The author known as Zane has published 39 books. She has invented characters like Soror Ride Dick and described them as they partake in weekend-long mega-orgies, have sex at mattress stores, and lick unlikely foodstuffs off unnameable body parts. She has landed more than a dozen books on the New York Times bestseller list. In all, more than 5 million of her books are in print.
Along the way, the author of The Sex Chronicles, Dear G-Spot, and The Hot Box has become a one-woman erotica cottage industry. As a pioneer of the gritty genre publishers euphemistically call “urban fiction,” she heads her own imprint at Simon & Schuster. She has been named executive producer of two shows on Cinemax, including Zane’s Sex Chronicles, which at the time was the network’s top-rated adult series. Last year, one of her novels was turned into a major motion picture. Another was adapted as a play. This past February, she launched Zane’s Literary Salon, a satellite-radio show. She has hatched plans for a bookstore and a lingerie line and has discussed an idea for a restaurant chain she would call Zane on Main. “I thought of that name because every town has a main street,” she told me. “Don’t you think that’s cute—Zane on Main?”
It may not surprise you to learn that, late last year, she came out with a line of Zane-branded sex toys.
It may also not surprise you to learn that, like so many other writers of adventure, sex, and romance, the woman dubbed “the queen of erotica” does not much resemble her protagonists. Soror Ride Dick may be fearless and insatiable, but Zane herself is baby-faced and appealingly pear-shaped, with a soft voice, a nervous laugh, and a guarded air. She favors stretchy Lycra cardigans and comfy leggings and lives in a 6,000-square-foot gated house in Upper Marlboro with ten bathrooms that Zane, among all her other pursuits, claims to clean herself.
By her report, when she’s not writing or promoting her brand or interacting with her million-plus Facebook followers, Zane is driving her 12-year-old son to and from his suburban school, attending his soccer games, and whipping up homemade cupcakes.
Of course, you’ll have to take her word on that, because Zane most emphatically does not invite inquisitors into this part of her life. She has discussed the burgeoning commercial operation Public Zane with numerous reporters, including me. But she’s been remarkably successful at keeping Private Zane out of the media—right down to her real name, which she wouldn’t even disclose in a New York Times 2004 feature story about her. “Zane is what I do,” she says. “It’s not really who I am.”
Recently, though, a string of unlikely events has pulled back the curtain on Private Zane in ways that actually are surprising. Last year, when the Maryland state comptroller’s office released its list of top tax scofflaws—an annual spectacle designed to shame delinquents into paying up—the leading individual tax deadbeat was Kristina Laferne Roberts, the woman we know as Zane. She was $340,833.58 in arrears; the state had been after her for back taxes dating to 2003, the same year she held 7 out of 15 titles on Waldenbooks’ African-American bestseller list. According to a subsequent Washington Post story, she also owed more than $540,000 to the IRS.
How did this hyper-productive woman, one of the most successful African-American female entrepreneurs of her generation, wind up atop such an ignominious list? She’s not saying. As always, Kristina Roberts controls her own narrative.
Or she might, except for an ugly piece of bankruptcy litigation that is quietly unfolding in federal court in Maryland. The legal wrangling has generated a stack of paper to rival Zane’s prodigious fiction output. And—perhaps unlike her literature—the paper trail offers a telling glimpse at the extraordinary woman behind the literary phenomenon.
• • •
Kristina Laferne Roberts, who’s 48, grew up in DC and Silver Spring. Her father, James Deotis Roberts, was an influential theologian and author of more than ten books, including the groundbreaking Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology. Her mother taught elementary school.
As a kid, Kristina liked to write—and to keep her pastime private. “She would stay up all night writing,” says her childhood friend Lisa Kendrick-Fox, a flight attendant. “But nobody knew what she was doing. She’d come upstairs like a vampire in a housecoat.”
Roberts spent a year at Spelman College in Atlanta, then moved back to major in chemical engineering at Howard. She never graduated. She had a son at age 20 and a daughter seven years later. (Another son was born in 2003, when she was 36.) As a single mom, Roberts supported herself by working mostly in sales, selling medical and cleaning supplies, life insurance, and paper.
