The 5 Most Astonishingly Lucrative Petty Crimes Of All Time
The ultimate goal of many career criminals is to pull off that one big caper that will set them up for a life of tropical island leisure, or maybe a run for Chicago City Council. But not every crook is capable of hatching some grandiose Ocean's Whatever The Fuck Number They're Up To Now-type scheme, and most will likely have to content themselves with simpler machinations by which to accrue a meager hoard of ill-gotten loot. But for the clever, the persistent, or the just plain lucky few, the road to riches can actually be paved with petty misdemeanors. At least, judging by the filthy lucre the following people were able to pile up through small-time offenses.
Shoplifting $7 Million Worth Of Stuff
Stuffing merchandise down your pants and walking nonchalantly out the front door of a store while hoping security doesn't tackle your face into the asphalt is usually considered a juvenile, entry-level sort of crime. It's the kind of lowbrow larceny that few but the most desperate or kleptomaniacal among us tend to contemplate after the age of 12 or so. Or 30, if you're a doe-eyed, formerly A-list starlet whose recent credits include Frankenweenie. At any rate, shoplifting is the type of career that few accountants will advocate as a sound vision for your financial future. Well, unless you're like this organized team of Polish Romani, who did it for years all across America, and ended up with around $3 million worth of stuff before finally getting caught.
If they get extradited back to Poland, hopefully the stories aren't true and they won't be sentenced to death by circular firing squad.
Their M.O. was pretty basic, yet effective. Targeting mainly "big-box" electronic stores, they would enter an establishment as a (judging from the above photo, rather mopey-looking) group. Then, while a few of them would form a totally-not-suspicious human wall to obscure the view of cameras and staff, one of them would stash equipment (usually hard drives) under their coat and then saunter out the door. Then they'd head over to the next state to repeat the process. It's the kind of thing that happens countless times a day, but somehow, they were able to avoid getting caught for a good five years, filling up their swag Winnebago or whatever to the brim and hauling it back to their home base in Chicago to fence everything for cash. Once the authorities caught up with them in California, they claimed that they had committed all that pernicious purloining in order to pay off a $2 million debt (you can just chalk up that extra million to overzealousness, I guess).
However, should you be thinking that their little business paradigm was some sort of unique triumph in risk/reward effectiveness (minus the eventual incarceration, of course), get a load of the family who did essentially the same thing, but did it for twice as long and made more than double the profit.
And they also did a much better job of fulfilling the "sultry gypsy temptress" stereotype.
Like the first family, Branko Bogdanov and his wily kin were widely traveled, made their headquarters in the Chicago area, and were described in the press as ethnic Romani from the former Yugoslavia. But the Bogdanovs didn't limit themselves to computer equipment. They were perfectly willing to appropriate items from a wide variety of businesses, including "bookstores and coffee shops" (keep in mind, the prices on those Starbucks travel mugs are outrageous), and then unload whatever they could get away with on eBay.
I suppose this is one way to plan a frugal family vacation without having to listen to all those annoying timeshare seminars.
But mostly, they preferred to steal toys, like American Girl dolls and Furbies ... $7 million worth. And it was in the parking lot of a New Orleans Toys R Us where their schemes finally came to the attention of police. According to reports, a sudden gust of wind caused the oversized dress worn by matriarch Lela to fly up, revealing to the world a "blue lined carrying device," along with their rampant chicanery. Information remains sketchy as to whether or not she tried to pass off a Furby as being inherent to some sort of disturbing preexisting medical condition.
Panhandling For $60,000 A Year
We've all heard those tales about the "homeless" lady who, after a long day of begging, drives home to her mansion in the foothills behind the wheel of her brand-new Mercedes Benz. But that's just a load of urban legend bullshit, right? And really, stories like that are just plain insensitive to the plight of those who have to rely on the kindness of others just to survive. Take this guy, for instance. According to him, he's barely scraping by on $60,000 per year. And there but for the grace of God go all ... hey, wait a goddamn second.
To be fair, in Manhattan, that's about the average monthly rent for a lean-to made out of rat hide.
According to local Oklahoma City news sources, when a panhandler named Shane Speegle (that apparently not-too-particularly-concerned dude up there) was questioned by police for plying his lack of a trade without a permit, he claimed to have made the entirety of the aforementioned amount during the last fiscal year via the simple act of holding a sign at an intersection. More specifically, in response to an officer's query as to why he wasn't gainfully employed, Speegle reportedly stated, "I'm lazy, and I made $60,000 doing this last year. Why would I go get a job?" Granted, Speegle could very well be full of shit and just pulling the officer's chain here, but he certainly does look less like a homeless guy and more like he just stepped out of a midlife crisis Camaro on the way to lunchtime happy hour at The Green Turtle.
Now, I certainly don't want to give people the impression that every seemingly downtrodden individual with a "will work for food" placard is actually a well-heeled, conniving con artist, but this next scenario doesn't exactly help matters.
