Tawana Brawley tracked down by man who sued her after discredited rape accusation
After 15 years of changing names, jobs, addresses and even her Social Security number, Tawana Brawley couldn't escape her past, getting served this week with a court order to pay restitution to the man she falsely accused of raping her in 1987.
For that man, former Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones, and his attorney, Garry Bolnick of New City, it could be the end of a drawn-out search.
"It's never easy to find somebody who is trying to stay unfound," Bolnick said Thursday. "The lead we got was a year or so ago, when her mother came out and began to make statements trying to figure out how she could make money off of her daughter's case."
Brawley was a 15-year-old living in Dutchess County in 1987 when she was found wrapped in a garbage bag outside an apartment in Wappingers Falls, with racial epithets scrawled on her body in charcoal. She was raped by three white men, she told police, and Pagones became the primary suspect as racial tensions boiled. In 1988, a grand jury cleared Pagones and said there was no evidence Brawley was raped; a decade later, Pagones won a defamation suit against Brawley, the Rev. Al Sharpton and several men who advised Brawley in the case.
Glenda Brawley, Tawana's mother, broke her silence in 2007, telling a reporter she still believes her daughter was raped and that the rapists were never held accountable.
"We should be millionaires," Glenda Brawley said at the time, revealing her daughter was working as a nurse under a different name.
Statements she has made since then have provided more clues, Bolnick said, indicating her daughter was living in Virginia. In January, Bolnick and Pagones -- who now owns a private investigation firm -- found Tawana Brawley, who was going by the name Tawana Vacenia Thompson Gutierrez and was working at a nursing home near Richmond, Va.
Brawley never paid the $190,000 she owed Pagones after a defamation suit. With interest, Brawley, 40, owes Pagones more than $430,000.
Pagones and Bolnick will try to garnish Tawana Brawley's wages at a rate of about 10 percent per paycheck, but said they fear she may disappear again. She has used different names, going by Tawana Thompson and Maryam Muhammad, among other aliases, and has a long list of previous addresses in Washington and Virginia, Bolnick said.
"We did come close on a couple of occasions to finding her," he said, but Brawley always skipped town and changed her name to avoid paying her portion of the damages from the defamation suit.
Sharpton, who publicly defended the then-teen and named Pagones as the rapist, was ordered to pay $65,000 in the same settlement. He dodged attempts to collect, telling a Dutchess County judge in 2000 he didn't have the means to pay and didn't even own the suits he wore. In 2001, a group that included the late attorney Johnnie Cochran paid Sharpton's portion of the settlement, which totaled more than $87,000 with interest.
Pagones wasn't immediately available to comment Thursday. Attempts to reach Tawana Brawley were unsuccessful, and it wasn't clear if she had an attorney.
Tawana Brawley may be able to avoid paying the settlement from the defamation suit if she publicly apologizes to Pagones, who has said it's "not about the money." His accuser, however, has resisted calls for an apology in the past.
"There's nothing to stop her from running," Bolnick said.