Throughout her political career, including during her current race against former GOP Sen. Scott Brown, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) has touted her experience as a small business owner. Shaheen’s small business "experience" was co-running a store that once sold thousands of dollars-worth of stolen jewelry.
“As the former owner and manager of a small retail business, Senator Shaheen knows what it’s like to worry about meeting payroll and inventory costs to keep a business going,” the Issues section of her Senate website declares. Her Senate biography also describes her as a “former small business owner.”
This week, the Shaheen campaign asked voters to compare Scott Brown’s small business record against her own.
“New Hampshire voters know they can trust Jeanne Shaheen because she votes to put New Hampshire first, and the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act is the perfect example of that,” Shaheen Campaign Manager Mike Vlacich said. “Scott Brown had the opportunity to vote on the exact same bill to help small businesses across the state, but he sided with Wall Street and big corporate interests and voted no. That’s as clear of a contrast as you can get. Jeanne Shaheen votes to put New Hampshire first, and Scott Brown doesn’t.”
In 1969, Shaheen and her husband, Bill, cofounded and had a stake in “Bill & Bob’s—A Sterling Example,” a shop with locations in both New Hampshire and Maine that sold used jewelry, silver, and leather items. The business was co-owned by Bill Shaheen’s brother-in-law, future state senator Bob Fennelly.
In 1980, police executed a search warrant at the Maine Bill and Bob’s location in connection to an investigation of a burglary ring that authorities said had stolen up to $200,000 of property from 27 residences.
Fennelly was indicted for allegedly buying $11,000 of stolen jewelry from the burglars. Fennelly retained a lawyer, Robert Stein, who would later become a partner at Bill Shaheen’s law firm.
“It was a known fact that Bill and Bob’s would buy any silver and gold without asking many questions,” one burglar told police, according to a Sep. 6, 1980 report by the Foster’s Daily Democrat newspaper, which extensively covered the trial.
In an affidavit, one of the burglars said he was paid $6,000 for stolen jewelry by Fennelly over a two-day period. The burglars said that on another occasion he told Fennelly that he’d found several pieces of stolen jewelry on the beach by using a metal detector.
During the trial, the prosecution played a tape of an interview with Fennelly. He said “many persons worked in the shops,” including “his wife, Margaret, at the York store and his mother-in-law, Josephine Shaheen, and his brother-in-law, Bill Shaheen, on weekends, at the Dover store.”
Bill Shaheen testified in court that he sold his stake in the business to his sister Josephine in 1977, after President Jimmy Carter named him U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire. He said he still occasionally worked at the store on weekends, according to the Foster’s Daily Democrat.
The Shaheens were never charged or connected to the crimes.
Fennelly was convicted in New Hampshire on two felony counts of receiving stolen property and three identical counts in Maine.
The scandal destroyed Fennelly’s political career. The Shaheens were never charged or connected to the crimes. The Maine Bill and Bob’s location remains open.
On the campaign trail, in speeches, and in print, Shaheen cited her experience with Bill and Bob’s as proof of her small business bona fides.
“I also understand the importance of small business on a very personal level because for the first eight years that my husband and I were married, we were involved in a partnership and a family business,” said in 2004. “We had a very small business, a seasonal business in York Beach, Maine. But it was enough to teach me at a very personal gut level the issues that you deal with as business people. I had to deal with the personnel issues, with meeting the payroll, with paying the bills, paying the taxes, and all of the bureaucratic regulations that go along.”
The Shaheen campaign did not return a call seeking comment.