Zane originated in 1997 in the early days of the internet. Roberts was in her early thirties and had relocated to North Carolina, where her father was teaching at Duke University’s divinity school. She was working part-time as his research assistant. Small-town life made her restless, and she started writing erotic fiction, a genre she says she’d never even read before.
“I sent a romantic short story I’d written to three or four people that I knew in the AOL chatrooms,” Zane says, “and the next thing you know I started getting e-mails from complete strangers—just like, ‘Oh, my gosh, your story was the hottest thing I’ve ever read.’”
She put up two more stories and garnered 8,000 pageviews in three weeks—an encouraging tally in those early days of the web. In an effort to separate herself from the material, she opted for a pen name that she says she donned impulsively while hanging out online one night. “I’m not sure where I first heard the name,” she tells me. “Maybe from the actor Billy Zane [of Titanic fame], and of course there was also Zane Grey [the adventure writer]. . . . If it had been even ten minutes later, it probably would have been something else.”
Zane started a website, EroticaNoir.com. Before long, fans were badgering her to produce a book. For $13, she announced, she would mail them ten original stories. The response was tremendous: Zane estimates she sold more than a thousand copies of the collection. She’d spend all day at Staples, she says, copying and collating pages.
In 2000, having moved back to DC, Zane self-published her first book, The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth, which is broken into three sections: “Wild,” “Wilder,” and “Off Da Damn Hook.” “It immediately went bananas,” she tells me. By her reckoning, she sold 250,000 copies—performing as well as the entire original run of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. (Simon & Schuster’s website states that Sex Chronicles’ sales were 80,000.)
Zane says she personally oversaw every detail of getting her fiction out to her fans: “I had the books printed myself, and I took care of all the orders, invoicing, and shipping.” A few months later, she released her novel Addicted, also a mega-hit, selling 50,000 copies in the first six months, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
Fifteen years later, the book is still Zane’s most famous. It also remains a reliable representation of her technique. The potboiler tracks the near downfall of Zoe, a successful art agent whose otherwise perfect high-school-sweetheart husband can’t satisfy her sexually. Zoe eventually gives in to her frustrations by engaging in one, then two (then, parenthetically, three) simultaneous extramarital affairs. Tormented by her infidelity, she eventually tries to break up with her two main lovers, who respond by stalking her, Fatal Attraction-ing the family dog, repeatedly trying to murder her, and so on. At one of many low points on her picaresque path to ruin (which includes the out-of-nowhere murder of her BFF), Zoe attempts to end it all by stepping in front of a moving vehicle.
Zane’s later books adhere to the same basic formula, following the ups and downs of ambitious women coming to terms in some fashion with their sexuality. There’s The Sisters of APF: The Indoctrination of Soror Ride Dick, about the daughter of a South Dakota chicken farmer who joins a secret society devoted to—well, let’s just say the titular acronym stands for “Alpha Phi F—em” and leave it at that. Its sequel, Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade, is about twins who share a “physical bond . . . so strong, that one can often feel a pounding in her vagina while the other is engaged in sexual activity.”
Zane’s prose courses with frequently hilarious metaphors (“He was grinning like a wino that just found a bottle of unopened Mad Dog 20/20 in a garbage can”), updated clichés (“Curiosity might kill most cats, but it made the cat between my legs purr”), and take-no-BS life advice (“Men care about two things. Money and pussy; in that order. You need to concentrate on the money and intake dick for financial purposes only”).
In each book, you can count on characters getting their “backs blown out” or a heroine declaring, “I debated all of five seconds before I started tonguing the living daylights out of him.” And that’s just the foreplay. Then there’s this, from Addicted: “I sat my drink down on the floor, took the cup of warm cheese sauce that came with the nachos, and poured half of it all over his”—uh, you get the idea. Things get even more appetizing from there.
It’s no wonder, given this thematic drift, that the hard-working single mother and well-turned-out theologian’s daughter took as her pseudonym the first name that came to her.
