Russ Whitney threatens his stepmother into silence by John T. Reed 1 In May of 2003, I located and interviewed Russ Whitney' stepmother. He had trashed her in his book Building Wealth. I told how I searched for and found her and why at another article on this Web site. I interviewed the stepmother on Monday, May 19, 2003. She was on her way out and asked me to come back the following day. I had to miss my oldest son' "Class Day" as part of his graduating from Columbia University, but I figured it was worth it. At "Class Day," they read the name of each of 950 graduates and the kids walk across a stage and shake some official' hand. I did attend commencement the following day. Interview with Russ Whitney' stepmother On May 20, 2003, I interviewed Russ Whitney' stepmother for about two hours. During that time, I explained that I was seeking information about Russ Whitney for both my writing about him and for my defense in the lawsuits he has brought against me. I asked if I could quote her by name. She said I could. I promised to send her copies of the various articles I had written about Whitney. When I got back home, I did that, binding them into a comb-bound book for her convenience. I also repeatedly urged her to visit my Web site because it has stuff that I did not send her like hit-and-run crime-scene photos. She has no computer and has never used the Web. I urged her to do so at the library or at the home of a friend or relative. As far as I know, she never did. I later interviewed her for an hour or more by phone one day and for another hour or so on another day when she called me to report that Russ had contacted a person living on her street to ask if I had really visited the stepmother and what she had told me. (He reportedly got the answers, "Yes" and "I don"t know.") Sent her a copy of the interview I also promised to send her a copy of my article about my interview with her before I published it, because some of the facts she related to me warranted extra care. My cover letter when I sent her the interview article said, "Here' the interview article. Please tell me if I got any of it wrong." So did I get any of it wrong? I don"t know. She won"t say. I also FedExed a copy of the article to Russ asking him if it had any errors or omissions or if he had a comment he would like me to consider addding to the article. He also did not respond. Message from Whitney' stepmother I called her on Friday, June 20, 2003, and left a message on her answering machine asking if the article had any errors. Later that day, she called and spoke to my 16-year-old son. Here is what he wrote on the pink phone message slip: Can"t release her statements Whitney' boys threatened her What does, "Can"t release statements" mean? I am not sure it means anything to me. The interview was on the record. I promised to let her read it before publication, and I did. The purpose of that was to make sure it accurately reflected what she told me. I realize that Whitney' stepmother is not media savvy. That' why I took the extra steps of letting her read it in advance and letting a month elapse in the process. Journalists normally refuse to do such things. Threat? What about the phrase, "Whitney' boys threatened her?" I asked my son if she indicated the medium used to communicate the threat. He said she said they phoned her. I asked him if the threat was physical, legal, or what. He said she did not say. Whitney' stepmother is a 73-year-old woman. What kind of man threatens a 73-year-old woman? His father' wife, no less! Whitney reportedly reveres his father. I wonder what his father would think about his elderly wife being threatened by his son. What' his complaint? And what provoked the threat? All Russ Whitney knew was that I talked to her. He knew nothing about what she told me. He only knew what facts she could have related to me. Until he hears that she made a false, defamatory statement about him, what right would Russ Whitney have to threaten legal action against her? Apparently, Russ Whitney assumes that if his stepmother talked about him to me it would make him look really bad. Boys? And who are the "boys?" She used that word. The attorneys I deal with are Scott Rothstein and Christina Kitterman. I would not expect that anyone would refer to them as "Whitney' boys." I think he' bluffing Actually, I think he'
