The local television star and fashion influencer Bianca de la Garza’s Lucky Gal Productions may have seen its luck run out.
Alden Shoe Co., a family-owned footwear maker in Middleborough, has filed a civil lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court alleging that its former vice president and chief financial officer, Richard Hajjar, embezzled $27 million from the company and funneled $15 million of it into the TV and fashion businesses of de la Garza, a former news anchor who runs a beauty business under the name BDG Enterprises. Bianca, Lucky Gal, and BDG were all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The company also sued Hajjar in Plymouth Superior Court to recover the $27 million, allegedly stolen from 2011 to 2019.
According to the court filings, Hajjar bought a $1.1 million New York City co-op apartment for de la Garza using money stolen from the company and purchased other extravagant gifts, including a Mercedes-Benz, diamond jewelry, and designer handbags and clothing. The court has approved the company’s seizure of Hajjar’s assets held in seven banks and financial services companies, excluding his pension.
No criminal charges have been filed.
De la Garza, Hajjar, and attorneys for Alden Shoe had not as of Monday evening responded to e-mails and phone messages from the Globe seeking comment.
De la Garza, a Milton native and Emerson College graduate, was a longtime host and news anchor at WCVB-TV (Channel 5) before starting her own media company in 2014.
The court documents indicate that Alden, a New England footwear stalwart founded in 1884, hired Hajjar in 1987. According to the filings, Hajjar’s father had been the CPA for the father of the company’s current president, Arthur S. Tarlow Jr., and Hajjar’s two brothers worked for the company. Trust ran deep between the two families.
Hajjar, a “trusted advisor” to the Tarlow family, eventually rose to vice president and corporate secretary, a member of the board of directors, and chief financial officer. Until he was dismissed in 2019, Hajjar was handling “most day-to-day financial matters at Alden," a filing states.
According to the documents, Hajjar’s relationship with de la Garza began around 2012, while she was an anchor at WCVB. The two became friends and vacationed together, and Hajjar lavished gifts on her worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to the documents.
Only in October 2019 did the company learn that Hajjar’s opulent offerings had been paid for with money embezzled from the company’s bank accounts, a filing states. After a forensic accounting investigation, the company concluded that Hajjar had stolen $27 million since 2011.
The alleged theft came to light after Tarlow, the company’s president, approached Hajjar about moving funds from a company bank account into family trusts. At the time, the company account should have had more than $10 million in it, the filings state, but Hajjar dodged the request and “after repeated delays and follow-up requests” assured Tarlow the funds would be wired between the accounts.
Then Hajjar stopped showing up for work. He told Tarlow, by text message, that he wasn’t feeling well.
When the wire transfer didn’t go through, Hajjar allegedly stopped responding to Tarlow’s texts.
Tarlow immediately went to his Santander bank branch, where he learned $10 million in retained earnings was missing from the account, the filing alleges.
Soon after, Tarlow realized that Hajjar had, without his knowledge or authorization, “opened and completely drawn down a line of credit” worth $8 million at Bank of America, the documents say.
In all, the forensic review found that Hajjar took $27 million from Alden’s bank accounts, including $3.7 million that he took by writing out checks to himself, the filings allege.
In several instances, Hajjar allegedly transferred tens of millions of dollars from the company’s active bank accounts into another trust account that the company owned, but which was dormant. Hajjar had himself named a trustee of that account, then used it to transfer at least $24 million, using those funds to secretly “write more checks to himself and pay exorbitant personal credit card bills,” according to the court documents.
The filing also alleges that $15 million was funneled through that dormant account to de la Garza and her company Lucky Gal Productions, including over $1.6 million transferred directly to de la Garza’s personal bank accounts from 2015 to 2019. And in 2016, Hajjar used stolen funds to pay for both the deposit and closing costs on de la Garza’s New York City co-op, court documents allege.
Hajjar’s company-funded gifts to de la Garza, the filings state, included “a Mercedes-Benz, a $60,000 diamond bracelet, a $158,000 diamond ring, diamond earrings, designer handbags, designer clothing, and other luxury goods.”
He also gave his personal American Express card to a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus, where de la Garza “freely purchased” hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise each month, the filing alleges, and Hajjar paid off those credit card bills using money from Alden.
But Hajjar didn’t stop at lavishing gifts on de la Garza; he also allegedly transferred at least $11.5 million directly into the bank accounts for Lucky Gal Productions.
The couple signed paperwork establishing a “Production Financing Agreement” in 2014, the year de la Garza left her job as an anchor at WCVB’s “EyeOpener." According to the agreement, Hajjar committed to paying at least $3.3 million for the production of a new series but “when or even whether” he could recover the money was up to the “sole control and discretion of Lucky Gal,” the filing states.
In a 2018 interview in Forbes, de la Garza discussed her decision to leave the anchor desk and start Lucky Gal Productions. “So, I went ahead, and I started my company . . . and I launched a show," she said. "I raised all the money, got all the distribution.”
De la Garza’s late-night show, “Bianca Unanchored,” launched in January 2015, eventually got national distribution, airing on seven CBS-owned stations in major markets such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Baltimore. The show went off the air in January of the following year.
The filing alleges that Lucky Gal had “few or no assets” at the time the production agreement was signed and “did not generate a profit" during the airing of de la Garza’s series.
“Mr. Hajjar has never recouped or recovered any of the money that he transferred to Lucky Gal,” the court documents state, and alleges that “[s]ince its foundation, Lucky Gal has never been profitable.”
But Hajjar committed additional millions of dollars to help keep Lucky Gal productions afloat and, in all, transferred at least $12.3 million to Lucky Gal and its beneficiaries from 2015 to 2019, the documents state.
Attorneys for the footwear company filed a letter in November demanding that de la Garza immediately return all of the allegedly misappropriated funds. They estimated she had received more than $2.7 million in 2019 alone, including a $230,000 wire transfer in October, the month Hajjar stopped responding to Tarlow’s texts.
According to the court filings, de la Garza’s attorney responded to the letter, saying that she would place all remaining funds from Hajjar into a client trust account. But she has yet to return any funds.
In the suit against Hajjar, Alden’s attorneys said he had expressed a willingness to cooperate and had “never denied” that he had stolen millions. But Hajjar has returned less than $3 million in assets to the company, transferring back $214,000 in cash, approximately $20,000 in jewelry, $195,000 through the sale of gold coins, and $175,000 from the sale of vehicles, according to the filings. And Hajjar is willing to pay back an additional “$100,000 from the further sale of gold coins."
Mark Shanahan and John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed reporting.