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The other shoe has finally dropped on one lovelorn exec.
The former chief financial officer of a high-end Massachusetts shoe maker has been sentenced to almost six years in prison for embezzling $30 million to help finance the career ambitions of a one-time TV newscaster he had fallen for.
Richard Hajjar, 65, admitted he had secretly siphoned millions from the coffers of The Alden Shoe Company, the nearly 150-year-old cobbler where he had been a trusted employee for more than 30 years.
Hand-crafted leather shoes made by the company routinely sell for $800 or more.
Prosecutors say Hajjar began dipping into company funds in 2012, not long after meeting Bianca de la Garza, a long-time Boston-area news anchor who was looking to launch a TV talk show.
The two had been introduced by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s long-time girlfriend, Linda Holliday, at a party thrown by the couple, according to Boston magazine. Holliday would later write a letter in support of Hajjar during his sentencing negotiations, calling him a devoted and kind person, court records showed.
“I know Rick truly loved and believed in this woman,” Holliday wrote.
Unrequited love at first sight
A person familiar with the matter said Hajjar fell head over heels for de la Garza, but that the relationship never became anything more than platonic.
De la Garza has strenuously denied in the past that the pair was ever romantic and has denied knowing that the money Hajjar spent on her had been stolen. Her lawyer declined to comment.
Over the next seven years, prosecutors say Hajjar began stealing more and more from the family-run business, using significant portions of the cash to buy expensive gifts, jewelry, cars and trips for de la Garza, including a $1.1 million apartment in New York.
He also wrote checks for millions of dollars to help finance the production of a regional talk show she wanted to launch called “Bianca Unanchored,” which ceased production after just a year, prosecutors said. Hajjar also used the stolen cash to fund a skin care line de la Garza tried to launch.
The pair became well known on the party circuit in Nantucket, where they hosted parties at a lavish weekend home Hajjar had purchased.
Prosecutors say Hajjar managed to cover up the theft by dipping into a rarely used cash reserve fund that the Tarlow family, which owned the company, maintained. Hajjar then would draw from a line of credit to refill the fund during annual accounting reviews. Eventually, Hajjar would open a new line of credit for $8 million that he drained.
When the family decided to redistribute some of the reserve cash for estate planning purposes, Hajjar began stalling and then eventually stopped showing up to work, according to a civil suit the Tarlows filed in state court in Massachusetts. When they began examining the accounts, they realized the money was gone and brought in forensic accountants, the suit said.
He believed in her
Hajjar’s attorney, Daniel Conley, said his client truly believed that de la Garza’s efforts would be successful and that he would be able to return the money to the Tarlows, but the theft quickly spiraled out of control.
“He feels terrible about what the company and the family had to go through,” Conley said. “From the moment the theft was discovered, Rick accepted the consequences and he is very remorseful about what he did.”
He said his client has paid back around $4 million to the Tarlow family. As part of Hajjar’s plea agreement, he is required to pay restitution of $34 million.
Messages left with lawyers for Alden and for the company’s president, Arthur Tarlow, Jr., weren’t immediately returned.
The company also filed a civil suit against de la Garza hoping to recoup the money that had been spent on her projects and on gifts for her. The two sides reached a confidential settlement in May, according to court filings.