Lawsuits, Judgments Stack Up Against Prominent Local Biz Denton Jewelers
27 Lawsuits Allege ‘Lost’ Jewelry and Watches, Unpaid Legal Judgments, Bounced Checks
By HAYLEY FOX | Contributing Writer
Palisadian Charlie Matthau walked into a party in Malibu in 2001 and was struck by a tall blonde he found so attractive she seemed intimidating to him. From across the room, he imagined she would have a sultry Lauren Bacall-type of voice. When he finally worked up the courage to talk to her, though, she responded with a high-pitched voice that Matthau found even more irresistible.
Ashley Anderson was a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre who, according to Matthau, had half the men in Los Angeles County trying to date her.
“I remember her being blonde but telling me a blonde joke at the party,” Matthau told the Palisadian-Post. “‘Why did the blonde stare at the container of orange juice? It said concentrate.’ With material like that, how could I not fall in love with her?”
He spent the next five months wooing her with his own corny jokes until she finally agreed to have dinner with him.
“Fortunately her taste in men never improved, and she’s been stuck with me ever since,” added Matthau, who married Anderson in 2004.
Fast forward to 2014 when Matthau, a successful film director who is the son of famed actor and 1977 Pacific Palisades Honorary Mayor Walter Matthau, wanted to give his wife something special for their 10th wedding anniversary.
He took one of his late mother’s rings to his hometown’s most time-honored jewelry store, Denton Jewelers, founded in 1948. A fixture in the affluent Palisades community, which boasts multi-million dollar ocean-view homes and a host of celebrity residents, the store’s customers have reportedly included Palisadians Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn and Billy Crystal.
Matthau wanted to have the ring reset with a more valuable diamond. Guiding him in the diamond-selection process was Saad Mazboudi, Denton’s well-known and impeccably dressed owner.
Matthau felt like he was in good hands. Mazboudi, after all, had started working at the jewelry store more than 30 years ago in 1984 and took ownership of Denton Jewelry, Inc. (dba Denton Jewelers) in 1996. The jewelry store owner was seen as a pillar in the local business community and even held the post of president of the Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce from 2002-2003 and was named honorary “Town Sheriff” several years ago.
Matthau, who still lives in the Huntington neighborhood where he grew up, left Denton’s with plans for a spectacular ring for his wife – a $60,000, 4-carat, VS-quality diamond – or so he thought.
When he received the finished product and had it appraised by a highly reputable appraiser, Matthau says he was told it was a much lower quality, less expensive stone than he was promised.
He asked for his money back, but Denton’s refused to give him a refund for the partial payment—$3,000 in cash and $42,000 in credit card charges—he had already made toward the ring.
Mazboudi refutes Matthau’s claim. The diamond was “exactly what we represented,” said Denton’s attorney Robert Hindin speaking on Mazboudi’s behalf in an interview with the Post. According to Hindin, Denton’s returned the ring setting to Matthau a few weeks ago.
In 2011, a California supporter of the non-profit Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) decided to sell a diamond ring to Denton’s and donate the proceeds to the organization, which provides help and resources to people with Asperger Syndrome or autism.
The non-profit received a check for $6,685 from Denton’s, but it bounced due to insufficient funds, according to the organization’s executive director Dania Jekel. A promised replacement check never arrived.
Susan Toth, 61, who says she fell in love with jewelry at the age of 5 when she begged her parents for a tiny ring at Christmas, began selling jewelry on consignment at Denton’s about a decade ago.
In 2008 and 2009 she brought a diamond tennis bracelet and two diamond rings worth almost $100,000 to Denton’s to sell on consignment. When she didn’t get her jewelry back or the money from its sale, she sued and won a civil court judgment in 2011 for $116,500 but has collected only about $23,000, Toth said.
Matthau, Toth and the Asperger/Autism Network aren’t alone.
A months-long investigation by the Post has revealed 27 lawsuits – from small claims filings to allegations of breach of contract, breach of guaranty, fraud, conversion, misrepresentation and more – filed against Denton Jewelry, Inc. and/or its owner Mazboudi since he took ownership of the store.
The Post decided to report on the issue because it affects so many people in the Palisades community and surrounding areas. In addition, the disputes are ongoing, and the list of lawsuits and judgments continues to grow.
One of the most recent is a small claims case brought by Phillip Butts, a former Palisades resident who lived in the Highlands neighborhood and who won a judgment against Denton’s for $785.05 on June 9, 2015.
