5 Bizarre Criminal Undergrounds That Are Bafflingly Huge
Write down the first random, awful thing that pops in your head. Congratulations, you have just described an actual crime somebody has attempted at some point in history. Thankfully, the more bizarre crimes are usually the product of a single mind, disturbed or driven in a very, very specific way. It only really gets strange when a whole mob of criminals joins in and starts trafficking solely in bubble gum or firing sharks from a cannon. Then we leave reality and venture into Batman country. Though, sometimes, strange crime waves do happen in real life ...
This charming fellow is Patrick Costanzo of Minnesota, who stole $25,000 worth of Tide products from the local Walmart via several daring shoplifting quests over the course of several months:
But couldn't be assed to take a new pair of reading glasses.
Isolated weirdo? With those glasses? No! Clear across the country, we have the ladies of the Star Nails salon in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Busted in a raid in 2012, the employees of the salon were found to be trafficking in stolen Tide and selling it to their home country of Vietnam (after watering it down to increase profit, of course).
That's just the tip of the breezy-scented iceberg. Tide theft is rampant and widespread and shows no immediate sign of letting up anytime soon. Sometimes, even the physical presence of the police isn't enough to deter persistent Tide thieves. While en route to investigate a store's complaint of Tide disappearances, a police officer ran into a man piling 100 stolen bottles into his hatchback in the parking lot like the rapture was coming and he was literally going to wash away his sins. Later, as the same officer took part in an interview in front of another store to address the Tide problem, another thief took advantage of the situation to make off with 20 bottles.
The officer then vowed to "clean up this town" to barely suppressed laughter.
There are so many questions. Why detergent at all? Theft is theft. If you absolutely have to steal huge amounts of liquid from a store, you're telling us fine booze has less of a market? And why Tide, specifically? Why not Gain, Surf, or the clearly superior Snuggle? Is it all down to brand value? Is Tide simply the most recognizable detergent -- the Nike of skid-mark removal?
We're not sure. We just know that Tide mania is so high in the criminal community that the laundry detergent is often considered an outright substitute for cash. As stolen bottles of this "liquid gold" are virtually untraceable, they're frequently used in place of hard currency in drug transactions. Some dealers even insist on it in lieu of actual money. Think we're making that up? A real drug dealer allegedly was caught saying, "I'm out of marijuana right now, but when I get re-upped, I'll hook you up if you can get me 15 bottles of Tide."
At least it'll keep your prison oranges bright.
Hair-Stealing Piranha Gangs
Venezuela is notorious for its obsession with beauty. So you can imagine that its salons are pretty busy. So busy that they occasionally have difficulty getting ahold of things like hair extensions.
Which is why hair-stealing gangs are now a thing.
"Rob, rinse, repeat."
It's not a little problem, either. The gangs, called Piranhas, have run so rampant that the president of Venezuela officially called for action against them back in 2013. Yes, groups of hard men and women actually stalk Venezuelan cities, wielding scissors and targeting ladies with luxurious locks. It's like if John Carpenter directed a shampoo commercial. When the Piranhas strike, the victim's hair is forcibly cut, sometimes at gunpoint, and sold to a shady salon for hair-extension material. Just fell off a truck and all that. A hair truck. Those exist, right?
"Breaker 1-9, Bubba Rapunzel looking for some loose freight in the road, come back."
As far as crimes go, this may seem fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things (after all, hair-cutting is pretty tame compared to, foreshadowing alert, stealing somebody's goddamn arm), but it is worth mentioning that there appears to be a lot of these gangs, and being the victim of a crime is never a laughing matter. Even if the crime in question is "assault with a haircut."
Organ trafficking is a massive, global industry spanning from Canada to China and everywhere in between. And, as tends to happen with any operation that grows large enough, the body-part business has started spawning strange niche markets. Don't worry -- we're not saying that groups of insanely specialized man-poachers are stalking albino body parts and selling them for science. That would be insane.
They're selling those body parts for magic instead.
"What, you think rabbits just pop out of hats on their own? There's a cost."
Albinism comes with many drawbacks: eye issues, sensitivity to sun, Halloween costumes pretty much limited to Powder or that guy from The Venture Bros. Now they can add "being hunted for spells" to that list. That's the situation in Tanzania, where renegade witch doctors view albinos as magical creatures whose remains are vital for various potions and charms. The black-market price for a single albino limb can be up to $2,000. For comparison, the average income in the country hovers at around $442 a year.
There is an old Tanzanian saying that albinos don't die -- they vanish. This is sadly true for many of them, although not in the "defeated video game enemy" sense of the phrase. Accounts vary, but between 2000 and 2013, somewhere near a hundred albinos have reportedly been murdered (although, thanks to many unreported cases, the actual number is likely much larger). It's a hard road, but Tanzanian albino activists are doing their best to convince people not to hack other peoples' limbs off for magic, which is a pretty fucking strange thing to have to specify.
