A crowd of about 100 turned out Saturday morning to support Catlin when she appeared for arraignment at the Yates County Public Safety Building. She was released on $15,000 bail - half which was raised by the crowd outside the courtroom.
Elizabeth Catlin, 53, already facing a felony charge in Ontario County for unauthorized practice of a profession, was taken into custody by New York State Troopers again Friday, Dec. 21 at her home near Penn Yan, and held overnight in the Yates County Jail, where she was arraigned Dec. 22 by Benton Town Judge David Grace.
While the mother of 14 prayed and slept in the jail overnight, her family and friends put out a community alert, and by 7:30 a.m. Saturday, dozens of people, mostly Mennonite, flowed into the lobby of the Yates County Public Safety Building to support her.
By the time she walked through the jail door to enter the Centralized Arraignment Court at 8:23 a.m., about 100 men, women, and babies had crowded into the lobby (Scroll down to see the video). Her face showed her emotions as she walked, shackled, through the jail door and saw the crowd that had gathered on a cold, windy morning, and stood quietly waiting. As she walked the few steps in front of her supporters, there were a few muffled sobs, some fussing from tots, and gasps at the sight of her in shackles, shuffling across the lobby to face the judge.
By 8:45 a.m. the crowd of supporters had moved outside the Public Safety Building, and one man was passing his hat, collecting cash and personal checks to help raise the $15,000 cash bond that would free Catlin. Within minutes, over $7,800 had been raised and was being taken to a bank to convert into a cashier's check.
By 10:30 a.m. Catlin and her children were in a local restaurant having breakfast. She would not be spending Christmas in jail.
Earlier, for her appearance in the small arraignment courtroom, her parents, her 14 children, a doctor from the University of Rochester, and a licensed midwife from outside Yates County sat quietly as Grace explained the new charges that had been brought against her.
1. Identity theft, second degree (Class E felony): New York State Police Investigator Mark Eifert of the Canandaigua barracks says Catlin presented herself on Nov. 26 as being professionally associated with PreEmption Road Family Medicine in lab paperwork sent to ACM Medical Laboratory in Rochester, with the intent to defraud ACM Labs, PreEmption Road Family Medicine and pregnant clients.
2. Unauthorized practice of profession, first degree (Class E felony): The complaint filed by State Police says that on Nov. 26, she operated an unlawful midwifery practice referred to as the "Prenatal Place," at a residence on the Bath Road in the town of Milo. The complaint alleges that she continued to make appointments with pregnant female clients while falsely purporting to be a midwife.
3. Possession of a forged instrument, second degree (Class D felony): The complaint says Catlin possessed a falsely completed ACM Medical Laboratory lab requisition form with the intent to defraud the blood donor, ACM Medical Laboratory, and PreEmption Road Family Medicine.
4. Falsifying business records, first degree, (Class E felony)
Eifert says the state police investigation discovered Catlin was operating an unlawful midwifery practice, referred to as the “Prenatal Place” and “Penn Yan Prenatal” at a rented house on Bath Road, in Milo, which she continued to run after her original arrest for Unlawful Practice of a Practice (Midwifery without a license) Nov. 14. in Ontario County.
He says Catlin used the name, address, phone number, and primary staff member name, of an actual Penn Yan doctor’s office, to set up a fraudulent account with a Rochester medical lab.
State Police Investigators say they have obtained hundreds of documents that show that Catlin conducted and obtained medical lab results that she is not licensed, not trained, and not authorized to, nor could not have accomplished without the fraudulent lab account and false documents.
The investigators say Catlin's clients did not know they were being defrauded. However, in the weeks since her Nov. 14 arrest dozens of Mennonite families who have used her as a birth attendant have strongly objected to the characterization that they had been exploited or defrauded.
Public Defender David Mashewske represented Catlin, who entered a plea of not guilty to all charges.
District Attorney Todd Casella requested bail be set at $30,000 cash/$60,000 bond, saying she had been specifically instructed as a condition of her previous bail discharge to not engage in her practice, demonstrating a violation of bail conditions. He also noted she could be facing possible consecutive sentences, making her a flight risk.
Mashewske argued for lower bail because she is a lifelong resident of Yates County and she has many resources, supports and family here. "There's no risk of her not reappearing," he said.
Catlin's original arrest on Nov. 14 was related to a joint investigation by the state police and New York State Education Department, which is responsible for professional licensing in the state. In that charge, Eifert alleged that Catlin brought a woman to the Labor and Delivery Department at FF Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua on Oct. 7, and presented herself as a midwife. Although Catlin is a Certified Professional Midwife, a professional title recognized in 30 states, she is not a New York State licensed midwife. Her clients say they have always been aware of her status, and they have never been misled, that she has presented herself as a birth attendant.
Since her Nov. 14 arrest, there have been at least two unattended home births in Yates County, according to members of the Mennonite community.
Catlin now faces more court appearances, and mounting legal expenses. A local effort, including a Go Fund Me page, is being organized to support her financially, but that will take time to build.
In the meantime, Catlin knows she has a wide community of supporters, judging by the numbers who stood in the lobby and outside the Public Safety Building Saturday morning. After counting the money and sending it off to the bank, the man passing the hat said, "That's the best thing my hat's ever been used for."