How can I help a friend whose partner has been arrested?
October 7, 2009 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me comfort a friend whose partner was just arrested for the local equivalent of grand theft.

Friend A's partner B was just arrested for stealing at least $20k worth of goods from work over a few years.

Yesterday, A returned home to their apartment that had been searched under a warrant and has had her possessions seized. There are also potential legal implications for her.

A was initially under the impression that B had merely been buying said goods at a discounted staff rate and selling them on at a profit but has just found out that he had actually stolen them. He admitted that this began a year ago and essentially had kept it from her despite her constant warnings that the buying-at-discount-selling-at-profit might get him (and her) into trouble.

She is complete wreck because she has to deal with the tenancy agreements and other related issues but right now the last straw is the dishonesty on his part. She feels obligated to support him through this terrible time (he is scared and is really just a nice guy who made a series of stupid mistakes and in the course of their relationship treated her like a princess) but is also naturally angry with him and unsure about the relationship.

3 Questions:
- What should she do? (I expect the answers won't be conclusive)
- How can I comfort her?
- How can I comfort him, given that he has become a friend through her?

Not looking for any legal advice, there are already lawyers involved.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What should she do? That's completely up to her. If she feels like she can't trust him, well, that pretty much ends it, right? If she feels that this year-long series of lies is isolated just to his theft from work, well, then let's hope she's right.

How can you comfort her? Well, just be there for her. She's freaking out because her life is now one huge question mark. Help her to replace the essential things she's now missing.

How can you comfort him? He broke the law. I'm not sure what comfort one can get knowing you're almost certainly going to jail. If you feel she's going to stay with him, then tell him that you're there for him, too.
posted by inturnaround at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2009

She should get her own attorney first. FInd out what kind of legal issues she is facing. Until sho knows that, she cannot make a decision on her partner. You should simply tell her that you are there for her and support her anyway she needs. She can call day or night to vent, to chat, or to laugh. I would invite her out to dinner and if she is not local send her some sort of care package.

Before you comfort him, find out more about who "he" is. There is a lot more to this person than meets the eye. Deceit is a very slippery slope.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:14 AM on October 7, 2009

She feels obligated to support him through this terrible time

She isn't. Her partner has done something reprehensible and she has every right to review the relationship in that context. I'm not saying DTMFA, but she is not obligated to view this as something bad that has happened to her partner - this is something he has actively done.
posted by biffa at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2009

Stealing $20k and reselling it was not a "series of stupid mistakes". Your friend needs to stop deluding herself and completely sever her relationship with this guy. Whether or not he treated her well really isn't the issue; his actions implicated her as accessory to a felony, and she shouldn't let people like that be in her life.

The people you surround yourself with reflect on you, and your friend should make the choice to not be involved with this person.
posted by Spacelegoman at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2009 [12 favorites]

Two issues here.

What should she do legally?
She should grab her own lawyer STAT. I don't care who you are, it should be obvious that buying junk at employee discount and selling for profit won't end well, and that will be the prosecutors stance. She needs to lawyer up and make sure that if she's charged she is NOT charged WITH him, but separately. She also needs to clam right the fuck up and not talk to any police or anyone but HER lawyer. She needs to be upfront with him/her, and she needs to ask him about ANY property that remains that is not HERS. He might advise her to destroy it or to turn it over to police as a show of good faith. Ideally they're just going to scare the piss out of her to get her to agree to testify, and if she can lawyer up RIGHT NOW she can potentially avoid the whole thing---they might not have anything on her at all. My recommendation is that she pursue a lawyer NOT from her hometown who has to deal with the prosecutors daily. Someone who is going to bulldog on her behalf.

