A man described by his lawyers as a shy, quiet man whose greatest love was his pug, Sally, was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison this week following his admission that he embezzled $30 million over eight years from the shoemaker where he was CFO, much of which he showered on a Channel 5 reporter who had dreams of busting out of this two-bit burg.
When the Alden Shoe Co. of Middleborough discovered in 2019 that $30 million had been withdrawn from its accounts over the previous eight years, court documents say, Richard Hajjar immediately confessed and began working to recover at least some of the money for the company, including selling his Duxbury house. He immediately agreed to plead guilty when he was charged with wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns in federal court in April.
Although the court documents do not name her, past media accounts have identified the woman he sent much of the money to as Bianca de la Garza, a former WCVB lifestyle reporter who tried to rise above Boston, first with a TV show of her own and then with a line of cosmetics.
In its sentencing recommendation to US District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton, the US Attorney's office acknowledged Hajjar's quick confession and action to try to recoup at least some of the lost money, but called for a 74-month sentence not just to punish him, but to send a message to other white-collar criminals that their days of getting away with things are over:
Absent a substantial period of imprisonment, others inclined to engage in this sort of conduct may decide that committing a similar crime is worth the risk and resulting consequences.
The government noted that while much of the money went to "Individual 1," Hajjar also took advantage of the theft himself:
Hajjar abused and exploited the trust Alden placed in him to fatten his own piggy bank and to support his shockingly opulent lifestyle, exemplified by the ultimate status symbol - a Nantucket beach house. Put simply, his crime was fueled by greed.
Nantucket, Hajjar's attorneys wrote, in their request for a more lenient 48-month sentence, is where his downfall began.
Shy and unassuming from childhood, "Uncle Ricky" grew up a loner - but was a devoted brother and uncle, renowned for his participation in family birthdays and Christmas parties. And his pug, Sally, "quickly became a surrogate for 'the children Rick should have been lucky enough to have but never did.' " So when he first met de la Garza, he was smitten, his attorneys - including former Suffolk County DA Dan Conley - wrote. They detailed the progression from quiet man leading a quiet life to embezzler, in great detail:
When the two met, Individual 1 was a local television personality of quasi-celebrity status in the Boston area. Rick, a reserved man without a large cadre of friends – his closest companion being his dog Sally – was immediately enthralled with Individual 1's energy and magnetism. She was everything Rick was not – outgoing, dynamic, and thriving in the spotlight. To Rick, Individual 1 seemed destined for celebrity and success. However improbable, they forged an intimate but non-sexual friendship, communicating daily. Indeed, Individual 1 quickly became the center of Rick's universe. Rick, the person who once preferred to stay home and read a book on his sofa, was seen following Individual 1 around Boston and Nantucket.
Rick recalls that Individual 1's career aspirations required her to put Boston in the rear view mirror and set her sights on a brighter spotlight. This meant, among other things, starting a production company to create an eponymous television show. Launching a television show, however, was unattainably expensive, and Individual 1 needed investment capital. After countless conversations about creating this dream project, as he had done so many times throughout his life, Rick offered to help. Sight unseen, Rick agreed to invest in the fledgling production company; he was ready to pour his life savings into the project. Rick had done well in his professional career and as a stock market and real estate investor, so he thought he could afford a meaningful investment.
What Rick thought was going to be an investment of a few hundred thousand dollars transformed into a need for a million, and then millions more. But Rick did not have millions, and he was in way over his head. Instead of admitting that he did not have the money – that he could not be her knight in shining armor – Rick chose to steal money from Alden's cash reserve accounts to invest in the project and supply to Individual 1. Rick, the CFO of Alden, believed that he could leverage the funds in these reserve accounts without impacting the business or raising suspicion. He had taken comparatively small amounts of money from these accounts prior to meeting Individual 1, believing Alden had not been impacted. These investments were memorialized in a series of formal production financing agreements with Individual 1 and her lawyer. Rick did not have a lawyer because he thought that he was Individual 1's partner and did not need one. This evolving arrangement was further consummated in countless promises between the two friends/business partners.
However absurd it now seems, the idea was simple: Rick was so certain of Individual 1's success that he would take money from Alden's cash reserve accounts to finance Individual 1's production company, her lifestyle, and her brand. When she attained celebrity status and profitability, Individual 1 would repay Rick everything he invested and gave to her, with a massive return on his investment. Rick would then use that to return everything he stole. In the meantime, Rick replenished the stolen funds with a line of credit that Alden maintained, making it appear that the cash reserves were intact. In this delusional thought process, Individual 1's commercial ventures would be so successful that there was really no risk of not being able to repay the money invested in the production company, the millions of dollars Individual 1 used to purchase luxurious clothing and jewelry to support her public persona (all paid for with Alden funds), the $900,000 Rick gave her to purchase a condominium in New York City, and even the money that Rick had kept for himself to support the unsustainable lifestyle he began to enjoy as he started stealing from Alden. It may have even seemed to Rick that this dream was going to work when Individual 1's show was briefly picked up by a network and received a fleeting measure of success.
The unrelenting cascade of Individual 1's business related expenses overwhelmed Rick, but he felt like he could not say no with success seemingly within reach. So Rick chose to continue stealing from Alden. When the cash reserve accounts were depleted, Rick surreptitiously took out additional lines of credit on behalf of the company to continue the charade.
When the television show was placed "on hiatus," Rick held out hope that it would have a swift return, but that was not the case. While still attempting to revive the show, the dream of success and celebrity status mutated into launching a high end cosmetics company. Much like the production company, the cost of launching a cosmetics company was immense. With the Alden cash reserves long since depleted and the first lines of credit drawn down, Rick doubled-down on his gamble. He took out larger lines of credit to pay off the prior lines. That was how Rick was able to continue wiring money, without question, in response to Individual 1's monthly requests to the effect of "[d]id my July tally. Can you wire 234,956." Rick also received reassurances that everything was going to work out and that a "huge payday" was on the horizon so that Individual 1 would make Rick "whole."
The cosmetics endeavor, like the production company, never attained a modicum of the success that Rick was certain it would. In the fall of 2019, Alden learned of its CFO's crimes. To any reasonable person, particularly at that point, any possibility of that investment yielding a return was doomed. But even after Rick was in the process of liquidating nearly everything he owned to pay restitution, he still believed, at least initially, that one of Individual 1's companies would attain success and steady the financial turbulence his crimes had caused.