Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Clean Cash or Dirty Dollars?


I frequently read a judicial opinion which my instincts tell me is not only an incomplete account (very few of them tell the whole story), but is missing some major, key significant puzzle pieces which are the stuff of great intriguing literature and/or film.

The latest such judicial opinion is Glassman v. Wachovia Bank NA, N.Y.L.J., 17 September 2007, p. 20, col. 1, 2007 N.Y. Slip Op. 51699(U), 2007 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6227 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., 2007).

Roberta Glassman, who has homes in both Florida and New York, rented a "self service" safe deposit box at Wachovia Bank in West Palm Beach. The box rental agreement provides, inter alia, that any items missing from the box are the boxholder's responsibility, and that " the Bank has no liability whatsoever unless the loss is caused by the Bank's gross negligence, fraud or bad faith."

Through some bureaucratic dysfunction, five months after Ms. Glassman rented the box, someone at Wachovia mistakenly listed the box as unrented or delinquent, and accordingly, Wachovia had the box drilled. The technicians who drilled the box immediately realized that the box was rented, and immediately summoned the cognizant Wachovia employee, who immediately had the box inventoried. All present at the inventory agreed that the box contained $12,000 in hundred dollar bills, and a Sufolk County (NY) municipal bond.

Roberta Glassman's claim: The last time she accessed the box, she withdrew $3,000 in hundred dollar bills, in preparation for her trip to Europe, leaving $87,000 in hundred dollar bills. Ms. Glassman sued Wachovia for the $75,000 allegedly missing from the box.

Judge Michael Stallman denied both sides' motions for summary judgment, ruling that the facts were sufficiently disputed so as to warrant a trial. Judge Stallman noted: "Of course, it is plaintiff who has the burden of proving that the allegedly missing $75,000 was in the Box at the time it was drilled and that the Bank is legally responsible for the loss."

Having once been in the employ of the Internal Revenue Service, I have been trained to think dirty. I level no accusations, make no assumptions, and, in fact, hope that Ms. Glassman ultimately proves to be an honorable person with pure motives. But here are my dirty thoughts on the matter, in no particular order:

1. If Roberta Glassman is to prevail at trial, she will, no doubt, be asked to explain how she came into possession of 900 hundred dollar bills. Did she collect them one by one, in the same manner in which I collect matchbooks, wine bottle corks, or caps from beer bottles? If so, then, at the rate of one per week, it would take her approximately 18 years to collect them.

2. If she withdrew them from her bank account, then there should be some bank records reflecting some withdrawals of some nice large and round numbers of dollars. I don't know how Ms. Glassman's bank (Wachovia or otherwise) works things; what I do know is that the tellers at my bank mark the deposit or withdrawal ticket to reflect not only the total amount of cash involved, but also a breakdown of how many bills of what denomination were given to the customer. Such records, if they exist, should be available if the transactions occurred within, say, 7 years.

3. More along the same lines, if the bank from which Ms. Glassman obtained the 900 hundred dollar bills is Wachovia, then Wachovia should be able to access its records. If Wachovia hasn't kept a kosher kitchen (remember that they bungled big time by drilling the box in the first place), then Ms. Glassman may be entitled to have the jury be given the "missing evidence" instruction by the Judge.

4. "Roberta Glassman" is not a particularly unique or unusual name. The whitepages.com website returns 3 hits for Roberta Glassman, including one in West Palm Beach and one in Commack, NY, in what amounts to a senior community. The West Palm Beach listing pegs her in the age range of 75 - 79, which is close enough to the 74 year age mentioned in Judge Stallman's opinion. Commack is in Suffolk County, the same county that issued the bond listed on the box inventory. Accordingly, the smart money says that the West Palm Beach and Commack listings are of our girl here.

5. According to a New York Times society page announcement from 4 February 1991, "[The groom's] mother, Roberta Glassman, is the president of RBG Consultants, a fund raising concern in Brookville. His father, a professor of medicine, is the director of New York University's department of cardiac catheterization." Similar information appeared in the NYT wedding announcement of the couple's daughter on 21 March 1993. So she not only had a husband who earned a sizeable salary, but also was involved in fundraising consulting. Each of these callings is quite honorable, but the possibilities for financial hanky panky do exist, and do increase along with the amount of available money.

6. There is an eleemosynary organization, with offices in Suffolk County and Nassau County, called Hospice Care Network. Among its donorship is one "Mrs. Roberta Glassman," who was generous and kind enough to be listed in the $25,000+ range of donation. It is most likely that this generous gift to the well-reputed charity was tendered by check and not by cash.

7. Ms. Glassman is apparently a competent (or even, perhaps, astute) manager of her own finances. If she invests money in sound investments such as municipal bonds, why did she keep $90,000 of her funds in cash, which produces no income when it sits in a safe deposit box?

8. Wachovia certainly does not wish to be on the hook for $75,000. On the other hand, word on the street that a Wachovia bank messed up and drilled what was supposed to be a customer's secure safe deposit box cannot possibly attract new customers. The negative publicity, if the story goes national, might cost Wachovia more than the $75,000. Wachovia obviously does not have totally clean underwear in this matter, and indeed, it might not have been Wachovia's only screw-up.

9. If Roberta Glassman did in fact have the $90,000 cash in her safe deposit box, then the explanation as to the money's origin will likely prove very interesting. If she didn't, then she will likely be made to look liked a smacked toochas on the witness stand. In the non-stupidity column, Wachovia might conceivably break even on this one, but they cannot score a clear victory. Either way, it should prove very interesting.

10. And then, there is another possible outcome: Neither Roberta Glassman nor Wachovia Bank wish to have their weak spots made public, so they decide to settle the matter before trial. If I had to bet on one outcome or another, this is where I would make book.

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