Making the Painful Decision to Testify Against My Cousins
People may believe, since I am writing a book about my grandma’s ordeal and her experience with elder abuse, that I jumped at the opportunity to support her during the actual trial. The truth is this: I wavered for weeks about getting involved in the process. Ultimately, reality and morality won over my personal reticence, and I agreed to take the stand on my grandma’s behalf and testified against the perpetrators, my two first cousins Evan and Avi. They had done our grandmother a terrible wrong. They had to be brought to justice, they had to make restitution, and they had to stop their intolerable harassment.
Although we had never been close, I am closely related to Evan and Avi. They are sons of my Uncle Bobby, my father’s younger brother. At best I have neutral memories of Evan and Avi growing up, but at many of the momentous occasions of my life—my Bat Mitzvah, my wedding, my first-born son’s bris—they were there. We share a lineage and a history, and no one wants to aid in ruining another person’s life. But they had crossed a dangerous line with heedless disregard to the consequences. Now they would have to face the music.
My dad wasn’t sure I should testify either. Being a lawyer himself, he knew how difficult it would be, but he respected my ability to make my own decision. My father was subpoenaed during the trial as well, but ultimately, my cousins chose not to call him to the stand. Once I made up my mind, I testified willingly but with a heavy heart. I paced around my block for hours before I was called to testify, and for days I couldn’t eat or sleep and consequently developed a nagging headache. As bad as I knew it would be, it was harder than I had imagined. To be cross-examined for two days under oath without my own lawyer present, not knowing what my cousins’ extremely aggressive attorney would ask me—I don’t wish it on anyone. “What kind of grandmother sues her own grandsons?” my cousins’ lawyer asked me at one point. It sickened me to see the opposing side “victim shame” my grandma for 11 hours of cross-examination while they attempted to belittle me and my love and support for her.
When my grandmother’s caretaker Dawn Henry contacted me in the fall of 2019 with her very understandable suspicions of financial wrongdoing and relayed the ongoing verbal and psychological abuse that my beloved nonagenarian “Nanny” was being subjected to by her grandsons, I wholeheartedly believed Dawn. Dawn and I had never even spoken on the phone before then; I knew she had no reason to fabricate a narrative. My first reaction was to come to my grandmother’s aid in any way I could. However, my second instinct was to steer clear of this deeply distressing family situation and let Nanny’s lawyers help her fight the good fight. But I couldn’t have it both ways. She needed someone within the family to stand by her side. I knew that someone had to be me.
As a professional, I have given numerous talks and have no problem doing media interviews for my work. But in my personal life, I am a very private person. I was hardly ever on social media (I still forget my password on a regular basis!), and I hadn’t posted a picture on Facebook for years before this experience. I knew it was going to be exceptionally awkward going “public” with all these intimate details. It was uncomfortable during the Zoom trial just seeing my cousins’ stern faces up close on my computer screen while I relayed damaging information that could potentially harm their case. Though I took my grandma’s side wholeheartedly, these are still family members I have known my entire life.
On the positive side, this trial unexpectedly brought my immediate family—my dad, my grandma, my cousin Alexis, my husband and sons—closer together. We visit each other more regularly now, and Nanny and I talk on the phone multiple times a day. Before, my grandma was relatively isolated with Evan and Avi’s parents, Bobby and Caroline, living one floor beneath her condo in Florida, and my cousins seemed to like it that way. In the end, the trial created stronger bonds among the remaining family members who supported Nanny’s valiant fight for justice.
There are a lot of Schottensteins. Some more distant family members, still living in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio and others around Miami, Florida where Nanny lives now, reached out to offer their loving encouragement. Others, who shall remain nameless, did not. They wanted this “family dispute” swept under the proverbial rug for their own sakes—forget about justice for a venerable family matriarch! In the end, I am not only immensely proud of my grandmother for standing up against familial elder abuse and speaking her truth, but I am also proud of myself for choosing to stand beside her.
Today, with the trial over, many of us are deeply frustrated at how slow the wheels of justice continue to turn. My grandma originally discovered something was wrong in her account back in early January 2019. The trial finally ended in 2021, and we received the verdict this past February. FINRA, the banking industry’s self-regulatory system, is still “investigating” my cousins. Unbelievably, Evan and Avi still have their brokerage licenses even though they were fired by J.P. Morgan years ago and were unanimously found liable on every single transgression. My cousin Evan was further found liable for elder abuse along with J.P. Morgan, and all three were ordered to make financial restitution and even pay my grandmother back for her legal fees!
One would think the verdict would go hand in hand with criminal charges, but that has not yet been the case. New York state and federal officials do not comment on ongoing investigations. Thus, we have no idea about the status of criminal charges. I’ve been told that this part could take years—if it happens at all. After so much trauma, everyone seems to be in a holding pattern as we wait and see what happens next.
I urge the powers that be to do right by my grandmother, the indomitable Beverley Schottenstein. Let’s not forget that she is 94 years old. Justice is finally on our side, but time may not always be. Nanny deserves resolution across the board. To me, it’s high time for the other shoe to drop!
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!