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San Diego employees who steal

Labor's love lost

Image by Doug Allen

Beth, 25

Church's Fried Chicken — ghetto franchise, they don’t keep very good books. KFC kept meticulous records. I worked Church’s chicken, noticed that there was no record-keeping system. Other employees told me to eat whatever I wanted. As for cash, one guy regularly took $35 a night. The way it worked is that most of the time we would charge an extra dollar and shortchange, hope the customers didn’t look up at the board, see how much things cost. You always hoped that they were rushed. You hope the customer rushes away. And you always tried to psychoanalyze the customer before you tried anything.

One night I tried to clip a big bald guy — and it was important to make that distinction: it wasn't stealing, it was clipping — and he said, “Hey, I gave you a 20.” I got so scared, I told him I was sorry, that I’d made a mistake. Usually you could always tell who’s going to rush away without their change, but he noticed. I decided to slop clipping then.

When I started, it just seemed like no one was going to care anyway. It did seem like I was losing my soul to cheating customers. You always tried to pretend that the customers were demons. You try to tell yourself that they’re the ones stealing — like. I told myself that the bald guy was a drug dealer. So, you’d make up rules: never steal from the customers who were nice, but the ones who were cussing, you’d imagine that they had insulted you. Then you’d clip them. You only used the customers who would keep you from feeling guilty, ’cuz you knew you were hurting some innocent people. Another justification was that I deserved the money. I was someone special.

After I left Church’s I worked three to four weeks at McDonald’s. Those places are real slave labor camps. Then I went to work at an airport. That’s where I learned that there was a greater society out there. They were really strict. Right now I’m just a housewife. I wanted to be a person who paid for her newspaper. Like the trolley, the first time when I took the trolley without paying for it I felt so guilty. I'll never do that again. If everybody did that, the train would start losing money. They wouldn't be able to pay to keep it clean. It’d have to shut down. Who wants that?

Peter, 44

It was the American something-for-nothing. I stole for years. I’ve had about 50 or 60 jobs. While I was doing it I thought it was the greatest thing since the zipper — I was a child of the ‘60s, and back then we thought it was righteous to steal. I started doing drugs in the ‘60s. My life was pretty much decided in ‘68 when I was busted for 95 kilos of grass. I knew I couldn't work anywhere s really good after that. I was gonna be a history teacher.

I don’t do anything illegal anymore. I haven’t done drugs for about two years. But back when I was using drugs — I did a lot of cocaine — I worked for a big stereo outlet here in San Diego.

I figured out how to change invoices. I thought I was real crafty — there was a sense of adventure to it. I thought I was unique. Once I ended up with an entire shipment of Alpine stereos, 16 cases, and I stole them. Sold them. The money went for drugs. Most of the managers were stealing too.

I’d stolen like that before. In ‘81 and ‘82 I had a job delivering office equipment, IBM typewriters. I’d always try to sneak a few out of the warehouse. I’d stick some under the seat of the truck. For about 20 years of my life I was doing something illegal. I shoplifted a lot. I was busted in Nordstrom downtown the first day they were open. Caught about five times in Penney’s in Fashion Valley. Over my lifetime I’ve probably stolen a couple million dollars’ worth of stuff from stores and employers. I wouldn’t go into your house and steal. I never went out and hurt anyone, kidnapped. I don’t feel remorse. I would always work up some justification for doing what I did. I basically believe that people are bad.

Sally, 31

I was a New York cop — bridge and tunnel collection in and out of Manhattan. Two hundred. 300 bucks a day. They never missed it. Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Queens Midtown Tunnel. The fact was that management sucked. The way they had us working — we sucked carbon monoxide every day. We had one guy drop dead right on the toll plaza. Bridge and tunnel officer. Heart attack because of the carbon monoxide. And in 16 months we had four people put out on disability because of the toll lanes — those automatic bars would just fall down on officers. In the same 16 months I took $30,000. Everyone did it. It was a kind of “join the crowd" kind of thing.

The way it worked was that they let you check out as many of those canvas bags as you needed to keep your money in for a shift. You’d have a bag for yourself and a bag for collections. They never kept track. If a supervisor caught you. they would usually ask for ten percent of what you were walking off with. I wasn’t the biggest. The ones who were taking the most took home about $35,000 tax-free a year, in addition to their salary. I walked out on my last shift with $6000. There are about 240 workers in that system, 11 facilities. A lot, if not all of them taking money. No wonder New York’s going broke. I bought a car. I banked a lot of it. We went on a lot of trips. I took the kids to Florida, Disney World. Sometimes I feel remorse. I wasn’t setting the right example for my kids.

