Kiss Me, Katie

Fairy tales can come true. Why, they can even win you an award from Dallas' less-than-vigilant press club.

At the meeting, Caussey was meticulous to the point of irritation: He copied Albanese's credit card transactions for everyone present. Albanese defenders were indignant. One suggested he had fabricated the records, another stood and angrily pounded the table, accusing Caussey of ambushing their leader. Another board member started to cry.

But Albanese seemed unmoved. She calmly defended herself, at times even appearing flippant. She had merely confused her personal credit card with her press card, she said. Claiming she was under a lot of pressure at work, she offered to resign. Several board members, unswayed by the evidence before them, pleaded with her to reconsider her decision, while others flipped through her credit card records incredulously, alerting each other to each outlandish purchase. Then, LaVonn stepped in.

For weeks now, LaVonn had been politely asking Albanese about the judges for the Katie Awards, and each time she failed to get back to him. Now with her credibility in doubt, LaVonn had the perfect opportunity to find out once and for all about the legitimacy of the 2006 Katie Awards.

Illustration by Jay Bevenour
Jay Bevenour
Illustration by Jay Bevenour
Hall of Shame: New press club President Tom Stewart is entrusted with cleaning up the mess left behind by Elizabeth Albanese.
Mark Graham
Hall of Shame: New press club President Tom Stewart is entrusted with cleaning up the mess left behind by Elizabeth Albanese.

His request was direct and simple: "Please identify the judges for the 2006 Katie Awards and provide proof."

Albanese said that she couldn't remember who the judges were. "Oh, my God," Caussey remembers thinking. "You can't name a single judge." After Tom Stewart, her ultimate successor, finally asked her to respond to LaVonn's request, Albanese promised to get the board a list of shipping labels to which the Katie entries had been sent.

Albanese walked out of the meeting with Dickenson, who had served as her co-chair for the Katie Awards the last two years. That's when Albanese told Dickenson she had destroyed the list of the judges and that she had no intention of providing the board with any information on the judging, smiling as she announced her vow. Dickenson pleaded with her to "stop playing games." "C'mon, Elizabeth," she said. "Let's just give them the damn judges."

Over the next few days, Dickenson called Albanese every day about the Katie judges. Each time, Albanese offered an odd excuse why she couldn't track them down. Her husband had the labels, and he was out of town, she told Dickenson. She couldn't call him because when he traveled on business they didn't talk. Another time, Albanese said that the records were on a laptop she had replaced without transferring her files. When Dickenson pressed her for more information Albanese would say she had to take another call.

Dickenson started to panic. Was Albanese merely disorganized? Was she angry at the foundation and just trying to spite them? Or was it something worse: Had she rigged the Katies to win more awards?

Finally, after three days of pestering Albanese for the list of judges, Dickenson says she realized her friend was a liar. She sat down to write her an e-mail.

"I am very worried that every time I speak to you about your progress on tracking those labels, you give me a new answer on how it can't be done. But I know that is nonsense. If I were in your shoes I'd move heaven and earth to find those records," she wrote. "I don't know if you're playing a game or what, but it has to stop."

Albanese replied a few hours later. In a shifting, rambling e-mail, she wrote that she was reluctant to turn over the list of judges because the Press Club Foundation wanted to take over the Katie Awards. She said there was nothing to gain by releasing the list of Katie judges and that any questions about the contest would only sully "the brand."

"We have both worked so hard on the Katie Awards, and it is a crying shame that there appears to be a witch hunt going on over this," she wrote. "I am not willing to have my integrity attacked. I have put too much time, money and energy into this endeavor, and I will not accept it."

Other board members attacked Dickenson and others for questioning Albanese.

"Wasn't the ambush and resignation enough?" wrote Bob Morrison, news and radio director at USA Radio Network, in an e-mail to his colleagues on the club's board. "You've done enough. Have you no decency?"

It took a month, but slowly the story began trickling into the press. On April 14, Dallas Business Journal reported that press club leaders couldn't identify a single judge for the November contest. After the story became fodder for local media blogs, the Morning News reported that Albanese had a record of mental illness and delusional behavior. She also had a criminal background under the name Lisa Albanese.

At first, Albanese told the Morning News that she was the victim of mistaken identity. "I don't know what you're talking about," she told the paper. "These are odd questions."

An hour later, however, she called back and acknowledged that Lisa and Elizabeth Albanese were one and the same.

"I did have some problems when I was a kid in Virginia," she said.

Although Albanese ultimately turned over her list of people and organizations that judged the 2006 Katie Awards, the press club says that they don't believe any of them took part in the Katies. When Stewart called one of the numbers for a supposed judge, someone at a hospital in Tennessee answered. Other numbers simply didn't work. Even after weeks of national media coverage, not a single person came forward saying they had judged the contest.

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