In 2013, D Magazine published a story under an anonymous byline, "Anonymous Park Cities Parent," that trashed another Park Cities parent for being on welfare. While the author of the piece had the luxury of anonymity, the subject, a woman named Janay Bender Rosenthal, did not. Called "The Park Cities Welfare Queen" in the headline, Rosenthal is not quoted in the story, and it's not clear whether the anonymous Park Cities parent ever attempted to reach her.
Whoever this anonymous Park Cities parent is, he or she clearly spent a lot of time researching Rosenthal. Anonymous Park Cities Parent quotes a Health and Human Services Commission officer, also unnamed, who "confirmed that Rosenthal will receive $367 per month through April 2013."
The anonymous parent also reviewed Rosenthal's affidavit of indigency, her SNAP application, her old driver's license, her divorce records, a Facebook photograph of Rosenthal with her new fiance, and her criminal record, which, the Anonymous Park Cities Parent claims, shows "numerous theft-related arrests and convictions in North Texas." The photograph used in the story is Rosenthal's mugshot from one of those arrests, the author says. All the information detailed in the story suggests Rosenthal was committing welfare fraud. "One University Park mom has figured out how to get food stamps while living in the lap of luxury," is the sub-headline for the story.
The problem with Anonymous Park Cities Parent's premise is that Rosenthal wasn't actually committing welfare fraud, according to an investigation the state conducted in response to the article. "The Health and Human Services Commission Office of Inspector General has reviewed the assertion of facts as reported by D Magazine in a March story titled 'The Park Cities Welfare Queen,' and related information," the state wrote to Rosenthal several months later. "Our investigation found no evidence anyone has fraudulently obtained or otherwise abused state benefits." And shortly after the story ran, an attorney from the Health and Human Services Commission wrote to D Editor Tim Rogers directly, court records show, asking that Rosenthal's identifiable information be removed. While her arrest, court and property records are public record and fair game, the names of people on public assistance are not considered public information under state law, the letter says. Further, "...we are concerned about the manner in which SNAP information published in the article was obtained," the HHSC wrote to Rogers. "We also have audio recordings indicating the information was obtained by deception, also a violation of several state and federal laws." HHSC said they were turning the information over to law enforcement. "We also suspect that a Social Security number may have been used to obtain the confidential data," the HHSC says.
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Now D and the so-called Park Cities Welfare Queen are battling each other in court. In February 2014, Rosenthal filed a libel suit against the magazine and owner Allison Media, asking for monetary relief over $1,000,000. Rosenthal says in her suit that "numerous friends and family who read the article concluded that Janay had been arrested for 'food stamp' fraud/theft."
In the petition, Rosenthal doesn't deny receiving assistance but says that the article only told half of the story. She says her finances were drained from ending an abusive marriage and then fighting for her daughter's custody. She was encouraged by the state to apply for benefits in order to support herself and her daughter, her suit says. Rosenthal kept her benefits even after getting engaged to someone else, she says, in order to remain financially independent.
Disturbingly, Rosenthal also claims in the suit that she had a stalker — a woman her fiance once dated. Rosenthal pursued criminal charges against the alleged stalker, she says in her suit, and claims she told Rogers about the charges when he called her before the story ran.
D's policy is not to discuss pending litigation, Rogers and the magazine's attorney Jason Bloom said on the phone, preventing them from discussing the details of the case. On the legal side, Rogers and Bloom describe the case as being in the very early stages. A jury trial was scheduled for next month but is now delayed indefinitely. Rosenthal won an order granting continuance of the case in March, and D appealed that decision. The magazine is now waiting for a ruling on their appeal and doesn't know when that ruling will come. "The case is in such an early stage that no discovery has been taken," on D's side, Bloom says. Neither Bloom nor Rogers sounded particularly worried, and the story is still available online.