Ken, 26

I work in construction. I pump concrete. I’ve stolen construction supplies — hand tools, lumber usually, from the developers or contractors. Sometimes work is slow, like lately with not much construction going on. When times get a little hard, and if the customer pays me in cash. I'll tear up the job ticket and rewrite it and pocket the difference. It adds up to about 1000 extra bucks a year. A lot of limes we work hours of the day for free, and the owner does make a lot of money. I like my job, I like my boss, it’s not like it’s a kind of hate thing. But it’s taboo; you don’t really talk about it with other workers. If you’re pouring a kind of concrete that takes two people, it’s a different kind of concrete, you have to get together with your buddy and decide how you’re gonna work it, how you’re gonna rewrite the ticket, how much you’re gonna take. I feel bad about it. But sometimes when checks are small ... I don’t know. It’s a victimless crime.

Kevin, 24

I used to work at Sea World. We used to steal thousands of dollars. We walked around and sold refreshments, like cups of Pepsi. Sometimes guys would take several hundred dollars a day. Sometimes six or seven hundred dollars a day, like over the Memorial Day weekend. It was so easy that it was unbelievable. There was so little control of the inventory. We had these trays of cups of Pepsi. Twenty cups per tray, $1.25 a cup. We’d just pocket the money. Once I sold 40-something trays at one Shamu stadium show. Forty trays for one show! I took about $250 from just that one show. I worked there for a year and a half. For a good eight or nine of those months, I and a lot of other guys were stealing. Some of the guys were on drugs. It amazed me that no one caught on. I became an employee trainer. Even while I was training people I was stealing. For me, it was purely for the money.

Karen, 30

I want to make amends. Last winter I was working for my father in the South Bay. administrative work. He was renting office space with this other company, a financial company. Then I stopped working with my father and moved to Encinitas. I couldn’t find a job and became afraid that I couldn't pay the rent. I went back to where I worked. I still had the key. My reasoning was that they weren't nice to my father. I don't know what I was thinking. I can't believe I did this. I went back to the office and took three blank checks from the financial company that shared office space with my father. Three from a new box at the bottom of the big check ledger. I even went so far as to take the most recent statement from their bank to make sure they had enough money in the account to cover the checks.

I had a fake I D. A friend of mine gave it to me. It belonged to a friend of hers who lived out of state. The girl looked sort of like me — red hair, green eyes. And this same friend, the one who gave me the fake I.D., forged the signature. On the first check I typed in the amount — $700. Then I went to the bank. I park, go in, walk up. and hand it to a teller with the fake I.D. She looked at the check and said she wanted to check the signature on it. This was the first time this had ever happened to me, a teller wanting to check the signature on a check. The teller I was talking to said, "Just a minute. I need to go to the fax machine.’* I got a gut feeling something was wrong.

She goes over to the fax machine, and I saw her talking to someone else. I said “Excuse me, I forgot my wallet in the car. I’ll be back in just a minute.” I didn’t come back.

You go with your gut feeling. I shouldn't have pushed it. But I was a fool. I didn’t listen to my heart. I decided to go to a checkcashing place. I called to get directions. It was a fairly sophisticated place. I thought it was strange when they said they had to take my picture before they could cash the check. The personnel were acting oddly. Suddenly this guy comes out from behind the counter and says, “Sharon. I think we've got a problem, put your hands on the wall.” He slapped the cuffs on me. You can’t imagine the feeling. it’s the most devastating thing to ever go through. But they were nice, they moved my car for me. The guy grabbed my real I.D. right out of the glove compartment.

The police did not read me my rights or anything. Three felony counts were against me. I spent four nights in jail. Thank God it had nothing to do with drugs. I'm in sitting there in my little sun dress, and I'm chained to a bench. I could see the policemen go through my purse. I decided I wasn’t going to tell my father. So they take me to a holding tank, and I walk in and my best friend’s little sister is in there! I didn’t want anyone to know about this. But that’s another story.

Anyway, the next morning, after a 4:00 a.m. breakfast of Duffy burgers —baloney, bread, and cheese — they take us to Las Colinas. And I'm just beside myself. I thought I should be flogged. I still don’t think I got what I deserved. The girls called Las Colinas Camp Snoopy. We watched The Exorcist one night on television. I got two counts of burglary and one of fraud. This was almost a year ago. I haven't been able to go anywhere and do anything since then. I don’t feel comfortable anywhere. What this is all about is being able to forgive yourself; you can't believe how hard this is.

