5 People Who Abused Tiny Amounts of Power in Hilarious Ways
Sadly, we've come to expect stories about politicians and police officers abusing their power in awful ways. But there's no reason they should get to keep all of that shit for themselves -- after all, with a little creativity and a lot of insanity, anyone can abuse their position for fun and profit.
It's just a little harder to get away with it, apparently ...
The Astronaut Who Stole the Moon
Thad Roberts dreamed about going to space his entire life. And it seemed like he might have even had an outside chance of doing so when, in 2001, he was accepted into NASA's prestigious co-op program and elite training course for aspiring astronauts. So he tossed The Right Stuff soundtrack on his iPod, headed out the door, and was on his way to goddamn NASA.
"Shit, this is New Kids on the Block."
It doesn't seem like the sort of job where you'd want to steal from the till, but damn it, NASA has some awesome stuff that's just begging to be stolen ...
While he'd finally made it to the big show, Roberts' dreams of space travel took a backseat when he noticed a selection of moon rocks -- and one from Mars -- that a NASA scientist kept in a locked safe in his office. He decided: Fuck going to the moon, he had the moon right here.
Plus, do you know how expensive a Saturn V is? Like ... a couple grand, at least.
Over the course of months, Roberts hatched his plan to steal part of the moon. Eventually, he met and fell in love with an intern, Tiffany Fowler, who agreed to help him commit the celestial heist. So what sort of sophisticated Ocean's 11-style caper did they embark upon to snatch the precious space rocks? Did they need to steal security codes? Hack the surveillance cameras? Somersault in between security lasers?
Ha ha, no! They just loaded the 600-pound safe onto a dolly and walked right out the goddamn door, presumably whistling nonchalantly the whole time.
Now, it's worth mentioning that Roberts was a little bit nuts. He admitted in an interview that, after making off with his prize, he took Fowler to a hotel room and put the moon rocks under the blankets so that they were "basically having sex on the moon." We sort of get the appeal, but that still sounds uncomfortable as hell.
Anyway, Roberts was eventually caught trying to sell his stash, valued at a staggering $21 million, to some undercover FBI agents. Because of course they were FBI agents. If you're advertising moon rocks for sale right after a historic theft of moon rocks, it doesn't take a super sleuth to deduce that they may in fact be the same moon rocks.
"Dammit, what does it all mean?"
When authorities searched his house, they also found a bunch of fossils he'd stolen from some museum in Utah. So either he was history's biggest science nerd, or he was frothingly insane. You can be the judge.
The Robert De Niro Look-Alike Who Became Robert De Niro
Joseph Manuella is a former NYC firefighter and a professional Robert De Niro impersonator who worked as a stand-in for the actor in 1996's The Fan. Incidentally, that was the film in which a guy's infatuation with a celebrity led him to commit outlandish crimes. That'll become relevant in a minute.
Luckily, he didn't start copying the whole stabbing someone in a sauna thing.
Manuella was apparently pretty good at his job, making as much as $1,500 for showing up in character as the Oscar-winner at various corporate events, weddings, and birthday parties. Apparently nothing quite says, "Happy Bat Mitzvah, Rachel," like an appearance from the Taxi Driver. To give an example of how good he is, here's a video of him performing on stage, lip-synching to ... a Joe Pesci song. Aw hell, same thing, right?
So how do you run afoul of the law when your only skill is looking and sounding like De Niro? Guess.
Manuella took out a credit card in the actor's name, secured free hotel rooms for himself, and began claiming to be the real deal when trying to score with women, behavior which onlookers thought was out of place for the married actor. He was apparently so bold in his deceptions that he would sign pictures of himself as De Niro, and was even able to fool the head of Sony Pictures.
Did you think the real De Niro would agree to Little Fockers?
Authorities busted him in 2001 (they lured him in by promising a paying gig at a hotel) and charged him with two counts of criminal impersonation for his crimes. They held him overnight and released him on $100 bail, probably because they were afraid that if they locked him up for too long, he'd come out covered in tattoos to terrorize Nick Nolte and his family.
The First Responder Who Stole Severed Body Parts
For Cindy Economou, helping others was more than just her work; it was her passion. When she wasn't doing her day job, working as a firefighter and paramedic in Florida's St. Lucie County, she was working at Fully Involved Farms, the organization she founded to help train emotionally and mentally challenged athletes to compete in the Special Olympics.
She also founded an organization that pairs deaf golden retriever puppies with blind orphans.
Named the 2007 firefighter of the year for her district, Economou seems like the first person you'd want arriving at your accident scene.
... unless you want to take all your body parts home with you, that is. Just ask Karl Lambert, the victim in a serious 2008 car accident on Interstate 95 that left his foot and part of his leg severed. Economou was one of the first responders on the scene and, after Lambert had been sent to the hospital, she found the remains of Lambert's foot in the wreckage. And she took it home with her.
If we just sew limbs back on every time you cut one off, then you won't learn anything.