What should she do personally?
That's really up for her to decide. She has been lied to and deceived and now is (at least in the short term) fucked by this dude, and not in the lingerie-way. Supporting him emotionally and staying his girlfriend are not the same thing. If this was one of my girl friends, we would probably be encouraging him to stay the hell away from her. I say this as someone who has been arrested on theft related charges when I was young and stupid.
posted by TomMelee at 7:44 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest: her own lawyer, not taking calls from B, not bailing him out (if that's an option.) I feel for her as her whole life has been turned upside down. Can you help with the practical things like figuring out her lease, deciding whether she can afford to live there on her own or whether subletting is an option? She may want to move to get away from the memories in that place and be somewhere that B does not have a key to get in. If she stays, have the locks rekeyed. Co-operate with the police, don't be evasive, be the innocent victim she is, don't try to protect B. If she still has any, set aside things that B bought which might be proceeds of stolen goods. Are there any free women's counselling centres around for abused/abandoned women? They are usually quite used to the upheaval caused by one's SO doing something ugly and should be able to help or recommend where else to get help. In the meantime, separate hers from his, with his going into boxes for storage, perhaps with one of his relatives. Keep receipts for anything she bought on her own, and perhaps, keep his receipts, separately, too, to show what he's been doing with the money. This is assuming the police haven't taken the lot.

A is probably going to have a lot of 'how could I have been so blind, stupid, trusting' moments for the next few months, the shame of having a SO charged with a crime, and the thought that people might believe she was a party to it. That's where a counsellor can help as even a good friend can take only so many phone calls. I recommend she get a bit angry and use righteous indignation to carry her through rather than sinking into victimhood. And, keep the bum out. He's used her innocence as a cover for his sleaze once and put her in jeopardy. That's enough.
posted by x46 at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2009

You can use some basic counseling skills to comfort her. When she talks about her feelings, reflect them back to her and summarize the facts of what she has said, sometimes called "active listening". You want to get across these two points:

1. I listened to everything you said because your experience and perspective is important
2. Your feelings are understandable and normal in this situation, and we have worked together to make sure I understand them. I do not reject you because of your feelings; I accept you.

You seem to understand the situation and her feelings well already, and you are being very empathetic and non-judgmental, so you are doing well already. Make sure that you are mirroring her feelings back to her using feeling words, "I know how you feel" is sometimes not enough. Example:
You have mixed feelings about him right now. He put you in a really tough and stressful situation, so you are angry and hurt. You are also angry at the police for arresting him. You love him and you want to give him support, because he has been there for you in the past. You are frustrated because he didn't listen to you about selling these. You feel you were helpless to stop what was going on in your own home because you didn't have all the facts. You feel naive and betrayed for believing him when he lied said they were selling them to him at a discount."
Of course you would do this conversationally and not in a huge lecture, heh.

Emphasize that she is a strong person. Identify the things she has already done, specifically: "You were very proactive about choosing a lawyer and getting things organized." Help her identify her accomplishments and progress so far.

It will be a great comfort to her if you allow her to make her own decisions and avoid giving her advice unless she specifically asks for it. Even then, try to guide her to make her own decisions by talking through her options, asking her what problem she is trying to solve, or any other helpful way of guiding her. Giving someone else advice is always a tricky prospect.

I hope everything works out!
posted by kathrineg at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine went through pretty much this exact scenario, although they did not live together. Your friend needs to get her own lawyer right now. If she has been talking to the police, she needs to shut up until her lawyer tells her otherwise. Failure to do so could (will) result in serious adverse consequences. Anything she says can and will be used against her.

Secondary to this, she needs to avoid all contact with her partner. If he is walking around free right now, he needs to go stay with friends or family. This is probably tough advice to follow and I don't envy her. She needs to protect herself and not worry about the idiot who is threatening her freedom and livelihood. Get that lawyer. DTMFA.

With regard to comforting your friend, make sure she has plenty of things to do and someone to talk to. Forget about B for right now. This is not stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family, this is one of the dumbest, most-easily-caught crimes someone can commit, and his foolishness and greed put both of them at risk.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

he is scared and is really just a nice guy who made a series of stupid mistakes

You and said friend really need to get this idea out of your head. Stealing 20,000$ of stuff from work and selling is NOT a series of stupid mistakes. It's heinous, and heinously stupid, and a dedicated long pattern of behavior. Run from this duplicitous jerkhole, and get a lawyer.
posted by xmutex at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let the lawyers handle this. Let her know you are there and she'll come to you if need be.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2009

I'm sorry your friend has to deal with such an awful situation, and really, all you can do is be there for her and not just listen what she says, but also pay attention to any subtle clues in her words or her behavior that will reveal what she needs. Yes, she should lawyer up with a different attorney than her boyfriend's, and make decisions that are in her best interest. Encourage her to do that, and maybe help her find someone to represent her.

