How Dunkin Donuts And Others Ended Up Hiring A 'Psychotic' Credit Card Thief As Director Of Communications

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Dunkin Brands HQ

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Dunkin' Brands HQ in Canton, Mass.

On paper, Carolyn Kravetz was a perfect choice to become Dunkin' Donuts' new global director of corporate communications. She had a master's degree in public administration from Harvard. She had worked at Arnold Worldwide, the biggest ad agency in Boston, where she handled media relations for Volkswagen. She had done a stint at WGBH, the massive public broadcasting station in the city. She had been earning six-figure salaries for years.

What Dunkin' didn't know, however, was that Kravetz, now 46, had been arrested for stealing credit cards a few months earlier. Stolen goods had been found inside her apartment. Her neighbors lived in fear of her, and regarded her as "psychotic," according to papers filed in federal court.

A lawyer, quoting letters from her victims, would later tell a federal court:

Acquaintances describe Kravetz as 'wicked,' treacherous and 'sociopathic' — 'cunning, devious' and 'controlling,' prone to emotional 'blackmail' and able to 'deceive' those around her for 'long' periods of 'time.' … highly aggressive and 'extremely manipulative' … bullying, violent, 'self-centered and conniving.'

The credit card fraud charges ultimately were dismissed after Kravetz performed 20 hours of community service, court papers show.  But that was not the end of Kravetz's criminal career.

After she joined Dunkin', she approved nearly $400,000 in bogus payments to a marketing vendor who kicked back half the money to her, federal prosecutors say.

Bizarrely, Dunkin' had no idea it was being defrauded of the money at the time. Her scheme only came to an end when she was let go for an unrelated reason. Prosecutors later said that she approved one final false payment to her co-conspirator for $133,175, "right as she was going out the door." (Dunkin' declined to comment when reached by BI.)

Kravetz pleaded guilty to the scheme in 2010, and received 32 months of probation. She paid no restitution and no fine, beyond a $600 court assessment, court documents show.

Why Kravetz walked away from Dunkin' with such a light punishment for screwing the company out of $400,000 in cash is hard to fathom, but a few days ago, the underlying facts were revealed when much of the paperwork associated with the case, which had been kept secret by a Massachusetts federal judge at the request of Kravetz's lawyers, was disclosed to Business Insider.  Those lawyers had argued the papers were personal, and therefore the public had no right to see them.

A federal appeals court, however, ruled this year on a motion by Business Insider asking that sealed documents in the case be released to the public. (The litigation was handled for us by the Yale Law School Media Practicum. A complete list of the students and lawyers who worked on this case is at the end of this article.)

The ruling changed federal law, making sentencing memoranda "judicial documents" to which the public now has a common law right of access.

In June, a federal judge began releasing to Business Insider documents in the case about Kravetz's criminal history, and the evidence put before the judge prior to her sentencing.

They paint a picture of a woman whose neighbors lived in terror as they tried and failed to shield themselves from her thefts and scams. And they describe how Kravetz ensnared a college friend in a decades-long "masochistic" relationship in which she used him as a pawn to bring her hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. Ultimately, the pair both ended up working for Dunkin', where they briefly got rich because of a loophole in the way Dunkin' approved payments to marketing vendors.

A college friendship turned "masochistic"

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Boris Levitin

Boris Levitin / LinkedIn

Boris Levitin's LinkedIn profile.

Kravetz first met Boris Levitin, now 48, at Boston University in 1985. "The nature of their relationship is unclear, but they had an attraction for each other on several levels. One level led both of them into the criminal justice system," Kravetz's lawyer told a federal judge.

Levitin's lawyer was similarly perplexed by the nature of their bond. He told the court:

Levitin and Kravetz met at Boston University in 1985, forming a perverse and dysfunctional relationship — one-sided if not masochistic — that lasted over 20 years.

A friend of Levitin's, writing to the judge to request he not be imprisoned, said, "Boris had feelings for her, and she used this to manipulate him." Levitin's own father agreed. "He was lured into the unfortunate situation by his false 'friend,' Ms. Kravetz, who got him involved by deception and cruel manipulation of his emotions."

But the relationship was not physical, according to a friend. "Because they were never lovers, he never truly saw the psychotic side of her nature. She was a master manipulator; he was guileless and naive. It's an awful combination." (Lawyers for both Kravetz and Levitin did not return messages requesting comment.)

