Napoleons of Crime

The police here arrested two enterprising  local men last week and charged them with passing thousands of dollars of counterfeit $20 bills around town. The men, ages 19 and 20, were caught with the fake money and the equipment for making the money. It was the wrong shade of green and had the wrong designs on it, but their scheme seemed to work, for at least a while. I think they might have had longer success had they gone to other cities to pass the bills.  I am amazed that they were able to pass so many bills without people noticing the poor quality of the money.  I guess people don’t pay as close  attention as I thought they would.

Our two local guys reminded me of some shop lifters I heard of in the news who used the same method and the same  get away car for multiple thefts from multiple big box stores. They always left through the fire doors of stores, and the police just started to watch the fire doors and surprised the thieves and the get away driver.

How do people come to ignore the poor chances of getting away with criminal activity? It seems to me that, eventually, most people get caught, whether at the local or national level.

What do you think makes for a successful crook?  Have you ever known a real crook?  How do they fool themselves?

38 thoughts on “Napoleons of Crime”

  1. I know someone who volunteered as treasurer for a small organization and managed to rationalize siphoning off some money for her own purposes. Nothing extravagant – as I recall she used the money for basic things like covering rent, a few small extras, not big stuff like a new car. Her rationale fell along the lines of that she had earned it because in almost any other setting she would have gotten paid for her work. Like most folks who do that sort of thing, she figured if she only took a little, no one would notice. Only a little became a bigger little. And when the pot isn’t big to begin with, a little can be a lot. Ultimately the breech of trust was the bigger issue than the money itself (she was asked to pay it back, and I believe she did over a period of time). It really did seem that a bad personal stretch financially loosed her brain from logic, leading to some interesting ethical origami. (Quite different from the friend who was taken in by an acquaintance and had his identity, and a large chunk of money from his bank account, stolen. That was a mess. He also was more hurt by the breech of trust than the loss of the money, though he really couldn’t afford the latter. The thief in that case, though, had a genuine personality disorder and I don’t think had any sense that what she was doing was wrong.)

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  2. I’ve only known one crook personally, so I shouldn’t generalize. My first thought is that your question about crooks thinking they will get away with it is charmingly inappropriate. I assume most crooks do not calculate they will succeed. They just do what is easiest and seems to have the most immediate payoff.

    Right now our culture is celebrating the idea we should “live in the moment.” My friend who was illegal did live in the moment. He didn’t ever think about the past. He was equally oblivious to the future. All his attention was focused on Now. And Now wasn’t “this year” or anything like that; Now was “in the next few hours or so.”

    After some reflection my guess is that there are as many kinds of crooks as there are honest folks. Some calculate. Many do not. Crooks that use computers to scam people might give a lot of thought to long range consequences. Crooks like my friend assume they will get caught, but the immediate benefits of crime are too seductive to be denied.

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    1. One of my favorite movies has a great line about planning for the future:
      “Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view, I mean here it is Monday and I’m already thinking of Wednesday… It is Monday right?”

      Liked by 4 people

        1. It’s a movie I’ve been trying to get you to see for years! Tremors. I think it is one of the two funniest films I’ve ever seen. The number of memorable quotes goes on forever.

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  3. I’m having trouble figuring out what the definition of “a successful crook” would be? If they have been discovered to be a crook, can they be considered successful? I consider DT a crook, and a total fraud, but he’s the president of the US. Does that make him successful?

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    1. Right. Wouldn’t a “successful crook” be someone nobody suspects of being a crook? That’s Bernard Madoff a year before anyone tumbled to his scam. The Enron gang before their scam imploded. “Successful crook” is like “jumbo shrimp” . . . it’s an oxymoron.

      As for DT, he fooled a lot of folks but has definitively been unmasked. Yes, he’s president, but a large and increasing number of observers know he is a slimeball loser.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmmm … I guess I don’t know any real crooks personally. Although there’s all kinds of dishonesty, unethical behavior, ignorance and prevarication. I just can’t think of any examples at the moment — and no, I’m not sharing what I put on my tax forms! 🙂 {Actually I’m ridiculously honest}

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  5. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    The trouble with really good crooks is that when they are really good, most people never know what they have taken until it is too late. They tend to be competent liars that can beat the lying odds that someone will catch on in the moment. I hired a babysitter once that stole my clothing, then wore to places I frequented. That is a rotten crook!

    When my son was little and a teenager, I felt gratified that he was the worst liar ever and he would get busted (usually by me). This led to many discussions about the long term relationship consequences of lying.

    I think the inventor of FB is finally discovering that there are consequences of minimizing, lying, and apathy this very day. I am not sure if he is a crook or just an internet robber baron (but then what is the difference?) reaping profits from a cash cow. But I would not want to be him now. Inventing a powerful social media tool used by billions, then neglecting/denying the possibilities that crooks might misuse it, is making him appear crooked, although not a really good crook.

    So the answer to the question is this: I might have known a really good crook, but if I did I probably never knew because he/she probably got away with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Some years ago the former bookkeeper at the firm where husband worked embezzled roughly $250.000 from the firm over a four year period. The firm is a small, family owned business.

    The bookkeeper was a lovely, lady, everyone liked her. She’d regularly bring in bagels and cream cheese for everyone, and during the summer, she’d invite everyone to her house for a pool party.

    Her theft was discovered because she at some point felt guilty about it and tried to commit suicide. Because of the attempted suicide, she was questioned by police, and confessed, but claimed that she had only embezzled $25.000, the amount for which the firm was insured. As it turned out, she had started depositing checks written to the firm into her own account within the first six months of starting working for them. When it wasn’t discovered, she got bolder and made it a regular practice. She was convicted and spent a couple of years in prison, but since this was the second time she had been convicted of swindling her employer, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s at it again.