Molly, 24

Perhaps this qualifies as sabotage, but it may be too mild. This summer I'm working at a snack bar. As an advocate of sustainable living. I'm conflicted about working in a joint which serves burgers, Coke products, etc. But I need the money. I can't stand the waste which takes place at any fast-food restaurant. So I've taken it upon myself to help reduce the waste by reusing everything I can.

When cleaning up after people who left their garbage out on the tables, I quietly gather up cups, plates, straws, napkins, plastic utensils and bring them back inside the snack bar. Plastic utensils are easily wiped off with a rag. Plenty of people take more napkins than they need, so the still-folded, clean-looking ones go back into the dispenser. I let straws dry out and put them back in the tray. Unless people have chewed on or otherwise vandalized their Styrofoam cups. I can wipe off signs of use. And the plastic covers for cups go back on the stack too. I try not to use water to clean these things, as that would negate my efforts at conservation.

When I'm working alone, sometimes I lie and tell customers who ask for lids that we have run out. and I encourage people to buy sodas in the can. because they can at least be recycled. I realize this isn't real radical behavior, but I expect I’d lose my job if people found out I serve them food and beverages on used plastic and cardboard. Yeah. I’m more part of the problem than the solution because I work in such a place, but I hope that by reusing things I'm less a participant in consumption. All I know is that the company will be quite puzzled when they do inventory.

Stacy, 30

I was in a management position, and I had figured out a way that I could take money without being found out. It was a drug-related situation — cocaine. I wasn't a heavy user, maybe half a gram or so every day or two. I had started because of where I worked, and most of the salespeople were using it. You work 10-to 12-hour days, and it was a way of staying up. awake, alert. I used cocaine for about six months before I started to steal. I was running out of cash.

I don't know if this will make sense, but when you're drug-induced. everything makes sense. I figured I deserved the money because of all the work I did. I wrote bogus return checks to nonexistent customers. I would endorse the check because sometimes if the amount was low enough we would let customers cash the return checks out of our drawer. I also did the inventory. It was a noncomputerized system. It was difficult to track down. I also did the books so I was the only one who had access to that information on a regular basis. I estimate that I stole over a nine-month period about $4000. When I went into recovery and decided to pay them back.

I’ve probably stolen a couple million dollars’ worth of stuff from stores and employers.

I estimated high to be on the safe side.

I knew I was stealing, but stealing isn’t a pretty word. My supervisors were wonderful; in fact, they helped me get into recovery. What happened is that my health started to deteriorate. When you stay up for two or three days at a time, you get ill. My personality started to change, and friends thought I was working too hard. But a friend who had worked in that business called me on it. I didn't know how to stop, and I wanted to. I had a sense that I wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I went to my boss, and they helped me go into an outpatient clinic here in town.

When I was sober the justification went away. So I went to my supervisor and confessed. She told me not to be a martyr about it and to write a letter to the corporate office out of state, telling them I was an ex-employee and that I had taken this money and wanted to repay it in a responsible way. I told them that I could do maybe $25 a week until I had paid them off. I've almost paid them off.

I was very fortunate. They could have sent me to jail, and I know that. I don’t take it for granted that I lucked out. Never stolen from any job before. Drugs or no drugs, it’s obviously a part of my personality that I'm not proud of.

Maurice, 44

It was a Tennessee Valley Authority job, 15 or 18 years ago. TVA jobs are, as a rule, a very, very bad work situation. It was a very big job. When there's a huge job like this, supervision just gets strung out. There’s a long chain of command, and things just don’t turn out the way they were supposed to. There were a lot of screw-ups. So. TVA’s attitude was to say, “We need more supervision.” So it turned out there was a supervisor for every six workers. They had supervisors just standing around like efficiency experts, trying to get feedback on how they could speed things up.

The supervision was usually college-educated white-collar workers, and the construction guys were a rough and tough crowd. There was always friction between the two groups.

Things’d happen, like letting the air out of a supervisor’s tires in the parking lot.

Screwing up some minor thing on purpose. There’s always a lot of stress between labor and management. It’s such a large group of people. Lots of the workers there were really pissed off over the work atmosphere.

With this in mind, I was working there as an electrician. I had been working there for a few months, and in the course of my work I found that the quitting whistles — several huge sirens that come on for about ten seconds to announce when to quit, start, eat lunch — could be tampered with. I discovered how to actuate these on their own by sort of screwing around with their electric system a little bit.

