Should I confront my housekeeper about suspected theft?
January 19, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Should we confront our housekeeper who we are 99.99% sure stole from us (though the evidence is purely circumstantial), or should we just let him and the whole situation go?

We've had a housecleaner working for us for over two years. He is not a legal U.S. resident and has been working with a lawyer to obtain permanent, legal residence here. Let's call the housecleaner "John." We really like John and have had a good, even friendly relationship with him--we've gone to movies together, had lunch, etc.

Through us and our personal assistant (our PA, let's call her "Sally"), John got additional cleaning gigs with a few of Sally's other clients. John also cleans for our nanny.

About three weeks ago we discovered John stole about $4,000 worth of clothing and shoes from us. How we discovered it all at once is a little tedious and complex, but the important part is that upon discovering the entirety of what was missing we quickly grew really, really (like I said, 99.99%) sure that John had to be the one who took the stuff.

We told Sally and the nanny right away. The nanny quickly connected the dots and now believes that John stole from him as well-- about $1,000 worth of store gift cards (wedding presents) which he had previously thought he misplaced (and of course, had been beating himself up about). Sally, the PA, also connected the dots for her other clients who also have John in to clean. She now believes that various missing items (shoes, some cash) from the homes of two of her other clients were actually stolen by John as well.

So, no concrete evidence. But as soon as I was sure there could be no other way in which our stuff went missing, I let John go. I wrote him a letter stating simply that it was "with sadness I no longer needed his services." We and Sally and the nanny have been turning over and over what we feel is a real dilemma: whether or not to confront John, and further, whether or not to go to the police.

We don't want to go the the police. Since John is not a legal resident, going to the police presents a much larger threat for him than merely being suspected of/formally accused of property theft. We all agree that jeopardizing John's ability to stay here is not what we want to do. So, I guess we know we don't want to go to the police. The potential punishments down that avenue seem to exceed the crime.

I've fired him. Sally let him go on behalf of her other clients in a phone conversation wherein she told him that all of these missing items and all the circumstances made it such that she couldn't trust him in the clients' homes. John was emotional on the call, said he understood but that he didn't take the missing items and that he had "no proof" that he didn't, but that he didn't.

Now the nanny is contemplating a letter telling John he suspects John took the gift cards and offering him a chance to come clean.

So, should I confront John? And if so, how? Any other thoughts, other ideas?

One more thing about my reluctance to confront him: for most of the time he worked for us, there was never anything missing--at least nothing I noticed. He seemed honest and terrific. We paid him well, and he was here every week. I think he needed a lot of money fast in order to help his family back home. I think he grew pretty desperate. And since he was desperate enough to steal and to do so quite blatantly-- with big-ticket items, and in rapid-fire just before the holidays-- it almost seems like on some level John "wanted" to be he was almost asking for it to happen. This makes me think he might be pretty unstable. And that could be scary. What do you think?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total)
In my mind, you have two choices. Either forget it, or let the police deal with it.

What do you hope to accomplish by "confronting" him about it?

If you are of that mindset, why not report the theft to the police and let them do their work?

Don't overanalyze the situation.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:28 AM on January 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

What's your goal in confronting him? Do you want to somehow heal your relationship with him? If he admits taking stuff and says he was desperate, then what? If he doesn't admit it, then what?
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:29 AM on January 19, 2010

You've fired him. Be done with it.
posted by anniecat at 10:31 AM on January 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

If the PA told him why she was dropping him from the other clients, then he probably also figures that it was the same reason you dropped him.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:33 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you took the correct course of action. Anything more will be a fight. What do you hope to achieve by that fight? Personal satisfaction that you got him? You have no legal proof. You could probably do a lot of work and establish where the gift cards were spent. It may lead to a locale in his neighborhood. You may consider telling his immigration lawyer why you let him go. The only other thing I can think of is determining how much this means to you in terms of the lost dollars. Is it worth a fight? It does not sound that way. Lastly, it sounds more like you may be upset with yourself for getting duped. Your life will flow a lot easier if you are a trusting person than a paranoid or suspicious person.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:34 AM on January 19, 2010

I think there is nothing at all to your last paragraph, and your concern about him being "pretty unstable" does not follow from the (specious anyway) speculation about him wanting to get caught.
posted by OmieWise at 10:34 AM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

In a similar situation I dismissed the person, changed my locks and called it a day. Confrontation will either have him a) denying it, which leaves you in a position to prove that it happened they way you see it or b) admitting it, and justifying it with whatever bs he has to explain that kind of behavior.
As long as you are not expecting the money/goods returned, let it go. Like I said, change the locks and make sure everyone having to do with the household knows not to let him in under any circumstances, should he choose to stop by.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:37 AM on January 19, 2010

The weird part of this for me is the whole clothing and shoes stealing bit. Why would anyone take your clothes and shoes? What would he do with them? Sell them on eBay? How could all those used clothes and shoes be worth that much?

