65-year old Marva Wilson was thrilled when she won the Missouri jackpot in 2008. Now, thanks to a heartbreaking fraud committed by a woman she thought of as a friend, she’s broke.
Wilson won over $2 million after buying a lottery ticket the day of the drawing eight years ago, which she used to buy two houses and, with the help of a financial adviser, set up an annuity that would pay her about $30K a year for the rest of her life. In interviews conducted shortly after she won, she also said she’d like to help pay for her granddaughter to go to college.
“I jumped off my bed and ran into my daughter’s room screaming and hollering,” she said at the time. “It was just like a dream.”
Two years later she met Freya Pearson, an unemployed woman whose only income came from child support and Social Security benefits. The two became friends, and Pearson began giving her “financial advice” — conning her into withdrawing her winnings from her annuity account and funneling them to Wilson’s fake nonprofit, “Recidivism at Work.”
All told Wilson transferred $480,000 to RAW, which Pearson used “to gamble, travel, buy cars, clothes, and furniture, and pay rent,” according to the indictment filed against Pearson at the end of October. “No identifiable money was used for the nonprofit entity, nor for any business purpose.” Even the indictment notes that Wilson was “financially unsophisticated,” making her dependent upon the advice of those she trusted to manage her money.
Just half a year later, Pearson filed for bankruptcy, officially reporting that she had only $1,770 in assets, $91,883.42 in unsecured debts, and no job. She in fact had a total of $56,506.33 at her disposal in undisclosed RAW bank accounts. She received a discharge of her debts a few months later.
Pearson filed no tax return that year, evading $122,000 in federal income tax.
But wait, there’s more! Shortly before getting Wilson to siphon away her money, Pearson successfully applied for federal housing benefits through the Section 8 housing voucher program, which pays most — or all — of low income families’ rent. Despite the tens of thousands Pearson had taken from Wilson, the federal government gave her $76,837.70 in housing benefits between 2010 and 2014. Not only that, but the benefits were paid by the Weston Housing Authority for a rental home in Kansas City, Missouri — despite the fact that she was living four hours away in St. Louis for much of this time.
“She was a smart, slick, lying, educated crook,” Wilson told 41 Action News “One time I called her, and she was getting ready to board the plane to the Bahamas.”
All told Pearson has been charged with three counts of wire fraud, four counts of money laundering, one count of tax evasion, and one count of making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This isn’t the first time Pearson’s been in the news — earlier this year she accused Judge Charles K. Mays of owing her $20,000 in back pay. She filed an application for his arrest in October, alleging that in addition to withholding her wages, he used government money to pay for a trip to California. Pearson, her daughter, and her granddaughter have been living with Mays since moving to Georgia from California, where she went after Wilson’s well ran dry.
As of late October, she was still living with Mays, despite his filing for them to be removed.
“She’s still there for now,” said Pearson’s lawyer. “She’s looking for a place, but she doesn’t have any money.”