Amy Sterner Nelson has experienced firsthand just how dangerous Amazon truly can be. She joined Glenn during his ‘Targets of Tyranny’ special last year to detail how the tech giant used civil asset forfeiture in an attempt to pressure Amy’s husband, Carl, to admit to felony accusations that he did not commit. But, since sharing her story with Glenn’s audience, Amazon’s dark practices seemingly have only gotten worse. She joins Glenn in-studio to detail the latest developments, explaining just how deep Amazon’s partnerships with our federal government run. But it’s not just Amazon, Amy explains. It’s ALL of Big Tech, and their partnerships, their corruption, and their scare tactics are something we should ALL be terrified of.
TranscriptBelow is a rush transcript that may contain errors
GLENN: The founder of the Riveter. She is -- she is really -- I feel stupid sitting in the same room with her. She's a graduate of Emery University.
NYU, School of Law, practice corporate litigation with a focus on high profile First Amendment matters for over a decade in New York and then in Seattle.
Mother of four. Contributor for Ink. The host of iHeart Radio's What's Her Story, with Sam and Amy.
She's raised $30 million in venture capital to grow the Riveter.
She's also been published in the Washington Post, Newsweek, Seattle Times, and she's been all over the world speaking. Fortune's most powerful women. I mean, jeez.
Overachieve much, Amy?
GLENN: So, Amy, you were on with us -- by the way, welcome. Glad you're here.
AMY: Thank you. Thank you.
GLENN: And you're sitting up, taking nourishment. That's always good. You came in here for the targets of tyranny special. And we had been in correspondence for a while. Because of what happened to you and your husband in Seattle with Amazon. And the feds.
Can you quickly just recap that for anybody who doesn't remember?
AMY: Yeah. So my husband worked for Amazon web services for nearly eight years. If you don't know, AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon.
Where the internet lives, cloud computing lives, and these big data warehouses across the world.
My husband worked in real estate, helped scouting locations that would be good to build data centers and projects along those lines.
He left Amazon in 2019. On April 2nd, 2020, the FBI knocked on our door.
We learned then that my husband was being accused. At the time, we didn't know by who.
Of a crime called private sector honest services fraud, which is depriving your private employer of your honest services. At the time, the FBI did not ask my husband what happened. It was clearly an accusation. And two months later, the government used forfeiture, to seize all of our family's bank accounts.
GLENN: Your bank accounts. Your husband's, your joint. Everything.
AMY: I mean, to the point, Glenn. The DOJ went into our law firm's client trust account. And seized all the money that we had paid our lawyers.
GLENN: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.
AMY: And my husband at that point was never charged with a crime. In fact, he was never charged with a crime. Civil forfeiture is something the government did use. It's a tool. And they can seize your money, your home, your safe deposit box.
GLENN: They can squeeze you in every way they possibly can.
And many times, you don't get the money back.
AMY: We really don't. And we were kind of told. Don't expect to get the money back, no matter what.
GLENN: That's craziness.
That's King George. Declaration of Independence-style stuff.
AMY: And the thing is, it's a tool. It's a pressure tool. So my husband had been accused of April 2nd, 2020.
And the prosecutors wanted to plead guilty to a crime. It was all very specific and unclear. The crazy thing is, that largely what my husband was being accused of, depriving Amazon of his honest services, related to actions my husband took after he didn't work at Amazon. But, anyway, we did fight.
And, you know, we -- we had four little girls.
We sold our home. We sold our car. We liquidated our retirement. We borrowed money from family and friends to pay lawyers and to survive.
GLENN: And didn't they go into your family's accounts too? Your dad or something?
AMY: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, so my father was critically ill. He almost died. He also got a life-saving kidney transplant in April of 2020.
And two weeks later, the FBI emptied out his bank accounts. My husband and I had paid for his medical care.
AMY: So he would have died, if my mother wouldn't have helped him pay his medical bills.
GLENN: So many times, people see this and go, yeah. But there had to be something.
You -- you told the story of what that something is. And it revolved around a very expensive lawsuit from Amazon.
AMY: Yeah. So to preface this, we had no idea what was going on. And the day the FBI showed up at my house, my husband hired criminal defense attorneys and said, please call Amazon, and tell them, I will come in and talk to them. I don't understand what is going on. But I have nothing to hide.
And Amazon's lawyers said, we will only speak to him if he's pleading guilty to a felony. And at the time, we were going, what was going on?
Amazon's lawyers squarely put the DOJ between the company and my husband.
