by Laura Weisskopf Bleill
Jennifer Shelby was supposed to be the “cover girl” of Her Lifestyle magazine’s August issue.
But the owner and president of Shelby Motors is pretty confident that the magazine will never go to press.
She and other magazine advertisers learned earlier this week that publisher Rachel Walker-Spencer had been prosecuted in July 2011 by the Illinois Attorney General for committing fraudulent business practices. Using the name Holly Jones Cunningham, she was accused of selling advertisements that were never printed in a similar magazine venture for the Bloomington-Normal area.
Earlier this month, Her Lifestyle had interviewed Shelby and did a photo shoot at the Champaign dealership. Shelby did pay Walker-Spencer $425 for a small advertisement in the upcoming August issue, and she said the check was cashed. Upon finding out about the allegations, Shelby emailed Walker-Spencer/Jones Cunningham immediately.
“I wrote, ‘Shame on you for creating a very good magazine about strong women and turning it into a scam and a joke,’ ” Shelby said in a phone interview Thursday. “She didn’t seem like a sociopath when she was in here talking to me, but clearly she is.”
The 2011 lawsuit, filed by by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in McLean County Circuit Court, alleged that Holly Jones Cunningham of LeRoy had defrauded consumers since August 2010 by claiming to sell advertising in “Just 4 Her” magazine. The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported at the time that six victims had claimed $17,900 in losses to Madigan’s office.
Holly Jones Cunningham was identified to be Rachel Walker-Spencer by her former Her Lifestyle photographer and business partner, Missy Larson.
Larson also uncovered that a consent decree was reached between the Attorney General and Holly Jones Cunningham on June 1, 2012. In that consent decree, a copy of which was obtained by chambanamoms.com, no wrongdoing was admitted by the defendant, Holly Jones Cunningham.
In exchange, the defendant was “permanently enjoined” from soliciting or accepting deposits, payments, or anything of value in exchange for products or services prior to the provision of those products or services. She was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,960 to four Bloomington-Normal area businesses.
Shelby said that Rachel Walker-Spencer had offered local businesses packages for a year’s worth of advertising, costing as much as $10,000 up front, but she declined. Several other businesses did purchase long-term deals, according to Shelby.
A call to the State’s Attorney office was not returned; WCIA reported Wednesday that the Attorney General’s office had received calls and it was “looking into these cases.” Calls and emails to Rachel Walker-Spencer/Holly Jones Cunningham also were not returned. The Her Lifestyle Facebook page has been removed, and previous issues – including the July issue that featured Jennifer Smith, a former Chambana mom to know and breast cancer survivor extraordinaire– are no longer online.
Larson, the photographer and former business partner, exposed Rachel Walker-Spencer as Holly Jones Cunningham in an email sent to Her Lifestyle advertisers over the weekend. She gave the following statement to chambanamoms.com:
“I was a photographer and designer with Her-LifeStyle Magazine since mid-April 2012. The person who represented herself to be the owner of the business told me her name is Rachel Walker-Spencer and said she lives in Monticello. I was promised a partnership which never materialized on top of an agreed upon monthly salary. I received some initial payments but when I had not been paid for 6 weeks, I began to press for payment. I was told that I would get the money and meetings were set up for which Ms. Walker-Spencer was not showing up and my calls and texts were being ignored. On July 12, 2012 I was informed via email by a person named Jesse who I believed was Ms. Walker-Spencer’s husband that I was no longer part of the company. In researching the company, I discovered a video of a television interview in which the person I knew as Rachel Walker-Spencer was identified as Holly Jones Cunningham. I then found that a lawsuit had been filed against Ms. Cunningham in McLean County by the Illinois Attorney General in connection with a magazine she claimed to be publishing in McLean County called “Just 4 Her.” That lawsuit was settled with a consent judgment in June, 2012. I believed it was my ethical and moral duty to inform businesses with whom I had worked for the magazine of the information I had discovered. Maintaining the good relationships I have built with the local business owners whom I have worked closely with over the past several months is my priority now. I am making no allegations against Ms. Walker-Spencer/Holly Jones Cunningham other than I was not paid for work I did. I plan to cooperate fully with any investigation the authorities may wish to conduct.”
Allyson Sanborn, owner of Sweet Pea Photography, took the cover photos of Smith for the July issue. She provided them to Her Lifestyle at no charge; although an advertisement for Sweet Pea was in the magazine, Sanborn never paid Walker-Spencer.
Sanborn doesn’t want anyone to misunderstand her association with the magazine, and said she feels that she was “duped” along with many others in the community.
“It’s just so disappointing that someone like “Rachel” would choose to exploit the kind, interesting, and hardworking people in our wonderful community for their own gain,” Sanborn said.