Prisoner of Love
Think you’ve got a bad relationship? Check out what happened to Terri Galipeaux when she hooked up with art scam artist Kenneth Fetterman (aka Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam).
Love is a mystery. It can break and mend hearts, build hope and tear down dreams. Love can take you places where you always wanted to go and places where you wished you’d never been. Love took Terri Galipeaux to heaven and placed her in hell.
The 47-year-old mother of two and former Lake Tahoe Community College art student has spent the last 11 months in the Sacramento County Jail, convicted of harboring a fugitive, a man she once loved, and maybe still does. But that love has shattered her life, bringing the full force of the law down upon her and pitting members of her own family against her. All for the love of Kenneth Fetterman.
He was a tall, handsome man, Kenneth Fetterman—aka Landon, aka Stone Gossard, lead guitarist for Pearl Jam, internationally renowned art expert and science fiction writer, among many other claimed talents. Many things remain uncertain about Fetterman, including his present whereabouts, but one thing is clear: Kenneth Fetterman, currently a fugitive wanted by the FBI for his alleged involvement in an art swindle, is definitely not Pearl Jam lead guitarist Stone Gossard.
In March 2001, Fetterman, local attorney Ken Walton, and Scott Beach from Colorado were indicted by a federal grand jury for rigging art auctions on the popular eBay Web site. Using multiple fictitious e-mail identities between 1998 and 2000, the trio allegedly swindled dozens of eBay users by illegally inflating the prices of hundreds of paintings they auctioned on the Internet. The paintings were mostly junk, abstract art found in antique stores and thrift shops. But by hinting that the paintings might be the work of masters and then bidding on their own paintings to stimulate interest—a practice known as shill bidding—Fetterman, Walton and Beach illegally pocketed profits in the high six-figure range over the two-year period.
They tripped up in May 2000, when Walton attempted to pass off an amateurish abstract expressionist painting he claimed had been gathering dust in his garage. It was supposedly the undiscovered work of the late Northern California artist Richard Diebenkorn. A Dutch software developer bought the painting online, without ever physically seeing it, for $135,000. It was the highest price ever paid for a painting in an online auction, and that caught the attention of the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.
Fetterman, Walton and Beach had everybody fooled, for a while. The Bee even ran a story following Walton around as he attempted to authenticate the supposed Diebenkorn with local art experts. But eBay caught Walton bidding on his own painting under another e-mail identity, and by June, the FBI was investigating, leading to the indictment of the threesome in March 2001.
Upon being indicted, Walton and Beach immediately turned state’s evidence in exchange for reduced sentences. Walton’s San Francisco-based attorney did not return the SN&R’s phone calls, but according to court documents, Walton was disbarred, and both men were ordered to pay financial restitution. Neither man has been sentenced to prison time, and as long as they continue to cooperate with federal authorities, they probably won’t, according to their plea bargain agreement.
But cooperating with authorities apparently is not Kenneth Fetterman’s method of operation. The Placerville resident pulled up stakes as soon as the FBI investigation began, relocating to South Lake Tahoe. In December 2000, he met Terri Galipeaux. In a whirlwind five-month romance, Fetterman turned Terri’s life upside down and inside out. That’s why Terri Galipeaux has spent the last 11 months inside the Sacramento County Jail. She is the only person connected to the eBay Diebenkorn scam who has done any jail time. The thing is, she didn’t have that much to do with the scam in the first place. All she did was get fooled by Kenneth Fetterman, just like everybody else did.
According to newspaper accounts and court documents, the 6-foot-3, 34-year-old Kenneth Fetterman has spent much of his adult life fooling people. Booted out of the Army in the late 1980s after a drug bust, it didn’t take him long to find his niche in the world. Fetterman stumbled upon a simple truth: Certain people will pay ungodly sums of money for a work of art if someone says it might be a masterpiece. That someone could be a legitimate art expert, or it could be anyone, namely, former pizza delivery driver Kenneth Fetterman. In 1993, in a story that was eerily similar to the Bee’s first report on Walton and the Diebenkorn, Fetterman conned the Seattle Times newspaper into believing that he was in the process of authenticating a painting by Raphael. If the painting turned out to be the work of the Renaissance master, it could be worth up to $20 million, Fetterman told the Times.
