Journal Entry: Melinda Bixler-08/16/2023-My Crime

Journal Entry

In January 2020 I was arrested after dropping off my 7-year-old son at school. Until that day, I’d
never been arrested or faced charges. I was taken into custody and learned that I’d been
charged with seven felonies related to alleged crimes involving me, my business, and a
nonprofit I’d founded five years earlier. They charged my adult son as well because they
believed he had conspired with me. I spent the night in jail and walked out the next day with a
much different life.
Until that day, I didn’t consider myself “privileged.” I knew how hard I’d worked to overcome
abuse, survive as a single mom, and earn two college degrees with hard work and student loan
debt. I equated the term “privileged” with having life easy. In no way did I feel my life had been
The short time I spent in county jail was eye-opening. It was as though a switch flipped and I
witnessed what I’d only previously heard about, the relationship between poverty and crime.
Experiencing firsthand what it felt like when dignity and respect are gone. I met women who felt
trapped in a cycle of trying to survive in a society where the odds are stacked against them. I’m
not excusing the crimes they committed and I’m not excusing our responsibility as human
beings to extend kindness and compassion either. It’s important and necessary that we
recognize and acknowledge the reality some of these women continually face, and the barriers
that create vicious cycles. By acknowledging our societal role in the lives of children, it becomes
more evident that in many cases, we’ve failed to protect them and truly provide equal
After one night, I realized how much I’d taken for granted, even though I felt immensely grateful
for the many blessings I had. I’d previously been naïve and in denial about the fact that as a
society we design no-win situations for some people. Their desperation leads to crime and once
entrenched in the system as a criminal, achieving success (by their definition and from their
perspective) is unattainable.
I was released on supervised bail the next morning. I got in the car and said, “I know what my
next mission in life is; it’s advocating for women in prison.” At the time, the idea that I would
become an imprisoned woman was unfathomable. I didn’t believe I fit the profile of a felon,
convict, prisoner… And except for being female, I wasn’t a minority.
Through this experience I had a profound Aha moment. I realized that I was indeed privileged. I
finally understood what I’d only previously heard about, yet clearly couldn’t comprehend. I left
there feeling as sad about the destruction I’d caused as I did for other women. I was shocked to
meet a woman who’d been imprisoned over an $800 unpaid fine. Another young lady (who
clearly had severe untreated mental illness) wasn’t a stranger to the justice system. Rather than
prison, she would’ve benefited tremendously from treatment to ensure medication compliance
and receive community support. As someone who advocated for people like her for many years,
I was sad that I couldn’t help her beyond showing compassion.
Within a few days of release, my attorney informed me that the FBI had become involved. Local
law enforcement’s assertion that I stole and embezzled millions certainly drew media attention,
and that of federal agents. I’d made some bad decisions, but nothing near the magnitude that
local law enforcement had formulated in their narrative.

For the next two years, I fully cooperated and engaged in multiple proffer sessions with FBI
agents, IRS investigators and local authorities. I provided nearly twenty boxes of files and
documents that hadn’t been seized by local authorities. I spent more than a year working almost
full-time hours transitioning clients to new providers, forwarding thousands of pieces of mail,
filing required reports and so forth. I didn’t have to go to those lengths but did so because I
cared about my clients. I wanted to minimize any additional struggles they faced because of me.
I followed my attorney’s advice and fully entrusted him with everything. I did everything I could
think of to show law enforcement that I wasn’t the person they believed I was. But it turns out, I
didn’t know enough about the system; or understand the stakeholders, their roles and agenda to
help them see beyond the crimes they were investigating me for.
Because of choices that I made many people lost in unforeseen ways. As a result of losing my
business, 180 clients lost their team of people who had become like family. In many cases, we
were the only ones ensuring they had food, shelter, care, clothing, and medicine. I lost the
nonprofit I’d founded years earlier that was paying rent, medication, care, housing, utilities,
property taxes, etc. for nearly two dozen clients in need. My employees lost their jobs. The life
my family knew ended. My oldest son was charged as a co-conspirator in the case and upon
the advice of counsel we had no contact for 20 months. Prior to that, the longest we’d gone
without talking or seeing one another was a week. My son lost so much and faced the hardest
times of his life. I’d spent 22 years trying to protect my son from struggles and support him
during his most painful times. Then, I became the cause of the worst tragedy in his life.
In March 2022, I pled guilty to one count of “engaging in monetary transactions in property
derived from specified unlawful activity.” I was facing up to 10 years in federal prison. More than
a year later, on May 24, 2023, I was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. There was a
sense of relief that the 40-month journey from arrest to sentencing was over. That chapter was
closed; my fate was clear. I was fortunate to have family, friends, former employees, and former
clients attend my sentencing hearing in support. Apart from federal authorities who’d worked on
my case and a few people from the media, the other side of the courtroom aisle was empty.
I was heartbroken over my sentence, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how lucky I was.
The federal government requested a 27-month sentence and the Judge had extended leniency.
Losing my home, business and assets was a hard pill to swallow, but my devotion is to making
things right and trying to protect my family from living with the repercussions of my actions. The
rest is just stuff.
My criminal conviction was a multi-layered complicated sequence of bad decisions. The
pressure of trying to manage too much personally and professionally was a situation I’d created
and I began taking shortcuts. Consequently, I overbilled two of my clients for services that my
company had provided over several years. In the fall of 2018, one thing led to another, and I
decided to buy a new house. I didn’t need it. The home that my boys and I lived in was nice. I
was in a bad place in my life and had just lived through a few of the most brutal years. With
back-to-back serious and significant family tragedies, I wasn’t coping well and my ship was
sinking. Our house had been a place of tragedy and the traumatic reminders felt inescapable.
I stumbled upon a home in a neighborhood that I’d always aspired to live in. I felt like I’d entered
a dream when I saw it. I envisioned a fresh start for my kids and felt a sense of renewed hope
for our family. Absent the constant, sad reminders in our current home, I imagined a better life.

