The Man Who Fell to Earth

Parties, private planes, millions in cash, and a local TV star on his arm. From Boston to Nantucket, Alden Shoe Company executive Richard Hajjar wanted to soar with the celebs and the jet set. Until he came crashing down.

Illustration by Benjamen Purvis

During the summers, a constant stream of luxury cars could be seen pulling into the crushed-gravel drive on Low Beach Road in ’Sconset, delivering guests to an $8.4 million Nantucket estate that flanked the gray waters of the Atlantic. The six-bedroom, 7,296-square-foot main house was all creamy décor and curvy staircase, with a fully loaded gym in the basement. The guest house had two more bedrooms with en suite baths, and the property also boasted a pool and hot tub—with the requisite pool house—and an outdoor fireplace. It was here that Richard—Rick to all—Hajjar, the chief financial officer of Alden Shoe Company, impressed guests with a dazzling display of seemingly endless opulence.

While the island manse was Hajjar’s, many of the people filing in and out of the house throughout the season, year after year, were guests of Bianca de la Garza, the former co-anchor of The EyeOpener, WCVB’s popular morning news chat-fest. Ever since meeting at Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s house during a party on-island in 2012—introduced by Belichick’s longtime girlfriend, Linda Holliday—Hajjar and de la Garza were inseparable fixtures on the Nantucket social scene.

Still, they seemed an odd pairing. Where Hajjar was sincere and quiet (“borderline nebbishy,” as one acquaintance put it), de la Garza was all bawdy laughs and blond extensions and stiletto heels (“The higher the heel the better the day” read a pillow in her South Boston condo). No matter, this was the glitzy life Hajjar had aspired to when he bought his island house in 2007, and de la Garza was his golden ticket into that world.

If people wondered where the CFO came by his extraordinary wealth, they didn’t ask. This was Nantucket, after all. Hajjar was a successful businessman, a smart investor—maybe even had generational wealth like many of the island’s blue bloods sporting Nantucket red. The money he lavished on his home and his lifestyle, as well as on de la Garza, the woman who quickly became the object of his largesse, spoke for itself: a $158,000 diamond ring, a $96,000 pair of diamond earrings, a $51,000 private flight to St. Maarten, and another to Anguilla for $63,000. He gave his Amex to a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus, where for years de la Garza purchased designer clothes and handbags, sometimes spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a month. “Bianca would come into work and tell me about flying here and there on a private jet. She needed a car, and then the next day she shows up at work in the most expensive Mercedes SUV,” says Randy Price, her former cohost, who is now retired.

Hajjar’s generosity extended beyond de la Garza to include her friends. Price and his husband were weekend guests at the Nantucket manse, arriving to a decadent spread of flowers and cheeses, which a company had delivered before their arrival. “We went to one of the most fabulous restaurants and Rick and Bianca were dressed like a million dollars—they thrilled each other with their fashion—and were buying really expensive bottles of champagne. I don’t even drink. That bill for dinner was probably in the thousands of dollars,” Price says.

That’s how Hajjar rolled. Another house guest, Chris Jennings, a Boston creative producer, recalls the weekend of the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival in 2014 when Hajjar spared no expense—a babysitter was flown to the island so the guests could dine at hot spot Cru one night. Another extravagant evening boasted a fancy dinner party downtown thrown by some South End designers, complete with a chef, multi-course dinner, and a vintner highlighting Whispering Angel rosé. That night, Jennings recalls, Hajjar tended to de la Garza just like a good husband would.

Hajjar may have doted on her like a devoted spouse—and he surely spent money on her like one—but the pair, by all accounts, weren’t romantically involved. The true nature of their relationship and Hajjar’s unwavering devotion to de la Garza mystified the people in their orbit. Still, no one had any idea just how far Hajjar’s commitment to de la Garza would go. No one knew what he had already risked to make his dreams come true.