As for what you can do for him, well, I think you may want to reconsider that stance, especially until things settle down, and you really know just how much he has screwed over your friend. Seemingly cool people do crappy, immoral things all the time, and in doing so reveal themselves to be anything but a good friend or someone you may want in your life. Really, not just what he did to his employer, but also what he did to your friend should make you reevaluate your assessment of this guy.

I think you might also want to broach with her what this event actually says about his character. While he has been a wonderful boyfriend, she really shouldn't ignore that not only did he steal substantially from an employer but he also lied to her about it, repeatedly, for a long period of time, and elaborately. It sounds like they had conversations about her concerns, and he lead her to believe that he was purchasing these items. That demonstrates that he has no qualms about lying to your friend if it suits his purposes. He also not only deceived her, but he also dismissed her incredibly valid concerns about a very serious situation. That does not bode well for a future partnership like marriage or something similar. Similarly, he knowingly put your friend's well-being in jeopardy, and again, that's not something you want your partner to be able to do.

Of course, this isn't the time to force an opinion on your friend, but since the law is involved, she should really consider how much she wants to stand by this guy and whether he really is the person she needs him to be. Even if their relationship could survive this, no one would blame her for wanting to take some time and space to think. Under the circumstances, that is more than reasonable. Best of luck to her (and you).
posted by katemcd at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the DTMFA. Help support your friend by helping her deal with getting out of the relationship.

Sure he's a nice guy. Now he's a nice guy who's gone. Goodbye.
posted by Xoebe at 8:55 AM on October 7, 2009

I do hope she has her own lawyer looking after her own interests.

Note that in addition to letting her know you'll listen, and yeah, she probably should set loose the guy if he doesn't show anything that he'll straighten up and fly right; though I do see that a significant trust barrier has been breached between them, IMO.

There also might be something in her rental agreement about illegal activities taking place on the premises, and might quite shortly now or after his conviction be subject to quite quick eviction, and not with any nice 30 day notice.
posted by tilde at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2009

he is scared and is really just a nice guy who made a series of stupid mistakes
You and said friend really need to get this idea out of your head.... Nthing the DTMFA.

Wow, AskMe is heartless sometimes.

I have no problem seeing this as a possible nice guy and a possible series of stupid mistakes. I suspect everyone has done their own awful things, whether actual crimes or not, and probably done so without getting caught or even having the chance to regret or make amends.

I would forgive and stand by my partner, or any close friend even, if they committed much more heinous crimes. That's what a commitment is: it's not running away when the other person fucks up.

With that in mind, though: yes, retain your own lawyer for obvious legal reasons, don't 'help' the police except under your lawyer's advice, and generally take a time out while you get your head together. Once your legal ground is firm and reliable, there's no rush to do anything, and you should probably slow down. Hard.
posted by rokusan at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Let me reiterate this from the original post:

Not looking for any legal advice, there are already lawyers involved.
posted by kathrineg at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2009

I'd like to remind people that being accused of something is not the same as being guilty of something. There are some pretty rephrehensible ethics going on in this thread.

The best advice has already been given. You or your friend aren't going to be able to do anything until there's a hearing, at which there will likely be bail set (or denied). Once you know the bail situation you'll be able to figure out how much you can help him there.

Beyond that, it'll just be a matter of having a lawyer and (I'm guessing) establishing that she had no knowledge that any of this was going on. She won't be able to affect his penalties or anything like that, and whether she sticks with him through all of this is up to her, so there are some aspects of the future that are going to suck no matter what.


He admitted that this began a year ago and essentially had kept it from her despite her constant warnings that the buying-at-discount-selling-at-profit might get him (and her) into trouble.

