Perps Know What Excites
New York’s Bargain-Hunters
There are many ways to move merchandise, but perhaps none works so well in this city of bargain-hunters as to pass it off as stolen. That’s what several cops discovered on Sept. 17.
The officers-Detective Steve Petrillo of the 19th Precinct’s community-affairs office, Captain James Murtaugh, the precinct’s executive officer, and Sergeant Kevin Starr, who were all in plain clothes-were on their way back to the 67th Street station house with their morning coffee around 9 a.m. when they were practically run down by a van that came swerving into the crosswalk on Third Avenue.
While the cops didn’t realize it at the time, the swerving van was part of the driver’s sales pitch-a way of
setting the ambiance, so to speak, to consummate a sale.
“A guy leans out and wants to know if we want to buy speakers,” Detective Petrillo recalled. The man told the cops that he was supposed to deliver eight speakers, but had accidentally been given 10. He showed his potential customers a receipt and told them that while the equipment retailed at $1,800, he would sell it at cost-$500.
“The three of us basically looked at each other like, ‘Something’s up with these speakers,'” continued Detective Petrillo, who assumed, along with his colleagues, that the fast-talking guy in the van, who had two passengers with him, was selling stolen merchandise, and that fate had tossed an easy arrest right into their laps.
The officers pretended to take interest. “Can you hold up here?” they asked the salesmen, saying they just needed to get some cash from a nearby A.T.M. The driver obligingly offered them a ride to the bank, but the cops said they’d prefer to walk the half-block. “We sent Sergeant Starr to the ‘bank,’ which was actually the precinct,” said Detective Petrillo. “He returned with some additional personnel, and we arrested all three men.”
In a sense, though, the last laugh was on the cops. As it turned out, the speakers weren’t stolen after all: The guys in the van were simply using this as a ruse to lure greedy customers who wouldn’t be able to pass up a bargain. The fact that the speakers might be stolen, they calculated, only added to their allure.
Indeed, according to Detective Petrillo, while the cops and the guys in the van were negotiating a price, the driver said, “Don’t you realize how much effort went into stealing these speakers?” The detective noted, “That’s their sales pitch.”
While the cops couldn’t charge the driver of the van, or his two accomplices, with the possession of stolen property, they did manage to slap them with unlicensed general vending-which, Detective Petrillo said, the vehicle’s operator took with reasonably good cheer. “He said, ‘And you had to be my first customers.'”
Liquor, as any serious drinker can tell you, is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it gives you the courage to do what needs to be done. On the other hand, it dulls the senses, as a couple of thieves who tried to rob a taxi-not the cabdriver, but the vehicle itself-no doubt can attest.
The cabby had just dropped off a fare at 74th Street between York and First avenues on Sept. 8, around 4:15 a.m. He was stopped at a red light on 74th and York when two men approached his cab from either side.
Rather than slip into the back seat-the customary method of boarding a cab, whether you’re planning on paying the fare upon reaching your final destination or holding up your hack on the way there-one of the men opened the driver’s-side door and slid behind the wheel, pushing the cabby into the middle of the front seat as his accomplice hopped in through the front passenger door.
The cabby protested, “You can’t take my cab!”-but to little avail, as the perps proceeded to do just that.
“Whatever you have, gimme,” the perp to his left allegedly commanded.
“I don’t make good business,” the cabby replied.
When the light turned green, the perp behind the wheel put the car into gear and drove eastbound on 74th Street toward the F.D.R. Drive-though whether he was hoping to pick up a passenger to supplement the cabby’s disappointing earnings, or was looking for an escape route, is unknown. However, it was about this time that the cabby detected the unmistakable scent of alcohol on the driver’s breath.
His findings were all but confirmed a brief moment later, when East 74th Street somewhat mysteriously transformed itself from a thoroughfare into a dead end when it reached the F.D.R. Drive, and the cab came to an abrupt halt as it crashed into the guard rail. (This is one of those unpredictable things that tends to happen when you down large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time.)
At that point, both perps-perhaps realizing that driving had become unnecessarily hazardous-jumped from the cab and fled on foot westbound on 74th Street towards York Avenue. In the process, they left behind the cabby, his damaged vehicle and his profits-meager though they may have been. The area was canvassed by the police, but with negative results.
Ralph Gardner Jr. may be reached at email@example.com.