Friday, January 20, 2017

SNAP Lawsuit Alleges Kickbacks, Collusion With Plaintiff's Lawyers

By Ralph Cipriano

A lawsuit filed in Chicago by a former employee of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests [SNAP] alleges that the nonprofit's top officials routinely accepted kickbacks from plaintiff's lawyers, as well as colluded with them to orchestrate negative publicity against the Catholic Church.

The explosive lawsuit was filed on Jan. 17th by Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a former director of development for SNAP. In the lawsuit, Hammond's lawyers claim she was fired in a "retaliatory discharge" before she could report SNAP's kickback schemes to the government. The story of the lawsuit was first reported on Jan. 18th by the National Catholic Reporter.

In Philadelphia, SNAP has been an outspoken advocate for Danny Gallagher, AKA "Billy Doe," the credibility-challenged former altar boy who claimed he was raped by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher. SNAP also has urged District Attorney Seth Williams to continue to prosecute Msgr. William J. Lynn, now facing a retrial on one charge of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Gallagher. Even though Lynn has already served 33 months of his original 36-month minimum sentence, plus 18 months of house arrest.

SNAP has been closely associated with Mariana Sorensen, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney who wrote the error-filled 2011 grand jury report calling for the arrests of Lynn, three other priests, and a former Catholic schoolteacher. Sorensen also has served as a member of SNAP's board of directors.

Sorensen and SNAP have been advocating for extending the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, so that alleged victims of sex abuse can file more civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

In 2007, Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University law professor and SNAP advocate, convened a conference in New York City, "Call To Action," to promote legislative efforts in states around the country to lift statutes of limitations regarding sex abuse victims.

Hamilton introduced Sorensen at the conference by saying she was a member of "by far the best D.A.'s office in the country."

It was Sorensen, however, who, according to the testimony of Detective Joseph Walsh last week, was not swayed when Walsh told her about numerous inconsistencies in Danny Gallagher's stories of abuse; inconsistencies that Gallagher had no explanation for when repeatedly confronted by Walsh.

"You're killing my case" is what Walsh quoted Sorensen as telling him.

In the Chicago lawsuit, Hammond said that when she was hired by SNAP in 2011, she "was deeply excited to apply her  professional experience in non-profit fundraising to the noble endeavor of helping victims who had suffered sexual assaults at the hands of trusted clergy members."

But Hammond discovered that "SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors," the lawsuit says. Instead, "it exploits them" while "routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of 'donations,'" according to the lawsuit filed by attorneys Bruce C. Howard and Richard S. Wilson of Chicago.

"In exchange for kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church," the suit says. "These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payment from survivors' settlements."

There is a gravy train that benefits the few victims of sex abuse whose claims fall within the statute of limitations.

Danny Gallagher collected $5 million from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a civil settlement for his alleged pain and suffering. But he didn't meet his civil lawyer through SNAP. When asked on the witness stand during a criminal trial who hooked him up with his civil lawyer so he could sue the Church, Gallagher said under oath that the D.A.'s office did it.

In Chicago, the lawsuit filed by Hammond says that besides taking money from civil lawyers, SNAP also swaps information.

"SNAP also regularly communicates with attorneys about their lawsuits on behalf of survivors, receiving drafts of pleadings and other privileged information," the lawsuit says. "The attorneys and SNAP work together in developing the legal theories and strategies of survivors' lawsuits. Attorneys and SNAP base their strategy not on the best interests of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP."

"When Plaintiff discovered that SNAP was colluding with survivors' attorneys, she confronted her superiors to report her discovery," the lawsuit says. "In return, SNAP began taking retaliatory actions against Plaintiff, which resulted in Plaintiff suffering from stress and depression that manifested in health problems."

SNAP ultimately fired Hammond in 2013. The lawsuit claimed that SNAP's "betrayal of its mission and harsh treatment" of Hammond has "robbed" her of the "joy she once held for her chosen profession in nonprofit fundraising."

