July 16, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
“My wife works at a food bank near a town where your column is widely read. She is paid $12 an hour, but doing the math, I know she is stealing money donated by generous people in our community,” Ted’s email stated.
“Finding new, expensive, clothing in her closet, price tags still attached, from what she earns, this kind of spending is only possible if she is stealing.
“Other examples include: taking our dog for $85 grooming sessions, afterward treating her girlfriends to dinner. Over the years she has obtained credit cards, maxed them out and then refused to pay the bills, winding up chased by collectors. 5 years ago, she was on unemployment while working and now gets bills from the state which she ignores.
“She has borrowed credit cards from her former friends–even her mother–ran up charges and failed to reimburse them! When I ask about these things, she will not answer, but, as we attend church every week, her only response is to say, ‘The Lord forgives me.’
“Mr. Beaver, we are both alcoholics, but I have been sober for over 15 years and she has begun to drink again, as I find empty bottles at home, not well hidden.
“I have discussed this with our minister who labels her a sociopath and narcissist, which fits very well as she has no sense of guilt, remorse or morality. It’s all about her. At work she is charming and trusted, good at her job but with apparently little, if any, supervision.
“I feel a moral duty to tell her manager of my suspicions. I have read your column for years and trust you. I can be at your office later today. May we please discuss this, as it’s eating me up.”
On one of the hottest days of the year, as Ted took a seat in our office, it felt as if winter had returned. There sat a slender, graying man of about 45 — a sad man — seeking a legal solution to a moral dilemma which required an answer to a threshold question:
“Had he profited in any way from her thefts?” His answer was reassuring:
“No, we have had completely separate financial lives. I owned our house before we married. She pays none of our bills but we file taxes jointly.”
If he had knowingly profited from his wife’s theft, and this came to the attention of law enforcement — or a civil suit was filed against the couple by the food bank — Ted could also be held responsible as a co-conspirator.
The IRS could pursue them for undeclared income, tax fraud and penalties, unless Ted could prove that he met their requirements of being An Innocent Spouse.
What did Ted want? For her to be arrested or just fired?
“I want to protect the food bank, and her to stop stealing!” he said, close to tears. “I have felt it my religious duty to stand by her alcohol illness, that’s why I didn’t leave years ago. Dennis, I am embarrassed to have you see me this way.”
Lawyers are also known as Counselors at Law, and here it was the Counselor aspect of the legal profession which mattered most. Ted needed emotional and legal guidance enabling him to reach the right decision.
“If you tell her employer that she’s stealing, this will likely be reported to the police, leading to her being arrested and charged with embezzlement. If that happens, do not bail her out and absolutely do not retain a lawyer. Let her stew in her own juices, would be my recommendation, in addition to seeing a divorce lawyer, regardless of your religious beliefs. Sociopaths can’t be cured,” I stressed.
But would Ted need to reveal his suspicions? There just might be another way to stop her stealing from cash donations to the food bank, and that would depend on how well he knew her supervisor. As luck would have it, they were social friends.
“Ted, the truth is that her job is harming your marriage, and if you can get her supervisor to swear to secrecy, simply tell him that and ask that he lay her off or terminate her with no reason given. Legally, no reason is required, and ask that if she applies for unemployment, that they not oppose it.
“This is less transparent than you would probably want, but eliminates you facing truly horrible consequences. That’s my advice.”
Leaving our office was a different man than the Ted who had come in an hour earlier. He seemed taller, more secure, confident and appreciative, now able to make an informed decision.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.