When local journalist Stephana Major takes the stand to defend herself against charges that she diverted nearly $10,000 from bank accounts of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists, she might well claim her arrest was a case of mistaken identity. Major, after all, has told police that the blame for the theft rests with "Jennifer," one of the multiple personalities she says inhabit her body.
Major, a bright, attractive young woman whose credentials include print and television work, appeared on the Denver scene a couple of years back. She managed to land an occasional story and freelanced a couple of articles for the Denver Business Journal.
While looking for jobs, Major also networked at Junior League functions and hooked up with the CABJ, the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Members of the CABJ were impressed with the work that Major did for the organization, says CABJ secretary Tracy Williams, and they rewarded her by electing her treasurer in December 1993. But after taking office the next month, Williams says, Major began "acting flaky."
"It seems like February and March, those two months, we couldn't find her or get her to return phone calls," Williams says. "She was never home, and we were starting to wonder if she was still with us and if she was going to be our treasurer." When Major eventually appeared, Williams says, her excuse was simply, "I've been busy."
Major apparently had her own gripes about her fellow CABJ officers. "Her complaint was, `You're spending money without getting authorization from me,'" says Williams. "But we could never find her to get authorization."
Aside from those squabbles, things seemed to be going well for the organization. Although the Colorado chapter claims fewer than 100 paid members, the group raised more than $13,000 in early 1994, much of which was earmarked to provide scholarships for Colorado's black journalism students.
That summer, however, Williams--who collects CABJ mail--noticed that the organization's bank statements were no longer arriving at the post office box. That fall, she says, members began getting phone calls from scholarship recipients inquiring as to the whereabouts of their funds. "We'd ask [Major]," says Williams, "and she'd say, `I just sent it out.' But the following week, we'd still be getting the calls from the students."
At about the same time those students were ringing up CABJ officers, Major got a reporting job with the Vail Trail newspaper in Eagle County. "It was a relief when she got on with them," Williams says, "because at least we knew that we could reach her somewhere."
In October CABJ president Tamara Banks confronted Major about the scholarship money. It was then, according to court documents, that Major first confessed she'd taken some money. Banks's response was to have Major's name removed from the group's certificate of authority at the bank. She also scheduled an executive board meeting for the following week.
Major arrived at the meeting "looking tearful and frightened," says Williams. "Her hair was standing up, and she was clutching what few bank records she had to turn over to us."
According to court records, the CABJ officers went over the bank statements with Major line by line. When they spotted questionable withdrawals, Major reportedly replied (her voice barely above a whisper), "That was me...that's mine...I guess I took it...I took it."
Altogether, there had been twelve unauthorized withdrawals, totaling $9,200. The first occurred June 21; the last, October 18.
Major told the group that she suffered from multiple personality disorder and that one of her other personalities had taken the funds. That news led board vice president Edwin "Sonny" Jackson to demand to know her true identity.
"He asked her, `Who are you?,'" says Williams. "And she said, `Stephana Major.' Then he asked her for some ID, and she resisted. She said, `I can't share that with you.' She said, `I can't trust you with that information.' She couldn't trust us!"
When the group continued to press for proof of her identity, Williams says, Major went into what appeared to be a trance: She "curled into a fetal position and was crying, mumbling and talking to herself as if she was trying to fight off the emergence of other personalities. She was saying something like, `Stop it. Stop it. You can't come out now.'"
At that point, one of the CABJ officers phoned Aurora police and asked them to fetch Major. "We had her confession," Williams explains, "and we weren't sure we'd ever see her again."
When police arrived, one of the first questions they put to Major was, "Who are you?" Her answer--"Jennifer"-- startled her fellow boardmembers. They were further nonplussed when an officer turned up papers from Major's car identifying her as "Stefania Amanda Stanford."
Major became hysterical when one of the police officers touched her arm, says Williams. "She started crying and yelling, `Don't hurt me.'" The officer then called paramedics for help, and Major was taken out on a gurney.
After a trip to a local hospital, where she was treated and released, Major was given over to police custody. (She would later tell police that the other boardmembers "had badgered her into a state of catatonia, and the next thing she knew, she woke up in a hospital.")
After the CABJ pressed charges in Denver, Detective Steve Antuna was assigned to the case. According to his arrest warrant, issued in January, Major said she'd developed multiple personalities after being sexually assaulted by her father and stepfather.
One of her personalities--the one she called Jennifer--is "an angry woman who does things to hurt" Stephana, the arrest warrant says. It was Jennifer, she told Antuna, who stole the money from CABJ.
Antuna asked her why, if Jennifer had taken the money, the signature on the bank withdrawal slips read "Stephana Major." Major replied that Jennifer is smart and "knows what she has to do." Major added, "Jennifer does terrible things."
Antuna obtained an arrest warrant in January, accusing "Stephana Stanford/ Major" with forgery and theft. (Antuna says Major has had her name legally changed to Stanford). She was arrested January 27 and placed in the Eagle County Jail. Her bond was set at $10,000, which she could not make. It took approximately two weeks--and a bail reduction to $2,500--for her to get out.
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Major's arrest shocked Tara Flanagan, the managing editor of the Vail Trail. When she visited Major in jail, Major told her boss that she was "set up." Flanagan admits to being puzzled. Major had come to the paper "with an impressive resume and good clips," she says. "We were all very impressed with her." Major, who was on the business beat, proved to be a pretty good writer and a good investigator, Flanagan says.
Whoever Stephana/Jennifer is, she isn't happy about potential publicity. "I can't comment," Major/Stanford, who is once again living in the Denver area, tells Westword. "I don't have legal counsel currently, and I don't feel it's wise to do an interview until I have one."
Major's next court date is in May. Who will appear is not certain. At least one of the CABJ members has been told that Major has applied for work at local papers using the name Stephana Newhall.