• • •
Zane wasn’t just hiding her identity from her audience. As late as 2001, she says, the only people who knew her secret were her two sisters and their husbands.
Success, though, made concealing her alter ego trickier. With her self-published works regularly ranking on the Essence bestseller list, she was doing so well that she was able to quit her job selling paper. She turned to writing full-time—and finally came clean to family and friends. “I just got sick of the whole double-life thing,” she says.
Amazingly, neither of her parents says this renegade career move came as much of a surprise. “She’d always been interested in writing,” her octogenarian mother, Elizabeth Roberts, tells me. When I ask if she’s read her daughter’s books, there’s a pause. “I’ve read some of them,” Roberts says. “I didn’t complete all of them, but I found them very, very interesting.”
Zane’s father is similarly diplomatic: “Growing up, she always had her own mind. She was often off reading my books, and I knew she was very independent and very bright early in her life.”
Even after unmasking herself to family, though, Zane remained incognito in public. “In the beginning, no one even had any idea if she was a man or a woman,” Patrik Henry Bass, then books editor (and now editorial-projects director) at Essence, told the New York Times.
In 2004—eight books into her career—she finally began to show her face, promoting her work on a splashy Zane Love Bus Tour in a 42-foot-long RV. She says she went public only because she’d encountered so many people impersonating her. “I ran into myself in Jamaica one time—that was comical,” she says. The author nonetheless continued working to maintain the distinction between Kristina and Zane, keeping her given name to herself.
That same year, there were troubles in her private life. Roberts filed for divorce from Wayne Stewart, her husband of two years and the father of her younger son. Her divorce papers accused Stewart of using her for her money (she employed him for a time) and for being “excessively absent” from her life, including their son’s birth, and said that he “often used [her] place of business at night as a drug haven.” Stewart, for his part, said in filings that he was “manipulated” into the marriage “for the convenience of [Roberts] since she is a famous author of pornographic material and has mothered three prior children—from three different men, out of wedlock and in which none of them are in their children’s lives.” (In 1993, a daughter of Roberts’s who was born with a heart condition died at five months old.)
When I reached Stewart at his home in North Carolina, he was guarded but on the whole warm, noting that he met his ex when she was ten and used to visit her cousins nearby: “I can’t divulge too much, but we are very cordial and respectful and accommodating to each other.” Their divorce agreement prevents them from discussing each other, court records show.
Whether it was the suburban mom or the dirty writer calling the shots, Zane was making some remarkably shrewd business choices that let her write the rules of her own success. Her transformation from DIY phenomenon to marquee author offers an illustrative case in point. When publishers initially got wind of a writer calling herself Zane who was a sensation in chatrooms, they vied for a piece of the action, she says. But she took a pass, opting to self-publish—a move that might seem standard in today’s age of e-readers but that was unconventional just a decade ago.
“All of them wanted to clean up my writing style,” she says. “They said it was too risqué.”
After the success of her self-published books, the New York houses flocked to Zane again. This time, she signed with Simon & Schuster. “We understood that she wanted to break some of the established rules, and we were up for it,” says Judith Curr, president of Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.
And they were willing to pay for it. By Zane’s account, the publisher awarded her a multimillion-dollar multi-book deal in 2001. A few years later, she parlayed her clout into a bigger platform: her own imprint at Simon & Schuster. Zane had already been publishing other authors who also “wrote outside the box” through her own company, Strebor Books (Strebor is Zane’s real last name, Roberts, spelled backward)—under Simon & Schuster, Zane got a salary and a staff, and Strebor got the imprimatur of the New York publishing world.
Strebor has released diverse erotic fare, including gay-oriented collections like Purple Panties that caused ripples within Zane’s core audience. But it has also branched out beyond the bedroom. Last year, the imprint published Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr., the late former DC mayor’s autobiography. In her role as literary godmother, Zane joined Barry onstage at a packed book signing soon after the memoir’s release.
• • •
The movie version of Addicted, released by an arm of Lionsgate, opened in 846 theaters nationwide last October. In Washington, an after-party drew business leaders, media personalities, philanthropic donors, and an aide to DC mayor Muriel Bowser. Sipping a chocolate martini, Zane took in praise from a throng dominated by the type of high-wattage women whose secret lives her books so often chronicle.