Hajjar and de la Garza were inseparable fixtures on the Nantucket social scene. / Photo by Richard Hajjar via Instagram

Lace-up wingtips and tasseled loafers. Alden Shoe Company, an icon of American traditional style for men—conservative, yet “beloved by style-minded guys and old-school businessmen alike,” according to Esquire—was founded in 1884 by Charles Alden. In the same family for the past 137 years, it is one of the few survivors in a region that was once the bedrock of American shoe manufacturing.

Today, the company is wholly owned by Arthur S. Tarlow Jr., who serves as president, chairman, and sole shareholder, and whose father and grandfather owned it before him. Hajjar was first hired by Alden in 1987, and over the past 30 years became not just a key employee at Alden but a trusted adviser to the Tarlow family. Hajjar’s own father worked as a CPA for Arthur Tarlow Sr. for many years, and two of his brothers were employees at various times. The Tarlow and Hajjar families—who vacationed and socialized together—weren’t entwined just professionally, but personally, too.

Like the shoes themselves, Hajjar’s life was tailored to a very traditional path: Raised in a large Catholic family in Braintree (his father was a director of Catholic Charities and appointed a Knight of Malta), he graduated from Boston College, and then signed on for the job at Alden, where he eventually became the CFO, responsible for all day-to-day money matters at the company. After a marriage in the late 1980s that broke down after only a few years, he settled into a nondescript four-bedroom Colonial in Duxbury, where books were stacked haphazardly in a way that de la Garza described to a friend as “clutterish.” It was the opposite of the glamorous Nantucket house he bought in 2007, which was so perfect that it looked “staged,” a friend says.

When Hajjar met de la Garza, she was divorced and raising her six-year-old daughter. Hajjar became devoted to them both, so much so that it seemed to those around the pair that they made the perfect match. “Rick was a sincere and nice person, so kind, considerate, and thoughtful,” recalls Price, who wondered, along with de la Garza’s girlfriends, why she didn’t marry him. “She said, ‘I told him from the get-go I don’t want an intimate relationship’ and ‘I don’t feel like I’m abusing him. If he wasn’t spending the money on me, he would be spending it on someone else.’”

As for Hajjar, says someone who spent time observing the couple, he “thought of her as his girlfriend and she went to great lengths to make sure people knew she wasn’t. But she was always there. There were always friends around and everyone knew Rick was going to pick up the tab. He always picked up the tab.”

But why? Price guessed that “he was trying to impress her and her friends. He liked having her on his arm and he floated the boat. Clearly.” Jennings was more perplexed. “It was such a head-scratcher,” he says. “There was nothing romantic going on, yet his level of devotion to her and her daughter was off the charts. Like a sugar daddy with no sugar. Like a gentleman caller, father, husband, boyfriend all rolled into one with no sexual component.”

Was Hajjar simply in love with de la Garza and hoping eventually she’d come around? Was he riding the coattails of her fame and reveling in the deeply craved status and social entrée she provided him? These questions were never answered, but they would soon be obscured by even bigger questions about Hajjar.

Two years after meeting Hajjar, de la Garza announced in February 2014 that she’d be leaving Channel 5 in several months to chart a path toward her version of Kardashian fame and fortune: her very own TV show. “I think she was frustrated with not making more money,” Price says about the decision. “She was probably thinking, ‘I’m almost 40, I have my looks going for me and that’s not going to last forever.’ We [at the news station] had a lot of suggestions for her. And she followed none of them. Obviously, Rick was the answer.”

When it came to her future endeavor, de la Garza told the Herald, “You’re just going to see me in a totally new way…more unfiltered. Let’s call it Bianca Unanchored.” Indeed, that became the name of the show that de la Garza launched through her new company, Lucky Gal Productions (LGP). Like her personal relationship with Hajjar, their business connection was nebulous. According to many people who worked with her, de la Garza didn’t refer to Hajjar as her investor, yet he quietly bankrolled her venture, signing a production financing agreement that year in which he committed $3.3 million to LGP.