Very few companies have that kind of access to DOJ, and for an institution that's meant to be apolitical, that's wrong. It's just wrong. But what we learned over the course of years, and spending a lot of lawyer money is that, in February of 2020, Amazon broke a contract with a real estate developer. And by the explicit terms of that contract, unless they could improve the developer committed a felony crime, they were going to owe him over $100 million in damages.
The next day after they broke the contract, they had the first meeting with the Department of Justice. They meant with the Department of Justice over 100 times trying to lobby for criminal charges.
The government spent countless FBI hours and prosecutor's hours. Essentially doing Amazon's bidding. And what we do know, is despite all the things that Amazon told the government. They never told the government, that they broke a contract and needed a felony. Or they would be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
GLENN: So you decided to fight this.
GLENN: You guys are fighters. You decided to fight. It has cost you a great deal. Your husband, nor you, nor anybody else has ever been charged. You thought this was kind of wrapping up.
And then you came on the special. And I think I may have said, are you sure you want to come on?
And I know I said, I hope nothing happens because of this.
The day after. Coincidence?
AMY: I don't really believe in coincidences anymore. But the day after, the Department of Justice subpoenaed Amazon for all the documents that Amazon had, that had been produced in the civil litigation. Because after Amazon failed to get criminal charges, they sued my husband.
And I'll note something about that, that I think Amazon didn't anticipate. But usually, when you're accused of a crime, you never get to see the communications, between your accuser and the Department of Justice.
And in this civil case, because Amazon sued my husband, my husband was able to see all those communications. And they're very shocking.
And I mean, to me, as a lawyer, I was floored. By the things that had been made public, that I had been able to see.
What was seen?
ADAM: Amazon hired a former federal prosecutor from the Eastern District of Virginia. They paid him millions of dollars to lobby his former colleagues, for criminal charges.
The former -- the current prosecutors of Virginia, immediately ushered in Amazon for a meeting.
They set up a meeting with the prosecutor's press office.
Because this was clearly going to be such a sexy and scandalous case.
They never checked anything Amazon said.
They never asked to see my husband's terms of employment or his non-compete. Like, they just didn't ask to see it.
Amazon said they had paid this real estate developer, $16 million.
Amazon had paid the real estate developer $0.
So nobody ever checked anything. They just went for it.
GLENN: Because it was really, literally, an old boy's network.
I know you, you know me. This is a problem.
AMY: I mean, we have an email that's now in the public docket in Virginia, where Patrick Stokes, Amazon's lawyer, asked his former colleague, Jessica Aber, who is now the US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, who just sued Amazon's main rival, Google. And Pat (inaudible) said to Jess Aber, we want to talk to you about civil asset forfeiture.
Prosecutors in the eastern district of Virginia have not used civil asset forfeiture, outside of a drug case, in 30 years, that I can find.
GLENN: So this is now building looked at again for the second time?
AMY: You know, I really think that Amazon keeps pushing DOJ to try to do something. And DOJ isn't doing anything, except kind of -- the investigation just kind of hangs out there. Because it was a threat, right?
Unless Amazon can get a felony conviction as a real estate developer, they are going to be liable for damages.
GLENN: All right. So the reason -- and we talked about this. You mentioned this. But I have been seeing more and more stories. About people from the DOJ, going to work, right directly to the Pentagon.
And people from the intelligence agencies.
This is terrifying, because there is a public had she private partnership, that you should be very aware of.
Our DOJ, our national security agencies, all of them are using Amazon. Amazon, as their cloud bank.
When you have that, you have control of the government, or the government has control of you.
At best -- at best, if one doesn't have something over the head of the other, they're partners in everything.
That is extraordinarily dangerous.
AMY: It's incredibly dangerous. I mean, and the thing that kind of blows my mind is that no one is really even paying attention to it.
I mean, on Amazon's board, they have the former head of the NSA, Keith Alexander. That's not a person with business experience, that should be on the board of a business company.
I mean, why else would he be there, other than to get contracts with the NSA?
And sure enough, in 2021, the NSA quietly awarded Amazon web services, a 10 billion-dollar contract.
Like, it's something that we should all be very frightened of. It's happening across big tech.
It's happening -- you've read the Twitter files.
You see it everywhere. And Amazon is hiring hundreds, hundreds of CIA, FBI, former federal prosecutors.
GLENN: And what -- just having those guys in a high-tech company that has the information on each of us with be that Amazon does, that's not good. There's no wall between that company and the government.