I was looking at the system once, and I realized. “Hey. I can change that!" I decided that five minutes was the correct amount. I synchronized my watch with the work clock, and I turned the siren on exactly five minutes before official quitting time. Everyone threw their tools down and said, “Hell, let’s get out of here.” It was quite a sight. Five thousand workers. There was a massive traffic jam. The gates weren’t ready to open.

I did it four times. The first time it was considered to be a kind of electrical problem. The second time management realized that something was going wrong. They sent a team out to investigate it. But the system I had rigged up to actuate the siren was very well concealed and they didn’t find it. The third time there was a real hullabaloo. They started talking about “the Phantom.” People started joking about. “Well. I wonder if we’re gonna get off early again today?”

Then management got really serious about it. I realized that if I did it any longer they were going to catch me. They used an entire electrical team to stand guard over the system. And finally there was the fourth time. It turns out that after the second time, one of the guys on my team told our supervisor that I was the one doing it. They knew all along it was me. but they couldn’t catch me.

So management called all the electricians out to a safety meeting. We were gone about 30 minutes, and while we were gone they checked the system one more time. But I managed to sneak out of this meeting, and I came back to the work area ahead of everyone else. And I got my system ready to go. I blew the whistle five minutes ahead of time as usual. My supervisor came up to me and said. “What are you doing?” I said I was getting ready to go. He called in all the electricians, and they checked over all the system, and they found my device. I was fired. And that’s it.

Lee, 28

I worked at a check-cashing place. The kind you see all over town. There were lots of ways of making extra money. One of the easiest was to use the sliding scale we had for the percentage we would take for cashing checks. We had a sign that said that for checks over $1500, we would take three to five percent. We, the tellers, were supposed to use our judgment. figure out how risky the check was, and charge a percentage accordingly. It was a discretion-type of thing. What you could get away with. Try to figure out how much the customer was willing to give up.

What you would do was, say, if a customer brought a check in for over $1500, you’d say, “I have to go back and call our main office to get an okay for this check, to see how much I have to charge you.” So you’d come back and say, “My boss says I have to charge you five percent on this.” And if the customer said okay, then you’d make the transaction and mark down that you’d charged the customer three percent, and pocket the difference.

The largest check I ever did this with was in the $30,000 range. Then there were the smaller checks. Of course, we had our set fee for how much we would normally take. But if the check looked suspicious, you might tell the customer that the only way you would cash it would be for a ten percent fee. Then what you’d do is mark down that you took the standard fee of, let’s say, $7 for a $500 check. But in reality you've charged the customer $50. So you’ve made $43 for yourself off this one check.

This was something I sort of picked up along the way after being at this job for a while. With the kind of analytical mind I have, it wasn't hard to figure out. There were other employees who were doing this, but no one told me how to do it. Ninety percent of the lime we were alone, we had no supervision — unless it was a big. busy day. like a welfare day. There’d be extra employees. But since they were doing it too. it didn’t matter. Welfare day was a big day to make money. People come in with checks you know are stolen. They’re desperate to get in and get out. They just come in one after another after another. There’d be two or three windows open.

There were so many ways to make money. For example, we had this policy where every fourth check that a person brought in was free — we wouldn’t charge ’em for it. But bookkeeping had no way of knowing whether or not a check was really a fourth one or not. So you could charge the person a fee but write down on the check for the company’s records that it was the fourth check that person had brought in, but you’ve really pocketed the fee.

There’s also ways of borrowing money. Let’s say that someone’s brought in a utility bill to be paid a week early. That means that I can hold onto that person’s bill and that person’s cash and use it for a week, then when I get paid, deposit it back in the drawer. And nobody knows what’s happened.

We had a lot of those Mexican guys come in. coyotes, the ones who smuggle people, and they’d be getting money wired to them from all over the United States. One of these guys was finally investigated — he was getting too much money wired to him. The FBI came in and investigated. I don’t know what happened to him.

Another thing you could do was to get a little Western Union money for yourself. You needed to have money come in for a very common name like, say, Jose Gonzalez. I had thousands of Jose Gonzalezes in my card file. So all you’ve got to do is take one of ’em. zap his I.D. onto the copy, and it’s "Hey, I paid this out to Jose Gonzalez. This guy showed me his I.D. and it said Jose Gonzalez." And I’ve pocketed the money for myself. maybe $350. maybe $400.

Over the three years that I worked there, the first year I didn’t take any money. Then I met this girl who 1 gave all my money to. She dumped me after the money was gone. I actually tried to get a grip on what I was doing. I was giving her so much money, it was like, well, you know, after a while you don’t even think about it anymore. Then I realized, my God, I’ve given her $10,000 more than I made in a whole year. I’d say that I took, in total, maybe 18 or 19 grand.

It wasn’t money that I was actually taking from the company — they were making their profit. It’s just what I was taking from transactions. I wasn’t really stealing. There was another person there who was doing what I was doing, and he probably made about three quarters of what I did. He was leery to take big chances. You see, we were videotaped the whole time that we were there. There was no audio. The cameras only took one still photo per time, and the cameras switched at four-second intervals. Four seconds in the lobby, four seconds in the workplace, four seconds on the employees. So you’ve got at least four seconds to play with, and although that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, believe it or not. it’s enough time to stick a dollar bill down your pants.

This was all for a girl. She already had a boyfriend. They lived together. She’s a masseuse by profession, was one when I met her. We started dating as friends — a real friendship kind of thing. We'd go out everywhere together. But I got in this habit of wanting to spoil her. I thought maybe if I did it, I could, well, I could convince her to come to me. basically. To dump the guy she was wilh. So I ended up trying to shower her to death with gifts, and money, and everything I gave.

I finally figured out that she’d gotten about $14,000 in cash from me, and then, like, $3000 from all the money I spent on massages at the place where she worked, and then all the gifts. These weren’t erotic massages. At first. At the end it became that. I convinced her to do that. I kept pressuring her. and I think there’s a point after which people are willing to lower their moral standards for money. She wanted, you know, to lower her moral standards for money. She wanted to go to acupuncture school and needed the money. And I said. “Well. I'll give you the money if you’ll do this, and that’ll keep me from having to go out and fool around with just anyone and. after all, we’re friends.” We never carried it to the ultimate level. We never got that far. But still I kept on taking more and more money to pay her.

I've got pictures of us together in Vegas, at Universal Studios. I've got all these cards from her thanking me for helping her out financially. And she left me claiming that she didn’t like thinking about the things she had done for money. Live and learn, I guess.

Adam, 33

During the mid-*80s I worked for one of the biggest defense contractors in San Diego. This was at the height of the Reagan era, when the Department of Defense had money to burn. Well, I burned plenty of it. The thing was, being efficient got you nowhere. If you delivered the work ahead of time or under budget or both, the Navy would nail you the next time you bid a similar contract.

They’d say. “Hey, you didn’t need all the time and money before. why do you need it this time?” So it didn’t pay to be efficient.

Over five years, there were so many stretches where dozens of us would sit around reading the paper and shooting the shit for weeks at a time — all on the government dole. We all had secret government clearances and worked in a secured building. But all you needed was a card key to come and go, and no one ever checked.

I used to take confidential documents home with me. work on them in the evening. Of course, that was early on, when I actually worked.

I hung out with Sam and Ben. younger guys about my age. I was living in South Mission Beach, and most mornings I’d go surfing and roll in 30 or 45 minutes late. I caught shit at first, then after a while everyone still joked about it, but they just accepted it. Every morning we’d take a half-hour break at a nearby deli, then lunch, which usually lasted an hour and a half. A lot of times I’d stretch it to two hours — go home, eat a sandwich, kick back on the beach. We’d leave for the day as close to 4:30 as possible. I averaged probably two or three hours of work every day. We put 40 hours on our time cards, and no one ever questioned it. This went on for six years.

Sam and me had a video game called Asteroids on the computer in our office. We worked in these shoulder-high cubicles, and everybody around us could tell we were playing Asteroids by the machine-gun speed of keystrokes. Plus we’d swear a lot. We’d play round-robins for hours. Ben rigged it so that if you hit the escape key, the computer screen would default back to a dummy page of the technical manual we were supposed to be working on. That saved us a few times when a manager walked in unexpectedly. We also collaborated on a novel. In a year the three of us wrote 250,000 words.

Sometimes on Friday nights Ben and I would meet at the Beachcomber or the old Mony Mony’s on Sports Arena and let ourselves into the office, smoke some dope, play video games on our computers. One night I even brought a date into the office and we had sex. She thought it was great making love on classified military documents. During the day I used to take naps under my desk — crawl under and pull the chair up so you couldn't see me unless you bent over. Sometimes we'd smoke a joint at lunch and just be goofy all afternoon. Once we had some particularly strong weed and giant amounts of Fritos and M&Ms. I lay down on the floor in my cubicle in plain view and slept all afternoon. When I woke up three hours later, no one had noticed me.

