Breaking this record took Olympian effort
What do you do when the record is wrong and it lets the past haunt you?
FOR MORE than six years, Angela Devona Belle has been carrying a knapsack of false charges on her back. Because I helped put it there, I had to help her shed it.
The story starts in 2008 with a column on scammers, one of a series I did on con artists scavenging in Philadelphia and the suburbs.
I can't recall how Belle's name came to me, but when I checked the charges against her - mostly theft by deception - with the Lower Merion Police Department and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, they were verified.
For reasons I can't understand, neither the cops nor the D.A. told me that by the time I called them the charges had been withdrawn. It's possible that they didn't know, which suggests a paperwork screwup, but I just don't know.
Neither do they. It's a mystery, but one that causes pain for Belle.
I tried unsuccessfully to reach Belle before I wrote my column. Shortly after the column ran, she called me to say I'd gotten it wrong, that the charges were dropped. The Daily News carried a story correcting the record, but that was only our record.
Even though she was never arrested, background checks kept finding ghost charges that laid suspicion on her.
Just last fall, the 38-year-old Belle was up for a job through Stivers Staffing Services. "She never made it through prelicensing," I was told by senior coordinator Ashley Knecht, because Belle failed the background check. She was forced to take a lower-paying job that didn't require a background check.
It's not the first time the Germantown native was tripped by a background check, and Belle fears it won't be the last. The soft-spoken mother of a college-attending daughter showed me documents to prove everything she said.
I checked her government-issued ID, her address, her certificate in marketing from Community College of Philadelphia, her summa cum laude certificate from the PJA School of paralegal and accounting in Upper Darby. Her current employer, Gene Pryor of A Tax Brake Income Tax Service, calls her a loyal and valuable employee.
Before Belle got to me, last fall she brought her problem to the Lower Merion police and spoke with Lt. Frank Higgins. "She does have some kind of an issue," he said. He also told me that he had given Belle permission to give his name and number to prospective employers so he could assure them she is clean.
"It doesn't make any sense" that her name kept coming up on background checks, Higgins told me.
Belle showed me a letter she received from the Department of Welfare in September 2007, just before bad things began to happen. It said "two computers containing personal information" were stolen and her personal information may have been among that.
Belle suspects that someone else used her information to commit crimes.
It's a good theory.
My next call was to Ferman, who pulled records and was "perplexed" by what she found: The original charges were withdrawn twice, precisely two years apart - Nov. 9, 2007, and Nov. 9, 2009.
Although that mystery could not be solved, Ferman said the charges can be expunged and, "We will do this for her."
And so, finally, the knapsack of false charges is off Belle's back.
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky