There are some crimes that demand meticulous planning, impeccable timing, and/or genius-level intelligence. Below are 10 thefts that do not fall into any of those categories. Instead, these are tales of things that were almost too easy to steal…
10. Keeping the Change
City mechanic James Bagarozzo was charged with ensuring Buffalo, New York’s parking meters were in good working order. But the way he “fixed” the meters wasn’t exactly what the city was envisioning. Bagarozzo rigged about 70 of the city’s 1,200 meters so that instead of dropping into the collection canister, quarters would collect on top, where he could scoop them up. Bagarozzo would then roll the quarters at home and exchange them at the bank for cash, explaining to tellers that his plethora of quarters came from a friend’s vending machine business. All the small change added up—Bagarozzo literally pocketed more than $200,000.
Because he wasn’t skimming money from all the meters, the scheme went unnoticed for 8 years, until a new parking commissioner noticed that the city’s digital parking meters (which had no quarters to steal) were making more money than the old coin-fed variety, launching an investigation that eventually pulled in the local police and the FBI. Bagarozzo and a fellow employee were caught on video tampering with the machines, and more than $45,000 in cash and quarters was found in Bagarozzo’s home. Bagarozzo, who blamed his gambling addiction for driving him to crime, pled guilty, agreed to pay $210,000 in restitution, and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. After Bagarozzo and his colleague were caught, the city’s meter revenue increased by more than $500,000 a year, raising the possibility that the pair may have made off with even more quarters than authorities had ever suspected.
9. The million-dollar fajita heist
Over a period of 9 years, Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department employee Gilberto Escamilla managed to steal over $1.25 million from his employer—in the form of stolen fajitas, which he then resold. He likely would have been able to continue his scheme indefinitely, too, if it weren’t for an ill-timed doctor’s appointment.
By the time he was caught, Escamilla had his routine down to a science. He would order the fajitas, accept the delivery, and then re-sell the fajitas. According to the DA, “He would literally, on the day he ordered them, deliver them to customers he had already lined up.” Escamilla’s black market fajita operation hit a snag when he missed work for a doctor’s appointment. When a food service vendor called to inform the facility of an imminent delivery of 800 pounds of fajitas, the kitchen worker who answered the phone in Escamilla’s place immediately responded (correctly) that the facility did not serve fajitas. However, the driver insisted he had been delivering fajitas there for almost a decade. A subsequent investigation turned up some telltale fajitas in Escamilla’s fridge, and audits of purchase orders and his customer’s records showed the extent of the fajita resale operation. Escamilla pled guilty to theft by a public official and received a sentence that was–like his fajita orders–supersized: 50 years in prison.
8. Hitting up the ATM
When you think of ATM-related crimes, you might picture a thief using a stolen card to access cash, or even holding up ATM customers for cash. But one gang of criminals in New York City found an easier way to get the cash out of ATMs—just pull them open and take the cash. The group started off using hand tools, but moved on to using chains connected to cars to pull the front piece away from the ATM, leaving the cash easily accessible. Conveniently, the getaway car is then already backed up to the machine for easy loading.
The team has netted between $1,300 and $1,2000 in each of the 70-plus thefts that have been attributed to them, stealing from ATMs at small merchants like bodegas, pizzerias, and convenience stores. If you’re thinking those hauls are unlikely to cover the car repairs, you’re correct, but the gang uses stolen cars to commit these thefts, abandoning them shortly afterwards.
7. Stealing 100,000 Tiny Bottles
Those little bottles of booze served on airplanes may not seem like much, especially on a long flight, but for a team of Sky Chef workers at JFK Airport, they quickly added up. The Sky Chef employees were responsible for removing the unsold bottles after each flight, and moving them into a storage facility at the airport. They handled the first part just fine, but instead of moving them into the warehouse, they put them in bags and drove them to their personal vehicles in the employee parking lots. The team bribed the security guards who were supposed to be searching them on the way out with–you guessed it–teeny tiny bottles of liquor.
The Port Authority team investigating the thefts in “Operation Last Call”eventually arrested 18 airport truck drivers and guards for stealing more than 100,000 little bottles of liquor, as well as duty-free merchandise. One suspect’s home contained over 50,000 miniature liquors as well as $34,000 in cash. These Sky Chef employees weren’t the only ones to have this idea. In 2015, a flight attendant for a regional affiliate of Delta Airlines was caught selling miniature bottles of alcohol, part of a trove of more than 1,500 she had stolen during her employment with the airline.
6. Flying Away
Stealing a vintage fighter plane out of a museum seems like it would be a complex undertaking, but for one Israeli military pilot, it proved surprisingly easy. In the early ’80s, Air Force Reserve Major Israel Yitzhaki managed to convince Israel’s Air Force museum that the WWII-era plane needed painting and that he was the man for the job. As promised, Yitzhaki did do some restoration work on the plane over the next few years. However, eventually Yitzhaki registered the plane in his own name and, in 1986, he flew it to Sweden, where he sold it for $331,000.
The theft was eventually discovered, and six years later, the missing aircraft was traced through Interpol. In 1992, Yitzhaki was tried and convicted of theft, forgery, and fraud for swiping the Mustang fighter plane.
