Daughter steals major money from mother-daughter-owned bakery, mom is up a creek. I am doing my best to help and need advice. YANAL, YANML.
July 23, 2012 2:40 PM   Subscribe

I work at a mother-daughter-owned bakery. The daughter has stolen major money from the business and her mom, and now her mom is up a creek. I am doing my best to help and need advice. YANAL, YANML, etc.

Legal advice needed. YANAL, YANML, etc.

Before I jump in I will state that we have an appointment with a lawyer tomorrow but I want to be as prepared as possible for the meeting.

I have been working at a very successful neighborhood bakery for the last nine months. The bakery is owned by a mother-daughter duo. Mom is 65 and primarily a baker, daughter is 38 and primarily the business manager.

Last week it came to light that the daughter has (a) not been paying the bakery's bills (we owe more than $5500 in rent and $2000 in coffee purchases, for example), and (b) has been stealing cash from the till and the bakery's bank account. The last $13,000 of the bakery's money disappeared last week. Over the last five years the daughter has managed to burn through $250,000 of the mom's money. There isn't any left.

This is all complicated by these facts:

+ the bakery, the mother, and the daughter share a single bank account
+ payroll and the appropriate taxes don't exist
+ the books are pretty much nonexistent
+ the mother and daughter live together (though neither one has been staying at the house)
+ the mom's credit is in bad shape due to all this financial mayhem
+ the daughter is an alcoholic, and could well be bipolar and/or have borderline personality disorder (IANAT, however my mother and my best friend are and they tell me that these seem likely after having met her)
+ the daughter has physically intimidated the mom before (shoving, not allowing her to leave rooms, etc.)

The mom is afraid to go home. She has been sleeping at the bakery and only goes back to the house to make sure her dog is okay. (The dog can't come in the bakery for obvious health code reasons.) She worked a 120-hour week last week. Her mental health is deteriorating fast.


My two priorities are making sure she is not (a) homeless, and (b) a threat to herself. She has talked about suicide but she has said she won't do it because she needs to make sure someone will take care of her dog. I am going to see if the dog can be considered a therapy dog / companion animal but I know that will take time. I don't know how long the dog issue will stand in her way. I would obviously prefer not to call the police on her but I will if it is necessary.

Beyond that, I want the daughter to face consequences. The mom is willing to press criminal charges. I feel strongly about making this happen. It may be what she needs to get sober and get serious help for her mental health issues, whatever they may be.

I don't know if the bakery can be saved and I don't know what the mom will do if she doesn't have the bakery anymore. She has small social security payments coming in, but that's about it.

MeFites, is this elder abuse? What other things should I be thinking about to talk to the lawyer about? More than anything I just want this woman to be safe and happy. She's suffered a lot of hard knocks. The people at the bakery have become like family to me and I can't stand idly by; that said I also know that at some point I may just have to let go if there's nothing more to be done.

Thanks so much.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Whose lawyer are you meeting with? Yours? The moms? The DA?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:50 PM on July 23, 2012

You've got a front row seat at a major tragedy, and simple human decency makes you want to help. But don't go too far. Don't let this become your tragedy.

For instance, do NOT cosign anything. That poor woman's life has been ruined. You could ruin your own life by being too caring and generous now.

Be kind to her, but protect yourself, too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:59 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

[Folks if you are encouraging the OP to remove personal information from a post it's super helpful if you don't USE THEIR USERNAME because then if we anonymize the post we have to remove your info as well. Anonymized this post and removed location information.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's really awesome that you want to help, and it sounds like the bakery owner is a great person doing what she can with a bad situation. But, first and foremost, I'd suggest getting a new job.
posted by downing street memo at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

There are shelters out there which will accept the pets of those fleeing domestic abuse, or have an agreement with the Humane society to board the pets for the time that she might be at a shelter. If you want to help her, you can call around right now. Here are some. Here are some more. As it says at the top of the first page, if you can't find a place, then call your vet or local boarding kennel and see if they can take the dog on a free emergency basis while the mom gets herself out of the unsafe situation.

Sadly, lots of victims of abuse delay leaving, from fear of leaving defenseless pets in the hands of their abusers. Helping her get her dog to safety is a step that will make her feel a lot better, and able to face the next steps!
posted by 100kb at 3:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My two priorities are making sure she is not (a) homeless, and (b) a threat to herself. She has talked about suicide but she has said she won't do it because she needs to make sure someone will take care of her dog.

