Did Her Dad's Ponzi Scheme Help Miss America Win?

Recently elected (appointed?) Miss America Laura Kaeppeler hasn't been shy about her dad's jail time. In fact, some now allege that her compelling personal story of a parent in prison actually helped her win. And victims of his Ponzi scheme aren't too happy.

On her website, Kaeppeler is somewhat circumspect about her family history — she writes, "When I was 14, an immediate family member committed a white collar crime and when I was 17 was sentenced to one year in federal prison." But in her Miss America interviews, she was more candid, explaining that her dad's arrest for mail fraud inspired her to work with the children of inmates. Her dad is Jeff Kaeppeler, once Carthage College's "Mr. Flawless," now a felon who served 18 months in prison for cheating Kenosha, WI residents out of over $6 million.

Who2 looked into local coverage of the scam and found that Kaeppeler worked under one Kenneth Hackbarth, who was an elder at the First Assembly of God Church and looked for marks among his fellow parishioners. One victim was a 77-year-old woman who lost $50,000. Two committed suicide. Then there was a lady named Marilyn, the great-aunt of blogger Mark Maynard. He writes, "it turns out that the new Miss America is the daughter of the man who offered to help my lovely and sweet aunt invest her money after the death of my uncle Frank, only to end up stealing every penny of it." When his daughter won the title, Kaeppeler reportedly said, "It taught us that God can turn everything into good if you let him." Which doesn't sit too well with Maynard. He writes,

Not only did this evil man take advantage of his role in the church to steal my aunt's retirement savings, but, now, it seems, he's back in God's good graces, and reaping the benefits. Everything that was bad has been magically turned to good. That's how powerful his connection to God is, you see… It's so powerful that he doesn't even have to pay back my aunt. All he had to do was "let God into his life."

And, he adds, "it's conceivable that, had my aunt not been ripped off by this man, his daughter never would have found her platform, and someone else would have won Miss America. Fortunately for us all, though, God had a plan." Of course, Miss America judges consider a lot of factors — this article, for instance, includes an extensive analysis of Kaeppeler's dress. But Kaeppeler's struggle with her dad's incarceration and her subsequent work with kids do make a compelling human-interest story that may well have contributed to her win. That's not her fault — she didn't defraud anybody, and she does deserve praise for using her hardship to help others. But hearing her dad crow about it — rather than showing remorse for all he put her and others through — must be tough for those who lost their savings to him.

My tenuous and ugly connection to our new Miss America [Mark Maynard]