    The firm learned a valuable lesson, and fixed what were some serious flaws in the their internal controls. They were lucky to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. About a year ago, husband’s personal banker at a small local bank was convicted of stealing money from her clients. Don’t know how she did it, didn’t take any of husband’s funds.

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  7. I think being arrogant and feeling entitled are useful for crooks. I’m so guilt-driven I could never bluff my way through interrogation. But I have a friend who has so much contempt for government and law that he could (and has) talked his way out of serious trouble.

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  8. The flower shop where I work was burglarized last year, the week after Mother’s Day. It was a few days into the week, so all the receipts from Mother’s Day had already gone to the bank, so the timing of the thieves was poor.

    The burglars entered by smashing a window, set off the security alarm, and then were in a rush to leave. They broke into one cash register, but dropped most of the money on the way out. When everything was counted later, only about three dollars were missing.

    I’m not sure what they thought they were going to get. Fresh flowers are highly perishable and not readily sold on the black market, so it wasn’t the product they were after. Most of the customers pay with credit and debit cards, so there’s never much cash. I suspect they were really acting on a destructive impulse and just wanted to break something. Going after the cash may have been more or less an afterthought.

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    1. Speaking of baader meihof, a student said to me one day, “What the deuce?” and I didn’t know what that was. And then two days later I read it in a book. ‘What the deuce!’. English phrase means ‘what the heck’ basically.

      Book was ‘A Man Called Ove’.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Sorry this is long, but it’s a rather complicated story.

    Our friend, Ann, has an eclectic bunch of friends. One of them is a retired Russian orthodox priest named Philip.

    Philip is a highly educated, well read, gay man who shares many interests with Ann. They both enjoy music and fine dining, but since Philip is on an extremely limited, fixed income, Ann is always the one footing the bill. She can afford it, so this has worked out beautifully for years; they enjoy each other’s company.

    A few years ago, things got complicated when Philip introduced Ann to Mike, a man who attended Philip’s church.

    Mike, a lawyer who held the rank of police captain, had recently retired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Due to some screwed up paperwork, he had found himself in need of temporary housing, and Philip had agreed to let him move into his tiny house, grand piano and all. Mike, a man of great charm and refined taste, is rather effeminate; we all assumed there was a romance going on between Mike and Philip.

    Well, weeks turned to months, and Mike was still living in Philip’s basement. He wasn’t paying the agreed upon rent or his share of the household expenses, and he was verbally abusive to Philip. If there had ever been a romance, it certainly ended. Mike would make daily trip’s to Ann’s house to do gardening chores, run errands in her Volvo, or otherwise make himself useful. He refused payment for these services, after all it was only a matter of time before he’d begin receiving his sizeable pension. In lieu of pay, Mike accepted Ann’s invitations to dinners at fancy restaurants and concerts at the Ordway.

    Meanwhile, back at Philip’s humble abode, mail to Mike began arriving addressed to someone with a different name.

    Ann lives in a three story, historic mansion on Crocus Hill. The entire third floor was once the servants’ quarters, adjacent to a sizeable ballroom. She has for years been “renting” out the servants’ quarters for a minimal amount of cash in exchange for snow shoveling, yard work, dog sitting and whatnot. That apartment was soon going to be vacant, and it seemed obvious that Mike was campaigning to be the next tenant.

    At Ann’s many social gatherings, Mike told us details about this life, education, former marriage, travels, and career. The idea of an effeminate police officer, and the fact that he didn’t know what kind of a gun the police carry, raised husband’s suspicions, and he decided to make a few phone calls.

    Turns out Mike had a bunch of aliases. He did, in fact, have a law degree from St. Thomas, but he had never been employed by the Minneapolis Police. There had been numerous lawsuits filed against him for fraud, and he was no longer licensed to practice law in Minnesota.

    When we told Ann that Mike wasn’t who he said he was, she was devastated. She confronted him and severed all ties with him, but considers herself lucky that she hadn’t let him move into her third floor apartment, something she had, in fact, considered.

    Philip ended up having to evict him, and Mike reportedly moved to Iowa where he was originally from. I have, however, run into him a couple of times since then, here on the West Side of St. Paul.

    The thing that puzzles me is that Mike was telling lies that could so easily be verified. Who would invent a successful career as a Minneapolis police officer?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I had several bootleggers in the family in the 1920’s and 30’s. They saw it as a way to support their families in hard times.

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  11. Renee, I think you should hire yourself out as a consultant to would be crooks. Advise them to use paper closer to the correct color, have the right designs on the bills, and identify other locales where they might prolong their chances of success. I’m betting that ljb might have some helpful hints as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. successful crooks do it and change the mo

    i know a guy who did a great job of counterfeiting but made the mistake of giving a wad to a guy with the instruction never to go to the same place twice
    the guy did got caught and squealed
    the crooks downfall was being generous with his funny money
    met him in canada where he went to escape his

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  13. One episode from a former workplace –

    One of the employees claimed to have had her purse stolen, and had a long story of why she had had a substantial amount of cash in it, and an immediate need of said cash. The employees took up a collection for her. It later turned out she had a big substance abuse problem.

    I think I kicked in $5 or $10 at the time. I suppose she didn’t feel bad about the ruse, since the people who were throwing money into the kitty could afford to do so. But it was a deterrent to ever giving in to a generous impulse after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. There is a Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie called Owning Mahowny about a guy gradually sinking into a morass of deceit resulting in financial ruin. Worth renting if you haven’t seen it.

    Liked by 1 person

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