OWNER OF LOCAL BAKERY MAISON DU PAIN GUILTY OF EMBEZZLEMENT

On Aug. 6 2005 Carmen Salindong and her sister Josephine Santos opened up the French bakery, La Maison du Pain, (House of Bread) on Pico Blvd, just east of Hauser.  According to an LA Times article written soon after they opened - “Had Carmen Salindong and Josephine Santos instead chosen the name La Maison des Reves, or House of Dreams, it would have been an equally clear and honest statement of what's inside: The dreams of two immigrant sisters, the oldest of eight children, tired of their successful careers working for other people.”  

It turns out those dreams became a nightmare for one of those “other people” Carmen had worked for.

 
Maisonweb
Between 1998 and 2010 Carmen and her sister-in-law 

Lina Santos engaged in a long slow water torture drip of embezzlement from the real estate law firm of their employer Robert Smylie - to the ultimate tune of  an astonishing $5.771,371.49. The family paid back $420,000 leaving an outstanding theft of $5.3 million. 

When Robert Smylie started his real estate law firm in 1992 he brought Carmen along from a previous business to serve as his office manager while her sister-in-law Lina Santos worked as his bookkeeper.  Robert’s trust in Carmen was so complete he made the fatal error of giving her check-writing power and trusting her accounting.   

From the LA Times “Santos falsified the books so that the payments looked as if they were legitimate recurring expenses, such as insurance. Salindong reviewed the books before handing them over to Smylie, who has no bookkeeping skills and trusted the women. The firm's accountants never caught on to the scheme, Smylie said.”

Treating Smylie’s money as their own personal bank, they racked up debt and paid off a total of 39 credit cards, used by the two of them and extended family members. They bought expensive homes and cars, threw extravagant parties for their children, took trips around the world and sent their kids to private school while Smylie was forced to send his kids to public schools.  

When Carmen was fired from his firm for the unauthorized firing of an employee, her sister-in-law Santo remained behind and they continued their bookkeeping shenanigans. Carmen moved on but the money continued to flow and credit cards were used to help fund her dream of opening a bakery.

During Carmen’s spending binge she continued to stay friendly with Smylie and watch his business slowly unravel, innocently expressing sympathy when he shared his woes which included stressed family relations and the mortgaging of a house he eventually had to sell.  

When Smylie finally received a call from a bank fraud investigator asking if payments for personal credit cards were allowed and naming Esterlina Santos, (the book keeper) specifically, the light bulb went on in Smylies head.  Esterlina was confronted and tried to convince them she did it to help struggling family members. She even asked if she could keep her job. She was escorted off the property, a forensic accountant was brought in and the House of Cards began falling down.

During the 2013 trial Carmen, denied knowledge of the fraud and pointed the finger at her sister-in-law/partner in crime, Santos. 

From the LA Times

“Last year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole ordered the women to pay back more than $5.3 million in stolen money.

'It is clear to this court, by well beyond a preponderance of the evidence, that Carmen [Salindong] and Lina [Santos] conspired to systematically steal millions of dollars … slowly, regularly, bit by bit — death by a thousand cuts," she wrote.

Cole wrote that testimony showed Salindong to be intelligent and tough. She answered questions confidently and knowledgeably when it was of benefit to her, but suddenly became forgetful and confused when it was not, the judge wrote.

Josephine Santos [the bakery co-owner and Carmen’s sister] was not directly involved in the theft, the judge ruled, but she was found to be complicit in the scheme because she received money from Esterlina Santos. She was ordered to return nearly $18,000.

Salindong declined requests for comment. Santos could not be reached for comment.”

The court found in favor of Plaintive Robert Smylie and Associates and against the Defendants as follows:

Carmen Salindong [Previous office manager of the Plaintive and creator/co-owner of Maison de Pain] 

$5,351,371.49

Esterlina Santos [the bookkeeper and Carmens sister-in-law] in the amount of $5,351,371.49

Damages are joint between Carment and Esterlina.

Conrad Salindong (Carmen’s husband who benefited financially from the theft] $45,000.

Josephine Santos [co-owner and Carmen’s sister] $17,910.26

La Maison du Pain  $42,500. 

From the LA Times

“Smylie has little confidence that he will regain what he lost. The women have filed for bankruptcy and a criminal investigation has been going on for years with no resolution, Smylie said.

"These people are amoral," he said. "They've never apologized, they've never shown any form of remorse or contrition."

Smylie said he and his attorneys have tried to reach a settlement that would have the sisters turn over ownership of the bakery. Smylie hopes the business can stay open under the same name. So far, the sisters have refused, he said.

If no agreement is made, the bakery will probably close, and the French oven and other equipment will be sold off piece by piece.”

It seems as if the House of Pain has taken on a whole new meaning. 

To review the court documents go to 

http://documents.latimes.com/judge-rules-embezzled-funds-were-used-bakery/ 

Quotes permitted from the LA Times

Photo by Dawn Kirkpatrick


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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