The transition from books to the big screen—the movie made $17 million on a $5-million budget, enough to qualify as a success—should have taken Zane’s fame to the next level. Instead, her image had taken a beating in the months before its release.
The first blow came from Maryland’s comptroller. Publishing the list of top scofflaws, says spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie-Parker, is a last resort for collection from the “small number of Marylanders who make a conscious effort not to pay their taxes.”
A Post article about the list likened Roberts’s finances to a plot from one of her novels. And the bad news continued. Days before the Addicted premiere, the paper reported that she had filed for federal bankruptcy protection. On the red carpet outside the theater at Gallery Place in DC, a Lionsgate flack pulled reporters aside before the author’s arrival. The only permissible questions, she said, were about the movie: “Nothing about the Post story over the weekend—got it?”
I’d gotten the same warning from Yona Deshommes, Zane’s Simon & Schuster flack, when I contacted her six weeks earlier, hoping to profile the author. “The blogs and especially the Washington Post were almost vicious with their so-called coverage,” explained Deshommes. “She was very hurt by that and doesn’t want to discuss it.”
I told her I couldn’t agree to that but promised to tread carefully and give Roberts a chance to share her version of events.
I soon found that the story Zane wanted to tell was about how she has used her sizable platform to help women.
It’s an admirable story with a lot of truth to it. First off, Zane’s books—however outrageously plotted—always contain an uplifting takeaway, best summarized as female empowerment through sex. Her female protagonists are predominantly squeaky-clean and middle-class, med students and bank tellers and account supervisors. But they also know how, in Zane parlance, to get their freak on. They regularly go on top, remorselessly discard subpar lovers, and get sex when they want it—the key, their creator suggests, to happiness and fulfillment on a larger scale.
“I think a lot of my characters are the type of women a lot of us would be if we didn’t have any fear of being judged,” she says.
Zane carries this messaging into her correspondence with real-life admirers of her work. “I just think it’s important for women to help each other,” she says. “A lot of women feel like they’re alone, that they’re really the only one going through something.” She tells me how she talks frequently with women trying to escape difficult domestic situations and how she has raised money to help them.
On her Facebook page, Zane responds to requests for advice, about a dozen a day, a sort of real-time Dear Prudence. While the predicaments she confronts are often heartbreaking in the extreme—how to cope in a shelter with five siblings and a mother pregnant with number seven at age 27, how to raise a toddler when you’re 15—Zane, in her agony-aunt mode, is invariably hard-nosed and unflappable in her replies. “Young Lady, listen to me. I am not sure why your parents even allowed you to leave their home at age 16 to go be with a man,” she writes, and “I wish that I had a dollar for every woman who has emailed me repeating the lies men told them to get into their panties.”
Zane is likewise fearless when it comes to calling out readers for bad life choices, such as playing the “side chick,” which is Zanese for the other woman. “I want to make a T-shirt for these women that says, ‘I am not a toilet,’ ” she tells me. “That’s how a lot of men treat women. They walk up, take their pants down, make a deposit, flush it, and then walk away.”
By all external appearances, the Zane I got to know was the same frank, artifice-free woman she plays on Facebook, with a social circle full of successful, straight-talking women and a work life firmly under her control.
We meet one day at the cafe in the Lanham Wegmans, not a spot likely to be favored by the insecure and status-anxious. Zane is with her assistant, Nakita West—also known as “Zane’s right-hand chick”—and her sister, Charmaine Parker, Strebor’s publishing director. “We do a lot of business here at Wegmans, believe it or not,” Parker says, pulling a large stack of unsolicited manuscripts out of her bag. During the meeting, Zane also reviews the number of theaters where her movie will soon open. Halfway in, a fan posts a Zane “spotting” on her Facebook page.
And yet, as predicted, Kristina Roberts shuts down when I bring up her financial troubles. “I don’t really have any comment about that,” she says. “All I have to say is that’s all worked out now. It’s over with.”
