
Relinquish control of admin of Dropbox folder to RJ
Relinquish control of admin of Eventbrite to Meagan
Any and all usernames and passwords to any of Apostacon’s digital property
Apostacon’s EIN number
Tax ID number – State of Nebraska
All information about any taxes filed
Social media accounts
Twitter username and password
Reddit username and password
Imgur username and password
Username and password for Google Account (firstname.lastname@example.org)
YouTube account username and password, if different
Relinquish control of admin of Apostacon’s LinkedIn page to RJ
Relinquish control of Apostacon’s Facebook page to RJ
Relinquish control of admin of Aposta-Connections Facebook page to RJ or Robert
Any and all additional social media account usernames and passwords for Apostacon
The box of Large Apostacon T-shirts last known to be in Ms. Morehead’s’s possession
Any and all property of Apostacon (digital, social media, promotional materials, financial information) must be returned to Apostacon. This is inclusive of any items not mentioned in this list that Ms. Morehead has access to or possession of.
The bank login information was provided to Meagan after Sarah left/was removed. They received nothing from the rest of this list.
RJ discovered that the Apostacon Facebook page has been deleted. Sarah was the sole admin. Did you do this? If so, why? If not, how did this happen? (The timing of these last two is interesting since this was two days after you received a request for all the passwords to Apostacon’s social media, etc.)
I have no idea what date it was deleted, but my access to anything Apostacon related ended in early October 2015, within days of my last meeting with Meagan. At the time I presumed it was because our terms had ended, and as I’ve always had a fantastic team of volunteers, I had every confidence it was in good hands as my focus had to be elsewhere. The week following Apostacon my Aunt’s health took a serious downturn, and she died not long after. Within a week or two of that occurring, we had another family emergency that took 100% of my time from then onward. At one point in all of that I did deactivate/delete my personal Facebook account. In doing some digging tonight it appears this also does delete pages if you are the page creator and sole admin, screenshots in folder. If I was still an Admin, which I definitely didn’t think I was, that’s the most likely explanation. If that’s indeed what happened then it was unquestionably an accident and not the slightest bit intentional or malicious, nor was I aware that even occurred, as I was considerably distracted during that time.
According to the bylaws (that weren’t voted in, but upon which Sarah purports to be operating) a director’s term ends when a successor has been elected:
If Sarah left before this happened, then she was violating the bylaws which she believed to be valid. But also, the board would not have felt the need to formally remove her if she had already left of her own volition. The board also tells me that they are in possession of no communication from Sarah indicating that she was stepping down.
As for the facebook part, the way I understand it to work is if you deactivate your facebook account, it will only deactivate the page of which you are the sole admin until you reactivate your account. Once your account is reactivated, so is the page. If your account is completely deleted, it probably does delete the account. Since her personal account was still in existence and active when this was discovered, this doesn’t hold water. Also, Sarah currently advertises herself as a social media expert who admins and runs multiple large pages, so what are the odds that she would be unaware of how admin for pages works?
So, again, it’s left to the reader to wonder exactly how these things happened.
Now here is where it gets really depressing. I sent Sarah this email on Friday, April 22. The morning of April 23 the Apostacon board woke up to find that the Dropbox folder with all of Apostacon’s information had been deleted. Sarah was the sole admin. So I ran some tests with dropbox. It seems only the admin is capable of deleting that folder.
Thankfully the Apostacon team had already copied the entire contents of that folder, so all the financial information as well as some of the relevant documents they provided to me were preserved.
Bear in mind, this is not the whole story. There’s a great deal of information I have right now which I am incapable of sharing. I could also go further into Sarah’s mismanagement of Apostacon, but I honestly don’t see the point. I’ve been bad at jobs in the past, I’m glad people later gave me a chance to be good at jobs. But, unfortunately, much of what I’ve found suggests more than just well-intentioned ineptitude.
So why bother writing this? Is this a hit piece against somebody I’ve fully admitted has never wronged me in the slightest? Well, like I said in the beginning, rumors were beginning to fly after that reddit post – some true, some not, some exaggerated, and some understated. I couldn’t watch that and not say anything after all the work I’ve put in during these last few months.
But also…Sarah undoubtedly had access to lengthy donor lists during her time with Apostacon, Recovering From Religion, and the Reason Rally. It’s entirely possible (let’s face it, very, very probable) that she will be soliciting donations for her future projects. As Hemant established with his piece about We Are Atheism, potential donors need to know when things don’t add up, or if there’s a decent chance their money could be misused.
Remember, when this all began I did everything in my power to help Sarah. I began investigating with the full expectation that I would find she was wronged. My investigation came to feel very much like leaving religion. Regardless of my emotional investment, the facts are the facts, and the truth slowly began to overcome what I had previously believed. Like with religion, in the infancy of having my mind changed on some things I’d love to be proven wrong and have my mind changed back. If Sarah could do it, if any of you could do it, I’d be extremely happy. This has not been easy at all.
Anyway, there’s the information I’m able to provide.
While surely the Apostacon board deserves some of the blame for not keeping closer tabs on Sarah, she was also very good at keeping them in the dark. Still, the Apostacon board has done, in my eyes, an exemplary job of getting things back to an even keel. In the future I will do a post about why I still think Apostacon is a worthwhile investment and is heading in the right direction despite being left in shambles and $50,000 in debt after Sarah was removed/left. But I’ve been writing this post for three days straight and I think I’ve earned a rest.