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What to do with “stolen” gifts?

Question:

Hi Rav,

Please can you advise on the halachically correct course of action regarding some gifts that were given to my kids that were obtained in a less than kosher manner.

My brother-in-law works for a company that imports and distributes toys.

He gave my kids some toys over the weekend.

My kids opened most of them and started playing with them.

A while later my brother-in-law made a comment that he got the toys off the back of a truck at work.

I asked if he was allowed to take them. He said, “it depends on how you look at it…”. He then proceeded to explain that it was damaged stock.

He explained that there are two business owners at his work. One is happy to give the stock away, he thinks the stock is a nuisance in the warehouse.

(Although, from his phrasing, I get the impression that not all the items were damaged stock, some of it might have been taken from regular stock)

The other owner wants to keep the stock because he paid money for it and thinks he might find a use for it.

I accepted his explanation and accepted the gifts. But I reflected on it later and came to the conclusion that I made a mistake.

One owner wants to keep the stock and it was taken without his permission. I am sure this is stealing in the eyes of Hashem. I am sure both owners would have to be OK with giving away the stock.

I don’t know what to do with the toys. I know we are not allowed to benefit from stolen items.

If I return them to my Sister and my brother-in-law, they are going to feel embarrassed and offended.

I know there is a mitzvah to rebuke, but in this instance, I don’t think it will do any good. My brother-in-law resigned from the company, so he’s no longer going to be put in a position where he might be tempted to steal stock. So rebuking is not necessary to stop him from doing this sin again in the future.

I could return the stock to the company. However some of the toys were of a consumable nature and are no longer in a condition where they could be resold. I could give the company monetary compensation for these toys.

The problem is that, if I approach the company and offer to return/pay for the toys that were given to me (that were stolen from them), it could get my brother-in-law or other staff members into serious trouble.

I know nothing about the inner workings of the company. I don’t know if my brother-in-law’s explanation is the full truth.

I don’t know if stock shrinkage is a big problem for the company. By returning/paying for the toys I will bring to the attention of the business owners the fact that staff members are taking stock without permission. This could cause big problems.

Even if I dropped the toys off with some money (for the ones we can’t return), anonymously and discreet e.g. if I dropped off the package in the middle of the night, it is still problematic. The warehouse is in an industrial park with lots of surveillance and security. If I get stopped and questioned, I might be put in a position where I would be compelled to incriminate my brother-in-law.

Moreover, if the company received a package with their stock and some money on their doorstep, the owners could join the dots and it could prompt a deeper and/or more serious investigation.

I don’t know how prevalent the culture of taking stock is in the company. I don’t know the degree to which the owners are aware of this. I don’t know what action they will take. I don’t know if the owners are already investigating these matters.

My efforts to return the stolen stock could be well received by the business owners but it could also prompt a Police investigation. I don’t want to cause trouble for my brother-in-law or other people that work there.

So what must I do with the gifts?

Some are still in their packaging and could be returned but what must I do about the consumable gifts that cannot be returned?

If I must pay them back, what is the fair amount? The company were not only robbed of the value of the stock, the company was also deprived of the opportunity to sell the stock at a profit.

Also, I might have given my brother-in-law the impression that it was OK to accept the gifts because one of the owners said it was OK. I think both owners have to agree. Must I correct the wrong impression that I gave my brother-in-law? Maybe I made a chillul Hashem
Any guidance on how I can correct my misinformation without causing offense?

Thank you,

Answer:

A few points.

  1. We need to know if the stock is going to be sold or thrown out. If it will be thrown out, then you don’t have to worry. However, if it will be sold then it is considered stolen goods and it has to be returned.
  2. Regarding not getting your brother-in-law into trouble, you can return the toys, without offering an explanation. “These toys ended up by me, and I think it wasn’t paid for. I want to be honest, and therefore I would like to return them and pay for the ones that were opened”. If they ask how you got it, you could simply reply, “it’s long story, but it isn’t important for us”. They do not have to be told that your brother-in-law once worked there, etc. It is hard to imagine that they will open a police investigation, over something so small, especially when they see they are dealing with an honest person.
  3. In order to return the toys, (if they indeed have to be returned), you will need to return them to the company in a way that they will indeed receive the money, and the unopened toys. If they have a store, you can return the toys to the store and pay them for the opened toys. If they don’t, it is more complicated. You might be able to go down there while they are open, and give it to one of he owners, (not a worker who will just keep the money, or toys). Alternatively, you can give the money to a worker if you get a receipt from the company, which will ensure that the funds indeed got into the system.
  4. The amount that has to be paid back is the market value if the item, however this is hard to determine since it is damaged.

Best wishes

 

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