RETAIL FRAUD IN MICHIGAN
Age: 35 years old
Jennifer reaches out to me about a recent incident while shopping at her favorite department store. Jennifer was arrested for shoplifting some clothing items and charged with retail fraud.
She is recently divorced and has three young children. She has been stressed out at work, along with an ongoing custody battle, but has never been in trouble with the law before.
She tells me that she is a nurse and is very worried that this offense would take away her ability to support her family, and would lose her nursing license, which she worked so hard to earn.
I assure Jennifer that although this is a serious offense, that her future is very much within her control. It’s a good sign that she has identified some stress triggers in her life (work and family). I assure her that this sounds like a mental and emotional cry for help, and this is not turn her into a bad person, or a thief.
Although I can identify this common issue from my years of working with retail fraud clients, a prosecutor and judge simply don’t agree. It’s very common for a prosecutor and judge to see a name and a charge for stealing and assume that my client has been stealing for years and was finally caught. Now that we “got her” she should be punished and given a criminal record.
The first thing I tell Jennifer is that she needs to be aware of all potential reporting obligations to the State of Michigan for her license. I offer to refer her to a professional license attorney if she needs further guidance. Most of my clients who hold professional licenses will speak to this type of attorney outside of our work together to gain additional information.
From there we discuss the stress of the custody battle and her work anxiety; we setup an initial counseling appointment so she can further understand these triggers, and put a plan together going forward. It’s not good enough for my client to identify these underlying issues, we need a professional in that field to meet with her, and agree, while putting a plan in place.
We need to work away from that “wild card” factor; we cannot be unreliable to a judge and prosecutor, because they assume Jennifer has been stealing, with no plan to stop despite being charged with a crime.
Having a counselor slow the pace down and meet with Jennifer on a regular basis as we’re preparing for court, has now put her on a positive path. We supplement these sessions with support group meetings with other people charged with the same crime.
There is a group here in Michigan, which I recommend for all of my clients to attend. They do in-person meetings, and even meet over Zoom and the phone.
On top of these support group meetings, we put some educational classes into place, which I send these referrals to Jennifer, and she happily signs up. She is able to complete these courses in person or online.
My clients have told me in the past, that they learned a lot, and really understand how big this issue can be in this world, and the impact their small decision has on the greater picture. Jennifer signs up, and has now counseling, support group meetings, and educational classes in place.
Remember she was just released from custody, and we are now tracking, and waiting for her first court date, but we’re doing more than 99.9 percent of people in her same position. She is well on her way to changing the perception of her case. She is dealing with what happened on a personal level, so when we go to court, she is far along on the path to turning this into a positive learning experience.
We can never be sure something will not happen again, but at least we have created a track record and some tangible evidence that she is working to make better choices.
The final step in our proactive plan would be some community engagement. I tell Jennifer that I want her to do some legwork and final non-profit which she is passionate about. Her stealing from the store is a negative moment in the community.
The store workers, police, jail, prosecutor and judge have now all touched her case, because of her actions; these are public resources. We want to counteract these negative vibes with some positive steps in our same community. We certainly want to avoid the judge’s wrath that Jennifer “need to learn a lesson”.
By taking these four proactive steps, she has demonstrated how seriously she is taking the incident and has self-imposed a number of steps.
When we now go to court and work with the prosecutor, and judge, they are more likely to be open to creative solutions of resolution for her case.
What started off as a thief stealing from the store, and now turned into a mother of 3, having personal difficult at work and at home, which contributed to a lapse in judgment, and an isolated poor choice. If the prosecutor, and judge go along with this new theme, or “true impression” we are likely to be able to provide Jennifer a path to dismissal and keeping this off her record.
Along with a great result at the courthouse, she now has built up an alternative track record/path of redemption if she needs to further explain the incident to the licensing board, and to keep her job. She is no longer just hoping things work out, she has earned an extraordinary result.
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