The problem was, Fetterman was no art expert and the painting, though good, was no Raphael. Fetterman’s attempted deception was ferreted out with great glee by the competing Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but apparently, he had committed no crime.
He moved to Placerville sometime in the late 1990s, perhaps to be nearer to Walton, whom he met in the Army. Court records show that Fetterman, Walton and Beach began shill bidding on paintings together in 1998. One member of the trio would put a painting up for auction on eBay and the other two would bid up the price using fictitious e-mail names. Easy money, while it lasted.
After the Diebenkorn debacle, Fetterman covered his tracks in Placerville and fled to South Lake Tahoe, where he rented a condo at the very top of the Kingsbury Grade, a narrow road that winds its way over the Sierra to Carson City. The condo sits like a fortress on the peak of a granite mountain, and Fetterman must have felt safe there. But perhaps he was lonely, too. In December 2000, while surfing the Net, he met a woman in a South Lake Tahoe singles chat room and arranged to meet her at Brother’s Place, a South Lake Tahoe bar on the California side of the lake.
The tall, handsome, gap-toothed stranger’s meeting didn’t go that well, according to a female friend of the woman he supposedly met at the bar that night. Fetterman told both women that he was Pearl Jam lead guitarist Stone Gossard, traveling incognito to avoid attracting the attention of the media and his adoring fans. He also claimed to be a science fiction writer, and used yet another nom de plume for that career. The two women, unimpressed by his phony-sounding spiel, shined Fetterman on. He moved on to another woman, who just happened to be Terri Galipeaux.
Terri had come to Brother’s Place with a friend to blow off steam. Terri had plenty to blow off. She is the original hard-luck woman. The divorced mother of two grown children has spent most of her adult life in poverty, moving from one bad relationship to the next. For the past four years, she had been struggling to become an artist, a career she considered her true calling, applying for Pell grants so she could take art classes at Lake Tahoe Community College. She’d already had minor success selling some of her work, whimsical papier-mâché sculptures and psychedelic-looking acrylic paintings, and she was just a few units shy of earning her AA degree.
Fetterman launched into the same routine with Terri, claiming to be the lead guitarist for Pearl Jam, as well as a science fiction writer and an art dealer. Stone Gossard was just his stage name, he explained. He was using the name “Landon” so people wouldn’t recognize him. Terri couldn’t keep track of all of his different names and occupations. “What was your name again?” she asked at the end of the evening.
“Smud,” he deadpanned with mock impatience, and for the next three days, that’s what she called him, Smud. He was intelligent, his sense of humor was quick, and he continually left her in stitches.
They made quite a couple, Terri, trudging through the crunchy South Lake Tahoe snow in her multi-colored Hudson Bay coat, tight stretch pants and knee-high yeti boots with four-inch-thick goat hair on them, and the tall, casually dressed stranger at her side, Landon, aka Stone Gossard, real name Kenneth Fetterman. The bartenders at Hoss Hawgs, a frequent hangout of Terri’s, affectionately called Terri the Jaeger Lady, due to her well-known affinity for the dark liqueur, and Landon, who was one of those guys who can quaff beers all night long and never get drunk, always seemed to have money to spring for drinks. The guy was loaded with cash and exceedingly generous to boot. Plus, he was nicer to her than any man she had ever known.
“Don’t forget your lunch,” he’d grin, holding out a plastic grocery bag freshly packed with potato chips, six pieces of fruit, and a foot-long submarine sandwich he’d made her after cooking breakfast and doing the dishes. “Have a great day at school!”
When Terri’s 20-year-old son Adam was assaulted and airlifted to a Reno hospital, Landon, no questions asked, drove Terri to Reno, put her up in a motel, and bought food for Terri and the entire operating room staff, who managed to save Adam despite severe head injuries that have left him partially brain-damaged.
