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Hey, Margaret Seltzer, about that nonprofit ...


Margaret B Jones Seltzer, the fake memoirist du jour, has included, in her stories of growing up in gangland, the fact that she's stayed involved with the community via a nonprofit called International Brother/SisterHood. The extent of that involvement -- and what that nonprofit is, exactly -- is unclear.

The New York Times Home section profile, which ran on Feb. 28 (and prompted her sister to call the paper with the news that the memoir was untrue), tells it this way:

Recently, she started a gang truce organization called International Brother/SisterHood to help youths move away from gang life.

But ... a library record of the book says that she was only:

an active member of International Brother/SisterHood, which works to reduce gang violence and mentor urban teens.

According to her Penguin author's interview (recently removed from the publisher's website but archived here), she is definitely involved, although the issue of who founded the organization remains murky:

I work with International Brother/SisterHood. The idea for the organization came from two homies who have been on death row for twenty years and who felt something needed to be done. ... We're gang members trying to use mentoring and positive contacts with youth, educators, parents and community mentors to elevate the community one person at a time. ... If you're a teacher or a parent and want someone to talk to, hit us up. If you are in the hood and looking for a way out and we have $25 and you need it to pay for submitting a college application, we'll pay it. We go out and talk to these little kids because they look up to us.

But who talks to the little kids? The author lives in Oregon. The homies live on death row. What "we" goes into the community? Where is the International Brother/SisterHood office? Is there a phone number? Where do those college aspirants go, exactly, for that $25?

The International Brother/SisterHood website was live at brothersisterhood.com until late last night or early this morning but has since been taken down. I took a few screenshots (Gawker did too), and there was, I'm afraid, none of the typical information provided by nonprofits. Instead, this was the homepage notice:

Welcome to BrotherSisterhood.com. This is the place for all the latest information about the upcoming book LOVE AND CONSEQUENCES and its author Margaret B. Jones. You will also find information about the International Brother/SisterHood foundation, as well as links to other, related organizations. Feel free to click through the links at left to explore our site.

The site of Brother/SisterHood is the place for all the latest information about "Love and Consequences"? That seems strange. According to Gawker, "[t]he foundation's website appears to have been registered in the name of Seltzer's agent, Faye Bender," in October 2007. Is the website of International Brother/SisterHood a book promotion vehicle? (A message inquiring about the registration and the purpose of the website was left on Bender's voicemail, but it was after hours in New York.)

Of course, the International Brother/SisterHood organization (upgraded, on the website, to a foundation) could certainly exist without a Web presence. Which is why I checked with some places that keep track of nonprofits and haven't been able to find any records. Guidestar, which tracks its data through federal filings, didn't find it; the closest it came was International Sisterhood -- which was founded 16 years ago and, as a nonoperating foundation, makes grants only to other nonprofits, not to individuals, as International Brother/SisterHood claimed to do. Initial inquiries with the California State Attorney General's Office -- all California nonprofits must be registered there -- didn't turn up anything. And a local LA nonprofit service organization didn't, either.

It's hardly shocking to think that Seltzer, who concocted a fictional memoir, could also invent a nonexistent nonprofit. But there are plenty of real organizations doing good work with at-risk kids all over LA. Why not get involved with one of them?

And think: If Seltzer actually volunteered with an organization, any organization, why bother to make one up?

Carolyn Kellogg

photo, titled "Fame," by Bernard Mickey Wrangle

Comments () | Archives (11)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Has the gap between the literate and the not-so gaped so wide that the literate can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy? So much for being literate. But I have a memoir that has all of Margaret Jones/Seltzer's stuff (except for gangs), and it's not a fantasy. Only, I've made philosophy profs angry at me [am founder of Xantippe Society, and sole member, it seems--excepting for our great long-suffering and despised foremother] for saying most philosophical writng is fiction. It's all made up and make believe, after all, anything written down, even an engineering manual.
LSJ--Port Angeles, WA

uh, what part of fraud didn't you understand?

This is what happens when publishers choose to publish material not because it is good or meaningful, but because of the POLITICAL interests of the publisher.

This is what? Twice she's been snookered by a so-called "memoir" writer?


