Money Matters in Couple Relationships: Avoid Financial Betrayal: Getting Taken to the Cleaners, the Poorhouse, or Worse–to Jail: Be Your Own Detective, REPRISE

Posted on January 2, 2012 by

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file000228000002In my series of posts on Money Matters in Couple Relationships, I wrote several entries regarding how to avoid financial betrayal, and gave some general pieces of advice, as you can see there.

I warned in those posts against ignorance of financial matters in a relationship, much as a person might like to abdicate financial responsibility. But the issue arose again, and reminded me how urgent it is that each partner remain alert to and aware of money matters, when, the stock market being closed for the day, I was forced to look for other news on the radio, and came across the program entitled American Greed.

In case you haven’t yet heard the story of Steven Trantel I relay the outlines here, both because it shows what can happen if a person becomes truly desperate and because it highlights Stephen’s wife’s, Jeanne’s, mistake by remaining ignorant of her own financial situation.

Stephen Trantel and Jeanne Callahan married in 1994, and by 2003 lived quite comfortably in a fancy suburb of Manhattan.  And Stephen was the model husband–he worked long hours to support his family’s lifestyle, but then came home and pitched in on child care.  He was community-minded, too, acting as  a little league coach, and playing Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party. He volunteered at soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity. But as a self-employed commodities trader, Stephen essentially gambled with his own money.

Crucially here, Jeanne hid no knowledge the couple’s financial picture. She understood, of course, that they were well-off,  that she could stay home with the kids without working, and the kids could go to private school–and Stephen never complained about these things. But she never knew their gross income, never looked at the bank statements, never even made a deposit or withdrawal.

Instead, Jeanne says,  “My husband sorted the bills and gave me an allowance.” [Jeanne writes about her story in a book entitled Disguised Blessings.] She didn’t have the first clue what their financial picture looked like, or even to begin to handle the family finances, should something happen to her husband.

And that is one of the things I hope to never hear another person say in their marriage. Perhaps Jeanne couldn’t have prevented what came later–but what if she could have, with a little bit of knowledge?

Things were stressful on Wall Street, and in 2003 Stephen lost his spot on the trading floor. He never told his wife. Rather, each day he got up and left the house, as if he had a job. Jeanne said he left ‘for work’ at the same time each day, dressed in suit and tie.  He came home each night at the same time, too. Jeanne never suspected there was a problem.

And this ties back to the posts on secrecy, for Stephen said later that he felt he simply couldn’t tell his wife what had happened, even as bills came rolling in and he couldn’t make his payments. What went wrong, I’m forced to wonder, that didn’t allow Stephen to be open with his wife about something that preyed on his mind so ceaselessly? In fact, Stephen would later say that he committed his crimes to pay for his family’s lifestyle. Wouldn’t you wonder whether Jeanne, faced with the choice of tightening her belt or living with a criminal, might have chosen the former option? Yet Stephen never gave her the choice.

In an interview after his arrest, Stephen said, “I was just sitting in my truck looking out  the window. And I’m like: ‘I need money right now. What can I do where nobody’s  gonna get hurt?’ I just came to this epiphany that there’s no other way. If I  wanna hold on to everything, then I’ve got to steal money.”

So Stephen headed to the library and set himself the task of learning how to become–and this is true, I couldn’t make it up–a bank robber. He spent his time researching how to rob banks without getting caught. For example, he says, “I saw a statistic that 80% of the people who rob banks get caught from their  getaway car, so I took that out of the equation.” He didn’t use a getaway car.

Trantel was sensible about his plan–he would pick a guard-less bank and a time of day with few customers. He wore gloves plus a disguise (usually a baseball cap, fake moustache, and sunglasses). He would place a coffee cup near his truck, which he’d park near an alley. From there his plan was simple. He’s just walk up to a teller, hand her a note saying he’d have a gun and she should give him all the money in her drawer. Then he would walk to his truck, change, throw his disguise into a dumpster, pick up his cup of coffee, and calmly drive away.

Stephen would rob a total of 10 banks (for just over $60,000) and earn himself the title of Long Island Bank Robber before finally getting caught.

Jeanne had no idea where the money Stephen made on his heists was coming from, and, when her husband was finally arrested, she insisted it was a case of mistaken identity.

As they’ve taught us in Monty Python, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” And no one expects their husband to be arrested bank robbery. But perhaps Jeanne could have expected some of the money difficulties she would face after the fiasco, had she known the first thing about her financial situation.