We are going to need you to plead guilty to this and to try to make that happen. The federal government raided our home with guns. Four little girls. They seized all of our assets via civil forfeiture. My husband was never charged with a crime, but in America, the government can seize your assets based on the suspicion that they're related to a crime. And the government in May of 2020 took every dollar we had and they didn't freeze it like they literally took it, and we didn't have the opportunity to fight to get it back until February of 2022.
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Hey everybody, it's Shout Your Cause again, this is Sally Hendrick and I've got Amy Nelson with me, correct?
Yes, that's right.
Yes. Awesome. And for any of you who've been following her on TikTok, and I'm not sure if you're on any other socials, Amy's story is very compelling because of this horrible situation with her husband's employment through Amazon. And welcome.
Hello. Thanks so much for having me.
Yeah, awesome. So let's go into what was going on when your life before all of this happened with Amazon. Can you even think about It's always before the event. After the event,
I can still, I had a very full life. I had just turned 40 years old before everything happened with Amazon. My husband, Carl and I were living in West Seattle, just a suburb of the city of Seattle. And we had four little girls who at the time were 5, 3, 2 and eight months. So we had a bunch of little kids, and I had founded a company in 2017. Everything with Amazon started in 2020, but in the three years leading up to that, I had transitioned from my own legal practice to founding a company called The Riveter, which was built with the idea of creating coworking and events and content focused around working women who were building their own businesses or consulting or freelancing or had side hustles, but creating community for those women and giving resources to help them grow their businesses. So it had been a wild ride in the years leading up to the Amazon debacle, I had taken the Riveter from an idea to a company with 130 employees. We'd raised $30 million. We built coworking spaces in six states. We had 10 spaces, we had tens of thousands of members. And then Covid happened, COVID happened, COVID happened. I said, in Seattle, where the world really shut down on Friday, March 13th. And that really led to my business contracting a ton and changing. And then two weeks later, the FBI knocked on our door.
So tell me a little bit more about the Riveter. I find that very interesting because I happen to be a coach for social media content for women entrepreneurs. And yes, I have that going. I also run an ads agency, social media ads.
Oh, that's great. So when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I'd been a litigator for a decade. In my own personal experience, I was kind of like, how do I do this? And parent and my husband travels all the time. We don't live near family. I think this is something a lot of people experience as they're navigating caretaking, whether it's kids or their own parents and their work years. And I knew I wanted to work. I loved working, but I was really struggling within corporate America where I had to be at a desk every day with a commute and wanted something with more flexibility. And so I thought I would start my own legal practice, which was not very creative, but it's what I knew how to do. And then I started going to classes on how to start an LLC, how to write a business plan, and all of these classes in the Seattle area where at spaces like WeWork and they were all men.
And having been a litigator and worked with all men, I was like, where are all the women starting businesses? I really want to talk to other women. Not that men are bad, but I identified more with other women and wanted to talk to 'em. And so ultimately thought, well, maybe the thing to build is a space in a community where women who are building can bounce ideas off one another and help one another and share resources often so often in the Riveters spaces, we would have someone like you, Sally, like a social media consultant, pair up with an entrepreneur who was building a business and work together, or we would have investors meet startup founders. And so providing places for those connections to happen and opportunities. And so that was what the Riveter was based on.
Now, do you have any of that going anymore? Is that completely done or are you still working on it?
I am still working on it. It looks very different today. It's more of a lifestyle slash creator business of mine, but it's still rooted very much in the idea of how can we help women build their businesses or amplify their voices. I've come to the realization over the past three years that we still live in a world where women's voices are often ignored and that every woman has an expertise that they can share with the world. And maybe they want to share that expertise because they want to be heard more within their company as they climb the corporate ladder. Maybe they want it to be heard because they're an entrepreneur and having expert voices, free marketing. Maybe they want to do it because they have a book coming out. But I'm really passionate about helping women identify their expertise and then get that out into the world through social media channels, opinion pieces, keynote speeches, all of those different things. There's a million ways to get the message out, and we hear about creators doing X, Y, and Z, but we're all creators, right? We are all creators in one way or another, and I think there's just a massive opportunity for women to take their own mic, create their own microphone, and share their expertise into the world.
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Now, what about the legal profession? You seem to be dusting off those books potentially for maybe something going on in your life. What else could be going on?
