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Nanny Scam

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Of course, it’s odd, or just plain reckless, that Maria would opt for such a traceable crime. If we’d been paying attention, she would have been caught right away. My husband is normally scrupulous about our bills and bank statements, but this happened to be an unusual lapse: He was traveling a great deal for work, and simply hadn’t had the time.

The day Maria came clean, my husband and I—at my urging—walked over to the local precinct to talk to a detective. We told him we didn’t want Maria to go to jail, but that we did want her to pay us back. We gave him her phone number and address, but he advised us to think it over before we decided to press charges. The next thing we knew, he’d called her anyway, and she had confessed to him. She called us in a panic, saying he’d asked her to come to the precinct for a chat.

We consulted our friend, the former public defender, who laid out a bleak picture: “If she goes to see the detective without an attorney, she could be arrested on the spot. And if she signs a confession, it won’t matter if she gets a lawyer after that.” In a classic example of liberal guilt coming full circle, we heeded his advice, called Maria, and urged her to get a lawyer from Legal Aid. Suddenly we were in the absurd position of helping our robber navigate the legal system.

We went back and forth for days about whether to press charges. I wanted revenge and reprisals, but I couldn’t stand the idea of her being arrested, possibly in front of her children. My husband wanted to recover the money, but it became clear the bank wouldn’t use its insurance to pay us since it was our fault—we’d handed her our pin. And he didn’t relish the idea of fighting it out in court. Friends advised us to cut our losses and move on, but something was stopping me. I finally came up with one way to exact some penalty and also to protect future victims: I tracked down Maria’s former references and told them what she’d done. It felt a little devious, because I knew it would dry up the recommendations she’d need for the next job. At the same time, I didn’t want her references to continue to blindly support someone who didn’t deserve it. It was my own stab at justice.

As of now, we’re trying to work out some payment schedule, but we have yet to draw one up. Despite Maria’s initial avowals that she intends to repay us, she hasn’t sent a good-faith nickel. I don’t speak directly to her anymore—I have to go through her deft Legal Aid attorney, who tells me Maria’s having trouble getting work and has no cash to give us. Like an idiot, I feel bad for asking.

After weeks of insomnia—of masochistically replaying every interaction I had with Maria during the time she was stealing, and feeling hoodwinked and humiliated all over again—I stopped obsessing. I began interviewing sitters with a jaundiced eye, and tried to focus on getting things back to normal.

I know we’ve become a cautionary tale to our friends and their friends, and friends of their friends, too. I know that, to many people, the incident could be dismissed as a form of yuppie comeuppance. Some people have scolded me with a gloomy sermon: “An employee in your home will always on some level resent you.” But I still won’t accept that. Not entirely.

I have a wonderful new nanny who I tell people is a godsend—creative, kind, and trustworthy. But now I always add a caveat: “At least as far as I know.”


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