Mennonites aren't quite as stringent about the whole anti-technology thing, not like their chin-bearded compatriots, the Amish. But being willing to use email doesn't suddenly make them poster boys for hardcore drug smuggling.
Although, maybe it's time to start revising some posters.
You'd think something like this would raise a few eyebrows at the border.
In 2013, the DEA seized a hefty 11,000 pounds of marijuana and 66 pounds of cocaine from old tractors and farm implements being sent from Mexico to Canada. It was the culmination of years of investigation and led to the indictment of seven people ... all from a Mexican Mennonite community. In 2014, Canadian authorities intercepted well over a million dollars' worth of cocaine and methamphetamines hidden in hollowed-out car batteries and other stashes. Among those arrested were, yes, even more members of the Mexican Mennonite community, who were also found to be in possession of around $100,000 in U.S. and Canadian currency, as well as a stun gun (hey, they're still pacifists, remember).
"OK, now clear off all this coke so we can take a photo with the seized quilts."
An incident in 2014 saw yet another Mexican Mennonite arrested, this time for trying to recruit people to smuggle for him. But why are these devout, peace-loving folks resorting to crime? Have sales of unpainted wooden rocking horses declined so much? Is it simply due to the greed of "a few bad seeds," as a spokesman for the DEA suggested?
The answer might be even sadder than that. Some, like Jacob Fehr, caught trafficking several kilos of marching powder hidden in the wheel-wells of his truck, claim that drug cartels are forcing them to transport drugs over the border by threatening their families. The Canadian judge wasn't convinced and sentenced Fehr to seven years in prison. Still, we feel it's fair to point out that all of the convicted Mennonites hail from the vicinity of Juarez, a notorious hive of scum and villainy. So although it isn't outside the realm of possibility that local Mennonites all up and broke bad, the 9,000 people who were murdered in Juarez over the last few years might lend Fehr's story a bit of credence.
Besides, if you can't trust a Mennonite, who can you trust?
LEGO theft is rampant. No, that's not street slang -- we're talking about the toys/carpet caltrops. And we're not talking about desperate 10-year-olds stuffing Pirates of the Caribbean sets down their pants at the local Target, either. LEGO theft is serious business. Consider this picture:
"I was building a spaceship and needed a red 2x10. From there it just sorta took on a life of its own."
That's just a small part of the LEGO stash a four-person criminal gang in Arizona managed to collect before they were caught in August 2014. Two members of the group, Garry Fairbee and Tarah Dailey, systematically raided Toys "R" Us stores, removing theft-detection devices from large LEGO sets and wheeling them out hidden in gift bags. Further investigation revealed Dailey's cousin Melissa was also in on the scheme, and they were selling the toys to their accomplice, Troy Koehler, for a quarter of their retail price. Koehler would then sell the stolen merchandise online. When the police raided Koehler's place, they knew they were potentially looking at a fairly big haul; the merchandise stolen from the various stores was worth a whopping $40,000.
Of course, that's not the actual value of what they found. That would be just insane. Instead, they found three truckloads' worth of LEGOs, with an estimated total value of $200,000.
"All right, people, I want to see thick-soled shoes! That carpet's gonna
be covered in bricks; I won't lose another man!"
Just 48 hours before they were caught, a woman in Nassau County, New York, was arrested for stealing 800 LEGO sets (total value: $59,000) from a Long Island collector and attempting to sell them on eBay. In 2005, a man was arrested in Oregon for forging barcodes that enabled him to buy $100 LEGO sets for just $19. Officials estimated he had stolen over $600,000 in LEGOs in a span of three years. And then we have the Australian gang that specialized in crime-movie caliber LEGO heists. They attacked stores at night, armed with special tools and vans with covered license plates. They started by removing the front doors or grinding their way through steel bars, then looted all of the LEGO sets -- and nothing more. Sure, they've managed to lift only $30,000 worth of merchandise so far, but still, somewhere in Australia a group of hardened criminals is actually living a game of LEGO: The Departed.
The reason LEGOs are gaining popularity in the criminal underworld is simple: everybody loves fun. No, but seriously: they're less challenging to steal than straight cash, easier to fence than jewelry, and in case you have to sit on your stash for a while, they hold value. Large sets are always in demand, and the resale value can even increase over time. Plus, if you get caught, the sentence can be light: Thomas Langenbach, a former vice president at a large tech company who inexplicably turned to a life of LEGO-related crime, was caught pulling a variation of the barcode stunt in 2012. He made some $30,000 in illicit LEGO sales, yet ended up doing only one month in prison and five under house arrest.
Five months in a house full of LEGOs hardly seems like a punishment.
Of course, much like Tide, LEGO is also being used as an alternate currency. At least one drug dealer in Amsterdam started accepting LEGOs as payment. Which raises the question: what's wrong with actual currency? If there's one thing we thought drug dealers loved, it was money.
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