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Lawyers battle over letters to parents of shoplifters

|Written By Michael McKiernan

A B.C. lawyer who called an Ontario counterpart a “sleazy operator” and accused him of being involved in a scam for sending demand letters to the parents of alleged shoplifters has been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Law Society of British Columbia.

Gerry Laarakker, who runs his own firm in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, admitted to writing a fax to Toronto lawyer Patrick Martin as well as an Internet posting about him that the law society alleged contained “discourteous and personal remarks” after a client received a $500 demand letter. Martin had been acting on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Co.

Martin’s letter warned Laarakker’s client she could face an even bigger claim for damages if she didn’t pay the settlement amount.

At the same time, Martin had instructions to file a civil claim against her for the actual recovery costs incurred by the retailer due to the alleged shoplifting incident involving her teenage daughter.

The letter explained that recovery costs are those related to the detection, apprehension, recovery of goods, and damages associated with shoplifting. It also claims that future incidents decline when retailers pursue offenders.

Laarakker argued before the B.C. law society hearing panel that his comments were justified on the basis that he was dealing with what he called a “rogue lawyer.”

But that explanation wasn’t good enough for the regulator. “Even if the Ontario lawyer can be considered to be a ‘rogue,’ it is not the respondent’s place to pursue some form of vigilante justice against that lawyer by posting intemperate personal remarks or by writing letters that do not promote any possibility of resolution of the client’s legal dispute,” reads the panel’s decision.

“The appropriate avenue for the respondent to take would have been to file a complaint either with the Law Society of Upper Canada or the Law Society of British Columbia. Obviously, the respondent did not take those steps. Thus, by taking actions that he felt were protecting the integrity of the profession, he was achieving the opposite result.”

After speaking with the client, Laarakker sent a fax to Martin advising him that the woman wouldn’t be paying the settlement amount.

“Suffice it to say that I have instructed her not to pay a penny and to put your insulting and frankly stupid letter to the only use for which it might be suitable, however uncomfortably,” Laarakker wrote, adding that he believed a civil judgment against his client was unlikely.

“I have notified the local paper of this scam. Save the postage in the future and become a real lawyer instead! You must have harboured dreams of being a good lawyer at one point.

Surely bullying people into paying some small amount of money is not what you went into law for. But then again, someone has to be at the bottom of the class.”

Two days earlier, Laarakker had also commented on a posting on the Canadian Money Advisor blog, where one user had noted a similar letter from Martin. Laarakker identified himself as a lawyer in his comment and said he doubted an action would ever be brought.

“This guy is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name,” Laarakker wrote. “He is relying on intimidation and blackmail to get the lousy $500. Don’t pay him. I hate these sleazy operators.”

Both the fax and the Internet posting came to the law society’s attention after Martin complained about Laarakker’s behaviour.

Laarakker tells Law Times he regrets the way he went about expressing his feelings. “I was rude, and the language I used was awfully harsh,” he says. “It was undiplomatic language. I have apologized for that and I shouldn’t have done it.”

But he’s not backing down from his fight against the practice of targeting alleged shoplifters and their parents. He says he has heard from many people across the country who have received similar letters from Martin and other lawyers on behalf of a range of retailers.

“I think the particular pursuit in which he is engaging is a horrible one,” Laarakker says. “He’s intimidating average, normal people whose child may or may not have made a terrible mistake. We’re already perceived as money-grabbing, and something like this paints all of us lawyers with a very bad brush.”

Martin’s letter mentions an Ontario Divisional Court case in which a shoplifter was ordered to pay punitive damages, but Laarakker says the case is quoted out of context. He offers a complete defence service to B.C. residents who receive the demand letters for a flat fee of $100.

“They go nowhere,” he says. “Nothing happens. I’ve been a lawyer for many years and I’ve never heard of this even going to Small Claims Court. I feel the public is being unduly intimidated. I feel perhaps my friends in Ontario are wrapping themselves in their legal robes and taking advantage of the naive and the embarrassed.”

Laarakker says the demand letter struck a nerve with him because of a family member who once dealt with an eating disorder. Some studies have reported higher-than-average rates of shoplifting among those with eating disorders.

“It cut pretty close to the bone,” Laarakker says. “If anyone tried to criminalize her or pull this kind of trick on them, I don’t think I would have resorted just to a letter. In that kind of case, it targets a child who already has problems.”

Laarakker’s case is due to come back before the law society panel later this year to schedule a further hearing to decide on what penalty he should face.

Martin didn’t respond to an interview request.

The Bay, however, says it stands behind the practice of seeking recovery for shoplifting incidents.

“We are only one of many retailers in Canada who for the past 18 years use the civil recovery process in an effort to discourage shoplifting and offset some of the high security costs we incur as a result of these people who choose to steal from us,” the company’s legal department said in a statement last week.

“Patrick Martin is only one of many lawyers we have used over the years to assist us in our efforts to try and keep these thieves from repeating their crimes in our stores.”

  • i am shocked

    scott makevelli
    after reading some of these comments of how many people ACTUALLY sent this patrick martin guy money!!!!! anyone reading these letters can tell easily it is a scare/scam tactic....the ontario court system deals with shoplifters...i received a letter myself askin for 500$...brought it with me to my first court appearance for the matter...i received a sentence of 27$ restitution and had to donate 50$ to a local charity...showed the public defenders and crown attorney the letter...and they all laughed....DONT PAY IT....GO TO YOUR HEARING AND TAKE WHAT LITTLE the judge or crown will give you as service or restitution....dont ever pay that guy!!!!
  • Emmanuel Wangalwa
    I got the letter too and this is my first. So I just ignore it and they won't be no court staff or cops at my house
  • Hahah hahaa
    So my friend and I got a letter from this Martin guy
    We paid it the first time. A week later I got a letter under my name, saying we gotta pay again. My friend and I decided to call lawyers, finally we got in touch with one and he told us to ignore it.
  • Yolanda F
    I got caught stealing in January. I got a letter from Patrick asking me to give $900. Ive been giving nearly 200 each month. And now for some "ODD" reason my final cheque isnt being cashed before my due date. Ive been receiving calls from his firm (im assuming about completing my payment) but i havent picked any of them up. I dont plan on it after reading all these comments.
  • James W
    My step daughter was caught shoplifting and I received a letter from Patrick Martin.

    I have tried to call his office but apparently this law office does not answer phone calls.

    I have no legal standing with my step daughter (not her parent or custodial parent) but Patrick Martin is claiming damages from me.

    Am I culpable for someone with whom I have no legal relationship?

  • Christie C
    Hey those of you who ignored the letters:

    Did ignoring the letter affect your credit scores? I'm thinking of ignoring the letter but I'm also scared of my credit score going down because of this...
  • Lili vargas
    Hey raj,

    no i didnt pay. I'm going to get help from Gerry Laarakke because i heard if you dont pay you will have really bad credit history when you are older.
  • Lili Vargas
    I just received a letter from patrick and I dont know what to do, he says i must pay next week 500 for stealing a 20$ bag from H&M. I have contacted you Mr. Gerry Laarakke! I really hope you can help me! I dont know what to do... when i got arrested the police told me I should pay the fee because if i didnt i would have a really bad credit record when im older and I dont know what to do!!!!! what will happen if I dont pay! and is patrick a scam or what??
  • raj S
    Hey Lili,
    did you end up paying the demand?
    I recieved his letter last week, dont know what to do..
  • Jay JBJL
    Im in the same situation! Just got the letter from him asking for $500. Has anyone actually been taken to court over this??? A response as quick as possible would be awesome as im nearing this "deadline" Patrick Martin gave me. Please and Thank You
  • Andrew SN
    You may see my name up asking the sam question you are, and dont worry I was like everyone else. I ended up not paying for the fine And believe me i was just as scared as you are. The days were counting down and I didnt know what to do. I had try to put some money aside for it, but in the end I chose to not pay for it (perhaps one of my smartest decisions of my life). They will send you another one but i recommend that you ignore it.
  • Jay JBJL
    Awesome man! Thank You!
  • # Andrew SN
    On July 29, my girlfriend (age 17) and I (age 18) had stolen two items from Walmart. We were approached outside of the store by Walmart security and re entered the store in which they had called the cops and we were detained. We ended up having to pay a fine of $65 each for the police and we were both sent a letter from Mr. Martin. I had read comments just like this before and decided not to pay the $500 fine. Today on September 29 I checked my mail and I had received another letter from Mr. Martin asking for the money to be paid today or this will be taken to court. I don't have this kind of money on me, and my girlfriend and I are scared and don't know what to do! I know some of the comments above say that they never paid it and they didn't get any more letters, but I am wondering if anyone was actually taken to court. I have not spoken to a lawyer and is now considering to. What should I do?
  • Lynn HS
    My son was an employee at the Bay for less than 3 months. His employee discount card had not come in. Another employee of 2 years offered to let him use hers. He made 3 separate purchases in front of 3 separate cashiers. In total he saved less than $17.00!!! He was called in by LP and fired. The employee who allowed him to use her card was also fired. Apparently its a breach of policy that nobody even knew about. So this week doesn't he receive a letter from this Patrick Martin telling him he owes $1018.00!!!! OMG how can you STEAL something you were entitled to? Why on earth didn't someone tell him not to do it after the 1st time. My son has never stolen anything in his life!!! RIDICULOUS
  • Jason L
    Hi, I have just received a letter from Patrick K. Martin regarding of the recovery of Civil damages. When I got caught shoplifting, police officer charged me $65 fine ticket and the security told me that I'll be getting a letter in my mail for the bill of what I stole. However I never had a chance to pay for the bill since I did not receive any letter, however instead of the bill I received the letter from Patrick saying I have to make a payment of 60299 (the "settlement amount"). OMG! What should I do now? After reading all comments up there, I think I shouldn't pay however it scares me!! What do I need to do now? Should I need to contact the store again to send me a bill so I can pay for the item that I stole?
  • Sally Glenn
    My daughter was caught shoplifting and when we went in to pick her up from the store the police officer told my husband not to sign anything and not to pay anyone anything. We did get a letter from Mr. Martin - to this day I haven't, and won't pay a thing - and the shoplifting happened about 5 years ago!
  • Hannah Lynn
    Did you end up paying the civil demand?
  • Harshaben patel
    Today Igot frist letter from him and he was asking me to pay $600. To civil recovery. It was mention final notice..the date to pay is 16 june 2014. I was settled with shopper durgmart owner in November 2013.

    Please advise me.
  • raj S
    did you end up paying or you ignored the letter.
    i recieved my letter last week, dont know what to do...
  • Terry S
    Thx for the interesting viewpoints, I find myself researching a similar organization Palmer, Reifler that my mother (who is advancing with Alzheimers) received a letter from. The store manager refuses talk to me and I know the "lawyers" have no incentive to drop their claim. I think I will wait until the idle threats stop
  • Amanda B
    I'm certain I will ask Mr. Laarakker to deal with it, to ensure it does not go to credit. I just don't want to be charged from the police, or get a summons, even if at the time they didn't involve the police...I'm paranoid!
  • This is RJ
    It's been around 6 months.. I got 2 different letters warning of legal action if i dont pay. But i have not paid yet and nothing has happen.
  • Amanda B
    This is RJ.........Did anything happen because you didn't pay? I am in the same boat but I am expecting my letter. I haven't received it yet. The cops weren't called, I was let go because I complied and didn't have a record at all.
  • Natalia J
    Yea, it was from Walmart if this is directed towards me. I got caught with 45$ worth of stuff and was with a friend who took 30$ worth of stuff. I'm 18 and he's 19. But he has a previous warning. Either way they were going to call the cops. They told us right off the bat. Such jerks. Unfortunately they pressed charges even though we both complied. Everything was totally messed up. Cops didn't know what they were doing. And the LP people had a fight in the room we were locked in.. Also, Amanda my lawyer told me not to pay it. They are just trying to 'steal from the people that stole from the store'
  • Amanda B
    aw that's really shitty. I was extremely lucky because they actually didn't call the cops. I was alone though so that could have been why...thank god. I guess charges were pressed due to the cops being called. Sorry you had to go through that. I know we both won't ever do anything like that again. Thank you for your response Natalia.
  • Natalia J
    Yeah, I completely learned my lesson. Just got my final notice from Patrick. So hopefully he won't send anymore!
    As for the police, I will try and get my fingerprints destroyed in the next 6 months!
  • Natalia J
    Hey RJ,

