The front page news this morning had tongues wagging on both sides of St. Charles Avenue, and all up and down Magazine Street.
Our phone started ringing at 8 AM with the question: Did you see?????
And the news is not good.
A young woman, who is well known, and had one of the most beautiful shops on Magazine Street has been arrested for scamming a huge amount of money from her customers and interior design clients and vendors.
When I first started this blog, hers was one of the shops I loved, and was welcomed to photograph. You can check my labels under "Juliet Home Furnishings" and find several rudimentary posts.
So dear ones, this is a lesson of how not to run a business.
It is especially shocking because an interior design business seems like such a genteel profession, and one hardly would think of it as fraught with con artists and grifters, and the likes of the Secret Service busting down the doors.
New Orleans is very old fashion in many ways. Carriage trade is the way many shops carry on their business. Credit card numbers are given freely, merchandise lent on approval with only the word of the customer to either buy it or return it within a reasonable amount of time, checks accepted without ID (after all everyone knows everyone like forever), and there is a whole tangled web of how Southern belles and gentlemen interact with a unique code of conduct that is brought along to the commercial transaction. In short: we trust one another, and wouldn't dream of betraying a trust, or being ripped off or betrayed by a shop keeper (and vice versa). Carriage trade shop keepers here have a code of honor. So the following account has shaken everyone up big time.
As someone quipped this morning: "We haven't seen this kind of scandal since the Canal Street Madame!"
From The Times Picayune:
Magazine Street interior designer a scam artist, bamboozled customers say
By Lolis E Elie
October 14, 2009, 8:40AM
From her Magazine Street store, Juliet Pritchett enchanted customers with visions of what their houses could look like if only they purchased the fine draperies and custom furnishings she recommended.
Charmed by her demeanor and impressed with her taste, homeowners from St. Charles Avenue to Faubourg Marigny placed orders with Pritchett, paid deposits, and waited for their sofas, chairs and curtains to arrive.
And they waited.
And they waited some more.
According to several of Pritchett's former customers, she kept their money, made excuses for the delays and then responded angrily when faced with demands for refunds. On Tuesday, Pritchett was booked with five counts of theft and fraud.
"I really do think she's like Bernie Madoff," said Lisa Flower, who ordered $8,300 worth of furniture from Pritchett in November and finally received a refund from her credit card company last week.
"She made you feel like you were the best customer she ever had. She laughed. She joked. She was your best friend, " Flower said.
The wooing and the charming of customers came to an abrupt end Tuesday when Pritchett, 31, was arrested on three counts of theft and two counts of theft by fraud, related to illegal use of credit cards. The alleged losses totaled $60,000 and $50,600 respectively.
"The investigation is in cooperation with the Louisiana State Police as well as the United States Secret Service, " said Chris Bowman, spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney's office.
Though best known for protecting the president, the Secret Service was founded as a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, and its financial crimes division often investigates alleged credit-card fraud.
Pritchett did business as Juliet Home Furnishing and Juliet Interiors. She has been the subject of several civil lawsuits alleging that she failed to deliver goods or failed to pay suppliers. At least two such suits have been settled out of court.
Her husband, Shane Pritchett, has also been named in several of the civil actions. The chef and owner of the two Fat Hen Grill restaurants, Shane Pritchett was not arrested yesterday and may have been named in the suits only so that the couple's joint assets might be used to pay restitution, a lawyer familiar with one of the cases said.
When Lynn Latham passed Juliet Interiors' storefront, at 2108 Magazine St., she was impressed.
"I thought the window decorations were very attractive, and the lines of furniture, draperies and rugs she carried are well-known and good quality," Latham said.
"She seemed incredibly friendly, loved design work and was very eager to promote her furniture, " Latham said. "It seemed like I would have a positive experience."
Latham had a sofa and rug delivered right before Carnival last year. Then she ordered another sofa and some draperies.
Then things started to get strange.
"When I received my bill from American Express, in addition to the two items I ordered there were three unapproved charges totaling more than $18,000, " Latham said.
Thinking there was a mistake, she called the store. Time and time again, Pritchett was unavailable. When Latham did finally meet her at the store, Pritchett seemed eager to do the right thing. She swiped Latham's credit card, in an apparent attempt to refund her money.
"She kept fiddling with the machine and saying she couldn't make the machine work, " Latham recalled. Pritchett seemed very apologetic and even invited Latham and her husband to her home for a glass of wine.
But once Latham received her next credit card statement, she realized she had been taken again.
"What I found out was that she had immediately charged my card back for more than $11,000. I felt that she was using my credit card as her own personal bank account, " Latham said.
In another lawsuit against Pritchett, Leonard and Sally Radlauer accused the decorator of failing to deliver a pair of platinum and gold sinks and damaging other items of furniture they had paid her to move.
That suit, filed two years ago, was settled before it went to trial. But the Radlauers' claims were similar to those of other litigants.
Customers who paid Juliet Interiors with credit cards often had to wait several months for the credit card company to reverse the charges. But customers who paid with cash or checks have had to seek redress from the courts for undelivered furniture and accessories.
At Pritchett's old storefront, some letters of the store's name are still visible on the door. Inside, carpenters are preparing the vacant space for another tenant.
A few Saturdays ago, a white van came and packed up the store's contents and took them away, said Cameron Trenor, who owns Cameron Jones, a home-furnishings store across the street.
"After this experience, I have not bought drapes, " Latham said. "I bought a sewing machine and fabric and I am going to make them myself."