Hammond's lawsuit cites Barbara Blaine, SNAP's founder and president, David Clohessy, SNAP executive director, and Barbara Dorris, SNAP's outreach director. In the National Catholic Reporter story, Blaine and Clohessy declined comment, saying they hadn't read the lawsuit yet.

But Blaine fired off a denial of the charges last night.

"The allegations are not true," Blaine wrote in an email. "This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse."

SNAP has 50 regional chapters around the country, including one in Philadelphia. While the nonprofit purports to help victims of sex abuse, "In reality, SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors' and officers' personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit offers as proof of SNAP's animus against the church an email Clohessy sent to an abuse survivor recommending that the victim pursue a claim in bankruptcy proceedings against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Every nickel "they don't have" is a nickel "that they can't spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc," Clohessy is quoted as writing in the email about the Church.

The lawsuit details an alleged kickback scheme between SNAP and plaintiff's lawyers who represent sex abuse victims.

"SNAP's commercial operation is premised upon farming out abuse survivors as clients for attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors and collect settlement checks from the Catholic Church," the lawsuit states. "In return for client referrals, attorneys reward SNAP with financial kickbacks in the form of donations."

"SNAP then manipulates and exploits media publicity surrounding survivors' lawsuits against the church to raise its own public and drive fundraising efforts," the lawsuit says. While seeking litigation against the church, "SNAP callously disregards the real interests of survivors, using them instead as props and tools in furtherance of SNAP's own commercial fundraising goals."

"Instead of recommending that survivors pursue what is in their best personal, emotional and financial interests, SNAP pressures survivors to pursue costly and stressful litigation against the Catholic Church, all in order to further SNAP's own publicity and fundraising interests."

In Philadelphia, Clohessy called on Seth Williams last August to retry Msgr. Lynn, after his original conviction on one count of child endangerment was overturned for the second time by an appeals court.

"The impending freedom of William Lynn will no doubt feel like yet another blow to hundreds of wounded Philly-area abuse victims  and thousands of betrayed Philly-area Catholics," Clohessy wrote. "No matter how uphill it might seem, we hope prosecutors seek a new trial."

Clohessy urged the D.A. to "vigorously [pursue] those who act recklessly, callously and deceitfully with kids' safety."

But Hammond's lawsuit accuses Clohessy and SNAP of exploiting abuse victims. While SNAP supposedly exists to provide support to survivors of clergy abuse, the nonprofit "did not have a single grief counselor or rape counselor on its payroll," the lawsuit says.

In the lawsuit, Hammond said she "routinely received telephone calls at work from distressed survivors." But Hammond had to inform those survivors that she "was a fundraiser, not a counselor," and then listen as survivors "confided to her about their trauma."

Hammond said in her lawsuit that when she told Dorris about her problem, Dorris allegedly told Hammond "to simply not answer phone calls from survivors seeking assistance and counseling."

The lawsuit also alleges that SNAP used funds raised by Hammond "to pay for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership." The lawsuit also alleges that SNAP spent $35,000 on legal fees to to defend its leaders against a Missouri trial judge's order to produce documents connected to a violation of a gag order issued by the judge. The case involved a Kansas City priest accused of sexual abuse.

The lawsuit provides details on how financially dependent SNAP is on contributions from lawyers who sue the church on behalf of abuse victims.

Of the $439,577 in total contributions raised by SNAP in 2003, the lawsuit says, 54 percent came from lawyers who represented sex abuse victims. In 2003, just one Minnesota lawyer donated $179,100 to SNAP, which amounted to 40 percent of the nonprofit's total contributions for the year, the lawsuit claims.

In 2007, the lawsuit says, more than 81 percent of the $437,407 SNAP received in contributions came from lawyers, including $167,716 from that same Minnesota lawyer. In 2008, the same lawyer donated $415,140 to SNAP, which amounted to 51 percent of the nonprofit's annual contributions that year.