TAYLOR: Absolutely not. There's no wall at all. And you look at things. Amazon is now getting into Pharma. Right?
Amazon just launched a five dollar subscription to get your pills. Now you're going to give all your health data to Amazon. It's terrifying.
And Jeff Bezos is an oligarch. Right?
If you looked at the indictment of the FBI agent, Charles McGonigal, it described an oligarch, Dara Paska (phonetic), as a man of vast wealth with close ties to the government. That is exactly what Jeff Bezos is.
GLENN: So what's next in this?
Have you written off ever getting your money back?
AMY: So we actually got our money back. So we pulled off what people thought would be impossible.
GLENN: Wow. You should do a podcast just on how to do that. I know lots of people who just driving through town, they had cash, the sheriff pulls them over. The cop pulls them over.
That's ours. I mean, you never get it back. How did that happen?
AMY: So the government -- it's such a strange process. It goes back to the time of pirates.
But when the government seizes your money, and they don't charge you with a crime. They then have to sue your asset. So they sue your bank account. It's like US versus $4,000 at Wells Fargo.
And they do that, because your assets don't have due process. So they can just avoid all due process.
So the government here, sued our bank accounts, went to the court, paused the case for six months.
Went to the court again. Asked to pause it for six months.
Judge said you only get four months this time. They wanted a deposit again, and it wasn't going to happen. So it was time to litigate, and it was time for the government to prove their case against the bank accounts.
And instead of opting to prove their case, the government gave us the money back.
STU: How long was that from beginning to end, when you lost the money to when you finally received it again?
AMY: It was 22 months.
GLENN: You had nothing.
AMY: We had nothing.
We had to figure out how to feed our four daughters.
My mother, who was amazing. My mother who was a public school teacher, worked her whole life. And my mother kept asking, don't they care about your daughters? You have a baby.
And I said, mom. They don't care. She said, this is our government. And I said, they don't care. They care about Jeff Bezos and Amazon. They do not care that we have children to feed.
They did say, when they seized our money, that if my husband pled guilty to a crime, they would give some of it back.
It's such a transparent tool of corruption. It should be gone. It should be abolished.
GLENN: It's unbelievable.
STU: You mean that threat, where they can say, hey, just say you're guilty, and then we can make it all better.
Therefore, getting the guilty plea out of you. And it's really kind of your only option at that point.
GLENN: Yeah, and they held everything.
Including, if this goes on, and you arrest your husband, we will do it in front of your children.
AMY: My husband asked his lawyers -- his lawyers asked the prosecutors over and over again, who were saying in 2020, we're charging him. We're coming.
They never charged him. But they threatened you.
And my husband's lawyers asked the prosecutors. Can he turn himself in, if you're going to indict him? And the prosecutor said, no. We will arrest him in front of your home, in front of your kids.
GLENN: Isn't that crazy?
Knowing that that was a big fear of theirs.
STU: So wrong.
GLENN: This is so corrupt and so bad. Amy, thank you for telling the story.
We'll get some closing thoughts from you in just a second. It's Amy Nelson. And her website is TheRiveter.co or is it .com? Dot-co.
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Ten-second station ID.
Amy Nelson is with us. Final thoughts or advice?
AMY: Well, as you know, Glenn, I've been a progressive my entire life. And one thing that has really surprised me in all this is that progressives see things in black and white.
The right side sees things in black and white. But really, this is about our rights, and we should all be fighting for the same rights, including due process. And so I just hope that the Department of Justice could try to be more fair and transparent.
GLENN: Is it over? It's not.
AMY: It not over. But it will be some day. That's what my husband says. It can't last forever.
GLENN: That's just crazy. Do you still consider yourself a progressive?
AMY: I consider myself politically homeless.
GLENN: I think a lot of people feel that way.
AMY: I think so too.
GLENN: And it's weird because if you're a classic liberal. You know, I call myself more of a Libertarian. But it's also classic liberal.
It's the same thing. I believe in the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
That's -- that's -- that's all that's important. The rest of it is nonsense.
AMY: It is. And there's so much ink spilled distracting us from those things.
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah. Nobody talks about those things.
Your story and stories like you, that should be everywhere. And that's something that Republicans and Democrats and independents should all be standing up and saying, this has got to stop. Because if they'll do it to you. They'll do it to anybody.
AMY: They truly will.
GLENN: Yeah. Thank you so much. My best to your family. How are your kids?
AMY: They're great. They're amazing. They're kids. They're resilient.
GLENN: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.