Because the dog is so important to her and the dog is potentially in a place where her daughter can get to it (and you already mentioned possible mental illness and shoving), get the dog out of there. Anywhere. Have it stay with a friend. Especially if a key part of yourquestion is that you don't want her to be a threat to herself. I've seen these things happen before.

If she has a good rapport with the her vendors (landlord for rent for the bakery, coffee supplier), she may approach them for an extension right now.

I know that she may not want to think this, but if has no $ right now and needs to work 120 hours/week to operate the bakery, perhaps she should consider closing it a day or 2 of the week until things can get in control. No one can work120 hours/week continuously and stay mentally healthy.
posted by Wolfster at 3:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

You ask if this is elder abuse. Does it need to be? Theft, embezzlement, malfeasance, misappropriation, fraud and intimidation are all crimes. If these things are not already under investigation, talk to the District Attorney.
posted by ubiquity at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

While all the other issues are pressing and disturbing, might I suggest adding another consideration? I don't know your age/stage, but you might want to think about purchasing this business -- you might be able to creatively finance it too. Sounds like it would be a win/win for all concerned.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the easiest course of action would just to file a report with the police - theft, embezzlement (etc) is really their thing.

Then, i'd help the mom get connected with a social worker who can help her navigate her situation.

Then i'd get out.
posted by Kololo at 5:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This situation sounds very similar to one I heard from a friend whose step-son owned a small chain of Mexican restaurants (although his circumstances didn't get quite so grim before he took action). The step-son's partner was robbing the place blind. They were sure he had a gambling addiction and was stealing from the till heavily. It was a problem because he owned a 50% share in the company. So upon the advice of my friend, they discretely installed a security camera over the till and recorded for a week. The video was edited down to just show the partner stealing from the till.

They sat down at a meeting and the partner was shown a copy of the video. He was given a choice: (a) pay back everything he stole or (b) sign away his half of the business and walk away or (c) call the cops. The partner wisely took option (b).

Now, if the owner is in a position to do this, she should. With a security guard present. All options should probably include "and be out of our house in 24 hours" and the owner has the guard with her to oversee the process of moving out.

I know this approach would be incredibly hard with family. If these options aren't possible, it will probably mean folding the business.
posted by plinth at 5:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Encourage the Mom to get a new bank acct., if possible. Plus, change the locks, passwords, credit cards, etc. Her ability to work this out depends on separating the daughter from the bakery.

Be careful about working under the table; you can get screwed on disability and unemployment.

Mom is gonna Ned a therapist; this is a heartbreaker.
posted by Mom at 9:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You put your oxygen mask on first, then help others.

This business looks like it's going to implode, possibly tomorrow. What are you going to live on when the paychecks stop? If there's no money left, you need to start thinking about another job stat. Do not work under the table, as said above you might get screwed on the unemployment benefits you are going to need. Do not sign anything, and don't buy a business saddled with debt and apparent embezzlement and tax fraud.

Absolutely report this to the police. You getting involved could cause major damage to yourself. Do it now before more money disappears or the daughter destroys any evidence!

Whose lawyer are you talking to? You should consider getting one that's just representing you.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2012

Nthing that one of the things you should be doing is looking for another job. This is not a "very successful neighborhood bakery" if it's $7500 in the hole.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2012

[This is a followup from the asker.]
1) The lawyer is a good friend of my boyfriend's. Super competent. He will be representing the mom.

2) I already have a [much more profitable] job. My official last day at the bakery was last week. Please don't worry about me. And if for some reason backtaxes become an issue, I'm already prepared to pay 'em. All is well on my end, I'm just doing my best to help this woman.

3) Sadly I am not in a position to acquire this business.

4) The bakery is only the bakery with the help of the mom. It's her pastries that have made the bakery such a success. Without those pastries, I'm afraid all is lost. She needs to be able to teach someone else her craft so that we have a backup baker and she can take time off without losing customers.

Thanks for all the advice. I really appreciate the comments about domestic violence and finding the dog a safe place, particularly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2012

Anecdotally, small businesses in this situation often don't recover because the first thing the fraudster does is stop paying payroll taxes. You might be able to work something out with a supplier that lets you keep the doors open, but the IRS will definitely, positively get those back taxes (even if you declare bankruptcy) as soon as they can and your viability is way down on their list of concerns.
posted by kjs3 at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2012

« Older I think your town, despite the smog, is less...   |   Animators of Metafilter, help me with some terms? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.