The Rise and Fall of the Hallmark Kid

By age ten Ryan Lipner was managing his fatherís Hallmark store. So how did this would-be greeting card tycoon end up in jail before his 18th birthday?

So it was with some alarm that Vorsanger received calls from authorized Hallmark dealers in Miami-Dade County in November 1999 complaining that a new Gold Crown shop had opened at the 163rd Street Mall in North Miami Beach. Christmas season, the most profitable for card purveyors, was nigh, and the dealers didn't want to lose sales to an illicit merchant. Vorsanger knew that no new dealer had been approved for that area. He telephoned the mall and was connected to the purported Gold Crown store. "Ryan's Hallmark," a clerk chirped into the phone.

Soon David Spurgeon, a retail representative for Hallmark, visited the store. According to Spurgeon's court affidavit, the store's sign read "Ryan's Cards and Gifts," but Hallmark Gold Crown decals were attached to the shop's windows. He found Gold Crown displays throughout the store. And behind the store's register was a picture of Ryan Lipner under a Gold Crown badge and a sign reading "Ryan's Hallmark." Upon further investigation Spurgeon and Vorsanger discovered that the store's lease had seemingly been signed by Lawrence Webb, the would-be builder at Ann's Hallmark.

Vorsanger had not forgotten the threats that Ryan Lipner had made a month earlier about Ann's Hallmark, and he immediately suspected the merchandise had been routed through the father's store. With that in mind, Vorsanger and other Hallmark representatives met with Larry Lipner to review the state of business at Ann's Hallmark. The elder Lipner said sales had dropped 70 percent that fall because of the stalled remodeling project. When Vorsanger turned the subject to Ryan's Cards and Gifts, Lipner said he knew his son was operating the shop but had no involvement with it. Vorsanger then showed him a tally of Christmas sales orders from October for Ann's Hallmark, pointing out that the order was nearly double what was called for. Lipner confirmed that his store had no need for so much merchandise. So is it possible Ryan took these items to his own store? Vorsanger asked. Lipner said, "Yes, it looks that way," according to court documents.

Vorsanger then met with Lawrence Webb and asked him to remove all Hallmark signs from Ryan's Cards and Gifts. It was only then that Webb learned Ryan Lipner had forged Webb's name on the lease agreement with 163rd Street Mall. "I was very upset," Webb says now. "[Ryan Lipner] told me, "What could I do? I wanted the lease. I wanted that store, and I was only 16.'"

Ryan Lipner told Hallmark he'd remove the signs within 24 hours but did not do so. Hallmark filed suit against him on December 21, 1999, along with an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The case, in which a guardian ad litem, Abbe Cohn, was assigned to represent the juvenile, was settled in May 2000. Lipner is permanently barred from using the Hallmark logo, representing himself as a Hallmark dealer, attending any function sponsored by or associated with Hallmark, or contacting any Hallmark employee.

Lipner, however, was not chastened by the Hallmark suit. His zeal for the company was indefatigable. "I love the company, but I hate the people who work there," he dissonantly sums up. Nor had his dream of a greeting card fiefdom dimmed. Although just 16 years old, on April 3, 2000, he filed incorporation papers with the Florida Department of State establishing Ryanone Inc. During the following months, he drained his father's business by using it as a pipeline for stockpiling merchandise for newly leased space in Dadeland Mall in the Kendall area of southwest Miami-Dade County. Larry Lipner's store closed in July 2000; he filed for bankruptcy in December 2000, claiming almost $2 million in debt. Creditors received not one cent when the bankruptcy was discharged in June 2001.

Ryan Lipner had not, however, relied solely on Ann's Hallmark for increasing his stock of cards and collectibles.


Rick Wilber had given little thought to the Lipner kid since the aborted store purchase in 1994. But in the spring of last year, the budding teen mogul came crashing back into Wilber's world. In early April 2000, Wilber received a phone call from several of his suppliers questioning "outlandish" purchase orders from Wilber. One, Enesco, had shipped $40,000 worth of products to an address in Cooper City, a location, the company had been told, near a new Hallmark store Wilber was now building.

Wilber recognized the address as Ann's Hallmark and drove to the Cooper City Police Department to report the fraud. "I was at the police station, and a freight company beeped my pager," Wilber recalls. When he called the delivery company, a voice said, "Rick, I've got 90 cases for you." Wilber's response? "I told him I hadn't ordered anything. I just handed it over to the detective right then."

At the request of Det. Chad Strachan of the Cooper City Police Department, Wilber joined in a sting operation to snare Ryan Lipner during which police recorded telephone conversations between the two. On April 19 Wilber called Lipner's cell phone, from which the fraudulent orders had been made. According to the police report, Lipner admitted ordering the goods, adding that he used Wilber's name because he had excellent credit. With great pleasure Lipner also admitted to ordering $7000 worth of fixtures from Hallmark using the same name. During a call Wilber made the next day, Lipner confessed to ordering about $100,000 of merchandise that he was storing in a warehouse in Pompano Beach. Lipner said he'd pay Wilber for the goods.

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