Here’s an absolute heartbreaker for the Mid-City neighborhood, and one longtime real estate lawyer. Popular Pico Blvd. French bakery La Maison du Pain is likely to shutter after lawyers discovered that the money used to fund the initial restaurant was likely stolen, making the bread and pastry shop little more than a laundering front for millions of dollars.
The LA Times has the whole unraveling story, which concerns a law firm run by Robert Smylie and the bakery itself, which was owned and operated by Carmen Salindong and a sister named Josephine. Smylie had for years hired Salindong to oversee his real estate law office, before she eventually left to start La Maison du Pain, which has become a shining star in the still under served area.
Now Smylie and the FBI, after pouring through countless financial records, say that Salindong was actually siphoning off money from the real estate law office as far back as 1998, after being given check-writing authority over the company’s banking interests. She spent lavishly on trips and personal items, according to the report, but also used a large chunk to completely outfit La Maison du Pain with top-of-the-line baking equipment and a French chef. The total cost to open was just north of $1 million dollars, all of which appears now to be completely stolen.
In total, the embezzled amount comes to over $5.5 million, according to a team of investigators hired by Smylie. With that much cash on the table, the Feds soon got involved, and late last year an L.A.County judge demanded that they pay back the money in its entirety. Salindong quickly fell into bankruptcy and a judge has ordered the bakery to be sold off to help repay the money owed. Smylie had actually tried to keep the bakery open by having ownership transferred to him, but so far that hasn’t happened.
And so, in the coming weeks, one of Pico Boulevard’s best bakeries is likely to close forever, 12 years after opening into the hands of a welcoming neighborhood, but with an underlying story of greed and fraud.