Butts told the Post his ordeal began when he took a gold and black Arnold & Son GMT Timekeeper watch worth approximately $15,000 to Denton’s to sell on consignment.
Mazboudi didn’t sell it and when Butts got the watch back, “it didn’t have the original black strap on it,” Butts said. “[Mazboudi] put a cheap light brown strap on it. His excuse was that it smelled like mildew. He never got authorization to take the strap off.”
Trying to get Mazboudi to replace the $700 strap turned into more than a year-long struggle. Butts still doesn’t have the strap, and he said Mazboudi didn’t pay the judgment.
Just over two months ago on May 8, yet another lawsuit was filed against Denton Jewelry, Inc., Mazboudi and his wife Yvette, this time by a couple who lives in the Highlands neighborhood of the Palisades. They also filed a police report.
CREDITORS LINE UP
When Matthau looked into suing Denton’s, he discovered he would be joining a growing number of plaintiffs.
“I could hire a lawyer and sue him,” Matthau said, “but I’d spend thousands of dollars on the lawyer.” And even if Matthau sued and won a judgment he would have to take his place at the bottom of a long list of creditors trying to recoup their losses.
That’s because in 2012, Denton Jewelry, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This “reorganization” bankruptcy allowed Denton’s to remain open and operating in an attempt to make money and begin paying back creditors.
It also affords Denton’s an “automatic stay” against most creditors, which means people are prohibited from using their own means to collect what they’re owed.
According to Denton’s bankruptcy filing, the store has debts of at least $1 million.
Some creditors, like the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE), have given up altogether on recouping their money, according to the organization’s executive director Jekel. Previously known as the Aspergers Assoc. of New England, this non-profit relies largely on the charity of others.
“We do not have any government money, any federal money,” said Jekel in an interview with the Post. “We rely a little bit on revenue from conferences and seminars…but mainly we rely on our customers and donations.”
The $6,685 check from Denton Jewelers dated April 15, 2011 would have been very welcome, but it bounced. Although Mazboudi promised to resend a cashier’s check in its place, the money never arrived, Jekel said.
Palisadian Billie Weiss has also given up on trying to recover her losses. Weiss, a vibrant 80-year-old, has been hailed as a ‘local hero’ and has gained national attention for her role as the founder of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles (VPCGLA).
She received the KCET TV Heroes Award and the VPC Angel of Peace Award, both in 2012, and has been the recipient of numerous other awards.
Weiss said she had heard about Denton’s stellar reputation so she decided to bring in two watches for repair in the early 2000s. Weiss brought Mazboudi her own watch as well as her late husband’s antique Patek Philippe piece, a brand of luxury, Swiss-made watches that can be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When Weiss tried to reclaim the pieces, she said Mazboudi reported both watches “lost,” and it was only after months of pleading that her husband’s watch was “located” and returned. Hers remains missing, Weiss alleges.
“I would like to warn people not to go there,” said Weiss in a written statement from an attorney.
“There [have] been a few issues where things have gotten misplaced,” Denton’s attorney Hindin said.
“Most of these lawsuits had something to do with the economy,” he added.
While some creditors, including AANE and Weiss, quietly wrote off their losses, others, such as Susan Toth, have gone to great lengths to try to get the money they’re owed from legal judgments.
Toth, a real estate investor who owns property in Malibu, began selling jewelry at Denton’s about a decade ago on the recommendation of an old friend. Over the years she sold about $100,000 worth of jewelry, according to Toth’s own records.
In 2008 she brought a diamond bracelet and in 2009 she brought two rings to Denton’s to sell on consignment.
One ring, a white-gold piece with 1.2 carat baguette diamonds and 1.06 carat princess-cut diamonds, was sold to a buyer from Mexico for $4,200, said Mazboudi in a January 24, 2011 deposition. Toth didn’t get the money for it though.
The other ring, a platinum Sophia D diamond ring containing 2.5 carats of emerald-cut diamonds and a frame consisting of diamonds and sapphires worth about $14,000, was given to a diamond dealer to sell. The dealer subsequently closed his downtown office and stopped responding to Mazboudi’s calls.
“The ring was given on consignment to a diamond dealer, and I was told that—by the diamond dealer that he will pay for it, and that particular person disappeared on me,” Mazboudi said in the 2011 deposition.
Toth’s 18-carat white-gold tennis bracelet containing 41 carats of princess-cut diamonds worth at least $80,000 allegedly ended up in Lebanon, but Toth never got paid for that either.
According to Mazboudi’s 2011 deposition, he gave the bracelet to a distant relative named Samir who took it to Lebanon to give to Samir’s sister.