Owning a rapidly growing business and operating a non-profit company that was helping the
poor within our community was my life purpose. I was proud to be a successful single mom
accomplishing things I’d only dreamed of twenty years earlier. I tried to forget about the house. I
knew it wasn’t practical or necessary. I certainly could’ve found a home that was less expensive
in a modest neighborhood, but my fixation on the large, beautiful home with an inground pool
and plenty of space for family and friends clouded my judgment.
I spoke with a mortgage specialist and explained the facts of my financial situation. Moments
later she sent me the digital mortgage application that she’d completed based on our phone call.
When she sent the electronic application I was in the throws of another chaotic workday, on my
way out the door for a meeting and hurriedly opened Docusign on my phone. I didn’t zoom in to
view or read anything. I assumed that it was correct, signed and initialed the highlighted boxes
and moved on with my day. Interestingly, my mom had always said, “Never sign anything
without reading it first.” I wish I had listened. (Side note: How does that work with all those little
digital devices sitting on the counter at the doctor’s office, bank, etc.? It’s just a digital signature
pad with nothing else. The person behind the computer is telling me what I’m signing? How
does anyone know what they’re truly signing? Do people ever question that? I do now!)
My loan application was preapproved, and everything was moving along without issue; however,
two unanticipated problems arose a little more than a month before settlement. In retrospect, I
know those problems were God’s way of deterring me from proceeding. During my initial phone
calls with the mortgage lender, I’d disclosed an existing private mortgage that I was responsible
for; however, since I hadn’t reviewed the application, I failed to notice it was incorrect. When I
was asked 6 weeks later for a letter verifying the private mortgage had been paid in full, my
heart sank. I contemplated my options and ultimately, I made a reckless and stupid decision.
The second problem was related to my downpayment and the required verification showing I
had the funds in my personal account for a specified period of time. Considering that wasn’t
possible based on the timelines established, I asked the mortgage broker what I should do. Her
solution involved my 21-year-old son and moving money. Admittedly, it seemed odd that such
an easy fix existed, but it didn’t occur to me that a professional expert would tell me to do
something illegal. Lesson learned.
Through a series of transactions, I deposited money into my son’s bank account. The day
before settlement he handed me a check made payable directly to the settlement company.
After being arrested more than a year later, I was told that what I’d done was money laundering!
What? Money laundering was something drug dealers did. Admittedly, Breaking Bad was my
only reference point.
To add fuel to the fire, I faced another unanticipated predicament. The appraisal came back
lower than expected. As such, I needed a larger downpayment than I’d initially thought so I
accepted a loan from a client. I didn’t draft a loan agreement. (Yes, it was stupid!) Shortcuts had
become common practice. I didn’t have time for (what I perceived were) formalities. I knew my
intent and had a plan for repayment at an interest rate that far exceeded her present ROI.
Collectively, these bad decisions created the perfect storm. I wasted a long time being angry at
Lisa, the mortgage broker. Undoubtedly, she knew that what she’d suggested was illegal. She’d
advised it during a phone call so there was no “proof” of that. It wasn’t fair and I was angry! I
was facing a very long time in prison, and her life was unchanged. Fortunately, I came to my
senses. Years ago, I realized that regardless of her advice, intent or anyone else that influenced

my situation, I was responsible for the choices I made and the actions I took. As someone once
said, “Ignorance of the law does not make one immune from it.” It seemed too good to be true
when she’d initially suggested it, and I had options other than the path I took. I could’ve
consulted an attorney, researched it or sought additional opinions, but I didn’t. That’s on me! I’m
responsible for my collective choices. God gave me plenty of signs. I ignored them. My gut
feeling was that I shouldn’t do it. I did it anyway. Like each of us, I found ways to justify each
decision. And, regardless of my ignorance or intent, I was wrong.
Through acceptance and ownership, I’ve found more peace. It doesn’t change the past, but it
also doesn’t define my future. I’m rebuilding a life of purpose and meaning. I’ll do all that I can to
make amends and reestablish trust. It’s a process and I’ve learned to be patient. I don’t question
the legitimacy of my gut instincts anymore and I certainly don’t make any major decisions
without engaging in a well-reasoned evaluation of the pros and cons. In addition, I’m
consistently challenging myself to ensure that my actions align with my values.
In a strange way, I’m grateful for what’s happened. I’ve learned more about myself in the past
four years than I’d learned over numerous decades. My relationships are more authentic. I’ve
removed unhealthy influences and have slowly replaced toxic coping methods. My spirituality is
stronger and oddly, my mental health has improved. I see the world with clearer vision and a
healthier level of skepticism. I’m sure it sounds cliché, but I have a second chance at life and I’m
not wasting it by staring in the rearview mirror.

“Don’t be bound by the past and its failures. But don’t forget its lessons either.” –Billy Graham