When I finally left the company — took a big pay cut to work outside the defense industry — I realized how low my self-esteem had been during that job. In six years I must have wasted close to $80,000 worth of taxpayer money all by myself. And I wasn’t unique at all. Multiply that by probably millions and you get some idea of the waste. I’m not proud of it.

Marla, 27

I worked as a front desk clerk for a residential hotel. I stole about $500 by figuring out a way of covering it up on the computer so that nobody would ever find out. This wasn’t for drugs. I just wanted money.

I also worked at three different positions at three different shops in Horton Plaza. These were minimum-wage jobs, but they were positions of responsibility and trust. I enjoyed all of these jobs, but I needed money very badly, for groceries and to pay bills. It wasn’t even a thrill. I saw that it was so easy to do. A lot of the times I’d simply tell customers that the registers weren’t working and wouldn’t ring up the sale. I'd take the money instead. I probably took about $2500 in all. It’s pretty bad if you think of all the merchants I screwed over. I’ve felt so guilty about it. There were times when I’d drink myself into a stupor just thinking about it.

Darryl, 30

I worked in the hotel industry here in town. There is a tremendous amount of theft that goes on in hotels — food, liquor for the bar, free rooms for parties, whole sets of sheets and towels. It adds up to thousands and thousands of dollars. A lot of this happens because there’s a great deal of corporate crap in the hotel industry. A lot of ass-kissing goes on. They say they want intelligent employees, but they treat you badly. You have to be ready to work for them 24 hours a day. You get passed up for promotions, and it doesn't do any good to complain, to speak to anyone. Nothing changes.

Carol Lee, 20

A few years ago I worked at a very nice drugstore. I worked behind the perfume counter. They had a lot of high school-age kids who worked at the store, and just about everyone was stealing. It was almost like a contest to see how much you could steal. One day I remember one of the guys walked right out of the store with one of those giant stuffed pandas, stole it for his girlfriend. But I guess I won the prize for most expensive. The manager didn’t pay any attention to things. The store wasn’t very well run. Boxes of inventory would just sit in the back of the store for days. Stuff disappeared all the time.

I got the idea for doing what I did when I went to Nordstrom with a friend of mine who worked there. In the back of the store, where the employees come in, they have this sign that says, “Nordstrom’s Customer Policy: 1. The Customer is Always Right. 2. If the Customer is Wrong, Refer Back to Rule Number 1.”

At the drugstore, at the perfume counter, we had these large bottles of very expensive perfume. Bottles that cost around $250. They had these little security tags on them that were very easy to peel off. So what I would do was take the bottles from the store and return them at Nordstrom. For cash. Because of their policy I knew that they had to take stuff back, no questions asked. And since it was nice, expensive perfume, in the box, still wrapped, the same kind they carried, I knew they would take it. If they asked me for a receipt. I’d play the innocent little kid act, tell them my grandmother gave it to me for my birthday.

I had to be careful about this. I knew I couldn’t go back every time to the same Nordstrom. Once I even drove up to Orange County to return a bottle because I was a little nervous. This was years ago. It was the first job I ever had. I was pretty immature. I haven’t stolen anything since then.

Gregory, 23

I work for a moving company. We move offices, people from their homes. If people are obnoxious with us, you know, if they have a bad attitude, their stuff, well, we aren’t very careful with it. We drop computers, drop desks, throw desks through walls. It’s kind of a way of getting back at the person.

Once we were moving this very rich old lady out of her home in Rancho Santa Fe. She was an arrogant bitch, very eccentric. She watched everything we did. It was, “Be careful with this! Be careful with that!” all day long. She had these porcelain figurines from China, these porcelain dogs. And she kept yelling at me to be careful with them. So I’m walking out of the house and, right in front of her, I accidentally “fumble” one of these dogs. It starts to fall and I grabbed it by the tail and Snap! Crash! Respect gets respect, you know.

I have a friend who works for one of those companies that moves military families overseas. I guess the family just packs their suitcases and leaves, and the company comes in and packs up everything else in crates and sends it overseas. Well, what happens is that these guys will go in, they use, like, 30 or 40 boxes, and they’ll just set one of them aside for the stuff they want. They put whatever they want in it — coin collections, watches, video players, whatever. And the box just won’t get marked. It never gets sent.