When asked during the deposition if there was ever a discussion as to how Samir was going to pay for the piece, Mazboudi answered, “I have always assumed that he was just going to wire me the money or give me a check or whatever, you know?”
In a 2015 interview with the Post, Mazboudi said of Toth, “Did I wrong her? Yes I did. Did I mean it? I didn’t mean it. Did I intend to do it? You know what, circumstances… just were absolutely wrong and caused it to happen.”
Toth filed a lawsuit against Mazboudi in 2010 and has been trying to recoup her losses ever since.
“When we realized that Saad wasn’t going to cough up any money after he agreed that he owed me the money, [my attorney] Peter [Salomone] went to the case judge and got an order of judgment. He then took it to the Sheriff’s Department in Santa Monica and I paid to have a sheriff go to Denton’s and sit there for a day to collect any cash/checks that Denton’s may have received from sales for the day,” Toth said via email to the Post.
Toth’s attorney notified Mazboudi’s attorney about the upcoming visit from the Sheriff’s Department. “Saad then promised cashier’s checks, which were to be sent in the next week or so. We then cancelled the Sheriff order,” Toth said. “This took place at least twice. The last time we did it, the Sheriff went to Denton’s and was told that Denton’s had filed for bankruptcy, hence was then immune to the order.”
Toth added, “A lot of people, unfortunately, I think these pieces really meant a lot to them financially or emotionally.”
Like Toth, Phillip Butts was determined to get restitution from Denton’s.
When he received his $15,000 watch from Denton’s with a cheap strap in place of the original one, he spent months and months calling and emailing Denton’s trying to get the original one back.
When that failed, Butts asked for a replacement and launched into another round of calls and emails. “It just went on and on and I didn’t get any responses,” Butts said.
Butts added that when Denton’s didn’t deliver on its promise to replace the strap, he wasn’t going to let it go. He went through the hassle of filing suit in small claims court.
“I had to spend four hours down there in the courthouse in Inglewood,” said Butts, 56, who has been in the investment business for 30 years.
Butts, who won a judgment for over $700 in June 2015, was intent on getting his money from Denton’s.
“I paid to have the Sheriff in Santa Monica go in and do a till bit,” Butts said.
In July, a sheriff went to Denton’s and recovered the money he was owed, according to Butts.
Some of Denton’s customers were devoted patrons for decades before their relationship with the shop went sour. Mary Hinderer had been going to the store since the ’60s to buy gifts, get jewelry appraised and have pieces repaired. It wasn’t until 40-plus years later that their relationship began to crumble.
In June 2005, Hinderer brought three pieces of fine jewelry into the Sunset Boulevard store to be sold on consignment based on an agreement with Mazboudi.
“I insisted and he agreed that the jewelry would not leave Denton’s without my consent,” Hinderer said in a written statement provided by her attorney.
Mazboudi, however, ended up shipping the pieces to Las Vegas to be sold, Hinderer’s lawsuit alleges.
“I was unhappy that Mr. Mazboudi had broken his promise about the jewelry not leaving the store without my consent,” Hinderer said. “But he assured me that the jewelry was safe and that he carried adequate insurance to cover the pieces.”
“After many months went by with no word from him about the sale of the jewelry, I went to Denton’s and insisted that [he] return it to me. Mr. Mazboudi agreed to do so,” she said.
“Mr. Mazboudi failed to return my jewelry despite his promises,” Hinderer said, “and I went back to the store to confront him. He told me the jewelry had been sold in Las Vegas and he gave me a check for what he said I was entitled to from the sale. The check bounced,” she said.
According to Hinderer, she then hired an attorney and in October 2009 entered into a settlement agreement with Denton’s and its owners, Mazboudi and his wife Yvette, who promised to pay her $55,000 in installments.
The Mazboudis broke that promise and as a result of legal action, a judgment was entered in favor of Hinderer against Denton Jewelry, Inc. and the Mazboudis on Jan. 27, 2010 for the principal sum of $50,000. Adding in interest, Hinderer’s legal costs and attorney’s fees brought the total judgment to more than $75,000.
Hinderer was unable to collect the judgment because Denton Jewelry, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2012.
It also kept Palisadian Karey Kirkpatrick from collecting on a judgment he won on a small claims suit against Denton’s.
A longtime screenwriter, Kirkpatrick is best known for his work on the animated features “Chicken Run,” “Over the Hedge,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Charlotte’s Web.” This year he made headlines with his smash hit Broadway musical “Something Rotten! A Very New Musical,” which earned 10Tony nominations and notched a win for Best Featured Actor at the awards ceremony last month.