This makes it sound like she has more complicity in this than is portrayed. Since when does flipping underpriced items lead to trouble? When some details known to both are left out of the question.
posted by rhizome at 10:50 AM on October 7, 2009

I'd like to remind people that being accused of something is not the same as being guilty of something. There are some pretty rephrehensible ethics going on in this thread.

As you so stated later in your very own comment, dude admitted it. So where are the reprehensible ethics, other than those demonstrated by the duplicitous lying thieving criminal douchebag boyfriend guy?
posted by xmutex at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had been dating a man for about six months when an extremely similar thing happened to me. Luckily, he had stolen only about $4000 worth of goods from his employer in a few separate incidents which all occurred before I'd ever met him so I was not legally on the hook for anything.

My first instinct was to dump him. He was not the person I'd thought, he was obviously dishonest, selfish, greedy, and immature and I did not want to be with a person like that. However, I thought it would make me a bad person to leave someone so obviously in distress, and after all, he was a nice guy and he'd just made some stupid mistakes (everybody makes mistakes, right?). He was unsure of whether or not he would go to jail, had no idea how he was going to pay his bills, and was completely a nervous wreck, crying as he confessed to me over the phone. And then he chose this time to inform me that he "was falling in love with me."

So I stayed with him. I cooked him comfort food, bought him escapist books to read, did legal research he was too scared to do, paid a few of his bills and purchased all his groceries, held his hand, listened to him cry, and basically took care of him for several weeks.

Ultimately he got off far easier than anybody could have deserved - his employer did not press charges and allowed him to merely pay back the value of the stolen goods, and they even gave him a reference (!) when he interviewed for another job (well, they didn't "recommend" him per se, but they also did not disclose that he was a thief, and he was able to convince the new company that his former employers were jerks and succeeded in landing the new job).

So, a month after all this finally settled down and he was scott-free and in a brand new (and better paying!) postition, suddenly he says to me that the arrangement we had (I had wanted and he had agreed to having no long-term commitment & no cohabitation) was not working for him, and if I wasn't going to marry him then he was going to leave me and go off in search of his future wife.

I was a fucking fool. I look back on my decision to "stand by my man" and wonder WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!! I just felt like I couldn't "be a bitch" and walk away from the jerk when he needed me. I was an idiot and frankly, I was so stupid that sometimes I think I deserved what I got, which was used and discarded.

If your friend had no clue he was stealing from work then that means she had no clue who this man was. She's just been shown who he truly is and now is the time to run. Help her pack her bags. If she refuses to listen to reason, tell her that you love her and will support her emotionally through this time, but that you will not back down from the opinion that he does not deserve her and that she IS NOT OBLIGATED to support him.

I know you want to believe he's not a bad guy and that he's just made some bad choices, but take a moment to view his actions through a different lens. What does his theft say about his sense of entitlement? What does it say that he did not think about the consequences these choices would have for his girlfriend, whom he supposedly loves? Does his pursuit of the quickest route to gratification mean that he will break vows as unthinkingly as he breaks laws?

And, even if you are right and he really is a great guy who messed up, is your friend really going to put her life on hold for the length of his imprisonment? And if she does, who's to say he'll be the same person he was when he gets out?

Please encourage her to rethink her decision to stand by him. This is such a huge burden to bear for someone who has betrayed her so utterly. If she cannot abandon him completely, perhaps she can end their romantic partnership but continue to be there for him as a friend?

The best way for you to comfort her right now is to tell her that his actions do not reflect on her. She is in no way less of an honest or moral person simply because she loved someone who is dishonest and immoral. His crimes do not devalue her as a person. She is still worthy of love and and deserving of friendship.

Actually, looking back, maybe there's another reason I stayed. I hated myself for dating a creep, and I thought that if I was the type of woman who would date a criminal then maybe a criminal was all I deserved. Make sure your friend knows that that is not true.

Also: counseling.

And chocolate, and girls' night out, and all the love you can give her.
posted by Redacted at 11:18 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who married her husband while he was in jail for a very serious felony (a federal case!), so I won't say that you should counsel your friend to DTMFA. People do make mistakes that they can recover from.