The fixtures have eyes

The images evoke the simple, melodramatic universe of the hand-cranked mutoscope in the penny arcade. Scenes of good and evil, mostly evil, parade before the voyeuristic eye in stark black and white: the pregnant clerk with a drug habit who can’t keep her hand out of the till; the UPS manager who works overtime on weekends to steal packages destined for someone else; the long-haired, suspicious warehouse worker who drives the muscle car who is exonerated — we watch him, he doesn’t steal; the well-mannered pharmacist quietly filching cocaine from the company stock, replacing it with lactose; the entire night shift at a print shop that leaves, en masse, for four hours each evening to go to the corner bar; the racist co-worker who sneaks into the bathroom of his company’s black vice president to scrawl hate words on the walls; the trusted employees of a brokerage house tip-toeing into the office after hours, passing down the hallways wearing rubber gloves, and wheeling to the elevators dollies laden with office equipment.

This is a world Barry Levine knows well. Levine brings this silent, hidden world into plain view. From his ample Point Loma living room, you can see for miles — the yacht club, the bay, all of downtown, the mountains beyond. Levine has obviously done very well at helping employers see clearly things that would otherwise remain invisible. Levine is a specialist in what is known as investigative video surveillance technology. He’s been involved with this industry since its inception. His company, Sperry West, deals in ultra-miniature, low-light level cameras. The wide-angle lenses on these devices are roughly the size of match heads; the entire video camera is smaller than a package of cigarettes. They can be concealed anywhere, their information broadcast to a remote video recorder that can run for as long as three weeks. And with Levine’s help, the Almighty Eye is getting smaller and smaller all the time.

“These statistics aren’t mine. But it’s estimated that 33 percent of hospital and medical center employees are involved in theft. Now when they’re talking about 33 percent, they’re talking about people who’ve stolen pencils also. Because. I mean, you and I can’t possibly believe that one out of every three people you see working in a hospital are stealing. But there’s a survey done by the University of Minnesota that says that 35 percent of retail employees were in involved in some type of theft during the period of one year. The highest percentage was in the misuse of discount privileges. In manufacturing, 28 percent of employees admitted to theft, the highest percentage in the theft of raw materials normally used for production. From statistics out of my head, the Fast-food industry claims — are you ready for this? — 67 percent of employees admitted to being involved in theft, the highest percentage being in eating food without paying. Do you really want to call that theft? Well, it is.

“The Food Marketing Institute says, for employees of supermarkets, 46 percent of respondents admitted to some cash or property theft during the past six months. That’s the number that responded. The statistics are a little colored, and so I’m not a big believer in statistics. But lastly, a group called Loss Prevention Consultants in Minneapolis said in 1990 that the dishonest employee steals an average of $2991. What they’re saying is that for each case, for each dishonest employee who’s caught, he or she has stolen, on average, $2991."

While Levine rattles off the statistics, he toys with a product his company has developed. He wants to keep it a secret. Let’s just say that it’s a common electric fixture, one found in just about every room of every home and business. If you look very closely at it — very closely — you notice a small bluish eye, a lens the size of a collar button, winking discreetly at you from its cunningly disguised home. The circuit board to which it’s attached, mounted inside the device, is no bigger than a business card. “No one," Levine says with a chuckle, “would ever know it’s there.” Levine has sold thousands of these and similar cameras to businesses throughout the United States. Locally, he’s done business with the Navy to help them catch civilian thieves.

Levine testified as an expert witness before a Senate subcommittee hearing in 1967 investigating invasions of privacy. The recommendations of that committee led to the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, ultimately called the Safe Streets Act. That act prohibited audio surveillance in most forms. But, says Levine, because video technology was so new back then, the cameras so large, the law failed to take video surveillance into consideration.

“The one issue that comes up most often when discussing this industry is that of privacy. Actually, there are few abuses of video surveillance. In all my years of doing business, I’ve only had one customer ask me to put a camera in ladies’ and men’s rooms, in bathrooms, and he was in the diamondcutting business. We refused to do it, and he ended up not doing it anyway. He was from Europe and thought he could get away with it.

“Employees should be told when there’s video surveillance going on. There’s no reason not to. In fact, it can help. But by the same token, why should there be privacy in the work place? When we’re talking about bathrooms and locker rooms, of course. But that’s another kind of privacy. But why shouldn’t cameras be allowed when a manager or supervisor could be watching over you? Why, then, should a business have to employ, pay personnel, to watch over other employees?

