The former general counsel of the Arc of the Central Chesapeake Region (ARC), a branch of the national developmental-disabilities advocacy organization covering Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore, pleaded guilty in federal court on Aug. 28 to a misdemeanor blackmail charge that carries maximum penalties of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. The details of the case against Carolyn Fiume, a lawyer licensed in New York, sketch a bizarre scenario in which Fiume emailed co-workers that she and her family were targeted in a violent plot by former ARC patrons, but when colleagues shared the information with Maryland State Del. Robert Costa (R-Anne Arundel County), Fiume reacted by fabricating a series of bogus law-enforcement documents-including one purportedly written by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C.-to warn off anyone from relating her story to others, under threat of obstructing justice.
Neither Costa nor the ARC's executive director, Kate Rollason, responded to numerous messages requesting comment. Fiume's attorney, Barry Pollack, declined to comment on the case, other than to say Fiume "suffers from a mental illness that had not previously been diagnosed," which "led to the issues that resulted in her plea to this misdemeanor offense and to her agreement to be suspended indefinitely from practicing law." In May, according to court records, the New York Supreme Court suspended Fiume's law license under a rule that allows attorneys accused of misconduct to be deemed "incapacitated," which stays the investigation into alleged wrongdoing.
According to Fiume's plea agreement, her conduct violated the federal blackmail statute because she demanded something of value from a victim as consideration for not reporting federal offenses. "FIUME received a valuable thing," the agreement states, "when she sent false emails to prevent her co-workers from 'informing' authorities about the 'violent plot' against her and her family. Specifically, she avoided immediate exposure of her elaborate deception about the 'violent plot' which would have led to termination of employment."
Fiume's tale-telling began in February 2012, shortly after she'd been promoted as the ARC's general counsel, when she sent an email to colleagues saying that "she and her family were the target of a violent plot, involving knives and handguns, from former ARC patrons," according to court documents, and that the FBI and the Anne Arundel County police had "responded to her home in Odenton" and "intercepted a vehicle in her driveway which contained weapons and her family's personal identification information."
In March 2012, Fiume updated colleagues on the situation, informing them that she'd been "attacked in her home by a gun-wielding intruder in the middle of the night and that the intruder was shot and killed by a 'protection detail,'" court records say. A month later, Fiume told co-workers that "a school psychologist with whom FIUME had worked at the ARC had been violently attacked and died as a result of her injuries"-though this newsworthy incident appears never to have occurred.
Given Fiume's rapidly escalating saga-two people said to have died violent deaths in the tight vortex of ARC's community-a colleague briefed Costa about the situation. Fiume reacted by telling co-workers not to discuss the case with legislators because she was working with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., which was considering bringing obstruction-of-justice charges against the colleague who'd gone to Costa.
To back up her claim, Fiume distributed to her colleagues a false email from Machen that "admonished" Fiume's ARC co-workers and "tacitly threatened a prosecution for obstruction of justice yet again if the co-workers talked about the case," Fiume's plea agreement states. Attached to the fake Machen email was a false "'Suppression Order' allegedly issued by a United State Magistrate which prohibits members of the ARC from speaking about the bogus FIUME matter and 'six [other] cases'" along with "a false 'AGREEMENT' between the 'United States Attorney' and FIUME and the ARC wherein the 'United States Attorney's Office' will not prosecute the ARC employees who spoke with a state delegate in exchange for their cooperation and acquiescence to a 'gag order,' among other terms."
Fiume was first hired by the ARC in February 2011, according to the plea agreement, and an ARC newsletter article announcing that she'd been hired as "director of educational advocacy" gives some insight into her background. It says her "education advocacy work began four years ago when her son Tom was diagnosed with autism," that she was "a former government employee"-court records indicate she worked in the 2000s as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-and quotes Fiume saying, "Now, I get to spend my day advocating on behalf of children and helping families to navigate the special education system, to find services, resolve concerns and to empower families with resources and information."
Court documents indicate that U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Sullivan has ordered Fiume to appear for her sentencing hearing, scheduled for November, and in the meantime to adhere to conditions of her release: to surrender her passport, to restrict her travel to Maryland, and to have "no contact with anyone associated with this case, including elected officials and ARC employees." In addition, Sullivan's release order suggests Fiume has a new job, stating that, "if you intend to maintain part-time substitute teacher position, you must notify school district."