bluffing. If he sued his stepmother, everything she knows about him"”including stuff I would not have published because of lack of relevance or want of more confirmation"”would come out in the public record under oath. Probably, other relatives and acquaintances would also testify. Furthermore, he would have to answer questions about everything she talked about under oath and provide pertinent documents as part of the suit. Whitney' goal appears to be to get me and her to shut up. Suing anyone who knows things about him which he does not want to come out would only have the opposite effect. His lawsuits against me are a classic illustration of that"”and we have not yet begun any court-ordered discovery! Suing would give his opponents subpoena power to ferret out evidence and witnesses and permanently post the litigation documents in the pertinent court house and on its Web site. I"ll continue to seek corroboration of what the stepmother told me I have decided not to use the stepmother as my sole source on any controversial matters, but I have not forgotten what she told me. I will continue to seek other sources to confirm the things she told me"”including through discovery in the litigation Whitney has brought against me. Remove her name and quotes Because of his stepmother' new refusal to "release her statements," I will remove her name from the article. I will also remove words in quotation marks attributed to her. And I will remove my paraphrases of certain things she said. Below is a redacted form of the article. I signified where pieces are removed by the word "redacted." I ask others who know about the events or times in question to contact me. His stepmother told me a bunch of facts about Whitney. Many can be confirmed by other people or public sources. As I confirm them, I will restore those parts of the article with facts or statements by other witnesses rather than statements by his stepmother. I may also decide that I will simply report things she told me without citing her as a source, if the things appear to be true and consistent with other things which I have confirmed. Reckless disregard of the truth For Whitney to sue me over things I learned from his stepmother, he has to allege that I have said things that are false and that I either knew they were false when I published them or I recklessly disregarded whether they were true. I do not think that her telling me she can"t "release her statements" is the same as her telling me that everything she said in the interviews was a lie. She seemed credible to me. The things she told me were all consistent with other behavior of his that is on the record. And his efforts to shut her up strongly suggests that he believes she has significant damning information about him. If Whitney were to sue me over things I learned from his stepmother, the burden of proof would be on Whitney to prove that what I said was false and that I either knew it was false or recklessly disregarded whether it was false. That would force him to give testimony and provide documents regarding events that may otherwise be irrelevant. Such a suit would also require that his stepmother testify under oath. In court, she cannot decline to "release her statements." A new suit would make any new things he sued about relevant. And such a suit would put everything in the public record. Who got his stepmother into this? As I said elsewhere at this Web site, I generally have no interest in the childhoods of real estate gurus. That, in turn, means I also have no interest in their stepmothers. But Mr. Whitney sued me saying he has a good reputation among other things. That forced me to investigate his reputation. Since he talked at length about his childhood and family life in his book, thereby "opening the door" to inquiry into those matters, I investigated to see if he was telling the truth and to see what kind of reputation he had then. Any evidence that he has not told the truth about something would generally be admissible for what courts call "impeaching the witness." His stepmother got into this by marrying Russell Walter Whitney and by his son, Russell Andrew Whitney"”the guru"”writing about her and other family members in his books and being a litigious S.O.B., which is what got me into it. She is probably an innocent bystander of sorts, but so were the people in the bank when Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army robbed it. Wrong place wrong time. Most witnesses are reluctant. Childhood, long time ago; threat, recent Virtually all of what Whitney' stepmother told me was about his childhood. Seems to me he could have dismissed that as ancient history. He has done just that regarding his robbery conviction and prison time. Childhood transgressions are generally not allowed to be disclosed to the public by law-enforcement authorities. Most periodicals have a policy of not identifying the perpetrator of a crime if he or she is a juvenile. But Russ Whitney threatening a 73-year-old woman"”that is not something that happened 30 years ago when he was a kid. It happened in June, 2003"”when he was 47. By threatening her now to prevent her from telling me about his childhood"”he creates current, adult behavior that is quite relevant to judging what kind of person he is today. As in many cases, the cover up may get the perp in more trouble than the original behavior. One of the things Whitney sued me about was a comment by one of his unhappy customers in an email I published. Among other things, the comment was that Whitney had a propensity to threaten people. What genius on Whitney' "Power Team" thought it would