It sounds like the prologue to the story of a cannibal serial killer, but Economou's explanation for keeping the morbid trophy was a little more mundane -- she claimed she wanted it to help train her body recovery dog to find injured people in disaster zones. Because even when she was committing a horrifying crime, she did it like a goddamn Girl Scout.
As part of her defense, Economou assured that when she found the foot, it was an "unrecognizable mass of flesh. It wasn't a clean cut. You couldn't even recognize it as a foot." Oh, well, then it's not weird at all that you took it and shoved it in your pocket for your dog to play with. She was charged with second-degree petty larceny and sentenced to six months' probation. She also had to step down from her job, leaving St. Lucie County minus one shithouse-insane emergency responder.
"I'm not saying they were wrong, but what's a few limbs compared to the terrible coffee quality since she left."
That sort of thing is hardly an isolated incident, by the way. Weston Henri Moquin was a lab assistant at Ohio State University whose daily routine consisted of studying and cataloging human bones and remains. Between 2011 and 2012 he was stealing bones -- and one human fetus -- from the lab and selling them on eBay, making over $84,000 in the process. If you're wondering who buys something like that, the sales went mostly to three recipients: a medical researcher in Utah, a company in Oregon called Frozen Critters, and the Bone Room, a store in Berkeley where you can buy real human skeletons for all of your personal skeleton needs. But if you want a skull, you'd better order soon, as their website notes that they are hard to come by since "China has shut down its exportation of human bones."
The Charity Worker Who Stole Christmas
The former head of a San Diego-based foster children organization, 75-year-old Virginia Prieto Kelly regularly assisted in toy and charity drives for the local youngsters. Kelly, who specialized in working with Spanish-speaking foster families, was well respected in the community, having won national awards for her decades of public service.
She once raised $500,000 for cancer research at an office pizza party.
Often working with organizations like Toys for Tots and the Child Abuse Prevention Organization, Kelly's job was to distribute toys to thousands of needy or underprivileged children. So it was pretty much the most adorably feel-good job a person can have. How the hell can a real-life Santa Claus get corrupted by power? What would that even look like?
Yeah, Kelly decided to steal more than 12,000 toys, storing them in two locked bedrooms in her home, as well as in her daughter's house and an off-site storage facility. The estimated value of the pilfered toys: $375,000. That's a lot of Nerf guns.
Sadly, the Furbies turned feral and had to be euthanized.
Kelly was found out when a local foster mother complained about not being able to get any toys to give to her kids. When authorities asked her about it, Kelly said she had already distributed all the year's items, then as soon as she thought they had left, she and a few accomplices hurriedly packed Kelly's car with bags and bags of bright, colorful, noisy toys in what must have been the least subtle getaway attempt ever.
At her trial, Major Donald Prograis, an organizer for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program, said that Kelly "stole not just toys, she stole Christmas."
"Of course I stole all of the toys, for all of the girls and the boys,
I needed toys to cure my itch, you all must think that I'm a bitch."
Kelly was found guilty of grand theft, and the judge sentenced her to 60 days in jail and 120 additional days of home confinement. When asked what she planned to do with the hoarded toys, Kelly said, "I like to be prepared for rainy days." We have to admit, her rainy days sound fun as hell.
The Lab Assistant's Semen Heist
Karen Saum worked at Genetic Connection, a laboratory in Clark County, Ohio, specializing in storing and distributing animal semen to be used in artificial insemination. Well shit, someone's got to do it.
"If you really want the best horse genes, I recommend Caligula's Private Reserve."
So what would a corrupt person do with access to a huge amount of bull semen? Use your imagination.
OK, it wasn't any of those things you imagined, you sick bastard. She just stole it.
"This is totally not bull semen, if that's what you're thinking."
Shortly after losing her job with the lab, she did what any disgruntled ex-semen-wrangler would do and returned after-hours to exact some revenge. Using her knowledge of the facility and its storage, she stole a liquid nitrogen container housing $110,000 worth of the lab's most valuable bull semen. That's not a typo. That bull semen was worth six figures. Hey, how much would you charge to jerk off a bull? It's probably even harder than it sounds.
Saum's plan was apparently to trade the semen back to the bull's owner in exchange for help in starting a small business. The game was up when police searched Saum's garage, after getting a tip that she was using it to hide a huge nitrogen tank full of ill-gotten goo. But honestly, it couldn't have taken her employer long to figure out who had sneaked in and stolen the sperm -- as one detective put it, "She knew where this semen would have been located. It was actually locked in an interior closet because it was more valuable than some of the other that they had out." If this had been a heist movie, she'd have gotten away with it, after a whole tense sequence where she carefully replaces the contents with mayonnaise.
Which turns out to be too heavy, and then she's chased by a giant boulder.
Kevin Phelan is a journalist in New York's Lower Hudson Valley. You can book his face here.
Related Reading: For more hilarious abuses of power, click here! You'll learn which one of Russia's rulers was basically Tom Green. And if you'd rather read about abuses of power by diplomats, we can help with that too. And for a look at how abuses of directorial power made film history, ride this link to its conclusion.