With Hajjar’s financial commitment in place, de la Garza approached New York–based Embassy Row—best known for producing Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live on Bravo—to produce her show. Hajjar’s millions meant that taking on Bianca Unanchored was a no-brainer. “She had funding and was ready to go,” says a producer at the company. “Usually you do a pilot and then try to sell it, but it was already fully funded. She just wanted to be famous. She had grand ambitions.” And Hajjar was determined to make it happen for her.

Fashion designers, interior decorators, and clothing stylists: Stella in the South End was thick with glitterati on January 24, 2015, all there to celebrate the premiere of Bianca Unanchored, airing Saturday nights at 11:30 in Boston, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine. Guests dined, drank, and mingled on Hajjar’s $50,000 dime. Hajjar, meanwhile, looked on as de la Garza worked the room in her pink Christian Dior pumps, carrying a custom mother-of-pearl handbag with Bianca inscribed in shimmery gold.

The show—30 frenzied minutes of B-list-celeb interviews (Slash from Guns N’ Roses), silly skits with her comedic sidekick, and stunts (de la Garza doing aerial arts)—expanded to a total of seven CBS-owned stations by late 2015. Hajjar’s financial commitments also grew. In September 2015, he upped his previous $3.3 million investment by another $2 million. But not even his vast contributions could save the show from sinking. After being on the air for just one year, it went on indefinite hiatus in January 2016 and never returned.

Still, Hajjar’s faith in de la Garza appeared to know no bounds. Rather than retreat to lick his wounds after the show failed, he doubled down. That very month, he promised another $3 million to LGP, bringing his total commitment to $8.3 million. De la Garza used it to fund her next couple of ventures: a new skin-care line and Garza Digital, a media company that produced beauty-themed content in 2019. First there was a talk show, Beauty & Bubbles. Then LGP started producing a reality docuseries, Being Beautiful with Bianca de la Garza, for which she and a full production crew of eight traveled to such exotic locales as South Korea, Japan, China, France, Italy, and Mexico to explore the countries’ beauty cultures.

At the same time, it was hardly all business for Hajjar. In addition to funding de la Garza’s endeavors, he paid for their jet-set lifestyle, taking her with him on expensive trips and even buying her a $1.1 million co-op apartment in New York City. “After her show failed, I would see pics of her traveling in Paris and riding in a half-million-dollar car and just think, ‘Whoa, where is all the money coming from?’” Price says. Of course, he knew the answer: It was coming from Hajjar. Price says he didn’t give it much thought, but others were more circumspect. “How the hell can a CFO afford this?” Jennings thought when he visited Hajjar’s estate on Nantucket. “They can’t possibly sell this many fucking shoes.” He knew what kind of wealth it took to have a place like that, and it didn’t come from number-crunching at a family-owned footwear company. “When you’re around someone showing that kind of money,” Jennings says, “even the least curious person would want to know where it’s coming from.”

Everything about his visit with Hajjar made Jennings curious. Things just didn’t add up. Besides the elusive nature of Hajjar and de la Garza’s relationship, Hajjar was like some mysterious Jay Gatsby character, including his lavish yet soulless showpiece of a house. “It felt like no one really lived there, like Ethan Allen came in and turned it into a catalog,” Jennings says. “There was no personality, no family photos on the walls. Nothing Rick. The espresso maker didn’t even work, like it never had, like it was a prop.” It was as if the house had been purchased completely staged.

By early December 2019, it would have been easy to assume that Hajjar’s business investments in de la Garza might begin to pay off. The producers had footage for 10 episodes of Being Beautiful with Bianca de la Garza in the can, and had shown the trailer at the Cannes film festival. “We were getting ready to sell the show,” says its executive producer, Mike Wech. “We got a great response in Cannes. I know it would have sold.” Wech was about to edit the pilot when de la Garza called the crew into a meeting. Visibly upset, she said they had to shut down—the show had lost its funding. “She said maybe we could find other investors, maybe we could pick it up down the road,” Wech recalls. “I never heard from her again after that. I didn’t know what happened.”

