Trials & Litigation

Slain woman's family alleges AA meetings point 'financial, sexual, and violent predators' to victims

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Updated: It’s no secret that Alcoholics Anonymous attracts troubled individuals–and has helped many turn their lives around.

But the nonprofit organization known for its 12-step program also attracts some who find it a convenient place to meet targets for a so-called “13th step”–exploiting troubled women sexually and financially, claims a California lawsuit. The suit was filed by the parents of a woman who was killed by a fellow participant, Eric Allen Earle. His ex-wife and others close to him said he repeatedly relapsed and became violent when drinking, and court records show he had been the subject of six restraining orders.

Hector and Jaroslava Mendez’s daughter, Karla Brada Mendez, 31, was unaware of Earle’s criminal background–or that he had been ordered by a court to attend AA meetings in the San Fernando Valley area–when she became involved with the 40-year-old sometime-electrician in 2011 after meeting him at AA, according to a lengthy Pro Publica article.

However, those who know Earle said he repeatedly used AA to find women who could provide him with housing, turning on the charm at the outset of their relationship, while continuing to drink. Then, as Karla reportedly found out too late, less positive aspects of his personality emerged.

Near the beginning of August 2011, Earle was arrested after Mendez–nearly a foot shorter and 70 pounds lighter than Earle–called 911. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies found her bruised and with a black eye. But Mendez, who may have been drinking herself, changed her initial story, and charges against Earle concerning the incident were dropped. He was, however, convicted for the property damage he caused by breaking a police car window with his head after his arrest.

By the end of the month, Mendez was dead. Earle said she overdosed on drugs and booze, fell down the stairs, got back up and went to bed, then died. Four months later, he was charged with murder by strangulation. He attended pretrial hearings with a new woman whom friends said he had met at AA. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014 and sentenced to 26 years to life.

“AA meetings are repeatedly used by financial, sexual, and violent predators as a means to locate victims,” alleges the civil wrongful death suit filed by Hector and Jaroslava Mendez last year against Earle, Alcoholics Anonymous of Santa Clarita, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Los Angeles County, and two attorneys, among other defendants.

It says AA had a “reckless disregard for, and deliberate indifference…to the safety and security of victims attending AA meetings who are repeatedly preyed upon at those meetings by financial, violent, and sexual predators like Earle,” according to Pro Publica and a Courthouse News article published when the Los Angeles Superior Court suit was filed.

AA of Santa Clarita didn’t respond to Pro Publica’s requests for comment. A public information officer for AA’s general service staff called the issues Pro Publica raised “distressing and disturbing.” However, each AA group operates autonomously, she said.

Others apparently not involved in the case brought by the parents of the dead woman agreed that predatory behavior by individuals with a criminal history can be a problem concerning vulnerable members of AA.

“When they show an AA group on TV, they show a leader, like someone knows what’s going on,” said attorney, psychologist and author Stanton Peele. “But that’s not how it is in reality. You’re on your own. It’s the Wild West out there. Who knows who you’re sitting next to?”

Updated on Dec. 1, 2014 to include and accord with link to subsequent post.

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