be a good idea for him to threaten his 73-year-old stepmother while he was in the middle of litigation in which he has to prove in court that he is not the kind of guy who threatens people? Redacted version of my interview with Russ Whitney' stepmother So it turns out that the woman I was told lived across the street from Russ Whitney' boyhood home, is actually his stepmother. She owned both homes and decided to change which one she lived in at some point. What follows is her best recollection of Russ Whitney' childhood as she knows it. One tough cookie She is one tough cookie. God only knows how a shrinking-violet type of stepmother would have fared dealing with the Russchild. I liked her. She was fun to talk to, friendly, funny, irreverent, hospitable, profane, authentic, and uninhibited. If anyone ever does a TV program about Whitney, I predict that the interview with Whitney' stepmother will be the highlight of the show. Furthermore, juxtaposing her spontaneous, tell-it-like-it-is style with Russ' always-selling style would, for most viewers, answer in a heartbeat which is telling the truth about Russ' childhood. It would be great TV. Revealing character Before I got a chance to ask my first question or even sit down, she made a statement that in dramatic writing would be said to reveal character. She summed up in one short, powerful phrase what she thought of Russ Whitney. Now I cannot tell you what it was. Her marriage to Russell Walter Whitney was the second for both of them. For the young people in the reading audience, those were the days (1950') before "no-fault" divorce. Nowadays, you can get a divorce by just claiming irreconcilable differences. Not back then. The party seeking the divorce had to prove the other had broken some pertinent law. It must also be mentioned that in the 1950', wives were expected to stay home, cook, clean house, and take care of the kids. Men were the breadwinners. So it took a lot of guts for a pregnant woman in her early twenties to fire her first husband in that era. She met Russell Walter Whitney when he was getting his own 1950' divorce and custody of guru Russ from his first wife: guru Russ' biological mother Lois Whitney. "˜Can"t tell the players without a program" Let me stop here and give you a cast of characters because it may be hard to keep track if I don"t. First off, in the Whitney family, all the men are named Russ Whitney. Here are four generations of them: Russell B. Whitney"”Grandfather of guru Russ; father of Russell Walter Whitney; Russell B. was beagle breeder and mailman in the West Kill, NY, area Russell Walter Whitney"”father of guru Russ Russell Andrew Whitney"”the guru; middle name is the first name of his biological mother' father Russell Walter Whitney"”first son of the guru; (Whitney mentions his first son by name in the acknowledgement section of his book Overcoming the Hurdles and Pitfalls of Investing in Real Estate and in the dedication of his book Building Wealth. I understand that his son is now an instructor or introduces instructors like some sort of master of ceremonies for his father. In other words, he and his father have chosen to put him in the public eye.) Within the stepmother' family, Russell Walter Whitney was known as "Russ" and his son, the guru-to-be, was called "Russell" to distinguish them. Lois Whitney"”Whitney' biological mother. Died around 2002 in Long island, NY. Charline"”Whitney' step-sister, daughter of his stepmother from her first husband, apparently a year or two older than guru Russ, now deceased, had five children. Barbara"”Whitney' half-sister with whom he lived briefly when he was around 17, daughter of Lois. I would like to talk to her, too. Aunt Lynn"”Sister of Russell Walter Whitney, guru Russ' aunt, now deceased Reno aunt"”Sister of Russell Walter Whitney, another aunt of guru Russ, apparently still living Marriage Russell Walter Whitney married the guru' biological mother in 1955. I would like to get the date and the name of the wife. It' probably on some marriage record in Suffolk County or Levittown. Russell Walter Whitney was active in the Cross Island Motorcycle Club. He met Russ' mother through the club. I would like to track down information on the motorcycle club. They lived and owned a home in Levittown, LI, area. Levittown is on Long Island in Nassau County. The west end of Long Island is comprised of the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The next county going east is Nassau County. Russ Whitney' half-sister Barbara was the child of Russ' mother and her first husband. Whitney refers to her as his half-sister in his book Building Wealth on page 22. Divorce and custody of Russ Russell Walter Whitney and his wife"”guru Russ' mother"”were divorced when guru Russ was three and Russell Walter got custody. That was 1958. It was extremely unusual for a man to get custody in a 1950' divorce. Russ' natural mother' parents and grandparents stayed in touch with his stepmother for some years. The