Besides finances, SNAP also relies on plaintiff's lawyers to provide grist for negative publicity against the church.

"Attorneys would often provide" top SNAP officials with "drafts of complaints and other pleadings prior to filing, along with other privileged information," the lawsuit says. "SNAP would use those drafts to generate sensational press releases on the survivors' lawsuits. SNAP would then issue the press releases to media outlets and schedule a press conference on the day a survivor's lawsuit was filed."

"SNAP and survivors' attorneys would often base their case filing strategy on what would generate the most publicity for SNAP -- instead of the best interests of the survivors," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuits states that in November 2012, Clohessy solicited a lawyer on behalf of a victim to file a lawsuit against the church. In that email, Clohessy "asked the attorney when SNAP could expect a donation."

SNAP believed that Hammond, who worked at SNAP from 2011 to 2013, was "planning on reporting SNAP's acceptance of kickbacks to government authorities," the lawsuit states. That's why SNAP retaliated against Hammond by mistreating her, before firing her.

The lawsuits states that in a deposition, Clohessy was asked if SNAP to his knowledge had ever issued a press release that contained "false information."

Clohessy's reply, according to the lawsuit, was: "Sure."

UPDATE: On Tuesday at 9 a.m., Barbara Dorris of SNAP sent out an email saying, "We want to share with you that David Clohessy has voluntarily resigned from SNAP effective Dec. 31, 2016. We are eternally grateful for David's dedication to SNAP and its mission over the past almost 30 years."


  1. Any trail of SNAP providing gifts to Seth Williams that he possibly overlooked in his revised financial disclosures?

  2. SNAP are a bunch media-grubbing trolls. Corrupt organization that needs to be shut down.

  3. SNAP is a bunch of media-manipulating and grubbing trolls. They are corrupt and need to be shut down.

    They always are the first to comment and condemn in ANY alleged abuse situation before the facts are out. They believe in a "guilty until proven innocent" and even then, disgracing others is for the common good and the ends justify the means.


  4. This highlights the influence the media has over future jurors and the extent to which the prosecution is willing to go to damage a defendants character and enhance its own case. It should be clear to the media that taking the prosecutions side of a case is not only damaging to a defendant and their case but to the public and their perception of a situation.

    Frightening the public into believing matters are beyond control and must be dealt with in a harsh manner is terribly misleading.
    Traffic Court was one such case, ethical violations at most that could have been handled by a board already in place, but whipping the public into a frenzy of hatred and disgust for politicians was an unconscionable act by the prosecution. Attempting to sending people to jail for the rest of their lives was not warranted. What the public should be concerned about is the abuse of power by prosecutors and the power they have over every one of us. One derogatory article and persons life is ruined.

    At this point the Inky will never be able to undo the damage they have done to defendants as they are tied to the prosecution in an alliance. Moving forward the media needs to refrain from doing any more damage to defendants, what potential juror does not believe what a major newspaper is printing from its own government.

    We need the media now more than ever to sift through fake news to protect the public, one sided articles from the prosecution should be eliminated from publication completely. If the prosecution has such a strong case they do not need the help of the media, the government has such a stranglehold over jurors already.
    Knowingly helping to mislead the public by forming public opinion against a defendant should be considered a crime, we know prosecutors do it, realizing the media is part of scheme is shocking.
    I can only wonder if our current state of distrust of politicians has been fanned by the flames of the media in their quest to sit on the right side of prosecutors. I cant imagine a reporter asking if the facts given them by prosecutors are accurate or ever back tracking and correcting themselves when the truth comes to light, instead of the continual bashing a defendant receives at the hands of corrupted reporters.

    1. Why is the press allowed to report on trials in progress?

  5. Maybe the Archdioceses will lead the charge against prosecutors giving misleading information to the media for publication. No defendants deserves the treatment they receive at the hands of a supposedly unbiased media.

