Generally, when you’re suspected of a federal crime that could send you to prison for decades, staying on the good side of judges is prudent.
Actively antagonizing them is rash.
But somehow, Freya D. Pearson didn’t get that memo.
Years after she became a suspect in the theft of almost $500,000 from a Kansas City lottery winner, and just one day before a local federal grand jury indicted her in that case last week, Pearson swore out a criminal complaint against a judge in Conyers, Ga.
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Asking a Rockdale County court to issue arrest warrants against one of its own, Pearson, 41, alleged that Probate Judge Charles Mays Sr. owed her about $20,000 in unpaid wages.
Asked during a brief telephone interview to comment on her legal issues, Pearson declined. But she acknowledged that her situation has turned into a media spectacle as reporters in Georgia and Missouri scrambled to learn more about the cases.
“You guys are just enjoying this, and I’m not,” she said. “I don’t have anything to say.”
Pearson, who is free on bond from the Kansas City federal charges, has been living, along with her teenage daughter and young granddaughter, with the probate judge and his family in a rented Conyers home.
Mays invited them into his house after Pearson moved there from California several months ago to serve as a consultant to his court, according to Georgia court filings. Now that they’ve become legal adversaries, the judge wants her out of the house.
Mays filed an eviction action against Pearson, alleging that she owes him $5,600 in back rent and interest. But minutes before the case was to go to court this week, Mays dropped his eviction demand.
Pearson’s attorney speculated to reporters there that the dismissal came after the judge realized he might have to testify and open himself to questions about Pearson’s back pay claims.
That attorney, Michael Waldrop, filed the request for arrest warrants against Mays under a provision of Georgia law that allows citizens, and not just prosecutors, to petition a court for criminal charges.
If a judge finds probable cause after a hearing, arrest warrants are issued and the case proceeds just as if a prosecutor or grand jury had filed the charges, according to Georgia statute.
The sight of a woman trying to jail a probate judge, with whom she is living, while fighting felony fraud charges in Missouri has set tongues wagging in Conyers, a small city about 24 miles east of Atlanta.
Charmaine Moss, a Mays supporter and the pastor of a nondenominational church in Conyers, described the judge as a generous, warm-hearted man who has become the victim of his political enemies. Voters elected Mays in 2012 as the county’s first African-American probate judge. She believes Pearson, who also is African-American, is being used against Mays by his political opponents.
“Because of it being a big deal in Conyers, it could have a major impact on the people here,” Moss said. “It’s real important to us that the truth comes out.”
Mays, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment to The Star, although just as the controversy erupted in October, he told a Conyers newspaper that he was the victim of a “political vendetta.”
Waldrop, who serves as the city attorney for Conyers, did not return calls from The Star for comment. But in court filings, he said the judge deserved to feel “the full weight of the law” because he hadn’t paid Pearson what she was owed.
“I am not sure that I have seen a more vicious and morally bankrupt stance taken in my 26 years of practice,” Waldrop wrote.
Speaking with Georgia reporters on Thursday, Waldrop predicted that Pearson would be exonerated of the Kansas City fraud charges and said that any discussion of them in Georgia was just an attempt to tarnish her reputation and make Mays appear less guilty.
Still, one woman from Pearson’s past isn’t surprised that Pearson has again found herself at the center of a controversy where broken promises, shattered trust and money are at issue.
Marva Wilson lost $480,000 in lottery winnings to Pearson, federal prosecutors alleged in the Kansas City indictment.
Wilson won $2 million from the Missouri Lottery in 2008. She spent some of the money on two houses and established an annuity that would have paid her $30,000 a year for the rest of her life.
But in 2010, a family member introduced her to Pearson, who offered to help with a real estate matter, Wilson said. Wilson said she was under the impression that Pearson was a lawyer. Later, Wilson said, Pearson drove a wedge between her and a financial adviser who looked after her lottery winnings.
Kansas City court records alleged that Pearson took $480,000, plowed it into a nonprofit company and used the cash for gambling, travel, cars, clothes and furniture.
When questioned by investigators in 2011 and 2013, Pearson described her financial dealings with Wilson as “business.” And Waldrop said recently that the transaction amounted to a loan that Pearson was unable to repay.
But prosecutors alleged it was fraud.
“She was smart, slick and sinister, and everything that went along with it,” Wilson said.