I guess the difference here is that he was lying to her for a long time rather than making a one time error. What else was he lying about?

I would offer an ear/shoulder to your friend. Maybe you can research lawyers for her? Can you offer her a night out to a movie/show to take her mind off of what's going on? Those are probably the only helpful things you can do. Telling her to DTMFA is probably not what she wants to hear and might ruin your relationship with her.
posted by vespabelle at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2009

Something very similar happened with a member of my family. In that case, you can't DTMFA. (Well you can dump family, but we didn't because there were also minor children involved.)

We were stunned. We'd never had anyone in our family involved in criminal/legal issues. We were had zero practical knowledge of how long bail took or how to drop off items at the county jail. It turns out that years of watching Law & Order doesn't prepare you to deal with the criminal justice system.

Here is what I learned.

• The anger is intense, variable and durable. Two years later, there are still moments when the anger and disappointment flares up to an almost unbearable intensity. Your friend may never be able to forgive this.

• There is also tremendous embarrassment and shame. Even if it's just a tiny dot in the newspaper police blotter, it's still embarrassing. It's important to remind your friend that she didn't do this.

• Get the best lawyer that you can afford and who you trust. You must be able to trust that person.

• It takes a long time. In our case the legal stuff took nearly a year. A year when the person was basically unemployed and we were incredibly stressed about the possibility of prison. That waiting is really, really difficult because you have absolutely no control about the court dates, sentence, location of prison, etc.

• Eventually, you need to accept that this person made the choice to steal from someone else. This person decided to lie to your fiend and put her at risk. This person is probably not the person you thought you knew. That's when you get the flare up of anger and disappointment...and the whole thing starts over again.

What can you do? Not much really. Be there for her. Listen. Ask if she wants you to accompany her to court or the lawyer. If she doesn't want you there ask if you can give her a ride and pick her up since she may be too upset to drive.

It's a long, bumpy road. I wish your friend the best.
posted by 26.2 at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

She feels obligated to support him through this terrible time

It sounds to me like she was an accomplice, just perhaps not an accomplice to the crime she thought she was an accomplice to. It's quite possible that you will have to make a decision whether to "support" your boyfriend or to flip on him to avoid jail time. Your lawyer can advise you there. But certainly you are under no obligation to support someone who committed a serious crime without extenuating circumstances.

I think it boils down to how honest you are being about what you (oops I mean your friend) knew about her boyfriend's activities. If you knew it was criminal activity it would be pretty scummy to flip on him now but given criminals aren't the most honest of people it may be the smart thing to do (ask your lawyer). If you didn't know it was criminal, then your boyfriend put you in extreme legal jeopardy without your knowledge and you are absolutely under no obligation to him.

So in one case you are under no obligation to protect him and in the other are unlikely to protect him even if you have such an obligation. So I suggest just talking to your lawyer and deciding what risks you want to run for a guy who put you in this situation.

I have no problem seeing this as a possible nice guy and a possible series of stupid mistakes. I suspect everyone has done their own awful things, whether actual crimes or not

I've done a lot of stupid things. None of them involved stealing $20,000 and I can't imagine a serious of mistakes so stupid that I'd wake up one day and realize I'd stolen tens of thousands of dollars from other people.
posted by Justinian at 3:16 PM on October 7, 2009

"is really just a nice guy"

No he's not.

"treated her like a princess"

Sociopaths can be manipulative like that.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:11 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

a low level lackey stealing from his major retailer employer != a sociopath.

An idiot maybe, but certainly not grounds for a sociopath tag.
posted by TomMelee at 6:10 AM on October 8, 2009

When you talk to her you want to avoid calling him a sociopath and telling her she has to dump him no matter what or she is a bad person. That generally doesn't go over well.

You have been a good friend so far by listening to her and respecting her agency and her voice; I'm sure you'll keep doing that.
posted by kathrineg at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2009

He not only stole from his employer (many many times over a long period of time) but he also deceived her about it the whole time, even though it could get her in trouble too. That total lack of moral conscience is what I think warrants the sociopath tag.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:49 PM on October 8, 2009

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