There were other niceties.
When Terri said Landon should buy a Nintendo game so they didn’t have to go out to casinos all the time, he showed up at the condo that evening with a brand new $600 PlayStation 2. When she complained that his TV was too small to play the game on, he showed up the next evening with a brand new 36-inch TV set. When she complained that the lead guitarist of Pearl Jam should be driving something better than a worn-out 1991 Ford Escort, he came to pick her up at school the next day in a new Jeep. Thanks to these, a thousand other acts of kindness, and perhaps the constant supply of Jeagermeister on demand, Terri easily fell in love with Landon.
She wasn’t totally stupid. For one thing, she didn’t believe he was Stone Gossard, not at first anyway. “If it isn’t true, just tell me, it doesn’t make any difference to me either way,” she’d say. “If you’re not in Pearl Jam, just tell me.”
“Everything I’ve told you is true,” he said.
That included the story about Lane, his former wife, tragically killed in a fiery car crash the year before. He was waiting for her estate to be settled, then he would inherit Lane’s Mercedes and her real estate holdings in Seattle. That’s why he was driving around a trashed-out Escort with masterpiece paintings and drawings by the likes of Rubens in the trunk. It seemed odd that an art expert would treat expensive paintings so cavalierly, but the Rubens was real, Landon had convinced Terri of that.
In short, Landon was the answer to all her prayers, and while some people rolled their eyes when he started talking about road trips with Pearl Jam, others noted that he did bare some resemblance to one of its members, not Stone Gossard, but rhythm guitarist Mike McCready. Terri ignored the negative feedback and accentuated the positive, becoming convinced that Landon, real name Kenneth Fetterman, was indeed all the people he claimed to be.
On Valentine’s Day, he picked her up at school and brought her home to the condo, where there were two big boxes and a bouquet of flowers waiting for her. One box had bath beads, the other had seven boxes of different kinds of chocolate.
“One box would have been plenty” she said.
“I didn’t know what kind you liked, so I bought all seven.”
It takes a lot of energy, not to mention a lot of funding, to keep so many lies in the air at the same time, and gradually, Landon began letting on to Terri that something bad had happened to him the year before, and it wasn’t just the death of his wife Lane. It had something to do with the FBI and his art-world dealings, he hinted. He kept stringing her along with new, never-before-revealed details. For instance, “Lane” wasn’t dead. She wasn’t even his wife, she was a woman he had been living with in Placerville immediately before the hinted-at trouble began. On March 8, Terri and Landon were watching TV in the condo when a news story about art fraud came on. Landon grabbed the remote and quickly turned the channel.
“What did you do that for?” Terri asked.
“Remember that thing I was telling you about?”
“You know, the thing-thing.”
That’s how Terri found out about Landon’s involvement in the eBay Diebenkorn art auction swindle. The next day, a front-page story in a daily newspaper filled in all the details, filtered to Terri through Landon, who could of course explain everything.
Walton and Beach were trying to frame him, he said. The threesome always bid on each other’s paintings—sometimes they actually bought paintings from each other—there was nothing against the law about that, he explained. She believed him, because he had shown her on the computer at school how he sold paintings on eBay, and she had seen large-dollar checks from various art and antique dealers Landon did business with. Landon insisted that he was above-board, that Walton had never told him anything about trying to pass off the painting as a Diebenkorn. That was clearly wrong, Landon said, and now Walton and Beach wanted him to take the fall. Landon already had a lawyer in Sacramento working on the case, a high-powered attorney referred to him by his agent, who warned Landon to be careful, or he’d screw up his contract with Pearl Jam.
“You need to go down there and talk to your attorney,” Terri said, skimming over the article. “She’ll straighten this out.”
Landon’s high-powered attorney turned out to be Sacramento Public Defender Mary French, who wouldn’t comment for this story but apparently conveyed enough legal information to inform Landon that he was indeed in serious trouble, the kind they give you 15 years in federal prison for. He really did need a high-powered attorney. That, at least, is what he told Terri Galipeaux after refusing to turn himself in and returning to Lake Tahoe.
