Parents in Crisis Can Be Vulnerable to Predators

There has been a tremendous movement among a group of special education lay advocates across the United States and beyond to get to the bottom of a very troubling situation involving an individual who claims to be a highly successful and renowned special education advocate but whose claims cannot be substantiated and, in fact, appears to have defrauded a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly targeting high-profile autism-related seclusion and restraint cases. This individual, who goes by the name of Michael E. Robinson, Sr., is suspected of being located in Redding, California, based on the physical location where the phone numbers he gives out are installed.

Robinson was previously located in Hawaii, so it seems. He claims to be located in Washington, DC, Arizona, Hawaii, and California. He has claimed to be a lobbyist (not registered); a special education lay advocate and/or attorney (he’s claimed both) with years of experience with due process cases and litigation going all the way to federal court (no record of him involved in any special education due process or court cases could be found); a medical doctor (there is an autism specialist also named Michael Robinson whose work Michael E. Robinson, Sr. has attempted to claim as his own); and, of all things, a NASCAR racer.

He’s also claimed that he has epilepsy and was given a wolf as a service animal because wolves can allegedly detect the onset of a seizure before it happens, thereby making them superior service animals – forget the fact that it’s not legal to have a wolf as a service animal. And on and on. His behavior seems indicative of a narcissistic personality disorder and an absolute disregard for the consequences of what he is doing.

It’s easy now that so many people have come out of the woodwork to share their Michael E. Robinson, Sr. stories and much of his story has now been pieced together to look at the big picture and reach the conclusion that Robinson is up to no good. He’s solicited money from several parents, apparently. He’s also requested copies of legal documents in individual student’s cases from parents to allegedly use for his “lobbying” efforts, only to turn around and copy and paste from these documents to attempt to misrepresent the work of other advocates and attorneys as his own to his next set of victims.

His M.O. is apparently to collect enough information from past cases to be able to initially convince parents in newly developing cases – usually horrific situations in which the parents are in dire need of technical assistance – that he is experienced and can help them. He commiserates with them over the injustices they have suffered and tells them not to worry because he’s going to take care of things for them. Then he takes whatever money they’ve given him and copies of their records and is never heard from by them again. He seems to particularly seek out single mothers who are emotionally vulnerable as they fight to protect their children with disabilities from harm and have little to no support from their children’s fathers.

As a special education lay advocate for over 18 years and a paralegal in special education-related litigation for the last 5 years, I have to say that the prospect of someone using special education lay advocacy as a vehicle for running a con is particularly disturbing. While it’s expected that different advocates have different styles and ways of going about things, this is well beyond anything like that.

What is so damaging is that the child who was in such dire need that his/her case caught Robinson’s eye continues to go unserved. Robinson’s advocacy, such as it is, fails to achieve appropriate outcomes, based on the reports coming in from families who claim to have been taken advantage of by him.

This hurts children with special needs overall by undermining the credibility of lay advocates everywhere. Every time I go into a school district in which I’ve never advocated before, I find myself having to prove that I’m not some crazy person or someone with an axe to grind. The expectation maintained by many school districts is that all advocates are adversarial jerks and a righteous pain in the keister. It usually takes months of working with an IEP team in a district to which I am new before people finally figure out that I’m just trying to solve problems and facilitate a rebuilding of trust between the school district and the student’s family and that I’m only going to pursue accountability if the school district personnel keep failing to perform their mandated duties.

But, when I have to follow behind someone calling him- or herself an advocate who has behaved disreputably, demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge regarding what constitutes an appropriate IEP, and antagonized the situation to such an extent that a power struggle has ensued between him/her and the school district, I am put at a tremendous disadvantage. The time I have to invest in proving that I’m not going to do the same thing is time that could have otherwise been invested in properly educating my client.

I want to make clear, though, that very few advocates are so lacking in knowledge and so adversarial that they do more harm than good. Mr. Robinson is the exception, not the rule. Nonetheless, parents need to be diligent about making sure that whoever represents them is on the up and up. When I meet with parents for the first time, they will often tell me that they Googled me beforehand. I’m totally okay with that; there’s a pretty good chance that I Googled them, too. Advocates have to protect themselves from shiesters, as well.

To read more about the evidence compiled against Michael E. Robinson, Sr., see:

6 thoughts on “Parents in Crisis Can Be Vulnerable to Predators

  1. DJ Wilde

    I never knew you posted a link to my blog and I hope it helped. Of course I may have just forgot. He’s tried to refriend me on facebook after some very uncooth behavior and I blocked him. Sadly, I’m sure he’s still out there and still in business.

        1. Anne M. Zachry Post author

          I don’t think they are the same person. Parenteau was a parent of a child with special needs who advocated for other kids in his local school district and was a very visible figure in his local community, from what I understand. He was accused by his son’s school District of mishandling funds for his son’s compensatory education, which the District admits it owed to the child. The Doctrine of Unclean Hands pops into my head in a case like this because it’s always suspicious when the guilty party suddenly accuses the victim of a crime. Some believe that the District’s actions towards Parenteau were retaliatory in response to his advocacy efforts on behalf of other students of the District in addition to his own son, which is not outside the realm of possibility. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of retaliatory conduct from school districts who don’t enjoy having their unlawful conduct pointed out to regulators, much less on behalf of several students to the point that it’s clear that there are systemic violations going on. However, I have no idea whether Parenteau was retaliated against by the District with trumped up charges or really gamed his kid’s comp ed to line his own pockets. This was not Robinson’s MO. He tended to reach out over the internet to families in other states, mostly single moms and/or families in rural areas with limited local resources, earn their trust, get them to send him their documents for supposed review, then use their documents to sell himself to his next victim before taking off, money in hand, never to be heard from by the family again. He appeared to crawl the internet looking for desperate people in remote areas reaching out for help and try to swoop in as though he was the hero before bugging out with their cash. He knew just enough to convince them he knew what he was doing but, in at least one case, he requested due process on the family’s behalf with a pleading that made no sense with promises to travel to the area to represent the family in hearing, but then disappeared shortly thereafter. I think he cuts out just as the family starts to suspect that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know of Robinson actually finishing a case. It sounds like Parenteau had an ongoing active caseload based on what I read.

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