So yeah, that was a pregnant woman, begging on the side of the road with a little kid in tow, who was filmed at the end of the her shift getting picked up by her husband in a late model C320. The local news stations, smelling fresh ratings meat, promptly dispatched crews (and possibly fired up the trusty Mega Doppler 7000 HD) in order to get to the bottom of this breaking development. Police looked into the matter as well, and it was found that the family, headed up by Marian (the dad) and mother-of-the-year Elena Hornea, were self-described professionals at the art of playing on people's sympathies. They were constantly on the move, and kept a log of the best places and times to set up shop with a sign that pleaded for money to feed their children (whom they shamelessly used as props) and also... to buy gas. When one woman attempted to film their activities with a cellphone, Elena chased her away with a rock. And when the entire brood was confronted by a reporter, this time while they were begging in front of a mall, the responses ranged from Spanish to "a different language," and then everyone just decided to clam up and simply fled the scene in a minivan.
Maybe the Mercedes was in the shop, getting a trailer hitch installed for their yacht.
That "different language" thing was likely related to the fact that, in addition the the hundreds of dollars and numerous gift certificates that kind-hearted people had willingly donated to them every hour on the hour, police also recovered several money transfer receipts showing that they had sent thousands of dollars to relatives in Romania.
Stealing A Half-Million Dollars' Worth Of Quarters
The life of a meter maid (or meter ... butler?) isn't for everyone, even though there's usually decent job security, and you often get a fancy uniform to strut around town in. There's not a whole lot of romance to it, and you rarely get much in the way of respect from the public (unless you're one of the few who appreciate people spitting on the ground whenever you walk by). But at least there are occasionally some unseen benefits to make up for the drudgery. You just have to be creative about it. Like, for instance, how this dude here stole so many quarters from parking meters over the years that Scrooge McDuck probably asked to come over and wallow in them every time he had to get his mansion fumigated.
Or maybe he just reminded Scrooge of his estranged secret love child.
While working as a lowly civil servant in the town of Mount Kisco, New York, Jeffrey Daday plucked around $90,000 worth of shiny quarters from parking meters during a five-year span. That calculates out to somewhere in the vicinity of 360,000 individual coins, and one can only imagine the intensity of the supermarket gumball addiction that must have drove him to such lengths. Some slight suspicions were raised when workers at his bank noticed how he would stop by (still dressed in his official "parking enforcement officer" gear) and consistently deposit sacks and sacks of Lil' Georges.
For two-bit pimps, it's all about the Washingtons.
Daday was given five years of probation after returning all the coinage -- hopefully by way of naked wheelbarrow trips, while somebody walked alongside him ringing a bell and chanting "shame!" But his adventures in small change were small potatoes compared to our next subject, a public works inspector who absconded with no less than $460,000 from his job's meter collection room. And yes, again, the entire amount was in quarters.
Obviously, you can't become a World Galaga Grand Champion without breaking a few hearts along the way.
Thomas Rica had worked for the village of Ridgewood, New Jersey for 10 years (and was making an $86,000 salary) before it was discovered that he had spent the last two of them pocketing the fruits of municipal revenue enhancement gambits. With a master key to the room where the meter money was kept, and the foresight to fiddle with the security cameras beforehand, Rica made it a routine to fill a bucket with copious amounts of coins, and later deposit them in multiple bank accounts. So he had things a little more thought out than that other guy, at least. But while a single quarter is barely enough to afford much more than maybe a signed photo of pre-yeti Randy Quaid nowadays, surely somebody was eventually going to notice the disappearance of more than 1.8 fucking million of them.
Maybe his wife just assumed he was an enthusiastic patron of some extremely low-rent strip clubs.
The presiding judge decided to have mercy on Rica, agreeing to a lesser charge (with no jail time) on the guarantee that he return all the money in installments. Should he miss any of the payments, however, he may very well have to spend some quality time behind bars. And pine for the days when he could simply smuggle his contraband in a bucket, and not have to do it via his asshole.
Stealing $240,000 From The Return Desk
As far as thankless jobs go, it probably can't get much worse than working the customer service counter at a Walmart, where dealing with folks adamantly demanding refunds for their mangled, cankle-stretched lycra pants and packages of clearly-used Duck Dynasty medicated gauze is presumably par for the course. But to Decatur, Texas resident Nacina Walker's credit, she was by all accounts a dedicated and helpful employee. She took her job at the return desk seriously, never failing to assist the police whenever they happened to show to up investigate some manner of malfeasance. That is, until they showed up one day and hauled her away for pilfering more than 200 grand from the till.
Typical. The cops are wasting their time on pointless crap like this and ignoring all those fish tank disasters.
Walker had seemingly made Walmart her career, having been hired as a teenager back in 1982. And she was nothing short of a model employee, as far as I can gather. But as she approached her 50th birthday, things changed. Perhaps it was because her salary had long since capped. Or maybe she saw the sad plight of the doddering greeter who dutifully yet wistfully waved his decrepit hand at the waddling hordes of incoming patrons. Whatever the reason, she apparently made the fateful decision to grab the metaphorical bull (in this case, the cash box) by the horns (the "open register" key, I guess) and engage in a little "transactional creativity".