Terri asked him, one last time, if he was telling the truth.
“Everything I’ve told you is true,” he said once again.
Until the day Terri left him, he maintained the same story.
The technical name for the crime Terri was accused of in the coming months is “harboring a fugitive.” It more or less amounted to Landon taking her for a ride. She’s the first to admit that her own stupidity played a major role in the whole affair.
They left the condo and began hiding out in South Lake Tahoe hotel rooms; Terri registered them using false names. The heat was on, so he told her that they had to leave town, leave California.
They decided to take the train to Salt Lake City, where they holed up in another shabby hotel room. Terri had just had knee surgery and ate Vicodin while Landon combed local libraries for Internet access. At the end of the week, he hadn’t found an attorney, but he’d picked up a new car, since he’d given the Jeep to Terri’s 21-year-old daughter Chez Galipeaux.
It was time to move on again. In a Vicodin haze, Terri went back to California with Landon. They stopped at the Lake, then Santa Rosa, where Landon picked up some paintings from a storage locker, and then San Francisco, where Landon unloaded the paintings at an auction house for a few thousand in cash. More proof of his legitimacy as an art dealer and the validity of his story. They decided to head east. She knew from talking to Chez that FBI agents had descended upon her family in full-force after she and Landon had fled, bothering Chez at work and allegedly bugging Terri’s mom’s telephone. Terri wanted the special agents to leave her family alone, so she called her mom the day they left.
“Tell the FBI we’re headed north,” she told her mother.
That little snippet, elicited from Darlene Russell, Terri’s mom, by FBI agents after Terri had left the state traveling south instead of north, was later used at her trial to show that she had willfully attempted to misdirect the bureau’s pursuit of Fetterman. It also later helped lead to the belief, on the behalf of Terri, the Sacramento Bee, and virtually everybody associated with the case, that Darlene Russell had turned in her daughter, a betrayal of her own flesh and blood.
By the time Terri came out of her Vicodin haze, they were in Phoenix, heading for the gulf shore of Texas. Terri enjoyed traveling among the mesas and monuments of the desert southwest, but they had no time for sightseeing. Landon always picked the sleaziest hotels in red light districts to stay in, and by the time they got to Galveston, Texas, Terri had had enough. Obviously, Landon wasn’t going to turn himself in, the one condition she had insisted on before pledging her support. Landon continued insisting he was Gossard, the science fiction writing, art-appreciating lead guitarist for Pearl Jam. She still thinks maybe he is Stone Gossard. She didn’t think he was guilty—she still questions if he is. But Terri never agreed to do the Thelma and Louise routine with him. She was 2,000 miles from home, cooped up in tiny motel rooms with Landon 24/7, and convinced he wasn’t going to turn himself in. So she stuck her thumb out and left him.
She got all the way to Houston, where she wandered downtown in the heat and the smog, trying to find her way out of Texas and her relationship. She failed, and headed back to Galveston and Landon. Once again, he promised to take her back home after he retained an attorney.
By then, the romance was over. Everything Landon did was wrong. If he sneezed, Terri hated him for it. “I want to go home,” she grumbled. Sometimes she even screamed at him. “I’ve had enough, I’m tired of this baloney.” His patience was amazing. He never got mad at her and she was bitching and moaning all the time. At two in the morning, she opened the bathroom door, looked at Landon sleeping on the bed for the last time, and walked through the night in a strange town to the nearest truck stop. She got lucky. The fourth person who picked her up, an interstate trucker, was making a long haul to Northern California. After a three-day journey in which Terri slept little, the trucker dropped her off in Dunnigan, the collection of truck stops, gas stations and fast-food restaurants about 40 miles north of Sacramento on Interstate 5. Her mother wasn’t too far away, in Elverta, so Terri called her.
“I am hungry, I am tired, I am dirty,” she told her mother. “I will take care of this, but I need to come home and eat something and take a shower. Please don’t call the FBI. I will turn myself in tomorrow morning.”