I mean, when I left the law in 2017, I felt done with the law, but apparently the law was not done with me. So in 2020, my husband's former employer, Amazon accused him of a federal crime, came out of nowhere for us. And that might sound crazy to you. How would you not know that you were about to be accused of a crime? But I can tell you all these years later that Amazon ended up suing my husband over these allegations. And a federal judge said that my husband had not even broken his Amazon employment contract. So truly we were like, what the hell? But the what the hell turned into a nightmare incredibly quickly, I believe because of Amazon's power in the world. And Amazon accused my husband of a crime to the Department of Justice, department of Justice, did not speak to my husband about Amazon's allegations, but said, you've committed a federal crime.
We're going to need you to plead guilty to this and to try to make that happen. The federal government raided our home with guns. Four little girls. They seized all of our assets via civil forfeiture. My husband was never charged with a crime, but in America, the government can seize your assets based on the suspicion that they're related to a crime. And the government in May of 2020 took every dollar we had and they didn't freeze it. They literally took it. And we didn't have the opportunity to fight to get it back until February of 2022. So for 21 months, we didn't have any of the money we'd earned in our life and in a pandemic, and it was pretty horrifying. And then after DOJ seized our money, Amazon knew that, and then they sued my husband in civil court.
So what exactly were they trying to accuse him of?
So crazy. He would think it was like mass murder for all that happened to us. But they accused my husband essentially of criminally breaching his fiduciary duty to Amazon. It's called Private Sector Honest Services, fraud. It's a crime I'd never heard of. It is rarely, rarely. It's usually a crime public sector on services. Fraud is like when a politician gets bribed to do something. And you see that in the news frequently. But private sector on services fraud is this very esoteric, rarely use criminal statute. And over the course of many years, what we learned is that Amazon had broken a contract on February 19th with a real estate developer, and the only way they could break that contract, which was worth $500 million, is if the real estate developer pled guilty or was convicted of a felony. So that was on February 19th, 2020. And on February 20th, 2020, Amazon's lawyers met with the Department of Justice to seek criminal charges.
Now, were they only going after your husband or was there anybody else involved at Amazon?
Their main target didn't work at Amazon. Their main target was this real estate developer that they broke the contract with. His name is Brian Watson, and they said that Brian Watson paid my husband and another Amazon employee kickbacks in order to secure real estate development deals. This didn't happen, and my husband's never been charged with this crime, but Amazon went at that full bore. So, because otherwise, if there is no felony of Brian Watson, if there's no fraud of the person they broke the real estate development contract with, they're going to owe him hundreds of millions of dollars. So they had quite a financial incentive to try to go secure these felony charges.
And it seemed like that was the only out that they potentially had was to charge your husband with a federal crime. And I find it very disconcerting that they were able to meet with the Department of Justice, or is it the Department of Justice so many times and Trump up these accusations?
Right? Yeah, a
Little bit more about that.
I think, Sally, one thing that's really, really interesting in my family's case, and if I was an outsider observer and not living it, I would find it even more interesting rather than terrifying. But usually when someone accuses you of a crime to the Department of Justice, the Department of Justice, first of all decides that they'll even meet with you and listen to your crime. If you think about the Olympic gymnasts, the dozens of them that said Larry Nassar raped them and no one listened to them. So the Department of Justice doesn't even have to listen to you. But if they do listen to you, usually you meet them with them one time and then they go off and independently investigate the alleged crime. Now, the other thing that happens usually is that when you're accused of a crime to the Department of Justice, you never really get to see what the accuser said to the Department of Justice.
You're not privy to the communications like emails between DOJ and the accuser. But here because Amazon sued my husband in civil court, there's a process called Civil discovery where you exchange facts over the allegations. And in 2022, Amazon had to produce to my husband all of their communications with the Department of Justice and Public Filings show that Amazon lawyers led by a former federal prosecutor, met with federal prosecutors over 100 times trying to secure these criminal charges. I mean, it is amazing to me that a resource constrained agency like the Department of Justice had the space and time for over 100 meetings for Bezos lawyers. But I've learned in my own research that in fact, Amazon has secured federal criminal investigations of over 65 Americans over the past three years, including Amazon landlords, Amazon sellers, Amazon seller consultants, Amazon employees, all sorts of people in Amazon's orbit.
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How is it that they've done this with other people? Where do you get that information?
Oh, it's really funny. A friend of mine the other day was like Nancy Drew was able to do what it took two hardy boys to do, and you kind of remind me of Nancy Drew. I was like, that's funny. And I love dancing here as a kid. So I did a lot of research. Part of my coping mechanism for surviving this really horrifying experience has been to just try to research and pin down the facts and understand how this happened. And I googling one day like Amazon and DOJ or something and started seeing these stories about other situations. And so then I eventually went to the Department of Justice. Every district, I don't know how many districts say there's 40 or there's probably a hundred districts in America with the Department of Justice. And each district has a lead attorney and then other prosecutors under it.