    Did you end up paying these fees?
    I'm pretty much scared shitless having to pay $500 when I don't have that kind of money.
    My parents also don't know about this let me know.
  • Amanda B
    May I ask what you did? Was it from Walmart? I go caught form Walmart but the LPO did'nt call the cops thank god. I am just awaiting a letter. Im scared beyond belief
  • Amanda B
    What did you do to get this letter? did you get stopped by Walmart LPO? I did and I should expect a letter soon. No cops were involved. Im scared beyond belief.
  • This is RJ
    No i did not pay!
  • Amanda B
    Did anything happen because you didn't pay?
  • nathans240
    hello sir, i am posting this because several days ago on january 15th i attempted to steal a dvd worth 15$ from Wallmart i got arrested didnt get charged but recieved a 65$ ticket which i paid today. i also recieved a letter today from Patrick Martin about paying him 549.67, i am 18 and would like to know what will happen because i cant afford this amount and i have already learnt my lesson by having my car taken away and having to sell it :( please respond ASAP because i dont know what to do my gut tells me talk to my lawyer and NOT PAY
  • RJ
    I had the same issue. I got two letters in 4 months from this lawyer. You can ignore the letters.
  • zouzou55
    so does this mean that Patrick K. Martin is a scam or isn't?? I got caught shoplifting and I have received now 3 letters from patrik k.martin saying that i have to pay $695.00. He said "As a result, I will now receive specific instructions from the plaintiff to arrange for a law firm in your jurisdiction to commence legal proceedings against you and/or __________ before a civil court."I am terrified and dont know whether to pay him or not? :( HELP PLEASE!!
  • Brenda
    WHAT HAPPENED, What did you do?
  • kevn
    hi I'd like to know what happen to you now??
  • Gerry Laarakker
    continued ....

    This does not fit the general Canadian ethnic profile. I am sure Caucasians have this problem in the same proportion as other ethnic groups, Orientals are no better or worse than any other groups. Many of the victims are Visa students, terrified of deportation.

    Racial profiling? You bet. Keep your eyes peeled about a Human Rights complaint.
  • Gerry Laarakker
    The Law Society of BC fined me $1,500 and I was required to pay costs of $3,000. Since then a few legal ethicists have taken up the cudgel and roundly condemned the LSBC decision.

    I am now assisting victims of this Civil Recovery scam and have kept about $150 from having to pay. I have put 2 Ontario lawyers out of the Civil Recovery business, but Martin still hangs in.

    I did the stats this weekend as to the ethnic make up of these Civil Recovery victims.I became curious because by far the majorityof them are Oriental (50%) and about 30% are East Indian or of Arabic descent. This based on looking at the names. Only 10% are caucasian.

