Co-owner of Lutherville boutique empties shop overnight amid business partner dispute

A Lutherville consignment boutique was emptied the night of Nov. 18 amid a legal feud between the shop’s two co-owners.

Yolanda Maria Martinez called her decision to empty the contents of Karma and change the locks the “legal and rightful securing of company assets.” Her co-owner, Teresa Blatchley, called it theft, and pressed criminal charges.

“We stand behind the information we have been able to share regarding the theft that occurred at Karma on Sunday,” Blatchley wrote on the Karma Facebook page, which she controls. “It was organized, calculated & evil.”

The two women each accuse each other of mishandling their business obligations and are fighting over the business in a civil lawsuit.

According to a court filing from Blatchley’s legal team, Martinez entered the shop at 1508 Riderwood Drive on Sunday, Nov. 18, after all the employees had left, accompanied by her husband and five to six other “masked individuals.” Blatchley’s attorney, Andrew Battista, said the security video showed them wearing dark clothing and ski masks.

Martinez took everything in the store, according to the court filing — inventory, consignment items, furniture, credit card machines, state licenses, financial documents, light fixtures and the personal items of employees.

Facebook posts on Nov. 18 showed employees decorating the store for the holidays, and around 10:30 p.m. showed Karma’s windows newly decorated with Christmas trees and cotton snow.

When a reporter visited Nov. 29, those same windows were bare, with nothing but taped-up signs saying the store is “closed until further notice.”

“We are completely inoperable as the store was emptied,” the sign said. “It is unthinkable and unimaginable.”

Blatchley’s court complaint estimated that Martinez took $206,000 worth of goods owned by the store and $87,000 in consignment items.

On Nov. 28, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Sherrie R. Bailey ordered Martinez to return the contents of the store by end of business Friday, according to court filings.

Battista said Friday afternoon that “most” of the items had been returned the night before, and he expected the rest would arrive soon. “Of the items that have been returned, a great many of them have been damaged,” Battista said.

In addition to a civil case, Blatchley and at least one consigner, Adele Brockmeyer, filed criminal charges of theft against Martinez and her husband, Ricardo Martinez.

“It’s just disappointing that someone would do this,” Brockmeyer said. The Lutherville resident said the day before the store was emptied she had dropped off clothing worth a total of between $8,500 and $10,000. Consigners retain ownership of their goods until they are sold.

Brockmeyer said she contacted Martinez’s attorney to request that her items be returned.

“They said they weren’t returning it, this was a dispute between Theresa and Yolanda, and they would be returned at some point,” Brockmeyer said.

Battista said the State’s Attorney’s Office will determine whether charges will result in prosecution.

Martinez’s attorney referred a request for an interview to the Fallston Group, a public relations firm, which provided a Nov. 29 letter from Martinez addressed to the “Karma Community.”

Whether or not the goods are returned in good condition, Brockmeyer said, “it’s still a theft.” But in her letter, Martinez wrote that the move was legal.

“[O]nce we learned we had the legal right to take this important step, we felt an immediate sense of obligation to do so to preserve company assets and protect our consumers and consignors,” Martinez wrote.

Custody battle

The dispute between the owners of the year-old consignment store goes back months — but each woman tells a different story of how it started.

The two women formed Karma LLC in July 2017 as co-owners. Blatchley’s court filing said that Martinez contributed start-up capital and was responsible for paying business costs, expenses and taxes while Blatchley ran day-to-day operations.

In her letter, Martinez blamed the feud on Blatchley, saying earlier this year Martinez discovered “numerous operating deficiencies, financial irregularities and missed reporting requirements.”

Blatchley said that Martinez “failed to obtain the required sales tax and use registration numbers from the State of Maryland or to pay the taxes owed by Karma.”

In June this year, Blatchley formed Karma-Lutherville LLC, a separate entity from the business she shares with Martinez and began operating the shop through that company instead. She said the step was necessary to avoid defaulting on Karma’s five-year lease. Martinez called it a “violation of our legal agreement.”

“In effect, I was removed from my own business by a trusted partner who had commandeered the store and all of its assets,” Martinez wrote.

In addition to ordering Martinez to return the contents of the store on Nov. 28, the judge also ordered that all assets be returned to the original company, Karma LLC.

The domain for the store’s original website, karmathestore.com, is registered in Martinez’s name. In July this year, a new domain was registered: karmafashionboutique.com. Both websites remain live; the store’s Facebook page, which Blatchley controls, urged customers last week to visit the newer domain, “the ONLY website we have control of.” Martinez’s Nov. 29 letter directs people to the original website.

In July, Martinez sued Blatchley and her new LLC, a lawsuit that is ongoing. Martinez’s letter said it was on the advice of her lawyer that she decided to “ensure all assets could be accounted for by taking possession of Karma, LLC’s entire store contents so these items could be inventoried and safeguarded.”

She said she emptied the store under the supervision of attorneys, business advisers, professional security, a locksmith and videographers, and stored the items in a “temperature-controlled environment.”

Blatchley’s complaint noted that Martinez cleared the store and made it inoperable just before Black Friday and the start of the holiday season, the busiest time of year for retailers.

Brockmeyer, the consigner, said that in the past year Karma has been not just a business but a community staple. From charity fundraisers to holiday children’s events, the store is “very community-centered,” she said.

“It’s just a nice business that you want to be a patron of because it’s a small business, the money’s going back into the community … For that reason, it’s a very sad situation,” Brockmeyer said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

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