  6. so that no one forgets, danny gallagher testified in the Engelhardt and Shero trial that the DA's office recommended the Law Office of Slade McLaughlin to handle his civil case...Sorensen was the main DA behind the grand jury fabrication which ultimately led to these wrongful convictions...and as mentioned several times, was and probably still is, a staunch SNAP advocate ...wonder how much money she was paid by SNAP or directly by Slade Mclaughlin for her referrals of false abuse cases such as Danny Gallaghers....

  7. Wait, are we talking about referral fees here? In what way are they kickbacks?

    The two leaders of SNAP must be raking in a fortune from this huge national scheme. Oh,wait, I read elsewhere that they make just $86,000 each. Terrible schemers, I guess.

    So she was robbed of her joy of being a non-profit fundraiser because,I guess,she really wanted to be a counselor and SNAP wanted her to do the job she was hired for and which she was deeply excited to do.

    I guess her grievance is that SNAP doesn't advocate for survivors the way she thinks they should. Never mind the fact that court cases are the only thing that has reigned in the Catholic Church's pedophilia in every diocese in the nation. Counseling is great. Putting people in jail and forcing huge settlements is even better for survivors who get to feel that they helped put a stop to the madness that they're in counseling for.

    In the lawsuit I guess she's mad that SNAP spent $35,000 on legal fees. Maybe she didn't notice that they had no choice but to respond to a judge's orders. But,hey, great way to demonstrate her point by forcing them to spend a whole lot more with her lawsuit. I assume she's seeking damages only for herself (and her lost interest in her fundraising career).

    C'mon, I'm not even a lawyer and I could get this case knocked out of court with the first Motion to Dismiss.

    1. Mariana Sorenson was a member of the DA's office at the time that
      "referral was made" to Slade McLaughlins's office to Danny Gallagher, as testified in court in January 2013 by Danny Gallagher himself....

      ... it has to be UNETHICAL for any DA who is directly involved in prosecuting an active case to refer a civil attorney to represent that same accuser in their case

      ....then again these same individuals worked for a District Attorney who is morally and fiscally corrupt, that $ 62000 fine for violation of the ethics laws he swore to uphold is only the tip of the iceberg for one Rufus "Seth" Williams....bless the US Attorney's office for investigating his looting of that nonprofit and for the gifts he accepted from those same defense attorney's that were in court during that same period perhaps getting "preferential treatment" for their guilty clients....

      I hope SNAP is exposed for what it really is, nothing but a referral service to extort monies from the Catholic Church using the likes of the drug addicted lying accusers like Danny Gallagher....

    2. to clarify, the defense attorney's who lavished monies and gifts on Seth Williams were not the attorney's in the trials involving Lynn, Avery, Shero and Engelhardt....

      there were several well known defense attorney's who routinely had clients being prosecuted by the Philadelphia DA's office who gave him money, gifts in amounts and value far exceeding those involving those state politicians from Philadelphia whom he brought up on charges ...those gifts were chump change compared to that which Seth Williams accepted....

      he should be disbarred and thrown out of office....the corruption i that office starts at the top

  8. Sarah, if those "kickbacks" were referral fees I wonder why Barbara Blaine, herself a lawyer, didn't say that in her defense. The sharing of legal documents before they were filed, however, if true, shows that the relationship between SNAP and their lawyer friends may have gotten pretty incestuous.

    I have no inside knowledge but my guess is that at the folks at SNAP aren't laughing this lawsuit off as easily as you are. Because if you read the case filed, which I posted a link to in the story, it explains that SNAP's computer files may be in the hands of the plaintiff's lawyers. No laughing matter.

  9. UPDATE: On Tuesday at 9 a.m., Barbara Dorris of SNAP sent out an email saying, "We want to share with you that David Clohessy has voluntarily resigned from SNAP effective Dec. 31, 2016. We are eternally grateful for David's dedication to SNAP and its mission over the past almost 30 years."

    1. Ha! Maybe the dominoes are starting to topple. Who is next, I wonder??? Sorensen? Seth?


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