Also, agreeing with FergieBelle. Don't overanalyze. No point in it. I don't get why the nanny would send the letter other than he sort of doubts that maybe John took the giftcards. He's already condemned John and had him fired.
posted by anniecat at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2010

Just move on. Not worth your time to gain some semblance of justice or revenge.
posted by gnutron at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Report him. You're not the only person who's being affected. Theft is a crime against society as well as against you. This isn't a case of several different people offending him personally simultaneously and being unaware of this. He didn't do this because you didn't look out for him or you were unfair. He did this because he is a person who has the moral capacity to do this. Don't be selfish.
posted by jock@law at 10:42 AM on January 19, 2010 [14 favorites]

We all agree that jeopardizing John's ability to stay here is not what we want to do

So...what do you want to do?

As others have said here...move on. It sounds like you're hoping he'll confess to you and apologize. But that is a doubtful outcome regardless of whether or not he didn't do it.
posted by vacapinta at 10:49 AM on January 19, 2010

Why don't you want to jeopardize his ability to stay here? He abused your trust and stole from you and others, and almost certainly will have more victims due to your negligence.

Go to the police.
posted by Spacelegoman at 10:58 AM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with jock@law. If four separate households have genuine and independent reason to believe that this person is a person who stole from them, then this matter should be reported and, at the discretion of law enforcement (who very well may not even bother), investigated. Although you don't have enough evidence to prove that this man is the thief, you've suffered a significant theft that warrants a police report. You may feel very legitimate allegiances toward this person, but do you not also have a moral duty to this man's future clients? Plenty of hardworking people who don't steal want to become U.S. residents.
posted by applemeat at 11:08 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

You have a personal assistant and a nanny. How can you be sure they didn't steal from you, and are pinning the blame on your housekeeper?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 AM on January 19, 2010 [27 favorites]

I assume the OP doesn't want to go to the police because (perhaps depending on location) contact with the police will get John deported whether or not he's found to have actually committed a crime. And even if he isn't deported, an arrest (no matter what the outcome) will cause him trouble with his application to make his status legal.

In some places knowingly supporting an undocumented immigrant might get the OP in trouble too.

OP, I think you need to let it go. You're looking for answers because something happened that was surprising and seemingly inexplicable, and went against your previous judgment about someone. You're just not going to get any answers though, I'm sorry. The best you'll get from confronting John is the response the PA got.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:13 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

We all agree that jeopardizing John's ability to stay here is not what we want to do

Why? An unrepentant thief sounds like the type of person I'd want deported.
posted by anti social order at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

We all agree that jeopardizing John's ability to stay here is not what we want to do. So, I guess we know we don't want to go to the police. The potential punishments down that avenue seem to exceed the crime.

Because it would be a shame if a criminal who betrays the trust of good people were departed?

If you're that sure he stole, report him. If you aren't, just fire him. Keep in mind that if he is a criminal and you don't report him, he will likely victimize others in the future and you bear some moral responsibility for that.
posted by Justinian at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

WTH? He stole from you and clearly has a pattern of theft. If he were a resident, you'd go to the police. Why should the illegal alien get better treatment? Yes, he'll be in deeper trouble than he would be if he were a citizen, but... so what?
posted by chairface at 11:16 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was sure there could be no other way in which our stuff went missing

If you're so sure that he is at fault, his immigration status doesn't matter. What matters is that he gained your (and others') trust and then stole from you. If a housecleaner whose immigration status wasn't an issue did that to you, would you simply fire him or would you also call the police? Whatever you would do in that case, do that now. This person doesn't deserve special treatment simply because the consequences of his stealing would include deportation.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:17 AM on January 19, 2010

But the consequences of his being found NOT to have stolen, or of it remaining unclear and unprovable would ALSO (in most places) include deportation.

This makes the OP judge, jury, and executioner, a position I can understand them not wanting to be in.

(ok, this is a derail I'm done with)
posted by crabintheocean at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

What do I think?

I think you don't want to go to the police because you're not keen on telling the government that you've been knowingly employing someone under-the-table who doesn't have permission to work in the US. That's the only reason I can think of why you wouldn't report a suspected theft of more than $5,000 worth of items.
posted by cmonkey at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2010 [38 favorites]

I'm all for throwing the book at him. We're not talking about minor "oh hey where did my Jack in the Box antenna ball go?" theft. We're talking about major, widespread, expensive theft. This is the type of thing that you report to the police. It sounds to me as if this person needs help of a professional nature. That may be psychological in nature, or criminal justice in nature...

Firing him proves he can get away with it.

