ZivaGate: Letter to Ziva Branstetter

Ziva Branstetter, the star investigative reporter and Enterprise Editor of Tulsa World, allegedly used her newspaper’s resources to provide personal financial and family information on a Tulsa World subscriber (me) to private businessman David Rutkauskas.

David Rutkauskas immediately posted this personal information publicly in a Twitter smear campaign that he, himself, calls “horrible, vulgar and hurtful.”

In a public apology posted last night (David Rutkauskas Apologizes, Will Drop Lawsuit), BBI CEO David Rutkauskas admits that he was not himself for several weeks, that he was filled with anger, that he was suffering from “extreme lows,” and that he was drinking heavily after years of sobriety.

Into this volatile and potentially dangerous situation, Tulsa World editor Ziva Branstetter provided Rutkauskas with the home address, family composition, wife’s name, cell phone numbers and personal financial history of the man who was the direct focus of his rage.

In the Urban Tulsa Weekly article that broke the story (Stranger than Fiction),  Jaime Adame wrote:  “Branstetter did not deny having provided information about Kelly to Rutkauskas. At the Tulsa World office, Branstetter met for about five minutes with a UTW reporter but declined to comment for this story…. Asked about Branstetter’s email, [David Rutkauskas] only remarked: ‘Whatever she sent me was in confidence, and I don’t want to get into stuff about that.’”

I emailed Ziva Branstetter several times, but my requests for an explanation or apology have been ignored.

I have received no apology or explanation from Tulsa World Executive Editor Joe Worley or the World’s attorney Schaad Titus.

Having not received a response to the slightly different version I emailed last night, I just sent Ziva Branstetter the message below,

Ziva Branstetter, Enterprise Editor, Tulsa World


Dear Ziva:

I would sincerely like to wish you and [husband’s name withheld] a very happy 25th wedding anniversary.

I hope you two have (or had) a great time at [location withheld]!

Seems like just two years ago that you were fending off [personal financial information withheld], doesn’t it?

Heck, it seems like less than a year ago that you were filing [personal marital information withheld].

And here you are – celebrating the big 2-5!

Ziva BranstetterI’m especially glad for [children’s names withheld] that you two are working things out.

As you well know, my wife and I struggled through some hard times a few years back.

I think the lowest moment was when I awoke early one morning to find that my Suburban had been towed from our family driveway in the middle of the night.

My wife and 5 (not 4, as the report you provided to David Rutkauskas misstated) kids were still asleep upstairs, and I had about an hour before I’d have to explain why our only vehicle was gone, for good.

That was one of the darkest hours of my life.

But we persevere, don’t we, just like the many who lost everything as Camille’s Sidewalk Café franchisees have persevered?

That morning, I felt terrible, ashamed, and, in the words of David Rutkauskas, a “loser.”

I’m not sure when it was, but eventually I discovered the thought that would enable me to get through that horrible time:

I hadn’t ever intentionally screwed anyone over.

I hadn’t ripped anyone off.

I made mistakes, big mistakes, but I had never intentionally tried to hurt anyone.

As a business owner, I had tried to play by the rules, and did the best I could for my clients and my employees.

While I would always feel ashamed, I knew I hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of.

Eventually, it occurred to me that this hardship was actually an opportunity.

It was an opportunity for my wife and I to show our kids how to face adversity with integrity and grace.

It was an opportunity to teach them not to panic, to walk tall, and to work together in a crisis.

It was an opportunity to show them that if you conduct yourself ethically and try to treat people fairly, you’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.

Ziva, that terrifying ordeal made me better in a lot of ways.

It made me unable to just divert my gaze when I see someone who is leading others to their own dark, dark mornings and empty driveways.

It made me unable to remain silent when people like David Rutkauskas, empowered with the validation of media like Tulsa World, encourage individuals to gamble their family’s futures based on misleading claims, misinformation, and a semi-fictional success story.

*  *  *  *  *

Ziva, I’m sure seeing personal details at the beginning of this email was a bit unsettling.

Now imagine how it would feel to having your most sensitive, personal information posted and publicly mocked on Twitter.

Imagine if someone were posting the address and picture of your family home at [personal address withheld] for anyone with a gripe against you to see?

Imagine how violated you would feel…

Imagine how violated you and David made me feel…

I am trying really hard to forgive you for your malicious and unethical complicity in David Rutkauskas’ personal attacks on me.

I’m having a really hard time doing so without an apology or even an explanation.

You put me and my family at risk by providing my personal information and location to a man who was admittedly unstable, filled with rage, and drinking heavily.

Even David Rutkauskas has apologized (See, but you have chosen to remain silent.

If you don’t think you owe me an apology, at least explain why.

One final thought:  It’s instructive that David’s reputation was publicly and perhaps irreparably damaged not from his exaggeration of BBI’s success, but from his misguided reaction to its disclosure and his quest for revenge.

If you think remaining silent is the prudent course of action, you may find that your reputation is harmed more by your unwillingness to apologize than for having done wrong in the first place.

Often, the cover-up inflicts more damage than the crime.

All the best,

Sean Kelly



Also Read:

ZivaGate: Tulsa World Editor Fueled Twitter Attacks on Blogger

TULSA WORLD: Intentionally Deceptive or Exceedingly Lazy?

BEAUTIFUL BRANDS Letter to Tulsa World Writer Kyle Arnold

Why DAVID RUTKAUSKAS & ROBERT SARTIN Should Sue Themselves (Part 1) by Sean Kelly


CAMILLE’S SIDEWALK CAFE Franchise Complaints



Tags:  Ziva Branstetter, Ziva Branstetter Tulsa World, Tulsa World, Joe Worley, Schaad Titus, David Rutkauskas, Beautiful Brands International, BBI, Sean Kelly Lawsuit, David Rutkauskas lawsuit, BBI lawsuit, Beautiful Brands lawsuit, jon Fortman, Jonathan Fortman

2 thoughts on “ZivaGate: Letter to Ziva Branstetter

  • Very powerful stuff. Sean, they’ve taken their best shot at you and you hung in there. You never backed down. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You are effective because you’ve been to that dark place where many of the franchisees on this site find themselves now. Ziva and David Rutkauskas have accomplished one thing. They have now removed any ammunition other con men in the franchise industry may use against you. Keep on keepin’ on.

  • Thanks, Jon. It’s been your support that’s made it possible. You covered my back on the legal fight, and you never told me to stop speaking out or to back off. I just think it’s important to send a message that if someone wants to come after me or the commenters on the site, they better be damn sure THEY can hold up to the scrutiny I’ve been put under, because I will post RELENTLESSLY about anyone who wants to abuse the legal system to inhibit free speech.

    Take that as fair warning, franchise bullies.

    This letter was pretty emotional to write, as I’ve never shared that story. But I have heard worse from the close friends I’ve made on this site. They have spoken about the fog that descends, about suddenly realizing they are walking on the other side of town and not sure how they got there. About weighing pros and cons of different methods for departing this world, and making lists of supplies needed. I never reached lows that low, but I do know some of those feelings… like you’ve fallen down a dark well and you don’t know if you’ll ever reach the bottom. Or how painful bright, sunny days can be because you should be enjoying every minute but can’t.

    Those of you who may still visit those dark places and who have been brought here by providence, know that you will get through it and when you do, you’ll have the strength to stand up for what’s right. Things get better when you refuse to be a victim.

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