That’s not the case.
• • •
Roberts’s delinquent state and federal taxes are only one part of her messy paper trail.
There are mortgage problems, too: Her gated mansion in Upper Marlboro, purchased for $1.5 million in 2004, according to property records, has twice gone into foreclosure. The first time was in 2009—between seasons of her popular Cinemax show. The second was in 2014, after Chase forgave $915,000 of the original loan. (The second case is still pending.)
In 2009, Roberts’s landlord sued when she failed to make rent payments on office space in Upper Marlboro that she’d leased for Strebor. (When contacted by phone, he says she eventually paid him everything he was owed. The case was dismissed.)
In all, the author listed her total debts as $3.4 million when she filed for bankruptcy. She estimated her total assets at $1.5 million, the bulk from the Upper Marlboro mansion and a $530,000 property in Bowie that she bought in 2001, as well as a car and some minor personal effects—$3,500 worth of household goods, $1,500 worth of clothes, a $400 checking account, a savings account with $51 in it, and a money-market account worth $8. That was it.
Where had all her money gone?
Zane’s frenetic publishing has slowed. And a glut of royalty income—which unlike salaries doesn’t arrive with taxes already deducted—can make it easy to fall behind. Plus, publishing is a fickle business, especially these days. Zane herself has noted that African-American authors have a harder time getting media attention. (“Why haven’t I been on the Today show or Good Morning America?” she once asked me. “I’m 30 books in, two TV shows and a movie in—what logical reason would there be for me not to have been on there?”)
But changing literary tastes and reduced authorial output are small potatoes compared with an incident elsewhere in Roberts’s court papers—representing one of the business ideas she neglected to mention to me, even when she was skewering the entertainment industry: There was a time when she planned to get into moviemaking herself. The venture flopped rather spectacularly and helped bring on her current troubles.
The saga began years ago, with a man named Faiger Blackwell, who owned a business called Carolina Pinnacle Studios in Yanceyville, North Carolina. Blackwell is a man of many trades—he has owned assisted-living facilities and a restaurant and is today the “chief apostle” at Pinnacle Ministries in Yanceyville. According to the Caswell Messenger, the local paper, Pinnacle Studios had failed under other owners and Blackwell had been trying to position it as a fully independent production studio where Hollywood-caliber projects could be shot. In December 2006, however, his company filed for bankruptcy.
The following June, the studio was slated to be auctioned off. That’s when Kristina Roberts arrived on the scene. The day before the property was to be sold, she signed on as the guarantor of a $1.4-million loan that allowed Blackwell to keep the studio. In exchange, according to court papers, he agreed to make Roberts his partner while seeking a new loan to relieve her of her commitment. The author’s role was to drum up A-list projects for Pinnacle.
Roberts “was excited by this chain of events,” according to a lawsuit she filed, and started planning a move to North Carolina. She found a new place to live, a home for her elder son, and schools for her younger kids, the suit says. While it’s unclear whether a single film was ever made at Pinnacle, it’s indisputable that a year after Roberts came to Blackwell’s rescue, his company defaulted—and the queen of erotica was left holding the bag.
In lawsuits filed against Blackwell, Roberts claimed she was duped. She accused him of breach of contract and fraud, alleging he “maliciously gained the trust of [her] under the guise of an intended romantic relationship.” (Both cases were eventually dismissed after the two failed to show up in court.)
When I reach Blackwell by phone, he won’t comment on the legal proceedings. Of the romantic relationship, he says, “I can’t tell you what she felt or what she thought because that’s just her opinion, but that conversation did not happen.” Blackwell also says he hasn’t spoken to Roberts in years: “All I will say about Zane is that I wish her the best, and I wish her children the best, and I pray that she is blessed, and I pray that she finds peace with God.”
Roberts’s version of the story represents an enormous irony. A woman who turned tales of romantically fearless women into a great business had finances laid low by a false suitor.
