EASTHAM — Virginia Reynolds was working in the summer of 2018 at Bayside Consignment, a now-defunct shop on Route 6, when, she says, Barbara Niggel, the owner of the building, came into the store and asked Reynolds for help.
Niggel, the owner of Willy’s World gym, told Reynolds that she feared she would lose her business, and asked Reynolds if she would co-sign a loan.
The two women have known each other since the 1980s, when they played together in a women’s softball league in Orleans. Reynolds says she was aware of Niggel’s reputation for questionable business practices and unpaid wages and loans. (See “Willy’s Makes Progress, but Snags Remain,” the Independent, March 12, 2020.) Like many others, however, Reynolds fell victim, she now says, to the martial arts master’s charm and guile.
Reynolds says that Niggel now owes her $90,000 — the unpaid remainder of the $100,000 Niggel promised to pay in exchange for Reynolds dropping criminal charges of identity fraud against her. Through one of her many lawyers, Edward W. Kirk of Osterville, Niggel denies the charges.
Niggel is preparing to reopen Willy’s, which building and fire inspectors shuttered for health and safety violations on Dec. 12. These included holding an after-hours party in December, even though the gym was under a special “fire watch” condition because the sprinkler and fire alarm systems were not working.
Niggel has now, according to town officials and emails she has sent to gym members, repaired the heating and air-conditioning system and met all requirements to comply with building and fire codes.
Tipped Off by Credit Denial
On that day in mid-August 2018, Reynolds says, she told Niggel she would think about her request to co-sign a loan. Niggel then asked for her Social Security number in order to check her credit, Reynolds later told Eastham Police Officer Andi Williams.
She gave her the number.
“I was working for [Niggel] under the table, and I had to give her my Social Security number at some point anyway, so I gave it to her right then,” Reynolds told the Independent.
A few weeks later Reynolds received letters from three different banks, informing her that they had denied her credit on a loan application — not for a business loan, but to buy a Land Rover.
Reynolds discovered that her name, signature, and Social Security number appeared on a credit application at Land Rover of Cape Cod. Next to her personal information was the other co-signer: Harrison Niggel, Barbara Niggel’s son.
Reynolds called the police.
According to Officer Williams’s report, Land Rover of Cape Cod Manager Ken Cooper told police that Barbara and Harrison Niggel went to the dealership on Aug. 31, 2018 to inquire about a new car. When they filled out a loan application, Niggel told the car salesman that “Ms. Reynolds was Mr. Niggel’s aunt and that she had agreed to be the co-signer.”
According to the police report, Cooper told Officer Williams that Reynolds “gave verbal confirmation [on the phone] that she was agreeing to co-sign.”
But then Cooper added that “this was probably a lie and that someone else was pretending to be Ms. Reynolds on the phone,” according to the police report.
On Aug. 31, Niggel wrote a check for a down payment to Land Rover Cape Cod on the account of “Stowaway LLC,” one of her businesses. The check was never cashed because credit was denied. Reynolds told the Independent that she believes the car was intended for the use of Ben Niggel, Harrison’s brother, who is currently an undergraduate at Harvard and was just elected to a three-year term on the Eastham Elementary School Committee.
At this point, the report shows, Officer Williams authorized a summons ordering Harrison Niggel to appear in court to face a charge of identity fraud.
According to court records, the person summonsed on the fraud charge was Barbara Niggel, not her son. There is no explanation in the record for the change in respondent.
A $100,000 Deal
Before the charge resulted in an arraignment, Reynolds says, she received a call from Niggel, who offered her a deal: Niggel would pay Reynolds $100,000 if she agreed not to press charges against her or her son.
Reynolds demanded a written contract, so Niggel and Matt Bober, a Chatham attorney, produced one stating Niggel would pay Reynolds $2,000 a month for more than four years, for a total of $100,000, if she would not bring criminal charges.
They signed the settlement agreement at Orleans District Court, Reynolds says.
“I received five payments and that was it,” says Reynolds, who now works at Walmart in Falmouth. “I got $10,000 and I was supposed to get $100,000. Her lawyer had me buffaloed; I was just using the district attorney. Once she signed the contract, I thought that was good as gold, but I guess you can break a contract.”
This is hardly the first time that people have accused Barbara Niggel of failing to honor a financial agreement. There have been 26 claims filed against her in Orleans District Court since 2007. They came from contractors who had not been paid for their work, vendors not reimbursed for their products, and employees or business partners who had not been compensated as per agreement. Identity fraud was the only criminal charge.
Reynolds says she must now hire a lawyer to collect the money she is owed.
“I need $3,000 to hire an attorney,” she says. “I never should have gone on her word. I’ve known her since the 1980s, and she has not changed. I took her word and trusted her signature,” she says, adding that she now understands the signature was worthless.
Asked to comment for this article, Niggel’s lawyer Edward Kirk stated that his client “denies the allegations.” He would not confirm the existence of a settlement agreement between Niggel and Reynolds, but wrote, “If there were such an agreement…, it is apparent from the allegations contained in your correspondence with me and with Attorney Matthew Bober that Ms. Reynolds is clearly in violation of such an agreement.”
Attorney Bober did not respond to email or telephone messages seeking comment.