Thursday, Nov 23, 2017
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Toledo native writes book about personal terror

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    Myles and Karen Levine

It’s a tale so crazy it has to be true: A disgruntled contractor, frustrated with a set of homeowners whose driveway project proved more complicated than anticipated, exacts revenge by enveloping their neighborhood in a cloud of poisonous chlorine gas.

That’s the real-life series of events at the heart of The Levine Project: Fighting Back Against a Campaign of Terror, a recently released book that offers a personal perspective on a story that’s been playing out in newspapers in Arizona and beyond for nearly a decade. The attack took place in Tucson but holds ties to Toledo through victim and co-author Karen Levine, nee Fonberg, who grew up in the area.

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Myles and Karen Levine

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Ms. Levine is a 1968 alumna of Whitmer High School and 1972 graduate of the University of Toledo. She said she wrote the book as a warning to others who might be considering contractors — even seemingly reputable ones.

“It could happen to anybody,” she said.

“It,” in this case, refers to the escalating series of interactions between Ms. Levine and her husband, Myles, and a contractor they hired to refinish their driveway in 2007. Todd Fries, who at the time owned a power washing company that Ms. Levine said advertised and was well known in the area, promised a quick job that he didn’t deliver.

Ms. Levine, speaking by telephone, described an estimated week stretching into nearly a year. Disputes ensued.

In 2008, the couple woke up to find dead animals strewn about their yard and anti-semitic graffiti painted on their home. Authorities did not immediately tie the incident to the contractor, and the couple eventually moved to another neighborhood.

Then, in 2009, their new home came under attack, this time by chlorine tablets and other chemicals set afire in their yard. The culprit had sealed their front door shut, an apparent attempt to lock them inside that would ultimately lead to two convictions on state charges of attempted first-degree murder. The Levines managed to escape via a backdoor, and they, along with the rest of the neighborhood, were evacuated.

“It was over a $200 check,” Ms. Levine said. “This is why it’s so crazy.”

The Levine Project, which takes its name from the way that Fries referred to his revenge plots against the couple, continues with accounts of the criminal trials that Fries faced after the chemical attack. He was first tried and convicted on federal charges; state charges, including the attempted murder convictions, came afterward.

Today Fries is serving a more than 25-year prison sentence.

The Levines hooked up with Dan Baldwin, a professional writer based in the Phoenix area, in 2016 to begin writing the book. Mr. Baldwin, who has published the majority of his 60 titles as a ghost writer, is experienced at telling other people’s stories; he said he knew immediately that the Levines’ would make for a compelling book.

“I was flabbergasted,” he said.

Trafford Publishing released The Levine Project in August. Barnes and Noble is among the retailers, locally, to carry the book.

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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