5. Valet thieving
Stealing a car usually requires some degree of skill; prying a window open, hotwiring the vehicle, and/or hacking the car’s electronic systems. But for some enterprising car thieves, swiping a car was as easy as putting their hands out to take the keys from the unsuspecting drivers. Why would the owners just hand their cars over? Because they thought they were checking them in to be valet parked.
In one case in Houston, the thief waited until an employee’s break left the valet stand unattended, and just stepped up to the podium. When Bhoumin Mehta dropped off his 2011 Toyota Camry at the valet stand, the thief handed him a claim ticket. It wasn’t until Mehta returned at the end of the day for his car, which was nowhere to be found, that the theft was discovered. In two incidents in Philadelphia, thieves posed as garage attendants, hopping into the still-running cars that customers dropped off. A similar theft took place in Chicago, though that stolen car was recovered after the man who pretended to be the valet tried to return the recently purchased items he found in the car.
4. Taking the cash, the chips, and the cat
Despite what movies might suggest, most casino heists end with the thieves being caught, usually during or shortly after the attempted theft. However, in 1992, a lone thief seemingly robbed the Stardust casino of half a million dollars in cash and chips, walked out the door, and disappeared without a trace. How did he do it?
William Brennan was a clerk at the Stardust’s sportsbook. Part of his job entailed counting the nightly take and then turning it in to the cashier, meaning if he were seen carrying around a pile of cash or chips, it wouldn’t raise any suspicions. On September 23, 1992, a half hour before he was supposed to drop the cash and chips at the cashier, Brennan apparently simply walked out of the casino (though he avoided being recorded on security cameras as he did so). The casino called the police shortly after the money wasn’t turned in on schedule, but it was too late. No trace was ever found of Brennan, whose beloved cat disappeared from his apartment along with him. Brennan either made a clean break, or as some speculate, met a darker fate at the hands at of a partner in crime or the Las Vegas mafia. Though what kind of self-respecting Mafioso puts out a hit on a cat?
3. Getting “stoned”
Costa Mesa jeweler Charles Jayson Hanson came up with an almost-perfect crime. While resetting and upgrading jewelry, often for clients who considered him a friend, Hanson would swap out customers’ diamonds for cubic zirconia or moissanite fakes. To the naked eye, these less-valuable stones were virtually identical to the diamonds they were purported to be, so clients were unaware they’d been duped, paying thousands to Hanson for his craftsmanship. It was only when one client took the “upgraded” engagement ring she had received back from Hanson to another jeweler for an insurance appraisal that she learned that her diamond was a fake, a revelation that left her “gutted.”
As authorities investigated that case, they learned of at least 11 other clients whose stones had been switched out over a two year period. Hanson was ultimately convicted of several charges of burglary and theft, receiving a prison sentence of more than 6 years. The prosecutor in the case said this type of crime might often go unnoticed and unreported, saying, “It’s probably out there more than we think. A lot of people trust their jeweler and they don’t go to a second jeweler.”
2. Just walking out of the museum with the Mona Lisa under your coat
In 1911, security at the Louvre in Paris was nowhere near as tight as it is today, and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa had not yet reached its current iconic status in the public consciousness. Nonetheless, it does seem surprising that someone was able to just take it off the museum’s walls and walk out with it. But on August 21, Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman who had worked with the firm that installed the glass over the Louvre’s paintings did just that. After spending the night with a couple of associates in an art-supply closet at the Louvre, Perugia removed the painting from its case and frame. Then he slipped the painting, which was on boards so that it couldn’t be rolled up like a canvas, under his white worker’s smock and just walked out.
It was more than a day before the painting’s theft was noticed (most museum workers and guests assumed it was taken out of the gallery to be photographed), but once it was, the Mona Lisa’s disappearance made headlines around the world. Perugia may have gotten the painting out of the Louvre easily, and even successfully navigated the routine questioning the police conducted with all Louvre employees, but the subsequent attention made unloading it almost impossible. Perugia left the Mona Lisa hidden at the bottom of a trunk in his room for a couple years, but was eventually caught while trying to sell it in Italy, though not before others, including Pablo Picasso, were arrested for the theft. After much fanfare, including a tour through Italy, the Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, where its newfound fame helped make it one of the most-viewed artworks on Earth.
1. Letting the mail fraud come to you
In the US, it’s pretty easy to change your mailing address. Just fill out a form, either in person or online, and mail is forwarded from your old address to your new one. The US Postal Service validates the change by sending confirmation of the change to the new address and the old one; unless someone at either address calls to complain upon receiving this notice, the mail will be forwarded to the new address.
One man was allegedly able to exploit this process, filling out a form forwarding all US Postal Service mail sent to UPS corporate headquarters to his apartment in Chicago. Dushaun Henderson-Spruce, who is accused of mail theft and fraud, apparently signed his own initials on the change-of-address form, before crossing them out and signing “UPS.” Apparently, someone in the UPS mailroom overlooked the corresponding confirmation note received at the old address. This was enough to have all of UPS’s corporate mail forwarded to his apartment for months before anyone caught on, even as Henderson-Spruce received so much mail at his apartment that his mail carrier had to station an extra bin at his door to hold it all. The crime came to light when Henderson-Spruce allegedly deposited checks made out to UPS for nearly $60,000 into his own bank account. According to court documents, when police searched Henderson-Spruce’s apartment, they found thousands of letters addressed to UPS inside.