It was a simple attempt to purchase a 20th wedding anniversary present for his wife from Denton Jewelers that landed Kirkpatrick on Denton’s list of creditors.
In 2010, Kirkpatrick purchased a $4,800 pair of diamond earrings for his wife. When she decided the earrings were too flashy, Kirkpatrick said he brought them back to the store and was told although the store didn’t have a refund policy, Mazboudi would try to sell the earrings and reimburse him.
Eventually, Mazboudi allegedly sold the earrings at an auction at his child’s school, yet Kirkpatrick saw no money. He filed a small claims suit, was awarded a judgment, and the day after he received his first payment, Mazboudi put Denton’s into bankruptcy, said Kirkpatrick.
“I’m not quite sure how this bankruptcy is working in my favor,” Kirkpatrick said in an interview with the Post. “It seems to only benefit him. He’s still in business. He has my money, and I have no earrings.”
In response to why people have not been receiving payments, Denton’s attorney Hindin explained that the store has been paying the trustee as required.
“We’re still in bankruptcy in good standing, and we’re making the payments,” he said.
A SPARKLING IMAGE STAINED
This lengthy list of lawsuits may come as a surprise to Palisadians as Denton Jewelers is a longstanding and highly regarded staple of the community.
Denton’s and its prominent owner Mazboudi have played a visible role in the Palisades community.
When he was president of the local Chamber of Commerce from 2002-2003, Mazboudi was photographed in the pages of the Post with celebrities, including Anthony Hopkins and Frances Fisher, and made front-page news for some of his efforts on behalf of the Chamber.
Mazboudi was also a featured presenter at the popular annual Mr. and Miss Palisades teen contest in 2003. Denton Jewelers donated prizes to the Mr. and Miss Palisades winners in at least five of the years from 2003 to 2008, according to Post archives. As far back as 1997, Denton Jewelers was listed as a donor on the Mr. and Miss Palisades teen contest program.
Denton’s has also sponsored a Pacific Palisades Baseball Association (PPBA) baseball team, where its name was displayed prominently on the backs of players’ jerseys.
The Sunset Boulevard jewelry store, which had been an official Rolex and Tiffany and Co. vendor (accounts the store no longer has), produces custom design orders and has been heralded for its luxury watch repair services.
The store was even profiled in a 2010 Los Angeles Times article titled “Jewelry repairers who are worth their weight in gold.” And many of Denton’s positive Yelp reviews detail customers’ decades of commitment to the business.
The store’s history stretches decades back to when the Denton family first bought it in 1948. Ten years later, they sold it to Palisadian Wallace Miller who maintained ownership for nearly 40 years until he sold it to Mazboudi in 1996. According to Denton’s bankruptcy filing, Miller is still owed more than $700,000.
Miller denied a request to be interviewed for this article.
“They [residents] have a lot of trust in that name and it hasn’t been earned at all by the person who’s using it,” said Aaron Schmidt, a former Denton’s employee, in an interview with the Post.
Schmidt began working at Denton’s in 2007 at the age of 26. He had just moved to California with his wife and took a temporary job working for Denton’s. Although he left the job just a few months later, the two remained friendly.
When Schmidt received a sizeable inheritance upon his uncle’s death and told Mazboudi he was contemplating what to do with it, the jeweler presented him with an ‘opportunity’ that involved giving Mazboudi a short-term loan of $25,000.
On Jan. 6, 2010 Schmidt hand-wrote and signed a simple contract reviewed by the Post that outlined the conditions of the deal, including that the loan was to be repaid by or on Jan. 15, 2010 and that a 10 percent interest fee would be tacked on to the principal. Mazboudi signed the contract and at the time, Schmidt had no reason not to trust him.
“This was a person who owned a business, and was a friend, and was an employer,” said Schmidt.
Mazboudi admits to taking the loan and said he needed the money to buy diamond earrings to sell at Denton’s. He bought the earrings, which never sold and eventually he had to “liquidate them at a loss,” Mazboudi said. Although Mazboudi wrote Schmidt a few repayment checks in the following months, they all bounced, said Schmidt.
“It became apparent within a couple months that I don’t think he had any intention of paying it [the loan] back,” he said.
So just like that, Schmidt was out $25,000 and left to battle depression through a “very dark time” as he faced a multi-year legal battle with someone he thought was a friend. He filed a lawsuit against Denton Jewelry, Inc. and was awarded a final judgment of $32,500, according to court papers.
