A year has passed since the Dallas Observer first reported that a 32-year-old mother of five faced felony child endangerment charges for testing positive for marijuana use while breastfeeding. She said she'd been using cannabis to control her epileptic seizures because she could no longer afford her prescription drugs.
Five months later, Erica Tucker, a Bible teacher and president of the nonprofit Fort Worth Babywearers, pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to five counts of child endangerment — one count of the felony charge for each of her children. She received five years probation, 120 hours of community service and a $250 fine (not including court costs). Each count of the charge potentially carried a fine of up to $20,000 and two to 20 years in prison. Her husband, Greg, was also convicted.
“No family should be ripped apart because of a natural medicine that is being legalized all over the country,” Tucker told the Observer in the Jan. 23, 2017, article.
But Tucker's legal problems weren't over. On Jan. 19 of this year, she pleaded guilty to a charge of theft over $100, a Class B misdemeanor, for stealing money from the nonprofit she led.
“We were shocked by her actions, and how she took advantage of her position and the organization,” Fort Worth Babywearers posted on its Facebook page. “Moving forward, we are all very glad to have this behind us. We are doing our best as a board to get our bank accounts in order and get back to meetings as quickly as possible. We are still hurting from the effects of the lost money, but have new policies in place to ensure this doesn't happen again.”
Stephanie Mathis, president of Fort Worth Babywearers, said the nonprofit still hasn't been able to hold meetings with instructors because Tucker “ran down the bank account and put it into the hole.”
“We have been really hurt by this, and we are still struggling as a nonprofit,” Mathis said.
Tucker couldn't be reached for comment.
Formed in 2011, Fort Worth Babywearers had policies in place to keep track of the money when its former president, Jennifer Hoover, decided to step down in August 2016. Hoover spent three years building the organization, which has a mission to provide instruction in proper use and safety for all types of baby carriers for families in the greater Fort Worth area.
“Finding the right carrier for you and your baby can be tough,” according to the organization's website. “First you have to decide what style of carrier that you want. (Something with buckles?) Then, if you can decide on a style, there are tons of options for each style. You can ask around, but chances are if you ask five different babywearers what their favorite carrier is, you will get five different answers (and they will all be great carriers!).”
Several mothers posted five-star reviews on the nonprofit's Facebook page. “Without this organization I would have never worn my toddler,” one mother posted. “I cannot believe the amount of time, energy and sanity y'all have saved me.”
It isn't the only Babywearers organization. There are the East Texas Babywearers, the North DFW Babywearers, the Pittsburgh Babywearers and the Malaysian Babywearers.
Fort Worth Babywearers hosted monthly open meetings at local churches and fellowship halls for new parents who wanted to learn about carrier safety. Membership was optional, but joining allowed parents to participate in the carrier lending program, Mathis said.
Hoover didn't appoint Tucker as president. A few of the organization's other board members left the nonprofit when Hoover announced she was stepping down. According to the nonprofit's bylaws, the presidency is given to the person with the most seniority. Tucker was the next in line.
“She had passion and charisma,” Hoover wrote in Jan. 19 Facebook comment. “The rest of the cabinet felt confident about her taking the role.”
Hoover explained the president's responsibilities and told Tucker that she needed to renew the nonprofit's liability insurance and keep clear financial records. “Getting and keeping leaders and volunteers was ... single-handily the most difficult issue I faced,” she wrote. “I would have never have willingly given the organization over to someone that would harm it if I had known.”
Shortly after Tucker was appointed president, she alerted Hoover to the fact that Child Protective Services had taken her children, but she failed to mention the child endangerment charges, Hoover told the Observer in a Facebook message Thursday evening.
“She played off a very sincere story,” Hoover wrote. “The truth was that she was smoking marijuana and did not even get diagnosed with epilepsy until later.”
Hoover bases her allegation off a November 2016 Facebook comment in which Tucker claimed that she had been diagnosed with epilepsy two months earlier.
In her blogs and media reports, Tucker said she'd been experiencing epileptic seizures for more than two years at that time. She told the Observer that she started using marijuana as an alternative medication because she couldn't afford health insurance or prescription medication.
Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — a category reserved for highly addictive drugs with no medicinal value. Still, 29 states have decriminalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Texas is not one of them.
Tucker was arrested in August 2016 after she tested positive for marijuana in a hospital emergency room in March. She told the Observer that a nurse had asked her if she was breastfeeding her newborn, and she said yes. Child Protective Services soon appeared on her doorstep.
“As she did with everyone, her version of the situation was a lie that painted herself to be a victim,” Hoover wrote in Jan. 19 Facebook post. “Like I would expect this group to do for any mom in trouble, we rallied to support her. By the time the seriousness of her offenses had fully come to light, it was too late.”
One Fort Worth Babywearers member who wishes to remain anonymous recalled that Tucker had told the group that the charges “were trumped up” and that she was the “victim of high medical costs and over-enthusiastic police force.”
In May, a month before Tucker was convicted of five counts of child endangerment in Johnson County, the nonprofit's board members discovered she'd been stealing money. Mathis said one of the cabinet members tried to spend money from the organization's Paypal account, but there was none. The board began looking at the Paypal account records, then checked the bank account and discovered funds were missing.
“She was buying excessive amounts of personal stuff,” Mathis said. “It was food. Going out to eat.”
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They removed Tucker as president in late May and alerted authorities, but the damage had been done. The nonprofit turned to Facebook to seek help from its followers. “We have come up some incredibly difficult financial times and are in need of the support of our wonderful community," it posted. "In order for us to continue to stay open, and be able to help y'all safely babywear, we are kindly asking you to read this post in its entirety and PLEASE help in any way you can.”
“Why is [the nonprofit] in such dire straits?” one community member asked. “We should only need like 50 members or so annually to keep the lights on. Are we that low on members now?”
But cabinet members were unable to elaborate until after police made an arrest in July. Tucker was originally charged with theft of property under $750, a Class A misdemeanor, but the charge was later reduced.
After Tucker's conviction Jan. 19, Fort Worth Babywearers released a statement online about Tucker pleading guilty to stealing from the nonprofit, and Mathis took to her personal Facebook page to share her thoughts. “Today, I can rejoice," she wrote. "Today, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Today, I feel relief for the first time in months. Today, justice was served in a big situation and it is over. I learned some pretty hard lessons through this, but we have come out the other side stronger.”