She started out small, faking returns here and there. But soon, after getting away with it a few times, the siren call of illegal tender became too much to resist, and she began upping the ante. Considerably. And Walmart higher-ups eventually took notice, after the "50 bucks here and there" turned into $8,000 a day.
All told, it's estimated that Walker swiped upwards of $240,000 before Johnny Law got involved, with one investigating detective declaring it to be the biggest theft case of his career. If convicted, she could face anywhere from five to 99 years in the clink (which seems like a bit of a crapshoot, justice-wise, but intimidating nonetheless). But hopefully, the judge will hand down a little leniency with the verdict, and take into account how she claimed in a statement to have had troubles with medical bills, and that she needed the money to take care of her aging parents. After all, her employee discount was probably helpful and all, but the elderly can only survive so long on a diet of pork rinds and Yoo-hoo.
That's a little unfair. Walmart has plenty of healthy options, aside from ice cream sandwiches that defy physics and refuse to melt.
As one of the world's most prolific DVD bootleggers, Hyram "Big Hy" Strachman of New York was responsible for distributing thousands upon thousands of illegally copied movies. And despite the fact that for years he'd treated U.S. copyright law like so much Charmin scented two-ply, the government never laid a hand on him. Maybe that's because he was rapidly approaching his 100th birthday. Or perhaps it was because he never kept a single solitary dime from the potentially lucrative crimes he committed, and instead donated each and every rom-com, action flick, and Rob Schneider vehicle that he burned off to soldiers overseas during the height of our involvement in the Middle East.
"Here's just the ticket to help some poor young man pass the time in a dusty foreign land. 300 episodes of Father Dowling Mysteries."
Once you factor in all the postage and blank disks, plus the price on that seven-disc duplicator rig seen above, Strachman probably spent somewhere in the area of $30,000 of his own money in the commission of his transgressions. So as far as being a commercially successful techno-bandit goes, he was pretty much a wash. But to the men and women stuck out in the middle of hostile territory, where the height of entertainment might be wagering the day's MRE on how many camel spiders they can shake out of their boots in the morning, the service Big Hy provided was damn near Robin Hood-ish. He received numerous accolades from grateful service members, both enlisted and brass, which as you can see resulted in several areas of his home looking like a shrine to Apollo Creed's fashion sense.
"I love the smell of online piracy on a massive scale in the morning."
Strachman could hardly claim senility or ignorance as an excuse, since he always made sure to cover his tracks by quickly destroying the master discs once the replication process was complete, and keeping no copies for himself. He also claimed to have never once fabricated anything store-bought, and to have began his bootlegging career by buying knockoffs from the vendors at NYC's Penn Station.
He said that his motivation for all of this came from both a missed sense of camaraderie that developed during his time spent in the Pacific theater during WWII and out of a need for something to occupy his time after his wife passed away. So he bought himself some professional-grade equipment, maybe took a class or two at a nearby learning annex, then grew out his fingernails like a sassy receptionist in order to more easily separate the hundreds of discs he began copying each day. And again, he knew full well what he was doing, and was crystal clear about the risks involved. But he was also aware that the authorities probably weren't too thrilled about the PR nightmare that likely would have ensued if they came down too hard on him, as made evident during this interview with Alan Schwarz of the New York Times: "It's not the right thing to do, but I did it. If I were younger, maybe I'd be spending time in the hoosegow."
"Not to say that I wouldn't know how to shank a bitch."
Big Hy's son thinks that his dad's admittedly shady hobby did wonders for his mental well-being, and gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Movie industry insiders weren't nearly as pleased, however, claiming (rightfully) that these activities take money away not just from wealthy actors and directors, but also from the blue-collar types working behind the camera.
But before you start lamenting for all the starving key grips and best boys wandering the wastelands of downtown Burbank, you should realize a couple of things here. First, it's not like troops stationed in places like Afghanistan would have been buying movie tickets anyway, unless there's some hidden IMAX multiplex in a Tora Bora cave that nobody talks about. And frankly, Hy did the job that the movie industry should have been doing all along. See, studios actually do donate films to the military, but it's always in reel-to-reel, projector-only form. This makes their product more difficult to copy, but also ignores the fact that just about everyone in a war zone nowadays would much rather watch movies on their laptops. You know, since a "theatergoing experience" in some places is sometimes just another way of saying "target-rich environment."
The only time a movie studio received grateful letters from soldiers like this is when they turned down Ben Affleck's proposal for Pearl Harbor 2: A Love That Will Live In Infamy.
Even if these criminals get caught, they can at least hope to get out of trouble by following the example of the guys in The 5 Strangest Ways Petty Criminals Escaped Punishment. However, some crimes don't have to be petty to be simple. See the bank heist pulled off with a telephone in 5 Criminals Who Pulled Off Major Crimes With Only A Phone.
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