And they each have a website and they have press releases when they indict someone or when they win a victory, they put a press release out. And I went to every single Department of Justice Division website and searched for Amazon and collected all of these press releases. And then I went, and you can look at court documents from federal courts in America on a system called star. You have to pay 10 cents a page and went and read about all these cases. And you could see in some of them, there was proof that Amazon had referred the cases to d OJ or Amazon issued press releases talking about how they'd referred the case to D oj. And it was just like, this is kind of crazy. And then I went to LinkedIn, started looking at all the former federal prosecutors and FBI agents that worked at Amazon, and it's like hundreds of former federal prosecutors and FBI agents work for Amazon. And you're like, why? Right? It's very strange.
That is very strange. And the fact that you did so much research, it kind of reminds me when Covid first started, I used to be an actuary, so I was very familiar with the way that diseases going, follow a pattern and the data and everything. And I went all kinds of countries, and I looked through every state and I was comparing to the news of what was going on. So I can imagine that I'm the same way in that when you're presented with something that is so stressful and so difficult and traumatic to go through that you dig in and just try to get as much information as possible. So I very much can relate to that app.
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How was that when you found out that they had gone to the Department of Justice that many times, how did that make you feel at the moment? Was it all at once you found this out?
Yeah, it was all at once. It felt terrifying. It felt like, oh wow, what's going on here that this is so, Hey, why does it do Amazon's lawyers have this kind of access to the Department of Justice? Because that feels wrong. It feels like the DOJ isn't independently investigating, but rather being directed by Amazon. And it was just like we didn't even, my husband didn't stand a chance, and in fact, he did stand a chance because the truth was telling, and he was never charged with a crime. But what we had to do to get to that point is stunning what we had to survive to prove his innocence, which, because I always thought in America you were innocent until proven guilty, but that is not here. It's like Amazon said this crime happened, and it feels as if the Department of Justice worked very hard to back into what Amazon needed it to do, rather than, I feel like if there's a crime should be somewhat easy to prove. This is over some real estate transactions that happened between 2017 and 2019. It's almost 2024. It's not some nuclear ingredient mix or something. It's some real estate deals that Amazon, that Amazon captain has also FYI. So it just felt very terrifying, I guess is the best way to put it.
Now this actually uprooted you out of Seattle and you moved to Ohio, is that correct?
That is correct. So our money was seized in May of 2020, and then Amazon sued my husband in July of 2020. So we were paying lawyers both to try to deal convince the DOJ. He didn't commit a crime, but then also in the Amazon civil case, and we had to pay for our children. And I realized a few months after Amazon sued my husband that we needed to sell our house to pay lawyers. And so we packed five bags, put everything in storage, and left the city where we'd built companies and created hundreds of jobs and where we'd intended to raise our daughters. And we went and stayed with my sister and her family in California. All six of us were in one room, and then we ended up flying across an ocean to go stay with my husband's family for a year. And then we came to Ohio to stay with my parents in 2021.
Wow. And now, are you still there or have you since moved out?
No, we're still in Ohio and we are renting a house down the street from my parents and just consequences of this that will last forever, right? Because we owned our home in Seattle. It was a massive stretch for us to buy that house. The Seattle housing market was nuts, even in 20 16, 20 17 put down 10%, got private mortgage insurance, and at the time the mortgage interest rates were 3%, and then we had to sell that house. Now we try to buy a house. The mortgage interest rates are 8% over the life of a home. That's so much money. That's my daughter's college education.
I got caught up in that myself in that we actually had a second mortgage. We didn't have a first mortgage, we had a second mortgage to do renovations, and then the interest rate kept going up and it hits that loan directly. And so our payment kept going up by hundreds of dollars every time, and it was like, what the heck is going on? And so we ended up having to actually refi and we had to take one of those higher interest rates. So that was unfortunate. We probably didn't look at it the right way when we first started our renovations, but yeah, it is what it is.
Now, you were recently on Rosie O'Donnell's podcast. I noticed that and I listened to some of it. Tell me more. How did that end up happening?
So usually when someone's accused of a crime, lawyers are like, be quiet, don't say anything. I haven't been accused of a crime, but I would think lot of lawyers would tell me to be quiet talking about my husband. But in this situation, no one disputed. My husband didn't dispute what happened, and he was very clear about what happened, and we knew the truth. It also really impacted my career. I was fired from a job over it that I got during the pandemic to try to pay lawyer bills. And anyway, so eventually I was like, I want to talk about this. I don't want to be silent anymore. I want to go talk about this. And so I decided to talk about it on social media. And from growing the Riveter, I had 20,000 followers on Instagram and 10 15,000 on Twitter. And I was telling the story and people were listening, but I kept thinking, God, this story is so much easier to tell on video.