newly-divorced Russell Walter Whitney and Russ moved in with his sister Lynn in Smithtown, Long Island about half way out on the Island in Suffolk County. Suffolk County is roughly the eastern half of Long Island. Russell Walter and guru-to-be Russ shared a bedroom. Lynn apparently took care of guru Russ from when his parents got divorced until her brother remarried. Around that time, Russell Walter met Russ' stepmother. They were both in their late twenties at the time and each had a child. Each worked at separate trucking companies that were across the street from each other. "˜Aunt Lynn Land" When Russ was six, in 1961, Russell Walter Whitney married Russ' stepmother. Little Russ quickly discovered that "we aren"t in Aunt Lynn Land anymore." Aunt Lynn moved back to Wyckoff, NJ and her mother joined her. Six-year-old Russ was not pleased with this development. On page 22 of Building Wealth, Russ says, "Because he believed I needed a mother, my father remarried." This suggests that Mr. Whitney had no use for the stepmother other than for her maid, nanny, and housecleaning services. Such a self-centered view would be normal for a child and especially normal for Little Russ, but he was Big Russ when he wrote that book. He should have known better then. The two Russes moved out of their Smithtown apartment and moved into his stepmother' apartment at 64-57 Springfield Boulevard, Bayside, Queens, NY. This, and their living in Levittown and Smithtown, explains why I did not pick up Russell Walter' trace when I checked all the old phone books from Brooklyn and Queens. The phone was in the stepmother' name. She was a tenant in a rental apartment, which also explains why I found no trace of Russell Walter as a property owner in Queens. "˜Jeeves, my galoshes" I surmise that Aunt Lynn spoiled Russ. In one Internet posting, he refers to her as a "saint" and says she was "loving and caring." Stepmother told me of an incident in first grade which I am redacting. Make your bed Further evidence that Aunt Lynn spoiled little Russ: The stepmother' 7-year-old daughter Charline had to make her own bed. Then Russ and his father moved in with the stepmother and Charline. I am redacting the rest of this story. The boy from New York City Russ Whitney says he was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. On page 17 of his book Overcoming the Hurdles and Pitfalls of Investing in Real Estate, Russ Whitney says, "Growing up in a pretty tough area of New York City roughened my edges a bit"¦" First off, he was not born in Brooklyn. His father was born in Brooklyn. Guru Russ was born in the Levittown, Long Island area according to his stepmother. That would make sense since his parents were living there at the time and it' a long way to Brooklyn when you"re in labor. Secondly, he only spent three years of his childhood in New York City. Here is the chronology of Russ Whitney' childhood homes as best I"ve been able to piece it together: Age Hometown Years 1-3 Levittown, Long Island "55-"58 4-6 Smithtown, Long Island "58-"60 6-8 64-57 Springfield Boulevard, Bayside, Queens, NY "61-"63 9-14 Ocean Avenue, Highlands, NJ "64-"70 15? Reno, NV "71 16? Military school in CA or TX "72 17? Queens, NY and somewhere in FL "73 18 Queens, NY "74 18 New York State Prison Queens "74-"76 So exactly when was he in New York City? From age 6 to 8, he was technically in New York City. Although Bayside, Queens is a little over a mile from Nassau County, which is a suburban area. I am told Bayside was a quasi suburb then in spite of being within New York City limits. It consisted mainly of detached single-family homes in the 1950'. I welcome additional information from people who lived there then. However, from everything I"ve heard, it is a stretch to describe Bayside Queens in the early sixties as "a pretty tough area of New York City"¦" Also, I doubt that kids who are six to eight years old get their "edges roughened" by their neighborhood. That is more of a teenage phenomenon. Whitney apparently was back in Queens around age 17 and 18. He entered prison there at age 18 3/4. He apparently lived in Queens with his half-sister briefly before prison, but it hardly seems like one should call that "growing up." He had dropped out of school and claimed he was working three jobs at the time. In general, Russ Whitney grew up in the suburbs of Long Island and at the seashore resort of Highlands, NJ. He also apparently lived about a year with an affluent aunt in Reno, NV and for an unknown time at an expensive, private military school out West. Why is Russ claiming to have grown up in a "pretty tough area of New York City?" I suspect because it sounds more melodramatic, like his claiming to have worked in a "slaughterhouse" at age 20. He apparently wants us to think he' another Jimmy Cagney or some could-have-been gangsta rapper. In fact, Russ Whitney was just another suburban kid like most of us"”Levittown for gosh sakes! Levittown is the archetype American suburb.