Good Work If You Can Get It

A New Orleans law firm paid $250,000 to a Houston topless dancer. Now it wants the money back.

Michelle Quin is not a cheap date.
Over three years, Chris Kumpf, an official of a New Orleans law firm, paid the attractive topless dancer almost $250,000 to keep him company any time he came to Houston. "I made myself available to him," explains Quin. "I put my life on hold to accompany him."

The only problem is that her benefactor used law-firm funds to pay her, and according to the firm, did so without the knowledge or approval of any of the partners. Three months ago, when Abbott, Simses, Album & Knister discovered the arrangement, it fired Kumpf. (The Press has been unable to contact Kumpf, who has an unlisted telephone number in the New Orleans area.) Now the firm is suing Quin to get back its money -- money that Quin claims she earned legitimately. She's countersuing the firm for slander and breach of contract.

Wearing steel-framed glasses and a black pinstriped business dress, the olive-skinned brunette tells her story while sitting in her own attorney's office. In October 1993, Quinn was 22 years old and dancing professionally at Lipstick, a now-defunct topless club located on the Southwest Freeway. It was there that she met Kumpf, the fiftysomething administrator of Abbott, Simses, Album & Knister, an admiralty law firm. "Everybody knew him, and he was always asking everyone to his table," says Quin. "He spent lots of money."

In addition to being a big spender, Kumpf was also a big talker. Quin says Kumpf told her he wanted to see her more often and at places other than Lipstick.

"I told him I had to work," says Quin. "He gave me his business card and told me that he owned the law firm. That he had the right to hire and fire people and that I could work for him."

Even so, Quin did not take Kumpf's offer seriously -- that is, not until later that month, when he sent her a company check for $1,000. Quin claims Kumpf told her to use the money to buy clothes for a business trip that he wanted her to take with him to Nashville. There, at various social functions such as dinner, Quin says Kumpf introduced her as his administrative assistant.

After returning to Houston, Quin continued to make herself "available" for Kumpf any time he was in town, which, she says, was about twice a month. Quin did whatever Kumpf wanted to do. Most times that entailed going to an Astros or Rockets game and dinner at Dave & Busters or Magic Island.

Quin also accompanied Kumpf on a couple of other out-of-town business meetings. Usually, Quin says, she would share a suite with Kumpf, a married man of medium build and dark thinning hair with a taste for golf shirts and Dockers. She insists that she never had sex with Kumpf, nor, for that matter, did he ever suggest it. Additionally, she says, the whole deal was cool with her husband, an unemployed aerospace worker on dialysis with whom she has a four-year-old daughter.

During the 34 months that she worked for Kumpf, Quin quit her job as a dancer to be at Kumpf's beck and call. In exchange for her services, she was paid between $225,000 and $250,000. She received a paycheck drawn on the law firm's account every two weeks; the amount varied depending on how much work she did for Kumpf. In addition to being Kumpf's date whenever he was in Houston, Quin says the administrator also called her several times a day.

"He'd talk about his day and what he did last night," says Quin. "But mainly he called to complain about his job."

Well, he doesn't have to complain about it anymore.
Quin last saw Kumpf in Houston this past July when they again went to Dave & Busters. Everything seemed normal, she says. Suddenly, however, she stopped hearing from him. The daily phone calls stopped, and Kumpf did not come to town. When she didn't get her mid-August paycheck, she decided to call him at the law firm. According to Quin, when she asked to speak to Kumpf, she was informed that he no longer worked there. When asked why she hadn't been paid, she was told that she no longer worked there, either.

A few weeks later, Quin was notified that the firm was taking her to court to get its money back. In its suit, the lawyers allege that Quin "illegally and fraudulently held herself out as an employee" of the firm. Houston attorney John Ribarits, who works for and represents the firm, concedes that Quin was paid with law firm checks and that she was also sent W-2 wage withholding statements. Nevertheless, Ribarits points out that, in her deposition in connection with the litigation, Quin denied that she had ever held herself out as an employee of the law firm. Ribarits says he can prove that Quin did, in fact, claim on occasion to be an employee of Abbott, Simses, Album & Knister. To that assertion, Quin's attorney asks, so what?

"That's a rabbit trail," says Matt Hennessy, an attorney with the law firm of DeGuerin and Dickson. "That's a trail that he's going to try to put either a jury or a judge on. And it doesn't go anywhere. She worked for a fellow who she believed owned the business. She was paid by the fellow who she thought owned the business. She was truthful in saying that she didn't do any work for the law firm. She did her work for Chris Kumpf."

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