Levitin's naivety comes across strongly in his friends' letters to the judge. Born in Moscow in 1965, he moved to Israel as a child and later arrived in Boston in 1984. He was a permanent outsider as a youth, and was the target of neighborhood bullies. The experience left him unable to tell the difference between good and bad people, his friends say. He coped by being as helpful as possible to anyone he knew, they say, citing a long list of rides to the airport, and hours of unpaid help and work he would perform for anyone who would ask. He even drove Kravetz to the grocery store and carried her shopping bags. In court papers, Levitin is described as someone who is book smart but not street smart: He could discuss jazz arcana and computers at length, but struggled to recognize when people were taking advantage of him.

Late nights at WGBH

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Steve Schwartz

WGBH

When she graduated in 1988, Kravetz went to work with Levitin at WGBH, the public broadcaster that provides a huge amount of PBS's national programming. It's not clear what Kravetz's job at WGBH was, but Levitin clearly found his niche: He became a fixture at the station in its audience research department, and worked hard at his job. Steve Schwartz, the former jazz host at WGBH, told the court:

Boris Levitin and I have been friends since … 1988 … and remain friends today.

While he was still at WGBH, Boris seemed to all but live there, often still working in his office late at night. He would frequently visit me in the studio, usually as I wrapped up my show at midnight to 1am.

I was in shock when Boris told me about the criminal charges against him.

Levitin also got the support of executives at DirecTV and Google, who knew him through his independent audience research company, Audiresys. "Frankly, I don't know what I would do without him," Luiz Guilherme Duarte of DirecTV Latin America told the judge.

"This monster"

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Carolyn Kravetz apartment

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The apartment complex in Brookline where Kravetz is believed to have lived in the mid-2000s.

Kravetz, however, did not make as many friends. In the mid-2000s she lived in an apartment complex in Brookline, Mass., where, according to court files, she developed a reputation as a thief and a manipulator. One of her acquaintances, whose name has been redacted in the court files, told the judge:

I witnessed her doing expense reports for work, where she took full advantage of the company, billing them for every personal expense she had. I went with her to shop on Newbury Street once, meeting up with her at her hair salon, where she put expensive bottles of shampoo into my bag without me knowing she did not pay for [them] or that I was carrying them until hours later.

One time, when she was invited to visit my family's summer home, I found her at our neighbor's house, in their master bedroom looking in their top dresser drawer. I suspect she was looking for jewelry.

That person claimed Kravetz would plead poverty to Levitin, and he would give her money to tide her over. "[He] gave her $150,000 in support over 15 years," the documents claim.

Anna Melnokova, a social worker who lived in Brookline, Mass., told the judge that Carolyn Kravetz "even now features in my nightmares." She gave Kravetz a spare key to her apartment during construction for "emergencies." "My apartment was thereafter visited in my absence after the construction had ended, and around $800 in cash stolen. … I believe that Boris was manipulated and deceived by this monster," she wrote.

Another neighbor, Josephine Shields, claimed, "she entered my apartment without my permission and stole credit cards belonging to my daughter and myself." Shields changed her locks twice, after first using a locksmith suggested by Kravetz. "Even now as I write, I find my hand trembling with fear and anger over what Carolyn Kravetz did to us."

Karen Sweeney, of Lawrence, Mass., had a similar story:

I learned that Carolyn ordered expensive items by mail and then falsely reported to UPS and American Express that the items had not been delivered. Carolyn, apparently, used a house key given to her by the neighbor to take care of the apartment in emergencies to steal credit cards belonging to the neighbor's daughter and later, used them to buy expensive clothes and shoes that were delivered to the neighbor's door from where Carolyn stole them.

Kravetz's lawyer admitted in papers that police discovered the items in her home, their price tags still attached. Police also found a laptop that had been stolen from WGBH.

A kickback scheme begins

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Arnold Worldwide

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The Arnold Worldwide building in Boston.

After WGBH, Kravetz flourished in Boston. She ended up working at Arnold on the Volkswagen account during a time when that agency was one of the hottest in the country. It had just successfully relaunched the VW Beetle with a classic campaign that reminded people of the original "Think small" ads that introduced the car in the 1960s. Her salary was $107,500, according to her lawyer's letter to the judge.

Kravetz hired Levitin as an outside graphic design consultant and, according to prosecutors, came up with the idea of allowing him to invoice the agency for work that wasn't actually being done. When he was paid, he split the "kickback" money with Kravetz, prosecutors told a federal court. Arnold had no idea it may have been victimized until the FBI came calling, years later, to investigate the Dunkin' case. Kravetz worked there from 1996 until December 2001, when she was laid off during the recession.