What happened is that de la Garza had recently received an unexpected phone call from Alden’s lawyers. The jig was up.

Hajjar was like some mysterious Jay Gatsby character, including his lavish yet soulless showpiece of a house.

A little more than a month earlier, in October, Alden Shoe Company owner Arthur Tarlow Jr. decided to do some estate planning and asked Hajjar to start moving millions of dollars held in the company’s cash reserves—which had supposedly been sitting there for a decade—into family trusts.

Hajjar hemmed. Then hawed. Finally, he assured Tarlow that the funds would be transferred to Alden’s operating account at Eastern Bank. Then Hajjar stopped showing up at work. He didn’t feel well, he wrote in a text.

Tarlow waited. The funds were never wired.

What’s going on? Tarlow texted Hajjar.

No response.

Confused, Tarlow drove to a local Santander branch to look at the accounts. Millions and millions had vanished. The records showed Hajjar had taken them. Tarlow immediately fired his longtime friend and employee—but not before Hajjar made one final, brazen transfer, on October 22, in the amount of $230,000. That very same day, de la Garza posted a glam pic of herself on Instagram next to a Porsche in Europe: “In life always be in the driver’s seat!! In France being driven around the Riviera make an exception.”

In the wake of the stunning discovery, Tarlow’s forensic accountants went to work unraveling what had happened. They uncovered that Hajjar, who was solely responsible for the daily financial matters at Alden, had access to a massive cushion of retained earnings that sat untouched in case the company needed an emergency infusion of cash. It amounted to millions of dollars collecting dust in a reserve account at Santander bank.

In 2011, according to criminal and civil court filings, Hajjar started writing checks to himself from that Santander account and depositing them in his personal bank accounts. That year, he wrote himself eight checks totaling $585,000. The next year, 17 checks for $1.2 million. He also transferred money from the cash reserve to a defunct Alden trust account, and then over to his personal accounts. In 2013, he used this method to take $1.2 million, and again to steal $4 million in 2014—the same year de la Garza started Lucky Gal Productions. Among the transfers that year was one on May 1, two weeks before the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival, in which Hajjar emailed Citizens Bank, telling them he would be transferring $135,000 into LGP’s account there. Right before he sent that email, Hajjar wrote himself a check for that same amount from the defunct Alden trust account.

At the end of each year, Hajjar simply moved money from an Alden line of credit into the Santander account, so everything looked copasetic for the year-end review. Then, after a successful review, he returned the borrowed funds to the Alden line of credit and no one was the wiser that the Santander account was missing money.

As time went on, and Hajjar started to wire millions to de la Garza and LGP, he needed access to ever more cash to cover his tracks, according to court filings. So in September 2016—the year after Bianca Unanchored flamed out after burning through Hajjar’s stolen millions and he’d committed millions more—he secretly opened a new $8 million line of credit for Alden at Bank of America, from which he moved money into various Alden accounts and then into his personal accounts, all in a desperate gamble to keep de la Garza’s dreams alive and, hopefully, get Alden’s money back if she found success.

It was all there for Tarlow’s accountants to see: the checks Hajjar had written to himself from the cash reserves, the transfers into the trust and then out again, the millions for personal Amex payments, the secret line of credit, the wires to de la Garza. By the time he was caught, Hajjar had fleeced $30 million from his employer and close family friend.

Alden’s lawyer immediately sent a letter to de la Garza, just after she returned from screening her show’s trailer at Cannes, informing her that the money funding her businesses had all been embezzled. In an attempt to settle the matter, de la Garza’s lawyer responded that, by their accounting, all that remained of the more than $17 million that Hajjar had given to her and her business enterprises—including $2.7 million he wired to her in 2019—was $81,000. “The overwhelming majority of the investment Mr. Hajjar transferred to LGP has already been spent,” they said.

