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Hunting Snipes? The perils of fame and fortune.

By Bill E. Branscum
© Copyright September, 2004

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While I had always believed that "snipe hunting" was a tradition unique to rural Appalachia, it appears to have been the more recent pastime of choice in Michigan City, Indiana. It's been almost three years since Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Prosecuting Attorney Robert Beckman, set out from the LaPorte County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with their whistles and gunny sacks, fully intending to bag Snipes, but, like everyone who has ever thus played the fool, they wound up with egg on their faces, and empty bags.

It's normally an amusing hillbilly diversion. Gullible young children stumble around in moonlit hollers, blowing their snipe whistles, or mimicking the older boys' rendition of the "snipe call," knowing, with absolute conviction, that a big fat snipe is going to come running to be scooped up in their sack- just like the big boys said they would. It's tradition, a rite of passage, part of growing up, and it's always a harmless prank - much like sitting up with the little guys waiting for Santa Clause.

The Beckmans' version of the game was a little different. Their widely publicized Snipes hunt wasn't harmless, it was born of evil intent, it hurt people, and it had nothing to do with the foolish innocence of youth.

The Beckman's were old enough to know better.

On March 14, 2004, the Law Firm of Robert G. Bernhoft, 207 E Buffalo Street, Suite 600, Milwaukee, WI 53202, contacted me and explained that they represented the movie celebrity, Wesley Snipes, with regard to the paternity case that has been the source of significant tabloid press. They advised me that the case had gotten to the point that Wesley Snipes could be arrested for refusing to submit to a paternity test.

Frankly, I couldn't rationalize that. The fact that Wesley Snipes chose to incur enormous expense, and subject himself to the possibility of arrest, along with the further adverse publicity that would invariably be attendant thereto, by refusing to take a simple paternity test, made no sense at all to me, and I said so.

Although I acknowledge that every accused person, and/or criminal defendant, is entitled to the best possible defense, that is not the business that I choose to be in. Further, having dealt with three preschoolers as a single parent, I am not a person to be sympathetic towards those who evade parental responsibilities.

I suggested that Atty. Bernhoft look elsewhere.

Atty. Bernhoft observed that all I knew was what I had seen in the tabloids, reminded me that I have never been a celebrity, or a member of any class challenged by ethnicity, and assured me that there was more to this than I saw; he persuaded me to accept the case.

What I found, I didn't like.

I talked to her family, her former boyfriend, and I ultimately interviewed her. As it turns out, Lanise Pettis wasn't lying.

Lanise Pettis (Born in 1971) wasn't lying about Wesley Snipes being her cousin, and the father of Israel Pettis. Although the prosecutors didn't see fit to bring it up for obvious reasons, she didn't lie when she told me about her belief that they actually have nine children together, one of whom is the actor Brandon Hammond (Born 1984), and another -- the super model, Tyra Banks (Born 1973).

When Ms. Pettis explains that Wesley Snipes secretly married her many years ago when she was little more than a child, she believes it, and when she talks about the government agents who arrived in black helicopters, and demanded that they never mention the marriage, she isn't lying about that either.

Likewise with the others -- Wesley Snipes does not define the limits of her celeb relationships. She told us about Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Prince . . . and she even talks about partying with President Clinton. He's her cousin too!

Lanise Pettis isn't lying, she has no evil motive, this isn't about money or stealing 15 minutes of fame at someone else's expense - she is just profoundly delusional.

I found myself wondering, "How sloppy, how inept - how remarkably gullible would the LaPorte Prosecutors Office have to be to go forward with a case based on this?"

It gets worse.

According to her former boyfriend, Indiana authorities knew all about it, and have known since the beginning. Keith Cowans provided a sworn statement, and in his statement he said that he told them everything, and even gave the Beckmans a sworn statement revealing everything that he told us.

I have the discovery documents and there is no copy of his statement, or reference to it.

Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Robert Beckman, are attorneys, Officers of the Court, representatives of the LaPorte County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office - the public officials to whom one is supposed to appeal for truth and justice. They didn't deliver.

Instead, they fed Wesley Snipes and Lanise Pettis to the tabloids, alleging that he visited his cousin Lanise, (who is actually a very likeable young woman) who was portrayed as being a crack addicted prostitute, to counsel her about throwing her life away. As their story goes, Wesley Snipes paused on the way out the door for some unprotected sex with his cousin, and fathered their child.

I do not need to be black, or a celebrity, to understand why he declined to simply submit to a paternity test and walk away - leaving the world to merely amend the prior paragraph to read, "but didn't father her child." Some empty vindication that would be.

Even assuming, arguendo, that since Wesley Snipes is a celebrity, he should expect this sort of asinine abuse - how about Lanise Pettis? Are we to believe that a Prosecutor, and his Deputy Prosecutor, went forward with this circus without considering the consequences that they were exposing Lanise Pettis to?

Didn't they realize that her family, and the three children she actually does have, will be reading about this mess, and see Lanise dragged thru the dirt for nothing? A little limelight must have been awfully important to the Beckmans; when they bought it, they had to know that it would come at a terrible price.

Fortunately for Lanise Pettis, Wesley Snipes is a more compassionate person than they were.

You'll notice that Wesley Snipes is not suing Lanise Pettis. Whereas attorneys always tell you to sue everybody (I happen to know how the Complaint was first drafted), Wesley Snipes is a "hands on" kind of guy, and he makes his own decisions.

On that issue, and others, he made his position clear; suffice it to say that he's particular who he whacks with a sword. In light of all the grief and expense that this has cost him, that strikes me as a remarkable thing.

Unfortunately, that's all the class and moral integrity that I saw here. It saddens me to report that Officers of the Court, and members of the Bar who should have known better, have behaved in this fashion, and I am sickened by the nagging suspicion that neither Brad Pitt, nor Leonardo DiCaprio, would have been treated this way.

    Author's Note: We did some good work here, and we got this put together as effectively as we did because I had some first rate support from William “Bill” Wagner, an Illinois Private Investigator who retired from the Chicago Police Department; Dennis Hyten, an Indiana Private Investigator who retired from the FBI; and Gary Somerville, an Illinois process server with some really good contacts on Chicago’s West Side

Attachments & Links included in this article:

  1. Lanise Pettis Sworn Statement (PDF - 456kb)
  2. Complaint: Wesley Snipes v. City of New York, et al. (PDF - 438kb)
  3. Declaration; Bill E. Branscum (PDF - 292kb)
  4. US District Court SD NY Coversheet (PDF - 58kb)
  5. Memorandum of Law in Support of TRO (PDF - 168kb)
  6. Wesley Snipes - Arrest Warrant (PDF - 108kb)
Bill Branscum is a licensed Private Investigator and owner of Oracle International, an investigative agency he established in Naples, Florida following his career as a federal agent. His experience includes investigations related to narcotics smuggling, money laundering, securities fraud, the unlawful exportation of critical technology, the sexual exploitation of children and contract murder.

Oracle International maintains a web site at

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