After Blackwell’s default, the lender began chasing Roberts for more than $1 million owed on the loan guarantee. In 2009, a North Carolina court ordered her to pay, noting in the judgment that she had never once responded to the lender’s lawsuit against her. Three years later, the lender got a second judge, this time in Prince George’s County, to rule that she was still on the hook. This time, the author responded; she claimed she had no idea she’d even been sued.
The judge again ordered her to pay up. But by March 2014, Roberts still hadn’t handed over any money, and the lender was once again back in court trying to force her to make good on the guarantee. The judge ruled that she had to report to court for questioning under oath.
Instead, she decided to seek bankruptcy protection.
Bankruptcy is supposed to shelter the debtors who file—provided, of course, that they give a straightforward account of their finances. But Roberts, as it turned out, was hiding some crucial information from the court. Her decision to file would end up exposing her far more than she seems to have anticipated—morphing into perhaps the most sensational chapter in an already improbable life story. Roberts has made millions off her fiction, but this time the real-life narrative was about to escape her grasp.
• • •
Before someone’s debts can be forgiven, a court-appointed trustee weighs in on the case’s merits. At first, says Roger Schlossberg, the trustee on the author’s case, the Kristina Roberts matter “looked like what we call a routine no-asset case. . . . Nothing remarkable about it.”
But after the lender on the movie-studio loan piped up, Schlossberg took a closer look. “It was clear to me that this was a different case than advertised,” he says, “and by that I mean different from what her sworn [statements] said.”
According to her bankruptcy filing, Roberts was still raking it in until at least 2012. That year, her income from Simon & Schuster was $362,000. But in 2013, she reported that her book earnings had plunged to $91,000. In mid-2014, at the time of the bankruptcy filing, she listed her year-to-date earnings as only $28,734.
Something didn’t add up—and it turned out that the explanation had nothing to do with the vagaries of the publishing business.
Schlossberg discovered that on April Fools’ Day in 2013—a few months after the Prince George’s court ordered Roberts to repay the movie loan—a corporation called Enrizon Worldwide was established in Maryland. Roberts’s elder son, Andre Roberts, who is trained as an auto mechanic, was the company’s sole shareholder, according to court papers. And the person who filed the articles of incorporation, Pamela Fish, was the lawyer who represented Kristina Roberts in her divorce and several other cases. The two are close friends.
Fish, who says she has since been disbarred over an unrelated matter, told me, “I didn’t know long-term what was going to happen” with Enrizon, adding that the lawyer’s role in filing the paperwork is mostly a formality. “That’s really the extent of it.”
Kristina Roberts’s name didn’t show up anywhere in the incorporation documents. But to Schlossberg, it appeared that she had some financial ties to Enrizon that she wasn’t disclosing. When he began questioning her about the firm, the author described it as her son’s video-production company, a transcript of the proceeding shows. Roberts was vague when Schlossberg pressed her for more details—such as when it was founded, where it was located, what it did exactly. “I’m not quite sure,” she replied. “I’m really just guessing,” “I don’t recall,” and so on.
She allowed that she was a signatory on Enrizon’s bank account “in case,” she stated, “there’s an emergency or something.”
As the questioning wore on, Roberts acknowledged it was Enrizon that had negotiated her sex-toys deal with the manufacturer Doc Johnson. And, she reported, Enrizon worked out the details of a speech she gave in Baton Rouge.
These revelations were only the tip of the iceberg. Roberts also admitted that “my royalties and everything” from Strebor and Simon & Schuster were being paid into Enrizon’s bank account. Records show that between January 2014—six months before she filed for bankruptcy—and January 2015, Simon & Schuster deposited $586,000 into the account. Schlossberg pushed her to explain why her son’s company was receiving payment for work she had done. “What was in it for Kristina Roberts?” he asked.
“What’s in it for me, sir,” she replied, “is that I am trying to help my family, meaning my son and eventually my daughter, build the Zane brand, which is not Kristina Roberts.”
Schlossberg was not swayed.
One month later, Roberts filed new paperwork revising her monthly income to $16,828—almost four times the $4,700 she had originally listed. Her monthly disposable income went from zero to $12,814. She also disclosed a hitherto-hidden 401(k) valued at $105,000.
