Big Crooks Crush

You have to respect their intellect and diligence, 
even though they're bad guys


I like professional criminals. By these, I mean guys who get up with the birds every morning and sally forth into the sunshine to rob, steal, deal or defraud $100,000 or more per year from willing (at the time) customers and unwilling victims. They're a cheerful lot, smart, busy and industrious.

I always tell them that, with their brains and work habits, they could get rich the slow way in honest enterprise. They laugh and, with the patience one employs with the foolish, explain that honest money just doesn't taste as sweet and it doesn't come as fast.

Because I speak to these guys while working with their attorneys and can't rat or testify, they're happy to chat. One ran a check-kiting scheme through which he stole $3 million from Winn-Dixie and Walmart. The technique was so simple that I briefly pondered a move to the dark side. Alas, one of the skills required was the ability to effortlessly seduce the young women who work at check-cashing shops, which will never work for a guy like me who has, as they say, a face made for radio.

Another guy was a "mechanic" (expert car thief) who stole luxury cars to order and shipped them to South America and the Middle East in containers whose hinky paperwork slid through the greased fingers of our fine port employees.

Dope distributors — "dealers" are expendable sales staff — are always on the big crook list. The best achieve the Dope Trifecta, which is to get in the dope business, get rich and get out, without being imprisoned or killed. The exit technique is to call associates and report being busted in some faraway place like Alaska or Samoa, and that you'll be gone for a long time. The associates will then steal the business and forget about you, which is the idea.

My personal favorite was a Cuban guy who figured that the way to rob American banks was to steal by remote control from Montevideo, Uruguay. He set up a café with free Internet, then sat in a back room, skimming customers' bank account and credit card numbers. The official Uruguayan attitude? Who cares about gringo crooks stealing from gringo banks in a city where you can dance the "milonga" under the stars and drink the rich reds of Córdoba as South Atlantic winds whisper over the cobblestones?


So how do police catch big crooks? Mostly they don't. A few, simple precautions make them nearly cop-proof. Big crooks do business in one city and live in another. They never use real names, never write anything on a computer and never use phones for business. They drive rental cars so that, when cops run the tags, the computer pops "Avis" as the owner.

The really big boys, who can invest serious money in a happy future, become citizens of Honduras, Togo or the Maldives, which will, for appropriate compensation, issue a passport in a new name with numbers that will check out on airport and cop computers.

The other necessary quality is to be cold as ice and to love no one, except provisionally, and to eschew complications like wives and children and property owned in fee simple. The ties that bind are the nets that hold when it's time to cut and run. Property? Too many records.

When big crooks do get busted, it's usually due to one mindset and two screw-ups. The mindset is that they're smarter than the people from whom they steal and that the victims deserve to lose because they're stupid. This is not always the case.

The first screw-up is to brag about crimes to get sex. These guys are smart but not always chick magnets. They have to flash cash and talk big in order to get laid. When later they cheat the women or trade them in for sportier models, the ladies dial 1-800-bustthatmotherfucker. Only the top crooks have the discipline, and the cash, to get sex anonymously from professionals.

The second screw-up is to put down roots such as wives, kids, houses and good works. Some of these mopes enjoy the double life so much they can't resist joining boards of directors, donating to charity and appearing in newspapers and on television!

That's what happened to Bernie Madoff. When his billion-dollar ponzi imploded, he was aboard his yacht off the coast of Venezuela. He could have turned the boat and grabbed a jet from any port between Caracas and Rio.

He didn't. He had a wife and children he loved, and friends, some of whom were criminal associates. He went back to the U.S. and took the heat so they didn't have to. In a way, it's too bad. With the proper passport, he might have escaped to a place like Andorra, a principality on the Franco-Spanish border that has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

The mountain views, they say, are stunning. The food is Spanish, the wines are French and the dialect is an intriguing mélange of Provençal and the language of "Don Quijote." That would certainly beat the concrete and steel hotel he lives in now. It's run by the United States of America and is never subject to sequester or government shutdown because it's part of that 24/7 world we call

Crime City.

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