In April 2021, the U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts charged Hajjar with embezzlement, and Alden filed a civil suit against him the following month in Plymouth County, where he lives. In June, Alden filed a civil lawsuit against de la Garza, LGP, and BDG Enterprises in Suffolk Superior Court. “On information and belief, Ms. De la Garza knew or should have known that Mr. Hajjar did not have millions of dollars,” the lawsuit against her stated. “She knew or should have known that the money transferred to her was obtained illegally by Mr. Hajjar.” Some of her friends and former colleagues agreed. “This story has stunned us,” Price says. “She’s not a fool. At some point she must have thought, ‘Wait, this is beyond extravagant,’” Price surmises. “Plus, he is the nicest and most sincere person. How did he go down that path?”

That is the second question that remains a mystery, along with the reason behind Hajjar’s extravagant spending on de la Garza. They are questions that only Hajjar knows the answer to—and he isn’t talking. He declined requests for an interview, as did his relatives and the Tarlow family. Beyond the many acquaintances and friends of de la Garza that he spent time with—and money on—Hajjar appears to be a man of few friends. The only one who would speak for Hajjar was his lawyer, former Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, now at Mintz. “It was always his intention to return the funds to Alden,” Conley says, explaining that Hajjar thought de la Garza’s business ventures would succeed, enabling him to pay back the money he invested in them. “Rick truly believed in Bianca de la Garza.”

As soon as reporters learned of the theft at Alden, the news rippled across the country from Boston to San Francisco. De la Garza hired powerhouse L.A. attorney Charles Harder—best known for lawsuits that put the website Gawker out of business and representing President Donald Trump against Stormy Daniels—to set the record straight and demand an apology from media outlets for misstating aspects of the lawsuit. While denying accusations that she was his partner in crime, de la Garza had something important she wanted to clear up: “[Bianca and Rick] are not and have never been in a romantic relationship.”

Then, de la Garza disappeared. “She was at every party before,” says one of her pals on the social circuit. “As soon as this broke, she got rid of all her social media; she totally went underground.”

In May, Alden and de la Garza reached a confidential settlement in the company’s lawsuit. Of the more than $17 million of Alden’s money that funded de la Garza and her businesses, it appears that she will return only a mere fraction of it. That’s all that was left. De la Garza insists she had no idea what Hajjar was up to during their friendship. “[Rick] presented himself to me and all those around him as a successful businessman and entrepreneur,” she said in a statement to Boston. “He expressed interest in investing in my business and television program, and I never thought any of his money came from anything but his own private legal investment funds. Contrary to media reports, there was never any romantic relationship between me and Mr. Hajjar. Our interaction was strictly on a business level only. I also considered him a friend.” Her managers and producers, who had decades of experience creating and building partnerships with vetted investors, she went on to say, had no reason to doubt the legitimacy of Hajjar’s wealth.

Hajjar never denied that he stole the money. As soon as his crime was uncovered by the Alden accountants, he immediately began returning assets, and to date, he has returned some $5 million to Alden, a small amount, of course, of what he stole. “Rick Hajjar accepts full responsibility for his actions and deeply regrets the harm he caused to the Tarlow family and his colleagues at Alden Shoe,” Conley said.

On May 5, the 64-year-old former CFO—looking dapper as always in pressed tan pants and a gray-and-blue-checked blazer—sat at a conference table flanked by three lawyers during a court hearing over Zoom. After an assistant U.S. attorney presented the evidence of his $30 million embezzlement, Hajjar—through his disposable mask—pleaded guilty to it all: wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, and filing a false tax return. He is scheduled to receive his sentencing in September. According to his plea deal, Hajjar will forfeit his home in Duxbury and will serve anywhere between four and six years in prison.

When asked by the judge if he understood what he was pleading guilty to, Hajjar said simply, “I took money and gave it to another person.”

“Otherwise known as embezzlement,” the judge clarified.

“Yes,” Hajjar said.

There was nothing else to say.