A 9-11 Widow's Quest for Truth
August 2, 2005
In the aftermath of 9-11, some grieving relatives rejected compensation from the government and turned to the courts hoping for discovery, justice, and accountability. Ellen Mariani, the widow who filed the first 9-11 lawsuit, says her lawyers conspired with the government to thwart her pursuit of the truth.
Ellen Mariani, widow of Louis Neil Mariani, was the plaintiff in the first 9-11 lawsuit. For the wrongful death of her beloved husband, a passenger on Flight 175, Mrs. Mariani's case against United Airlines was filed on December 20, 2001. For Mariani, however, the courts have proven to be an elusive path to the truth. Three and a half years after the wrongful death suit was filed, her legal pursuit to obtain the truth, justice, and accountability for Neil's death and that of some 3,000 other victims of 9-11 has been hijacked, she says. "They hijacked my case just like my husband's plane," Mariani said, "to cover up the truth."
Her legal pursuit for the truth has been "sand-bagged," she says, by a series of unscrupulous and corrupt lawyers who have conspired with attorneys for the government.
The government's legal strategy has been to encourage the relatives to accept compensation from the taxpayer-funded Victim Compensation Fund. Families who accept compensation from the government administrated fund forfeit their right to sue the airlines or any other parties for damages. The 9-11 Victim Compensation Fund is administrated by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg. Feinberg has also served as Special Master in other high profile settlements involving Agent Orange, asbestos, and breast implants. He was also an arbitrator who determined the allocation of legal fees in the Holocaust slave labor litigation.
"I don't want taxpayer's money," Mariani said. "I want the truth, justice, and accountability. The sense of closure and justice cannot be compensated with money."
"We need and deserve an answer that may become clear only during a full, fair and complete investigation," Mariani wrote in an open letter to federal judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. The letter never reached the judge, Mariani said.
Although her case has been handled by a host of attorneys, the main lawyers have been, in order: Don Nolan of the Chicago-based Nolan Law Group; Mary F. Sciavo, a former prosecutor for the U.S. Dept. of Justice who handled Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) cases in the 1980s; and Philip J. Berg of Lafayette Hill, Penn. Mariani is currently being represented by Ray D. Kohlman of Attleboro, Mass.
While the legal treachery to which Ellen Mariani has been subjected may seem shocking, it is actually not unusual in high profile cases in which a western "democratic" government is involved. The Mariani saga provides an excellent case study of how such cases are effectively derailed.
"I will never trust my country again," Mariani said. "They can just snap their fingers and a lawsuit is thrown out. It's evil."
Although Mariani's wrongful death case against United Airlines made headlines when it was filed three months after Flight 175 allegedly smashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, there has been no coverage in the controlled press of how her case has fared since. Mariani told me that the wrongful death case she filed had been thrown out by Alvin K. Hellerstein, the federal judge who has been involved in her case all along, she says. Hellerstein threw her case out on grounds of "national security," she said. "I now, as the widow, have lost all legal power," Mariani said. "I lost it all through corrupt lawyers. They made damn sure they threw me out as the widow in the wrongful death case."
Kohlman, said the Mariani case was not closed but that a lawyer had been appointed administrator of the Mariani estate. Kohlman said this arrangement was "odd." "Supposedly the lawyers are in negotiations with UAL," Kohlman said, referring to the parent company of United Airlines.
"I'm struggling to get by on Social Security and garage sales - selling my personal things - so I can survive," Mariani said. There is no grave where she can place the government issued plaque for her husband, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War. "There is no body to bury; there is no closure. The only story I can tell is the tragic end to a marriage," Mariani said.
She is under a gag order preventing her from speaking about the case since December 1, 2004, when she was removed as administratrix of the estate of her husband in a New Hampshire court. "It was the second saddest day of my life," she said. "I had worked on my case day and night for more than three years."
"Why can't we speak freely?" Mariani asks. "You can't heal until the truth comes out. 9-11 is an open wound. We've been cheated of our rights and our freedom to speak. I am the widow. Neil was the breadwinner and I was his only dependent," she said. The administratrix position was taken from Mrs. Mariani by lawyers representing her step-daughter, the adult daughter of her late husband, she said. Mariani has proof that the lawyers had conspired to remove her from the lawsuit, she said.
The step-daughter is represented by lawyers linked to Greenberg and Traurig, Mariani said, a law firm with close ties to both President George W. Bush and his brother, John "Jeb" Bush, the governor of Florida. Greenberg and Traurig helped George W. Bush win the contested election in Florida in 2000, for which he is greatly indebted.
Mariani's step-daughter has a history of substance abuse and took "mind-altering" medications after 9-11. During the court proceeding that removed Mariani from the case the New Hampshire judge never asked either of us, under oath, if we were medicated, she said. "I used to take care of vets," she said. "They were all medicated. I can tell when someone is medicated."
Many of the grieving relatives of 9-11 victims were medicated by doctors working with the Red Cross, she said. "Why did the Red Cross steer 9-11 grieving families to their own approved psychologists? Why did the Red Cross bring in their own counselors and refuse to pay family doctors? Why did they medicate the relatives?"
"You can't heal while you are medicated," Mariani says. "You can't grow. You stop where you are. You have to bite the bullet and it hurts like hell."
"These are mind-control medications," she said. "That's why they had to remove me. They couldn't control me." Removing Mariani from her own case was a decision made between her lawyers and those from "the other side," she said.
"Judge Hellerstein in New York was overseeing the case in New Hampshire," Mariani said. "He said if this doesn't get straightened out [the removal of Mariani as administratrix], he would intervene."
Hellerstein is still the controlling judge, Kohlman said. "Phil Berg is the culprit," Mariani said, referring to the role her former lawyer played in removing her from the case. "He ordered me to give up the administratrix position and go full on the RICO." The RICO case is a racketeering lawsuit in which the first five of 52 defendants named are all from the Bush family.
The RICO case used by Berg was actually written by Jeffrey Trueman, a paralegal and founder of the Veterans Equal Rights Protection Advocacy, Inc. (VERPA). Berg was not available for comment for this story.
"Forget the RICO. I don't want anything to do with it," Mariani said. "Berg pushed the RICO. He set me up to fail and my case to be thrown out."
"Berg hijacked my case," Mariani said. "He went to the other side." She describes Berg's handling of her case as "very incompetent." She retained Kohlman in February 2005 and fired Berg but he has not turned over her file. "There is no RICO and there shouldn't have been," Kohlman said. "One has to prove a pattern. It makes the job more difficult." The RICO case was dismissed with prejudice by a judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2004, Kohlman said. Since February Kohlman has requested the Mariani case file four times and complained to the disciplinary board in Pennsylvania.
"Berg is withholding my file, accounting, and condolences from all over the world," Mariani said. "After I saw what they did to me," Mariani said. "I question everything about 9-11."