I have a memoir about the tme i worked in a Yardie crackhouse in London. It's for sale along with London Bridge.

I've seen no claims from Seltzer or anyone else regarding the financial classification (i.e., for-profit, not-for-profit, or who-the-hell-cares?) of this ersatz "foundation."

The slapdash homemade pages at BrotherSisterhood.com included no physical address, no mailing address, no telephone number, no solicitations for donations, no names of directors or employees, and no references whatsoever to income, expenditures, or activities.

Neither the term "foundation" nor the term "organization" has any specific legal meaning, financial or otherwise.

So why are you riding off on this "nonprofit" hobbyhorse, checking Guidestar and making inquiries at the State of California Attorney General's office and an L.A. nonprofit service organization?

You know, Carolyn, fake investigative reporters are just as annoying as fake memoirists.

Does anyone know her in South Central?

To Simone Pistache:

The term "foundation" is used by the IRS for a different charitable entity than a nonprofit corporation. I was involved in a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that had been mistakenly classified by the IRS as a foundation until this was straightened out. You would have to see the IRS code to see the technical difference.

In any event, it takes time to legally register a nonprofit, a corporation, or other charitable entity. For Seltzer and agent Bender to put up a website before the entity is officially approved is reckless at best. And of course, all indications point to the "foundation" here being technically nonexistent, along with the memoir being a fraud.

Yes, of course, Greg. Obviously the foundation is non-existent. The character in the book is non-existent, too. So what if there's no foundation? There's no entire "memoir"!

And yes, I'm quite familiar with the tax code. The IRS uses a lot of terms -- sale, contribution, expense, loss, foundation, etc. -- that aren't specific to tax law and imply no tax (or even legal) consequences by their mere use.

It's trivial to confirm on the Web that, in the U.S., a "foundation" is not necessarily a legal entity. I can call myself the Help-a-Moron Foundation (www.help-a-moron.org) and tell everyone that I give 25 cents to each moron I encounter. Neither my (in)actions nor my mere claim that I'm a foundation require me to comply with any statutes, regulations, or approval processes. I don't even need a business license! As long as I'm not soliciting contributions, or generating income that isn't properly reported to state and Federal tax agencies, or doing business under that name, or causing you to incur expenses because you relied on my claim, my use of the word "foundation" is essentially meaningless. And whoever wants to "expose" the facts that I haven't applied for not-for-profit status, don't have a license, don't file tax returns, am not registered with any state or Federal agencies, and don't even hand out any quarters, has just qualified for one of those quarters herself!

So some amateur hustlers put up a fake website? Jesus, they published a whole fake book! We already know that! Now, if you want to go all investigative-reporter on their asses, FIRST you find out whether the International Brother/SisterHood "foundation" or "organization" has done any business under that name, and/or solicited contributions. THEN you find out whether they have actually received contributions or services. And only THEN do you try to find out whether they have a business license, whether a tax return has been filed, and whether special tax status has been applied for/granted. FINALLY, you sit down and figure out whether you have any news to report. If you do, post it or print it. Otherwise, your "story" is just another instance of hyped bogosity, like Carolyn's entry above.

This is what I don't get - a good novel is just as compelling as a tell-all memoir. Why go to such lengths to pretend to be a person who you aren't? Writing the book, just that activity will make you live vicariously.Apparently, there's a part of her that wants to be from the hood - lots of people have secret fantasy lives. Now the poor girl will always be known as a fraud, when she could have had just written a novel. The book received great reviews from respected literary critics. Talk about blowing it!

Shame on this woman for creating this work of fiction.

This woman is a disgrace to people who actually grew up in this type of environment. I am appalled that she would make this choice to write a work of fiction and claim it to be true. I grew up as a ward of the state of Rhode Island and I had many experiences that have affected me to this day. I find it to be a personal blow that she fabricated this story and even grew up in an affable part of town. I would die to have what she has. I came from a broken home, I have had newspaper articles written about me, and I have the physical and emotional scars to prove that I actually went through the pandemonium that is coupled with growing up in this type of environment.

It's a bit hilarious because the people that actually should be writing books on this type of thing are not getting the book deals, but rather the idiotic con artists are. This shows that people are not kind and only want cash.


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