This is the follow-up to my blog post “The Peace Corps & ABC 20/20” published on January 19th. It is my second — and last — blog on what happened in Africa to Kate Puzey.
What Appears to Have Happened in Benin in 2009
SHORTLY BEFORE BENIN PCV KATE PUZEY was scheduled to complete her service and leave the country in 2009, she emailed staff members at the Peace Corps/Benin office to inform them that a teacher at her school — a person who was also a part-time local-hire employee of the Peace Corps doing in-country training — was molesting young female students at her school. This individual was identified recently by ABC’s 20/20 in a segment “Scandal Inside the Peace Corps: Investigation into whether the Peace Corps puts women into dangerous situations” as Constant Bio, a citizen of Benin. Kate urged the PC staff to not rehire Constant Bio to train newly arriving PCVs. She also asked that her name be kept out of any discussions regarding this matter.
At least two people on the Peace Corps staff in Benin read Kate’s email; but in spite of Kate’s request for anonymity, word of the complaint and its author got out to one of the locally-hired Associate Peace Corps Directors — who was the brother of Constant Bio. Subsequently Constant Bio was dismissed from his contractor position as a training instructor by Peace Corps/Benin. Shortly thereafter Kate Puzey was as found with her throat slit. It is believed that Constant Bio’s brother, the APCD, told him that Kate Puzey had fingered him for molesting her young students.
Following the murder, three people were arrested and are still in prison and awaiting trail — nearly two years later. These individuals are: Constant Bio; his brother, the Peace Corps APCD; and a Nigerian. No trial date has been set. A friend who knows the “system” in Benin says that they will never be brought to trial. “They will simply “rot away” in jail, he believes.
It is the opinion of the family of 24-year-old PCV Kate Puzey that Peace Corps staff in Benin “set her up” to be murdered by revealing her role in the dismissal of an employee she accused of sexually abusing girls at her school.
What Did Happen in the U.S. in 2011
ABC’s 20/20 broadcast the “Scandal Inside the Peace Corps” on January 15, 2011, that focused on the murder of Kate Puzey.
Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams — who would not go on the air with the ABC News 20/20 segment — subsequently issued on the Peace Corps website an apology to the Puzey family. In his statement, Williams said that he grieved with the Puzey family and extended an apology.
I would like to offer my apologies to the Puzey family if either the former leadership or the Agency under my direction could have been more compassionate. Personally, it is heartbreaking to learn that they ever felt abandoned by the Peace Corps. This has never been our intent.
Kate represented the best America has to offer the world with her dedication to her community and commitment to public service. We continue to grieve with the Puzey family and Kate’s friends.
. . .
We cannot comment on the ongoing investigation into the 2009 murder . . . or do anything else that could risk compromising that investigation or a successful prosecution. Peace Corps does not have a role in the ongoing investigation, but we have been assured that the Benin government is supporting the legal process necessary to conclude the investigation and begin a trial. The Department of State and the FBI have been working with the Benin authorities.
The murder took place before Director Williams or Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet — who was interviewed for “Scandal Inside the Peace Corps” — were appointed. At the time of the murder the woman in charge of the Peace Corps was Acting Director Jody Olsen (RPCV Tunisia 1966–68); head of the African Region at the time was Lynn Foden.
Also involved in responding to the family after the murder was the Regional Recruitment Office in Atlanta — where the Puzeys live. I am told by an RPCV, whom I trust, that this Regional Office went out of its way to help the family and they, along with U. S. Senator Johnny Isakson, participated in the memorial service for Kate, and were extremely supportive of the family.
Meanwhile, Back at HQ!
Another key person at the Peace Corps during that period was Elisa Montoya, White House Liaison and Senior Advisor to the Office of the Director. She was assigned as liaison to the Peace Corps by the new Obama Administration — while Olsen was still “acting” director and well before Williams’ appointedment.
Montoya, a young lawyer from New Mexico, had worked on the Obama political campaign. She had never served in the Peace Corps.
She brought with her into the Peace Corps a team of wholly inadequate personnel, beginning with Allison Price, known around HQ as “toy girl” because of her fondness for playing with toy guns during work hours, shooting darts at a large map on her office wall. Price, who is the Peace Corps press person, had worked on the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania, and she was brought in to the Peace Corps to help handle the press because of Puzey murder crisis. She then leveraged that assignment into a full-time job.
Besides Price, Montoya added to the Peace Corps roster other political appointees, none of whom had any Peace Corps experience and were never Volunteers.
- Head of the Office of Private Sector Initiatives.
- Head of the Office for liaison with the public.
- Head of the Crisis Corps, now called the Peace Corps Response.
- Head of the original office for coordinating the 50th.
Additionally, thanks to Montoya, the Peace Corps still does not have a Congressional Liaison Officer. Astonishing!
But back to the main story — while Aaron Williams should have been out front on the ABC 20/20 story — and Carrie Hessler-Radelet should not have appeared in it at all — the fact is that neither one of them were employed by the Peace Corps at the time of the murder in the spring of 2009. If anyone was to be front and center on 20/20, it should be have been Allison Price!
The Past as Prologue
But what of Acting Director Jody Olsen at the time of the murder? During her term as Deputy Director under Bush’s appointee, Gaddi Vasquez, she was not permitted to travel overseas though she was the only one with any Peace Corps experience on the senior staff during th0se long Republican years. After Gaddi left the agency, another good Republican and RPCV (India 1966-68) Ron Tschetter took over and Jody was freed to travel. When Obama was elected, Ron left, and turned the Peace Corps ‘keys’ over to Jody and briefly she was allowed to travel and speak and freely walk up and down the halls of the agency.
While she was free, she flew to Atlanta for the funeral, but it appears that is all she did. Kate Puzey’s father would says on the 20/20 program: no one in the Peace Corps called the family for a year after his daughter’s murder. He also said that Kate’s personal effects from Africa arrived by mail in a cardboard box that was “dumped” in their driveway without any word from the Peace Corps. That, perhaps, was the most unkind cut of all for the agency.
This wasn’t Aaron Williams or Carrie Hessler-Radidad fault. They weren’t working at the Peace Corps. No, that was the fault of Acting Director Jody Olsen, African Regional Manager Lynn Foden, Elisa Montoya and Allison Price.