Lead advocate Tamara Rubin's criminal charges dropped, DOJ investigation continues
Portland lead safety advocate Tamara Rubin writes on her blog that she feels vindicated by the Multnomah County District Attorney's decision to drop nine felony charges against her.
Rubin writes that she also plans to sue the state of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Multnomah County District Attorney, and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office for her "wrongful prosecution and arrest."
The state investigation of the finances of the nonprofit she founded, led and was ousted from continues — despite the decision to drop criminal charges against her for theft of federal benefits.
Oregon Department of Justice spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said the Charitable Activities division investigation, begun in March 2016, is ongoing and there is no timeline for when it will conclude.
Sam Lieneweber, the Multnomah County deputy district attorney handling the criminal case, said an Internal Revenue Service audit and additional research about the effect of loan repayments on income calculations allowed his office to drop the charges of theft of federal assistance dollars.
"Based on the available information at the time of the indictment, there was ample probable cause to support arresting Ms. Rubin," Lieneweber said. "However, the new information given to the district attorney's office in the months following the indictment has made proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt untenable."
Lieneweber echoed the assessments of others that the financial records of Rubin and her former nonprofit Lead Safe America Foundation were disorganized.
"During the relevant time period, the Rubins had money coming in to their accounts, but due to the disorganized nature of the financial records, it was difficult to attribute that money as a certain type of income for purposes of government benefits," Lieneweber wrote in an email to the Tribune. "Further complicating the issue was that the Rubins had a casualty loss (house fire) in the early 2000s that they were using to achieve a modified adjusted gross income of nearly $0 during the time period in question. None of that information was known to the district attorney's office at the time the case was taken to grand jury."
Rubin has continued her advocacy work online through her website, TamaraRubin.com, and her social media accounts. She frequently asks for donations to offset her legal costs. She also continues to analyze the lead content of products on the U.S. market. Her methods are often criticized by the companies and their supporters.
Rubin maintains her innocence and belief that she is the victim of an "orchestrated" attempt to smear her reputation and shut down her advocacy.
"It seems like a movie, some legal thriller, but this is real life!" she wrote on her blog May 11. "This is my life of the past 6 months since my arrest; of the past two years really, since the original initial anonymous complaint to the DOJ."
Rubin writes that she is in financial ruin and owes thousands to lawyers and friends. Court records show she was represented by a court-appointed attorney for some period of time, though she has published receipts of private bookkeepers and lawyers. Messages to her attorney, Celia Howes, were not returned by press time.
Rubin declined to comment for this story, directing people instead to her blog. She writes that "bad press cast an inescapable dark cloud, making me seem like a criminal in the court of public opinion."
It is unknown when the results of the Oregon DOJ's investigation will be made public.
The Lead Safe America Foundation board removed Rubin in August 2016 and the nonprofit dissolved soon thereafter, selling off its assets to settle debts.
Richard Seymour, a Portland nonprofit management expert contracted by the Lead Safe America board to shore up the organization, said he was surprised by the DA's decision. As previously reported, Seymour's review of the financial records found donations earmarked for the Eastside Portland Air Coalition were transferred out of the savings account right before a check was cashed to Rubin's husband.
"To me, there seems to have been a long history of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' during Tamara's tenure. Money that was designated for one purpose would get spent on something else," Seymour said. "The EPAC money was just one example."
Rubin has said that there was money for EPAC when she gave over control of the accounts and that she ran her books through a database program she was familiar with that traditional bookkeepers refuse to look at.
Lead Safe America Foundation was getting ready to release a feature-length documentary, MisLEAD, when the legal troubles began. Its release has been put off indefinitely.