She used the downtime to get a master's degree from Harvard. Then, in 2004, Kravetz joined Dunkin' as "director of global communications" for Dunkin' Brands at a salary of $120,000. She was also given an important level of responsibility: She was authorized to approve invoices paid to vendors for sums up to $100,000 without oversight by any other executive, according to a memo from prosecutors.

So Kravetz and Levitin transferred their kickback scheme from Arnold to Dunkin, prosecutors alleged, but on a larger scale.

Dunkin' is taken for $396,875

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dunkin donuts

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She commissioned seven vague projects from Levitin, ranging from "rebranding" to posters and envelopes for "crisis management." Prosecutors say none of those projects were real.

Levitin's lawyers, however, say that he clung to the hope that the work was real, even when he was being paid for uncompleted projects. They cited more than 150 emails between the pair in which Levitin begged for more instructions on how to complete the assignments Kravetz was giving him. She ignored him. Eventually, however, he went along — and began kicking back half his billings to her, prosecutors alleged.

They took Dunkin' for $396,875 in total, which they split evenly, before Kravetz was let go in 2005 for unrelated reasons, according to court records.

It's not clear how the FBI was alerted to the kickback scheme. In 2006, Kravetz moved to San Ramon, Calif., and got a job at Landis Communications in San Francisco, where she was a vice president, and then moved to Edelman PR in San Mateo, where she supervised nine people in the consumer technology group at a salary of $180,000.

It was only in 2010, when she was indicted by a grand jury, that she had to resign from that job. She pleaded guilty to six counts of mail fraud and two counts of filing false income tax returns (because she had not paid more than $81,000 she owed in tax on the "income" from the kickbacks), according to her own lawyer's pre-sentencing memo.

Kravetz's lawyer explained to the court that her crimes occurred because she had emotional problems, going back to her time at Harvard, in 2004. After graduating, "Carolyn Kravetz's emotional life was falling apart," he told the judge. She had "suicidal thoughts" and may have begun hoarding medicine, he said.

"Confusion about her sexual identity"

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Carolyn Kravetz

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An image of a redacted court file describing Kravetz's mental problems.

Specific information about Kravetz's emotional issues has been redacted from the court file because it relates to her medical records. At her sentencing, Kravetz argued that she was depressed during the time of her crimes "because of confusion about her sexual identity," her lawyer said.

He also reported that Kravetz had been on anti-depressant medication and had sought mental health treatment after she was arrested. In the fall of 2003,  before the credit card thefts occurred, "Kravetz began experiencing emotional difficulties, anxiety attacks, extreme exhaustion, not eating," he told the judge.

Today, she is "horrified and remorseful" over what she did, her lawyer said. According to the court file, she lives in California with a partner — whose name and gender have also been blacked out of the record — and she is raising her partner's child.

But Kravetz may not have suffered that much, according to the court file. She did not pay back the $200,000 that was her take in the Dunkin' scheme. That was supposedly paid by Levitin, who borrowed it from friends, according to Levitin's father and his lawyer.

The other mystery is how Kravetz managed to work her way to the top of the marketing tree at one of America's biggest advertisers while her personal life was a train wreck of mental confusion and petty theft. A letter from Josephine Shields, the Brookline neighbor whose credit cards were stolen, suggests an explanation: that Kravetz was able to maintain a convincing exterior. "I go over and over in my mind every word and contact that I had with her. Why didn't I see through her?"

Another acquaintance, Karen Sweeney told the judge: "Carolyn may have been mad; everyone I know who knew her, including her own sister, thinks so."

NOTE TO READERS: This story was the result of a federal appeals court ruling, which held that sealed documents in the case be opened to the public at the request of Business Insider. The litigation was handled for us by students of the Yale Law School Media Practicum. The ruling changed federal law, making sentencing memoranda "judicial documents" to which the public now has a common law right of access.

We're grateful to these lawyers, who represented BI and litigated the case (U.S. v. Kravetz 11-1718) for us:

    •    Douglas Curtis, Partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
    •    Eliza Scheibel, formerly an Associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
    •    Jeremy Kutner, Yale Law School 2012 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic)
    •    Iya Megre, Yale Law School 2014 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic), Summer Associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
    •    John Langford, Yale Law School 2014 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic), Summer Associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
    •    Patrick Hayden, Yale Law School 2014 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic), Summer Associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
    •    Gisella Barcia, Yale Law School 2013 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic)
    •    Allyson Bennet, Yale Law School 2013 (Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic)



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