And I did not have a TikTok, and I thought TikTok was like a dancing app, but eventually, 10 months ago, I was like, you know what? I'm going to just start a TikTok talking about this. And I had no idea what would happen. But I have about 150,000 followers now. And as you know Sally, I detail complicated legal things on my TikTok. It's not a fun TikTok. I'm like, okay. So this happened. And I'm constantly looking at documents and analyzing things, and it's cathartic for me and it helps me. But someone who started following me on TikTok was Rosie. And she really followed along for quite some time and I think learned and believed me and invited me onto her show to talk about it, which it was a great experience. Obviously, Rosie's like an icon. But also the thing I love about Rosie O'Donnell, she's very much not afraid of the status quo of those in power. And she wants to tell stories that she believes matter. And a lot of people aren't like that in her position. And so I really, really respect her.
Yeah, she's definitely an advocate through and through for underdog causes. And I would say this would be considered an underdog. Cause here you are fighting Amazon,
Massive, massive corporation, if not the biggest one these days. I don't know. I don't know.
It's one of the top three. It's huge. I mean, it's very big. Yeah.
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What's going on with your husband now and what's he doing in his work?
So this has been just devastating for his career. Prior to Amazon coming after him, I think he built more data centers than anyone in the world. It's a really exciting and interesting arena to be in. Pretty new. And so it was really hard for quite some time, but my husband is the most resilient person I know, and he's back out there working and building, and I'm so proud of him. And anybody who works with him would be lucky because he knows more about data centers than anyone. And so just, I can't imagine being him and having to get up every day and knowing that all these people just think you're a criminal because somebody said you were. And what that means and what that does. It's funny. Do you watch Yellowstone?
I don't, but
I've never watched it. And I've been watching it lately while I work out, and I love it. And it's really great. It's very over the top, but it's really great. And there was this moment where something really bad happened to one of the main characters, and one of the other characters immediately was like, how can I help? And I thought in that moment, it's like, I really wish that that is how the majority of people we knew had reacted to what happened to my husband. How can I help? What do you need? And it just wasn't. And so that was a very transformative experience. Our family and many dear friends, that was their immediate reaction and has been always, but to some very close friends, it wasn't to. Some people we thought were like family. It wasn't. And yeah, that was been a really hard part of this.
Wow. Yeah, I guess you find out who's there for you and who's not. When you have a situation like that, such a turning point. So is there anything else that you'd like to share that you want the world to know about your family, about your case, about where you are at this point?
Yes. So actually I would love for everybody to follow me on TikTok. I'm at Amy K. Nelson, and the reason I am continuing to talk about what's happening to my family is I have really two goals. One, I want to prevent Amazon from doing this to anybody else because it was almost impossible that we survived. And I don't think big companies in America should be allowed to dismantle American lives and try to imprison people to get out of paying contract damages, but more writ large. I mean, corporate power in this country is stunning, and I just think we need to hear more of these stories. So we put it in check. And then second, I mentioned the government had seized our bank accounts for 21 months under this legal protocol called Civil forfeiture. I didn't know civil forfeiture existed in America. I do not think the government at any level, state, federal, or local should be able to seize your assets without proving a crime, let alone without charging a crime.
And so I really want to work on advocacy reforms for civil forfeiture. And as I create more space in my brain healing from this trauma and working to pay off our lawyers, I really want to work to advocate for change with civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture primarily does not impact folks that look like me who are white. It primarily impacts folks of color across America and immigrant communities. And pretty much there's no way to get your assets back. When the government took our money, we were told by many people, you were never going to see that money again. And we were able to fight like hell. And I'm a lawyer and my husband's dad's a lawyer. We had a lot of resources to bring to bear to this. Maybe not monetarily, but to be able to work the case. And so, yeah, I just really want to advocate for reform of civil forfeiture because it's deeply unfair.
Well, I hope that we can definitely get the word out for you here on this podcast, which we've done pretty well. We're not huge. We're probably not as big as Rosie, obviously, but we've been around for two or three years now and have really brought light to a lot of situations. So I really appreciate you coming on.
Thank you so much for having me, Sally. I really, really appreciate it, and it's been really great talking to you.
Alright, great talking to you as well. And everybody go listen and go follow Amy on TikTok at Amy K. Nelson, right?
Yeah, that's right. Thank you so much.
All right. Thank you. Thank you for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at shoutyourcause.com.