“I hit my lowest point personally a few months into the legal proceedings, as it was to me a constant reminder of personal failure,” said Schmidt. “I felt like I had failed so many people, not the least of which my uncle, and had certainly considered suicide.”
Then in 2012, Schmidt’s father-in-law died. Much of Schmidt’s anger over his financial loss is because that $25,000 would have made their “constant travels back to Virginia and spending our time with him easier,” he said.
To date, Schmidt has only recouped a fraction of the loan, but it is the emotional fallout of Mazboudi’s actions that are long-lasting. Schmidt agreed to share his story in an attempt to help others “avoid the same stress and pain” he underwent.
A couple of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against Denton’s and/or Mazboudi declined to go on record about their experiences saying they were either too embarrassed or exhausted by the whole ordeal to relive it. They also said they didn’t think people would be sympathetic to their stories because they are wealthy.
But they painted a picture not too different from those of Matthau, Toth, Hinderer, Weiss, Schmidt, Kirkpatrick, Butts and the Asperger/Autism Network; one that began with missing merchandise or unpaid debt, followed by unreturned phone calls and bounced checks.
Some of Denton’s lawsuits also allege shoddy workmanship in the repair shop, while others claim the store “lost” items altogether. Still others allege that Denton’s sold their items for profit and then kept the money.
For example in 2012, LA-based diamond dealer American Ideal Diamond Co. gave Mazboudi a 2.89 ct. diamond on consignment, and upon the diamond’s sale, Mazboudi was expected to pay the company the agreed upon price of $34,896.75, according to court documents.
The diamond was allegedly sold, but the company was never paid. Although the diamond company filed a lawsuit in July 2012 and won a judgment in March 2013, they are still struggling to reclaim their financial losses today.
In March of this year, the company’s lawyer filed a motion to enforce a levy that had originally been served in 2013 on Mazboudi’s ownership stock in Denton Jewelry, Inc.
“To them it’s a sport more than anything else. How can we screw Saad? How can we make his life miserable?” Mazboudi said.
A VICTIM OF THE ECONOMY?
Despite the growing list of legal suits against Denton Jewelry, Inc., Mazboudi claims he is just a victim of a bad economy, painted into a corner by a series of unfortunate events and forced to do whatever necessary to keep his family and business afloat.
With wide eyes and an unwavering sense of confidence and gravity, Mazboudi recounted to the Post how in the early 2000s, Denton’s had to stop carrying Rolex watches and Tiffany and Co. inventory, which significantly cut into their business, said Mazboudi. Then the Great Recession hit and like many luxury businesses experienced at the time, sales plummeted.
“The economy got us,” he said. “The economy got us pretty bad in 2008,” he said.
Mazboudi and his wife Yvette, who helps run the business, took themselves off of payroll and cut back wherever possible, he said. Still, he has six employees who rely on him for paychecks to keep food on the table for their families. Not to mention providing for his own family, Mazboudi said.
The lawsuits leading up to the store’s bankruptcy only further hurt the store’s financial footing, he said. Although he attributes most of his legal problems and financial failings to the recession, he was the defendant in at least nine lawsuits and small claims even before the year of 2008.
“It all added up, then it’s like a domino effect,” Mazboudi said. “Our bills were getting late, vendors were knocking on our door.”
Mazboudi’s reputation in the jewelry industry is now “stained,” he said, but by filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the store, he can protect himself “temporarily” as he tries to rebuild the business.
All claims against Mazboudi have been civil; no criminal charges have been brought. Although Mazboudi takes responsibility for many of the debts he has incurred, he stops short of admitting any criminal wrongdoing.
“If I wanted to take money from here, I would have saved my house a long time ago, but I didn’t do that,” Mazboudi said. “If I wanted to do something… put some money aside and send my wife to the doctor, I didn’t do that.”
Mazboudi’s house was scheduled for public auction on April 1, 2015 but the auction was delayed when his wife filed for personal bankruptcy the day before. The auction was rescheduled to May 1, postponed again until July 1 and then deferred again.
For now, Denton Jewelers remains open and Mazboudi said he is “very confident” he’ll be able to get business back on track and pay everyone what they’re owed. In an effort to work off his shoestring budget and within the constraints of an industry largely reluctant to work with him, Mazboudi said he will start designing his own jewelry to rebuild his own stock.
“I know there are people that would like to see me gone, out of business, out of spite,” Mazboudi said. “I would understand why. But to me, it’s just my survival instinct kicks in, in order to do whatever it is just to keep the doors open.”