5 Inspiring Real-Life Stories Of The Little Guy Winning
The classic underdog story gives us hope. Hope that even the most powerless can come out on top in the end through the sheer power of will, pluck, and training montages. But that's not how things really work, right? In reality, Davids get squished by Goliaths, and Daniel-sans get swirlied by Cobra Kais. But not always! Sometimes a real-world underdog squares up against the fat cats and actually manages to hit them right where it hurts the most: the crotch. Or the wallet. Whatever works.
A Lone Salesman Took Down A Massive Phantom Debt Racket
You might want to sit down for this: People who work in payday lending and debt collection aren't always the straightest of arrows. We'll give you time to gather your displaced monocles. Anyway, the scummiest tactic found among this crowd is called "phantom debt." Sharks and collectors try to convince downtrodden debtors to pay fake debts, knowing they don't have the energy to fight back. Unfortunately for the phantom debt industry, they made a formidable enemy. No, not the IRS, the CIA, or the Avengers. Some guy named Andy.
In 2015, ace salesman Andrew Therrien started getting calls saying he owed $700 on a payday loan which he'd never taken. Therrien, a straight shooter, told the collector to buzz off. Then he threatened to come over and rape Therrien's wife. (Did we mention these people have rats for souls? We didn't? Well, they do.) So Therrien did what every middle-class white-collar husband would do: He launched a years-long scorched-earth crusade against the U.S. debt collection industry, with the goal of discovering who had fabricated his phantom debt and make him pay.
Therrien, a dogged moralist and virtuoso phone negotiator, turned himself into the Dick Tracy of tracing dicks. At night he would harass collectors by phoning them nonstop until they gave up a name, slowly building a network of scumbag informants. When the leads went cold, he would occasionally make small payments on his fake loans just to see where the money would travel. To his family and friends, he was but a promotional salesman who spent a bit too much time locked away in his home office. But to loan sharks, he was the main character from Taken -- Liam Taken, we're pretty sure his name was.
Therrien tracked the kingpin of this massive network of phantom debt collection to Kansas City. Joel Tucker had packaged $7.7 million in fake debt through loan packages and sold it off to the shadiest bidders, including the person who threatened Therrien. Therrien confronted Tucker over the phone, whereupon he claimed he had no idea his company had systematically and intentionally ruined thousands of people's lives. But that only made Therrien angrier. He leaned on his network of contacts until he obtained hard proof of Tucker's heinous crimes. He mailed all his evidence to the FTC, who nearly tripped over their own shoes bringing him in to help bring Tucker's empire down.
In 2016, Joel Tucker was ordered by a judge to pay $34.2 million -- money he claimed not to have and which, in what had to be the sweetest of ironies, would permanently drown him in debt.
A High School Newspaper Exposed An International Human Trafficking Ring
Before 1999, the biggest story a high school newspaper had ever broken was "Pigeon Disappearances Linked To New Chicken Finger Tuesdays." But then along came a team of plucky journalists from Berkeley, California, who launched an investigation so hard-hitting that it made Woodward and Bernstein look like E! reporters making puns about Hugh Jackman's odd sweater choices.
In 1999, a bunch of boring, grown-up newspapers reported on the passing of Sitha Vemireddy, an Indian teenager who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a rundown apartment building in Berkeley. But seeing as cautionary tales about building safety codes aren't sexy, the papers quickly moved on. All but one: The Jacket, Berkeley High's paper. Editor Iliana Montauk was puzzled that, despite living in their neighborhood, she had never heard of Vemireddy. She asked Meghan Greenwell, a junior, to look into the story.
Together, working on tips from Indian-American students at their school, the pair uncovered some strange facts about Sitha. For starters, she and her sisters attended none of the schools in their district. Instead they worked full-time in a restaurant owned by Lakireddy Bali Reddy, one of Berkeley's wealthiest businessmen. Also strange: The apartment Sitha lived and died in wasn't the address her supposed parents lived at. Something smelled fishy, and this time it wasn't that weird kid with the fish thing.
After barely a week, Greenwell and Montauk had uncovered a sinister evil all the adults in Berkeley had been missing for years. With evidence in hand, they broke the story. The deceased girl (whose real name was Chanti Prattipati) and her sister had been the victims of a human trafficking ring orchestrated by Reddy. For decades, he and his son abused the Indian caste system, returning to their hometown in India to lure low-caste women with promising work in America.
Once the women arrived, they would treat them as slaves, imprisoning them in shitty tenements and pushing many into prostitution. This high school newspaper story prompted police to launch their own investigation, which landed Reddy in jail. In addition, the discovery of such a seedy underbelly in liberal Berkeley was so jarring that it led to serious reforms in California's trafficking laws. Not bad for a bunch of meddling kids.
An Unlikely Couple Took Down An Evil Prison Warden
It sounds like a weird Lifetime movie. Frances Jalet became one of the first American women to graduate with a law degree, but found there was no work for female lawyers, so she spent some time as a housewife before finally returning to the law in her 50s. Fred Cruz was a clever 20-something man from the wrong side of the tracks who got himself locked up for armed robbery. When they met, they fell in love. But, somewhat importantly, they also changed the Texas penal system forever.
