Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dolce, Gabbana and... Rick's Auto Body


There's almost no topic I can't somehow turn into a tirade against some corrupt conservative-- if not Boehner, Cantor, Bachmann Ted Cruz or Miss McConnell then Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rahm Emanuel, John Barrow or Steve Israel. But we're not going to even try tonight. This post is too important on its own for that; it's about where we spend our money.

After I stopped living in my vehicle-- VW camper vans-- I always bought used Mercury Comets and Ford Fairlanes. Awesome cars. But as soon as they made me president of Reprise, they told me to ditch the Comet and get something "respectable." They expected a Mercedes or better and I decided to at least have a good time with them-- and got a brand new sparkly blue Cadillac. It was so gross. I still wish I had my old Comet... although now I have a Prius. I'll get back to the Prius in a moment. For now I just want to say that I allowed them to make over my car taste and I even bought a bunch of suits and ties-- Zenga, Prada, Paul Smith, Brioni-- but never Dolce & Gabbana. In my mind they made shiny costumes for performers, primarily female, like Madonna. Maybe they were just too arty for me, but there was always something about Dolce & Gabbana that made my skin crawl.

You probably heard that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were each sentenced to almost 2 years in prison for doing what wealthy businessmen always try to do-- avoid paying their fair share of taxes. In this case, the two crooks cheated cash-strapped Italy out of at least $1.3 billion by moving around assets to Luxembourg, a pirate state in the middle of Europe that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever except as a tax haven and a money laundering center for organized crime.
Italy’s prosecutors wanted the stylish pair locked up for a three-year prison term. They got 1 year and 8 months instead. That’s more than a fashion season and a grim prospect for the pair that-- if they can’t beat it on appeal-- will have to leave their nearly 30 year old D&G enterprise for a time. It is sad news if you’re a fashionista.

Much more, it’s a cautionary tale to many high profile businesses and individuals around the world. Taxes are everyone’s business now. The days of a slap on the wrist or a fine may be over even in countries where such activities seemed all but encouraged.

Some would argue that cheating the tax man is nearly a way of life in some locales, and Italy has had its share. Yet despite their repeated protestations of innocence, Judge Antonella Brambilla of Italy found Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana guilty of tax evasion. There were already fines and restitution of a tidy 343.3 million euros.

But the fashion world and financiers were waiting to see if there would be jail time. Surprise, there is. The designers have been sentenced to one year and eight months in jail.

They will surely appeal, and in that sense the case isn’t over. Even more clearly, it won’t be the last legal battle for this kind of case. This one started with the sale of the Dolce & Gabbana label to a Luxembourg-based holding company, Gado. The holding company may have been primarily a tax shelter, and ended up drawing not only the two founders but a number of their colleagues into the fray. However, some of the tax charges were dismissed, including those relating to the valuation of the company at the time of the sale.
Only a year and 8 months? That doesn't seem just-- not when we're talking about that kind of money. I guess it pays to be wealthy. And it's not just Italy. Yesterday a judge in Houston signed off on an agreement to cut Enron crook Jeff Skilling's prison term down to 14 years from 24.
In exchange for his reduced sentence, Mr. Skilling gave up about $42 million, all of which will be distributed to victims of Enron’s fraud. He also agreed not to pursue any further legal appeals, including a claim that would have accused the prosecution team of withholding exculpatory evidence.

...Several Enron victims wrote letters to the court protesting Mr. Skilling’s proposed reduced sentence. On Friday, Andrew Stoltmann, a lawyer who represented several victims, criticized the Justice Department for agreeing to the reduction and said it was unacceptable coming on the heels of the lack of prosecutions arising out of the financial crisis.

“By entering into this early release agreement, a clear message will be sent to corporate C.E.O.’s that if you get caught with the hand in the cookie jar, you will get little more than a slap on the wrist,” Mr. Stoltmann said.

...The fall of Enron, which at its peak was one of the country’s most admired businesses, cost shareholders billions of dollars and employees their retirement savings. Its demise also ushered in a wave of prosecutions that rooted out accounting fraud at once-highflying companies like WorldCom, HealthSouth and Adelphia Communications.

Prosecutors tried Mr. Skilling alongside Kenneth L. Lay, Enron’s chairman, who was also found guilty. But Mr. Lay died a month after the trial, and his conviction was vacated.

Though the corporate accounting scandals of a decade ago have faded from public view, replaced by the financial crisis and insider-trading scandals, the Enron case still has a hold on the white-collar criminal defense world.

In Las Vegas next week, one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners is Enron’s former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, who will speak about his crimes. Mr. Fastow was released from prison in 2011. He received a reduced sentence after pleading guilty and testifying against Mr. Skilling.
It doesn't pay to get involved with these kinds of people-- I mean in a karmic kind of way. Just knowing that someone wears Dolce & Gabbana clothing makes me want to avoid them. Anyway... my Prius. I was parked in front of a friend's house a couple weeks ago and when I went to drive home, I saw someone had sideswiped the rear door and dented it up real bad. The next morning, in the light, I saw that I would have to replace the door. Finding a body shop was a two-week odyssey. Everyone wants to be a junior Dolce and Gabbana or Jeff Skilling. First I called the Toyota dealership where I get the Prius serviced. They don't give estimates on the phone, I was informed. "I just need a rear door for a 2009 white Prius; I'm a regular customer." She said she was sorry and I asked to speak to the manager. He told me the door costs $508. That sounded reasonable. But then it costs $1,500 to install. That didn't sound reasonable. So I started shopping around. I found a place that would do it for $1,800 but everyone was around $2,000. Then I checked Yelp for my area and found one body shop that everyone was raving about, Rick's Body Shop on Hyperion Avenue in Silverlake... less than minutes from my house.

Long story short, they were courteous, well-informed, helpful, patient and they did the job-- and did it perfectly-- for $978 (including tax); they even touched up other dings on the car that had nothing to do with the door. That's what I call a good businessman.

When I was at Reprise I would make a point of being the first one in in the morning and the last one out at night. My car had an assigned spot at the entrance to the company lot. You couldn't come or go without seeing it-- the reason they insisted I get a respectable car instead of the Comet. Turns out the owner of Rick's is also the first one in and the last one out-- my kind of businessman. I hope Dolce and Gabbana lose their appeal and the judge slaps an extra 10 years on each of their sentences.

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