Dr. Rita Ali was a respected Philadelphian until, in 2004, she was accused of fraud and related offenses. Supposedly, she had funneled thousands of dollars in public funds through a partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia that strategized to profit off of promised, but fake, adult education classes. In her book Triple Jeopardy: Three Strikes But Not Out she lays out her side of the case after being convicted and incarcerated not once, but yes, three times.
Ali boldly tells her side of the story, and in doing so she investigates serious issues such as politically motivated agendas, media distortion, Islamophobia and racism. There are so many layers to this narrative, and when you throw in a dissection of the American court system, this is certainly a multifaceted read. Ali was able to answer some of our questions and provide some additional insights into her unusual situation below. Read the review of Triple Jeopardy: Three Strikes But Not Out here.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: As a highly accomplished professional member of the Philadelphia elite and a law-abiding citizen I was wrongfully convicted three times, sentenced and incarcerated on virtually the same charges. I had a compelling story to tell that might inspire others to persevere through bad times. As a certified life coach, I also wanted to provide life coaching tips throughout the book that would be helpful to readers.
Q: I know there are a lot of elements involved, but in a nutshell, how did you go from being a respected Philadelphia socialite running with celebrities to being convicted, tried and imprisoned three times?
A: While the assistant administrator of an Islamic school, I signed an agreement with the Philadelphia Community College to rent space for their adult education program. The college hired and paid the employees, including teachers from my school, my daughter and my son. Feds sought to charge my husband, a prominent Muslim cleric, the mayor, and city and state officials with a pay-to-play scam because of contracts his company received from the city. In spite of evidence to the contrary, the feds billed a trumped-up case against me and my children to pressure us into cooperation against the bigger fish.
Q: What were the charges, and in that you pleaded innocence, why do you think the courts ruled otherwise?
A: In spite of federal undercover agents’ secret surveillance of the school, during the trial, they were forced to admit that the program did exist and classes were held. Nonetheless, I was charged and convicted as if I was the leader of an illegal enterprise consisting of a ghost employee scam to defraud the college of funds, and had committed bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.
Q: What are the main lessons you learned from your experience?
A: I learned that in spite of innocence, unscrupulous prosecutors have unlimited powers and financial resources to manipulate the system and convict just about anyone. There are also certain members of the press who assist them in taking down defendants through repeatedly disseminating lies and negative depictions of the accused in order to prejudice any potential jurors.
Most importantly, I learned the power of being better, not bitter.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would do or handle differently?
A: While I would never have said I was guilty of crimes I did not commit, I would, however, have ignored my attorney’s advice to not speak to the media. To the contrary, I would have spoken up for myself, responding to the lies perpetrated against me and my family by the feds and their media disciples.
Q: What was the most difficult part of the book to write?
A: Recalling the pain, humiliation, suffering and cruelty that a criminal justice system can inflict on incarcerated women was heartbreaking. I’ll forever be haunted by the cries and devastation of incarcerated women, particularly on Mother’s Day. This is why I founded We 2 Matter, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), to provide resources to assist them in living productive lives upon their release from prison.
Q: Tell us briefly about your special relationship with Muhammad Ali.
A: Muhammad and I shared a brotherly and sisterly bond that was unique, predominantly because of our shared religious values. Upon meeting Ali, I was already an established radio personality, columnist, producer, proprietor, a renowned member of Philadelphia’s elite society and had worked on boxing promotions. Such accomplishments were extremely rare for women and particularly for a Muslim woman. Ali was impressed with my status and used his notoriety to solidify me as a dignified woman and a competent professional. He elevated my career to new heights.
Q: What message do you want to impart to your readers?
A: Regardless of the challenge, don’t let the situation define you; you define the situation. Perseverance is key. While others may attempt to harm you, they don’t have the power to count you out. Remember life presents challenges. It matters not how many times you get knocked down, survivors get back up and continue to fight.
Learn more about Dr. Ali on her BookTrib author profile page.