About an hour later, the men in ties began showing up at the truck stop. Terri watched them from across the parking lot. They watched her. Not long after, Darlene showed up with her brother Gene, Terri’s uncle.
“I called the FBI, they’re on their way,” Darlene said.
“They’re already here,” Terri said, shaking her head. She sat quietly talking to her mother, trying not to lose her temper. They waited 45 minutes in 100-degree heat and nothing happened. Finally, Terri got up. “I’m getting tired of waiting for them. Let’s go.” She walked across the parking lot, slimy with three days of road filth and tweaking from sleep deprivation. “You’re the FBI, aren’t you?” she asked the man in the tie filling up the pickup truck.
“Why yes, how did you know?” he replied.
He knew how she knew, and Terri was taken into custody. It was June 6, 2001, and she has remained in custody ever since.
After hearing nearly two full days of testimony in January of this year, it took a jury of Terri’s peers another 45 minutes to find her guilty of harboring a fugitive, Kenneth Fetterman. Fortunately, Shari Rusk, Terri’s federal public defender, was able to convince the judge to reduce the 27-month term the prosecution asked for to 11 months, which more or less amounted to the time she had already served in the Sacramento County Jail, plus a couple of months.
“That just proves the age-old saying, ‘if you’re innocent, go trial by judge, if you’re guilty, go trial by jury,’ ” her dad commented on the telephone from Southern California one day. She’d been calling her father, a retired aeronautical engineer, once a week since being jailed, which is more than she had talked to him in years.
Terri tried to make the best of her time in jail. During the first months of her stay, she served as a trustee, which granted her more freedom of movement throughout the facility. But jail took its toll, measured out by the three bags of Jolly Ranchers she ate weekly in lieu of the jail’s no-smoking policy, the ever-lengthening gray roots in her straight, dyed-brown hair, and the 30 pounds she’d gained during her stay. The knowledge that her mother had turned her in to the FBI kept eating at her. Terri’s interior life became a never-ending series of what-ifs: What if my mom hadn’t turned me in? What if I had stayed with my dad instead? What if I had never met Landon?
On Valentine’s Day, 2002, exactly one year after Landon had given Terri seven boxes of chocolates, Chez gave birth to a boy, Zackory. In Terri’s mind, the baby’s birth marked a turning point, and with less than two months to serve on her jail sentence, she vowed to get her act together, hoping that one day, she might make up for raising Adam and Chez in dire poverty by helping to provide a better life for baby Zack.
She called her father to tell him about her optimistic plans for the future, but he didn’t answer the phone. She called several more times during the week and still didn’t get an answer. The next day Chez came to the jail and told Terri her father had been found dead on the floor of his trailer, the apparent victim of a heart attack. There was more bad news. Terri’s mother, Darlene, who had been complaining about abdominal pain for several months, had been diagnosed with full-blown ovarian cancer. She was scheduled for immediate surgery, and the prognosis was not good.
What were the odds of that? She was within two months of clearing the whole mess, and now this. Her dad was dead. Her mom was maybe dying. What if she had never met Landon, would all this be happening with her behind bars?
She remembered it all in vivid detail now. Landon, aka Stone Gossard, real name Kenneth Fetterman, alleged mastermind of the great eBay Diebenkorn art swindle, the only man in her entire life who had been 100 percent nice to her. Landon, art expert extraordinaire. It was all like some kind of Andy Warhol nightmare.
Terri wanted to attend her dad’s funeral, but the feds wouldn’t let her out. Her attorney did manage to secure Terri a six-hour furlough to visit her mom at Kaiser Morse hospital. Terri’s mom had slipped into a coma after the operation and had only a 50 percent chance of making it.
Chez and Terri’s sister Phyllis picked Terri up at the jail around noon, four hours after she was supposed to have been furloughed for the day. Bureaucratic snafu, the jail said. When they got to the hospital, more bad news. Overnight, mom had taken a turn for the worse. Her body was no longer processing carbon dioxide. Her lungs were filling up with fluid. She wasn’t going to come out of the coma. Phyllis and Terri decided to pull the plug on mom.
