Business of Law

As law firm struggled due to undiscovered $5M theft, office manager and her family enjoyed luxuries

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Carmen Salindong was known for the successful Los Angeles bakery she established with her life savings and help from family.

But actually the former law firm office manager used a substantial amount of the money embezzled from attorney Robert Smylie, now 67, for the venture, reports the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.).

As Smylie struggled financially due to some $5 million in thefts by Salindong and her sister-in-law, Esterlina “Lina” Santos, who both worked for his law firm, the two and other family members lived high on the hog, said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole in a written decision (PDF) last year.

“The money was used to fund the private school educations that Smylie could not provide his own family, to purchase expensive cars while Smylie was forced to sell his own car, and to take family vacations Smylie did not have the time to take because he was too busy working to keep the firm afloat,” the judge wrote.

Smylie also lost his own home to foreclosure, as his employees enjoyed life in houses his money helped finance.

Cole’s ruling in the civil suit Smylie filed imposed a $5.3 million judgment on the defendants. The bakery will have to be sold to help pay it and a federal criminal investigation is ongoing.

However, the attorney holds out little hope that he will get most of the money back and says Salindong, who has filed for bankruptcy, has refused his offer to settle the case by turning over ownership of the bakery. She and Santos declined to comment or could not be reached for comment by the newspaper. They took the Fifth during the 2013 trial in the civil case.

Particularly galling to Smylie is recalling how the women would listen and sympathize as he struggled for more than 10 years to get the law firm on solid financial footing, unaware of the thefts.

“These people are amoral,” he told the Times. “They’ve never apologized; they’ve never shown any form of remorse or contrition.”

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