It would soon emerge that Enrizon paid Roberts’s assistant every two weeks for a time as well as fees for her son’s school activities and for her bankruptcy attorney. There were also regular cash withdrawals totaling $115,000, plus more than $54,000 in checks written to Roberts and her family.
A lawyer for her son, Andre Roberts, didn’t return repeated calls for comment.
In the majority of bankruptcy cases, the justice system forgives people their debts. But Kristina Roberts’s wasn’t your average bankruptcy case. As the new disclosures indicated, her income had dipped so low in 2013 and 2014 not because she was broke but because she hadn’t told the court what she was earning. According to a document filed by the US trustee on the case, Roberts didn’t disclose more than $1 million in income, assets, and property. “The Defendant committed knowing and fraudulent false oaths and accounts,” the trustee wrote.
In February of this year, Schlossberg, the US trustee, and the movie-studio lender all asked the court not to discharge her of her debts. Kristina Roberts’s bankruptcy filing, Schlossberg opined, was “but a tissue of lies intentionally crafted by the Debtor to obscure the Debtor’s pseudonymous fame and reputation as ‘Zane.’ ” Roberts had Enrizon established, Schlossberg alleged, “as a vehicle to divert the Debtor’s substantial earnings away from the grasp of her creditors.”
“Honest debtors get a fresh start, but it’s a fresh start, not a flying leap,” says Schlossberg, who has been a bankruptcy trustee since 1982. “This debtor did not prove to be an honest debtor.”
Terry Morris, the attorney who represented Roberts, didn’t return multiple calls requesting comment on her case.
• • •
I spoke with a number of Roberts’s friends over the past nine months. They either seemed genuinely unaware of her money woes or didn’t feel comfortable discussing them. I was repeatedly reminded of how “private” the author is.
“Her whole thing is about making other women’s dreams come true,” her close friend April Jones told me. “Nobody talks about that—the media wants to talk about what’s sensational. They don’t want to talk about people doing good. They just want gossip and negativity, but Zane is all about women achieving their dreams and being more successful.”
Pamela Fish said, “I know Zane to be a very honest and upright person, and I don’t believe the bankruptcy proceeding will show anything else.”
When I asked Roberts if she wanted to respond to the new revelations about her financial situation, she pronounced it a betrayal that I would follow the twists and turns that came after she told me the matter was settled.
“If taking a turn with the ice pick will benefit your career more than helping to empower and liberate, do what you have to do. I will forgive you like I have forgiven everyone else who has taken a turn twisting the knife,” she wrote me. “It is truly disheartening but I am going to concentrate on positive thoughts and remain proactive in my journey, continue to walk in my gift, and refrain from doing interviews in the future with anyone. I only wish that I had known this from the beginning so we would not have wasted so much time and effort. I will not break dance into a slaughterhouse.”
In court, Roberts didn’t fight—she accepted that she won’t be getting her fresh start.
Meanwhile, she’s been forced to revisit her long-ago movie-studio venture. In a complaint recently filed against the creditor on the property, she asserted that she doesn’t owe the $1 million-plus sum she signed on for. Instead, she says the lender bought the property and agreed to credit her, thereby leaving her with a debt of no more than $131,000 plus legal fees. In the six years of litigation preceding her bankruptcy filing, she appears never to have brought this significant discrepancy to a court’s attention.
The bankruptcy case against Roberts continues to unfold. Schlossberg, while he couldn’t comment on the nature of the litigation, says future actions to recover money are imminent. Citing Simon & Schuster’s lack of cooperation so far, he was recently granted an order forcing the publisher to hand over documents showing exactly how much it has paid its bestelling author since 2010.
Roberts had to sell her Hummer and two other cars to CarMax as an IRS agent stood by ready to collect the proceeds, according to court records. Yet the author still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. And her ten-bathroom house is still in foreclosure. Schlossberg says he doubts she’ll be able to keep it.
Washington writer Laura Moser has contributed to the “Wall Street Journal” and the “New York Times.”
This article appears in our July 2015 issue of Washingtonian.