Firing him and talking to him about it proves he can get away with it even if he's caught.

You need to report him to the proper authorities.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:29 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're sure he stole all this stuff, why wouldn't you want to jeopardize his ability to be in your country? He sounds like the worst kind of illegal immigrant - stealing from people who are trying to help him. He deserves to be put in jail and deported. You're not doing your fellow citizens any favours by helping him to stay in the country, where he can continue to steal from people. Report him to the police promptly.
posted by Dasein at 11:30 AM on January 19, 2010

Anecdotally, being accused of a crime doesn't automatically mean deportation. I know someone who's here illegally who was arrested as a result of a fistfight and no further action was taken after the charges were dismissed. YMMV.
posted by electroboy at 11:33 AM on January 19, 2010

His immigration status: it only matters if he is innocent. Having the police investigate him will screw him over. However, if he's guilty, then why would anyone want a thief? Deport! Bottom line: it all hinges on his guilt/innocence. Make sure - very sure - you and the others know one way or another.
posted by VikingSword at 11:34 AM on January 19, 2010

Well, for what it's worth, one of my teachers in high school had an illegal immigrant housekeeper steal money (cash) from them. He didn't want her to get deported and he felt bad for her situation, so he confronted her about it and said he was disappointed in her and that she must never do it again. He let her keep the money she stole and kept employing her as their housekeeper and she never stole from them again.

It's an odd approach, but there you go. Then again, I don't think his housekeeper stole anything like $5,000, and she wasn't stealing from any other people in their household.
posted by Nattie at 11:53 AM on January 19, 2010

Check if you live in an area with sanctuary laws. These vary, but it may mean that the local cops have no obligation to report anyone to immigration until charges are actually filed.

You may be able to have the cops investigate without worrying about deportation if he is innocent.
posted by benzenedream at 11:55 AM on January 19, 2010

If you knew he was here illegally and employed him anyway, and it appears that you did, there's a not-insignificant chance that you might also be accused of a crime. It's unlikely that you would be prosecuted, but you never know. You may want to talk to your own lawyer about that.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:57 AM on January 19, 2010

If you have a personal assistant, nanny, and housekeeper, I imagine you also have a lawyer. Go talk to her and get the answer you're looking for.
posted by pkphy39 at 12:16 PM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you really sure he was the one stealing? It sounds like there's a lot of overlap between Sally and the nanny.

(I know I'm not the only person who has seen the largely-immigrant housekeeping service of an office get accused of theft that was actually committed by the salaried white-collar staff.)
posted by desuetude at 12:28 PM on January 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

There could be consequences for you, too, because you knowingly hired undocumented help under the table. That's also a crime (I'm not an anti-immigrant person at all, just stating the fact of the matter). Of course, you would probably end up with a slap on the wrist at most, while he could end up deported regardless of whether he stole from you or not (although, as others have pointed out, this wouldn't necessarily happen, though it's a very realistic possibility).
If you have any reason to believe that it wasn't he who stole from you, I wouldn't report him. If he were a citizen, it would be a different story, because the criminal courts could decide whether there was enough evidence to charge him and then he'd have a jury/judge to decide whether to find him guilty, but in this case, he could end up punished even if he didn't steal anything.

If you have any reason to believe it could be the PA or the nanny, you should keep a close eye on them. Do you have any other hired help in your home?
posted by fructose at 12:50 PM on January 19, 2010

Oh yeah, IANAL, I just know that immigrants get way harsher punishments for being here illegally than the people who knowingly employ them (and it's really easy for people to lie about not knowing that the person was illegal when it's totally obvious that they had to have known).
posted by fructose at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2010

I should have been more direct: move on, and don't go to the police. Theft is a hazard when hiring outside help. You don't know that he did it. Even if he were legal, I doubt the cops could help you out.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:53 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

To be honest, I'm raising an eyebrow not at the idea that you might not want to report him to the police, but at your conjecture in the last paragraph. You don't know any of his motives, so I would caution against building up this story in your mind. In fact, the way you've manufactured this story makes me wonder if you did the same thing when you connected the dots about whether he's the one who has your items.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't report him.

First of all, he may NOT have stolen the stuff, and if not you're sending cops to the door of a person who's going to really get screwed over.

But ok, let's say he did steal the stuff, and you tell the cops and they, what, deport him?

It's just vindication for you and the other clients. You won't get the money back. You'll just get to feel an abstract version of "justice" to the tune of a couple thousand buck worth of stuff most of you didn't even notice was gone. It's not fair that your stuff got stolen, and I'm sorry it happened to you. But you can absorb the loss, you already have.

However, if this guy gets deported or arrested, or a criminal record, or whatever, it will totally fuck him and probably his family over for life. It will be a major setback for them. For the rest of their lives.