Back in the '60s, George Beto ran Texas prisons like Hell on Earth. Prisoners were isolated, beaten, and even tortured for the smallest infractions. If The Shawshank Redemption had been set in Texas, it would have been called Hostel 4. But Beto was untouchable, because no one was insane enough to go after a sociopath with government backing who was willing to break every statute in the Geneva Convention for kicks. No one but Fred Cruz. In 1967, fed up with the inhumane treatment he and his fellow inmates were receiving under Beto's regime, Cruz wrote to Jalet, whom he had read about in the papers. She agreed to visit Cruz, who told her horrifying stories about his prison time. And amidst the blood, oppression, and human rights violation, the two fell in love.
For the next five years, the couple were huge thorns in Beto's side, with Jalet filing lawsuits and Cruz recruiting other prisoners as plaintiffs. Then, in 1972, Cruz was finally released. He and Jalet got married as quickly as possible. But just when things were looking up, Beto tried to drag Jalet into it. The crooked director intimidated three prisoners into testifying that Jalet had tried to incite a riot. She faced years in prison, but fought to the end, discrediting the evidence in court. The sensational climax of the trial came when one of Beto's witnesses had an attack of conscience and asked to retake the stand, whereupon he admitted to lying. This shattered Beto's plan, and after some impressive testifying from Cruz and legal maneuvering from Jalet, the case was won.
Beto was forced to resign in disgrace, but the lovebirds weren't going to stop there. By 1980, they had taken the case to the Supreme Court, and it was decided that the entire Texas Department of Corrections had acted unconstitutionally. This forever changed the way they treated prisoners in the Lone Star state. All because of one couple. And they lived happily ever after ... until Cruz got addicted to drugs, they divorced, and he overdosed at the age of 47. J-just like in The Shawshank Redemption?
It's Free To Sing "Happy Birthday" Because Of One Determined Filmmaker
Have you ever wondered why "Happy Birthday" is the go-to birthday song for the entire English-speaking world? That was the question filmmaker Jennifer Nelson had, so she created an entire documentary about the song. When we have questions, we google them or just live with disappointment. Different strokes.
When Nelson was making her documentary, she learned she would have to pay a $1,500 fee to record label Warner/Chappell, which claimed to own the copyright on the song. This was odd to Nelson, who knew that was, to put it in legal terms, a big ol' lie. During her research, she had discovered that the song's tune dated all the way back to 1890s, when sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, both kindergarten teachers, copyrighted a melody called "Good Morning To All" through the Clayton F Summy Company. But the copyright was only for the melody, there was no evidence or documentation attributing the famous lyrics to the Hill sisters. And yet that didn't stop the Summy Company from filing a copyright on the wildly popular birthday song in 1935, using their melody copyright as claim of legal ownership.
In 1988, Warner gulped up the Summy Company for $25 million, and with it, "Happy Birthday." Through ruthless enforcement of this shaky copyright, Warner/Chappell squeezed about $2 million each year out of movies, TV shows, and ... high-profile birthday parties, maybe? They also argued that according to the 1935 copyright registration, they could keep the copyright going until 2030.
Nelson took her findings to lawyers and launched a class-action suit to challenge the giant record label's claim. Realizing they might get hit with charges for much shadier dealings, Warner/Chappell paid $14 million in copyright compensation to avoid a court hearing about the fees they had collected. In 2016, the song became public domain again for the first time in over 85 years. So thanks to Nelson, everyone is free to use the birthday song in their art, movies, weird YouTube edits, etc.
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 4
A Hospital Chief Went Undercover To Take Down Government Corruption
In 2003, Edward Hospital CEO Pamela Davis wanted to build a new medical office in Plainfield, Illinois, where ailing folks had to undergo a 20-minute jungle navigation to get their rashes checked out. But before she could even present her plan to the board, banker P. Nicholas Hurtgen told her she needed hire a very specific contractor if she wanted approval. Davis knew extortion when she heard it, ignored the threat, and ... got outright rejected.
But instead of playing ball, Davis decided to kick them right where it hurt. A novice in the vigilante department, she had to ring up directory assistance for the FBI, which agreed to put a wire in her bra and listen in on a meeting with Hurtgen and the shady contractor. Mere minutes into the conversation, the feds called Davis on the phone to tell her she was being extorted and needed to get the hell out of there.
On that day, Davis became both an undercover informant and the catalyst for something called Operation Board Games, a statewide sting to expose and destroy a "pay to play" extortion racket. Over the years, Davis helped exposed multilevel government corruption, even netting Governor Rod Blagojevich when he tried to sell President's Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Davis kept up the charade for seven months, until an article in The Chicago Sun-Times exposed her as a spy, which must've been quite the breakfast read for her husband and three kids.
Once past a few more petty roadblocks, Davis and the Plainfield folks finally got their free-standing emergency center. After her retirement, the community gave her a holiday -- something even Batman doesn't have. Where's the justice in that?
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