    To be continued .....
  • Marli Aunt
    A 19 year old family member was employed by Walmart & in once case before her 19th birthday stole $. This was repeated twice within a month of her 19th birthday. She is pregnant & going to college (which her parents pay for) has a mental disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder which was only identified a few months previously. She was charged & has recently appeared in court for criminal charges on three counts of theft under $5,000. The total being charged is $700 based on videos (which we have not seen yet). She is looking at Diversion (for the mental health issue) and is willing to repay the $. She got a letter from P Martin demanding $2,800 to avoid small claims court. If repaying the $700, what should she do about the Martin letter?
  • Tahir
    Hi Gerry,

    I commend you for you efforts again Martin. I'm in Toronto and have many friends in the Real Estate, Family and Civil litigation field. Please contact me should you require any help here in Ontario.
  • RJ
    About 6 months back, Me and my Wife went for shopping in Walmart. We bought a whole bunch of stuff. But My Wife did a big mistake of taking something without paying for it. After billing when we moved out the security guys stopped us and frisked us. They found the unbilled article in my Wife's wallet. I did not know about this until then. They made us wait till a cop arrived and left us with a warning. The Walmart security guys took our name and address. After a couple of weeks my wife got a letter from Patrick Martin for $500 civil damages. I immediately paid it. Then after 1 week, I got a different letter on my name claiming another $500. I did not pay this time. Now I have got another letter in my name threatening with legal action if i dont pay $500. Please advise me.
  • Mimi
    Mr laarakker I am also a victim to this situation. I did a wrong doing if shoplifting and now I am receiving these letters. What should I do?! Martin is asking for $1089.00 please help me :(
  • Gerry Laarakker
    Sorry, I meant 150 people! NOT $150.
  • Open you eyes people
    On Dec. 23rd, 2011 I made a terrible mistake by attempting to take items without paying for them. Needless to say I was apprehended, searched, questioned by police and then released. I was so ashamed. I couldn't bare the thought of telling anyone I knew for fear that their opinion of me would change. I was so upset that I got into an accident while driving a very short distance from the store to my apt. There is no excuse for what I did but I can tell you that this is entirely out of charater for me. I was going through a very tough time.. I live on my own, make minimum wage, have car/loan payments and I'm a student. I wish everyday that I hadn't made that decision and it's something I have to deal with on top of court and a fine, then I get this letter. This is not a mistake I will make twice and it doesn't take a $500 fine for me to realize that. I think Mr. Laarakker should be given a handshake and a raise, not taken to court for speaking the truth.
  • i know, but
    i think if i got caught stealing, went through the embarrasing process of being apprehended, interviewed, searched then subsequently having to have my parents pick me up and given a $500 penalty, I wouldn't do it again. I think this process must work for alot of people. I know everyone has problems, some more than others, but i bet half of these people getting caught are MORE THAN CAPABLE of paying for the items. THEY should be taught a lesson. Are you guys forgetting that if it weren't for their wrongful actions the civil recovery letter would never take place?
  • ...really
    there are laws against murder and selling drugs, but they do not deter people from committing these crimes. Throwing the book at someone does not solve the problem, and in fact closes off any connection with society to more than HALF of those people, therefore making them more willing to commit a crime. There are far too many examples of this that occur on a day to day basis. There should be remedial programs offered, and spend time with these offenders that are not necessarily bad people, only deemed so by a tag "criminal offence or record." Yes this costs money, but money better well spent, than the costly process of lawyers and the court systems which drag on and on, over 500$ in small claims court.
  • Dirk Sigalet
    Read "The Secret Shopper" in the Sep 26.11 issue of the New Yorker magazine, page 115. This article and the author's mention of a recentt Penguin Press book "The Steal" by Rachael Shteir places the above in broader social context. "It wasn't until after the Shoplifting Act of 1699 (this Act mandated the death penalty for stealing goods over five shillings) was repealed in 1832, that the expression 'might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb' became a cliche rather than a life choice."
  • Brian Koehli
    They got the wrong guy.
  • Andrew
    Absolutely. I am embarrassed to be in the same profession as Mr. Martin and proud of the conduct of Mr. Laaraker.
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