I would not report him, frankly, even if I had proof.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to go to the police then I can only imagine that you want to confront him in hopes of him confessing and easing your conscious or maybe getting your stuff back (seems unlikely if he did it to raise quick cash). I would really like to hear you 99.99% evidence, but the fact that the nanny AND Sally's clients believe things also disappeared around the same time tends to shift the blame to John. Otherwise, the nanny and Sally would essentially have to be conspiring together to frame John for one or both of their thefts, which seems pretty unlikely.

I would leave it be. Never a good idea to antagonize a former employee who likely has a lot of knowledge about your home and personal life.
posted by whoaali at 2:27 PM on January 19, 2010

I'm not sure why so many people are saying "report him" rather than "report it", given that the OP says there's only circumstantial evidence pointing to John. You can go to the police (which, of course, you ruled out in your question, so it's all beside the point here anyway), and you can tell them you think it's John but don't have proof. What happens then? At most, they question him, ask him if he took anything, and jot down his denial? Even those who want to rid the country of "the worst kind of illegal immigrants" should recognize a waste of time when they see one.
posted by Beardman at 2:56 PM on January 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm having trouble believing that somebody working with a lawyer to try to get permanent residence would jeopardize that process by failing to keep his nose clean.

How mobile are your kids?
posted by flabdablet at 3:24 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like Beardman's answer. You're not reporting "John," you're reporting the theft of $4000 worth of clothing. Like any normal person would do when they discovered $4000 worth of something missing from their home.

Have your PA's other clients and your nanny do the same. It isn't your job to figure out who did it. The police will ask questions (as others said, if they even bother, but I imagine they will at least come out and fill out a report) - answer them. You don't have to be all finger pointy and TV detective; in fact most cops I know (extended family) claim to hate that.

If it turns out that they like John for it, then that's his problem. It's not on you. If not, they'll probably take a statement from him and that'll be that. No immigration issues.
posted by ctmf at 3:27 PM on January 19, 2010

I wouldn't expect a rosy ending of John coming clean and apologizing for the theft, so I would skip confronting him. There is almost literally no point in it, unless you want drama. Someone who has committed theft will justify it to themselves so that they can live with it, and if you challenge them with their deeds, they will either lie, lie and seek revenge, or lie and plead extenuating circumstances. None of it will be likely to get your belongings back, or change his behavior, if he is a thief.
posted by Issithe at 4:33 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does the housekeeper have a key? Does he clean when you are not there? Is it possible that he brought another person with him while he was cleaning, even once? Is it potentially possible that he accidentally allowed another person access to your home, perhaps allowing this person to "case" the home and go back later with a stolen/borrowed key?

I heard a story once that someone had a long-term housekeeper, who knew the combination to the house security system. She brought a teenage relative into the house once because she was taking care of the teenager. A few weeks later, the teenager was back with a couple of buddies and the surreptitiously observed security code, and bye-bye jewelry and valuables.

I could see if the housekeeper had a roommate, or a relative, that was taking advantage of him, it might be possible the housekeeper is not guilty of the crime.
posted by molasses at 5:44 PM on January 19, 2010

There isn't anything in your story to support your last paragraph or to suggest that he's unstable; that sounds like complete conjecture.

I agree with flabdablet in that I find it hard to believe that someone working with a lawyer to get permanent residency would steal from several households, though it is possible.

To answer your question: Sally has already confronted John and he said he didn't steal from her clients. If you confront him, I imagine you'll get exactly the same answer. But if it will make you feel better in some way, then do it.
posted by whitelily at 10:03 PM on January 19, 2010

I think you've made the right case by not reporting him. It would be different if his residency status wasn't in jeopardy, but as it is, even alerting law enforcement that he is suspected of the crime could cause him to be deported even if he's found not guilty in a court room. (I am not an immigration lawyer, but my colleagues tell me that's the way it usually goes.)

I don't see anything to gain by confronting him. If he didn't do it, he'll deny it. If he did do it, he's also quite likely to deny it. So you're confronting him, hoping for that 1 percent chance that he did it AND he owns up to it when you confront him. It's not gonna happen. Let it be.
posted by Happydaz at 10:32 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would call John on the phone and get to the bottom of it, simply for your own peace of mind. If your smart about your conversation, you'll find out what and why it happened. I have a feeling there is a whole back story here.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2010

Leave it alone - your part in this is done. You don't need to confront John - it serves no purpose for you or for him.

When a bunch of people are all involved in the same situation like this, it can take on a whole life of its own. Stop speculating and talking about it and just be done.
posted by KAS at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2010

On the other hand, it's all hearsay. Unless there's actual hard evidence, it's likely that this will just end up with a report beind made and little else. Unless they catch him with the items, it's an uphill battle.
posted by drstein at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2010

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