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?

On April 20 Wilber met in Pembroke Pines with Lipner, who promised to lead him to the missing products. Instead of heading north, however, Lipner brought Wilber to Dadeland Mall in Kendall, where Lipner had leased shop space but had not yet opened for business. Three detectives followed them into the mall and arrested Lipner, according to the police report. He confessed to the thefts, which totaled $106,461 and an additional $13,440 in shipping costs. Most of the merchandise was unopened and was eventually returned to the vendors, including Tumbleweed, Heartfelt Collection, and Dacra Glass.

Although the crime spree didn't cost Wilber any money, he says it left him feeling violated. "Credibility and reputation are what you live on in the business world," he adds. Lipner was charged with first-degree grand theft and released on $10,000 bail. When he pleaded not guilty in August 2000, both The Herald and the Sun-Sentinel wrote stories on the peculiar banditry of the Hallmark Kid.

The felony charge, however, hardly clipped the boy's wings. Although he was evicted from the 163rd Street Mall in April 2000, he'd also been operating a card shop in the Jacaranda Square strip center in Plantation since January 2000. When he was evicted from Jacaranda in June 2000 for not making lease payments, he opened Jenny's Card Shop in the Sawgrass Mills mall and moved his inventory there. That venue forced him out in late August, and Lipner admits he felt it was time to give his obsession with greeting cards a rest. Thus he opened a General Nutrition Center vitamin store in December at Pembroke Crossing Shopping Center. Within a month of his opening the store, GNC sued Lipner for selling its products without being licensed. The court once again assigned Abbe Cohn as guardian. In January 2001 the suit was settled, and Lipner was permanently restrained from trading in GNC products. (Cohn did not return phone calls requesting an interview.) That Lipner, a minor, had been able to enter so easily into lease agreements is a testament to the effectiveness of the fast-talking, brash persona he has cultivated.

"You open and lock up, 
ship and receive.
You hire and fire,
sweep and clean.
You're running a Hallmark
all before you're a teen."
"You open and lock up, ship and receive. You hire and fire, sweep and clean. You're running a Hallmark all before you're a teen."

Those involved in Lipner's criminal case, however, believed his personality and actions indicated he was mentally incompetent. On March 23 Broward County Circuit Court Judge Peter Weinstein ordered mental competency tests; if Lipner were found fit, he would be tried as an adult. The teen's attorney, Mark Solomon, weary of the boy's antics, filed to withdraw as counsel, citing as reasons that Lipner's "behavior is out of control" and that the boy "believes that he can and should represent himself." Weinstein denied Solomon's request.

Ever the businessboy, Lipner managed to sign a lease with Pompano Square Mall in the beginning of May, moved his collectibles stock into the store, then promptly filed corporate bankruptcy for Ryanone Inc. on May 9. He cited 100 creditors to whom the company owed $550,000; his assets totaled $1625. A federal court judge dismissed the case days later because Lipner failed to hire an attorney, a requirement for corporate bankruptcy cases. He filed for personal bankruptcy May 15, claiming $350,000 in assets and citing only a single $20,000 debt to one creditor, Pompano Square Mall.

Meanwhile Margaret Carpenter, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the grand-theft case, filed a motion with Weinstein May 14, asking the judge to revoke Lipner's bond because he had opened a Ryan's Hallmark in Sunrise in January 2001. Lipner was arrested May 25, released June 4, but ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his location. The peripatetic Lipner then failed to account for his whereabouts during six separate spot checks. On June 15 he returned to jail, where psychologists would finally gauge his mental state.

Lipner is seated before a mound of stir-fried noodles in the spacious dining area of Dubarry Chinese Buffet in Plantation. He's talking like an auctioneer this September evening, spilling his life story. After an hour of recitation, the heap of food is no smaller. The only time he stops is when asked about discrepancies in the two evaluations performed this summer by court-appointed psychologists -- both of whom found him not competent to stand trial. He smiles wryly, flashes a glance at the tape recorder on the table, then motions with his head to turn it off. "I faked it," he confides once the recorder has been stopped. "I don't care if you write what I'm saying, but without the recorder it's my word against yours." Lipner answered the psychologists' questions with a straight face, he says, and tried not to come off as too over-the-top. For example, when asked what season it was, he answered, "July season." When asked to name the Seven Dwarfs, he led off with "Hallmark, Gold Crown...."

Not that Dr. Charles Winick didn't have his suspicions that Lipner was sandbagging. "It is possible that Mr. Lipner's lack of meeting the criteria for competency to proceed in the present evaluation was related to malingering," Winick wrote of the July 7 evaluation. The psychologist's report suggested that Lipner might be suffering from a delusional disorder or a "psychotic disorder not otherwise specified."

One doesn't need to be a shrink, however, to recognize that Lipner's grasp of reality is on occasion tenuous. At times he actually believes he could win the race for governor in Florida. He expresses no regret for ripping off vendors and landlords. "I sleep very well at night," he says calmly. "I never fucked over anybody who hasn't really hurt me. Remember, you're dealing with someone who's not fully mentally stable. When I was five years old, I was already seeing a therapist." And he has an unwavering belief that he will prevail in court by acting as his own attorney -- despite a ninth-grade education, a grade-school writing level, a nasty temper, and a foul mouth. And why would he make a media confession about duping the legal system unless he was compelled, in part anyway, by a narcissistic personality disorder?

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My Voice Nation Help

Ryan you are dillusional and you really need to get back on your meds. Oh BTW we're still waiting for you to pay back every penny that you owe to us.