It was about 1:30 p.m., and the relatives who lived in the area or had shown up from out of town had to be notified. Terri’s uncle Gene, Darlene’s brother, the same guy who had shown up with Darlene at the truck stop the day the FBI had arrested Terri, was the first to arrive. By 3:30, a dozen friends and family members had arrived. Terri was supposed to be back at the jail by 4.
A respiratory therapist and a nurse entered the crowded room and removed Darlene’s life support. Darlene gasped, started breathing on her own, and her vital signs, displayed on the monitor next to the bed, improved slightly. By 4 o’clock, it was clear she had at least another hour in her. But Terri didn’t have an hour. She was already supposed to be back in jail. She rushed suddenly out of the room, overcome with grief. Chez followed her. In the hall, they embraced in a mist of tears. Then Chez admonished her mother to return to jail before she got in more trouble.
“No,” Terri said. “I’m staying.”
Terri walked down the hall to the waiting room and Chez followed. “Phyllis said that Uncle Gene wants you to know it wasn’t grandma who turned you in. It was him, Uncle Gene.”
“If that’s true, why didn’t she ever tell me that?” Terri snapped.
In the lobby, Uncle Gene said it was true, he had turned Terri in. He didn’t know why Darlene had blamed herself for it, but she had. They were scared. They were all scared. The FBI had been threatening them for weeks. Telling them the phone was tapped, so it didn’t matter if they tried to hide Terri from them, they would find out. Gene, a 30-year Air Force veteran who had never spent a day in jail, wasn’t about to start. He had called the FBI that day when he heard from Darlene that Terri was at the truck stop. He hated what happened to Terri because of it, but at the time, he saw no other option.
The FBI was already there by the time Gene and Darlene had arrived at the truck stop that day in Dunnigan. Terri and her mother walked over to the agent, and that was the difference between getting turned in by someone and surrendering on your own accord. Her mother had walked across the parking lot with her daughter, that’s why Darlene blamed herself for what happened to Terri, Gene said.
Terri wasn’t sure what or who to believe, and still isn’t sure, because Darlene never got the chance to talk to her about it. The issue would remain unresolved. Shortly before 5 o’clock, with Terri and a dozen other loved ones at her bedside, Darlene began a slow descent into a final, permanent holding pattern.
“She’s turning colors,” one of the relatives said. “She’s feels colder,” said another. “Just let go, ma,” said sister Phyllis. “Just let go.” And with Terri watching, Darlene did let go, forever.
Afterward, Terri lit a Marlboro Red outside Kaiser Morse. She’d already smoked two cigarettes on her six-hour furlough, which was now pushing eight hours. She hadn’t smoked for 10 months, the whole time she’d been in jail. She sat down on a concrete bench, exhaling gray clouds that floated away in the crisp spring air.
Landon had pushed her into the place she was. Yet she still wondered if he was Stone Gossard, even after being shown a picture of Pearl Jam and seeing that he really didn’t look like any of the band members. She still dreamed about the paintings she believed were still out there, the Rubens, the Rembrandts, the other masterpieces, the rest of Landon’s collection the FBI hadn’t confiscated, waiting to be discovered, authenticated, and cashed in. The idea that Kenneth Fetterman, aka Landon, could have put her through all of this, the hardships and the jail time, for nothing just didn’t add up, couldn’t add up. Otherwise, she’d be just a stupid pawn in his silly con game.
“Whatever he did to me, it didn’t seem like a manipulation,” she said, breathing out wispy smoke. “When he did something to please me and I smiled, he beamed. There was no question that after what he did for me, I had to do something for him.”
As far as the FBI is concerned, Terri did enough. She helped give Kenneth Fetterman the head start he needed to avoid arrest. His present activities and whereabouts remain unknown.
“They’ll never catch him,” she said.
Terri stubbed the cigarette out. It was time to go back to jail to finish the last three weeks of her sentence, then face an uncertain future. That future starts this week, when she is released from the Sacramento County Jail, the only person so far to do time in the great eBay Diebenkorn art swindle.