“I really don’t believe that there’s anything in our business lives that is so private, short of bathrooms, that a camera shouldn’t be present to view. There’s nothing that people should be doing in a business environment that’s private. If they are, then they’re in violation of good business practice. And if they’re caught, because of concealed camera, well, that’s good. They should have been caught."

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Beth, 25

Church's Fried Chicken — ghetto franchise, they don’t keep very good books. KFC kept meticulous records. I worked Church’s chicken, noticed that there was no record-keeping system. Other employees told me to eat whatever I wanted. As for cash, one guy regularly took $35 a night. The way it worked is that most of the time we would charge an extra dollar and shortchange, hope the customers didn’t look up at the board, see how much things cost. You always hoped that they were rushed. You hope the customer rushes away. And you always tried to psychoanalyze the customer before you tried anything.

One night I tried to clip a big bald guy — and it was important to make that distinction: it wasn't stealing, it was clipping — and he said, “Hey, I gave you a 20.” I got so scared, I told him I was sorry, that I’d made a mistake. Usually you could always tell who’s going to rush away without their change, but he noticed. I decided to slop clipping then.

When I started, it just seemed like no one was going to care anyway. It did seem like I was losing my soul to cheating customers. You always tried to pretend that the customers were demons. You try to tell yourself that they’re the ones stealing — like. I told myself that the bald guy was a drug dealer. So, you’d make up rules: never steal from the customers who were nice, but the ones who were cussing, you’d imagine that they had insulted you. Then you’d clip them. You only used the customers who would keep you from feeling guilty, ’cuz you knew you were hurting some innocent people. Another justification was that I deserved the money. I was someone special.

After I left Church’s I worked three to four weeks at McDonald’s. Those places are real slave labor camps. Then I went to work at an airport. That’s where I learned that there was a greater society out there. They were really strict. Right now I’m just a housewife. I wanted to be a person who paid for her newspaper. Like the trolley, the first time when I took the trolley without paying for it I felt so guilty. I'll never do that again. If everybody did that, the train would start losing money. They wouldn't be able to pay to keep it clean. It’d have to shut down. Who wants that?

Peter, 44

It was the American something-for-nothing. I stole for years. I’ve had about 50 or 60 jobs. While I was doing it I thought it was the greatest thing since the zipper — I was a child of the ‘60s, and back then we thought it was righteous to steal. I started doing drugs in the ‘60s. My life was pretty much decided in ‘68 when I was busted for 95 kilos of grass. I knew I couldn't work anywhere s really good after that. I was gonna be a history teacher.

I don’t do anything illegal anymore. I haven’t done drugs for about two years. But back when I was using drugs — I did a lot of cocaine — I worked for a big stereo outlet here in San Diego.

I figured out how to change invoices. I thought I was real crafty — there was a sense of adventure to it. I thought I was unique. Once I ended up with an entire shipment of Alpine stereos, 16 cases, and I stole them. Sold them. The money went for drugs. Most of the managers were stealing too.

I’d stolen like that before. In ‘81 and ‘82 I had a job delivering office equipment, IBM typewriters. I’d always try to sneak a few out of the warehouse. I’d stick some under the seat of the truck. For about 20 years of my life I was doing something illegal. I shoplifted a lot. I was busted in Nordstrom downtown the first day they were open. Caught about five times in Penney’s in Fashion Valley. Over my lifetime I’ve probably stolen a couple million dollars’ worth of stuff from stores and employers. I wouldn’t go into your house and steal. I never went out and hurt anyone, kidnapped. I don’t feel remorse. I would always work up some justification for doing what I did. I basically believe that people are bad.

Sally, 31

I was a New York cop — bridge and tunnel collection in and out of Manhattan. Two hundred. 300 bucks a day. They never missed it. Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Queens Midtown Tunnel. The fact was that management sucked. The way they had us working — we sucked carbon monoxide every day. We had one guy drop dead right on the toll plaza. Bridge and tunnel officer. Heart attack because of the carbon monoxide. And in 16 months we had four people put out on disability because of the toll lanes — those automatic bars would just fall down on officers. In the same 16 months I took $30,000. Everyone did it. It was a kind of “join the crowd" kind of thing.

The way it worked was that they let you check out as many of those canvas bags as you needed to keep your money in for a shift. You’d have a bag for yourself and a bag for collections. They never kept track. If a supervisor caught you. they would usually ask for ten percent of what you were walking off with. I wasn’t the biggest. The ones who were taking the most took home about $35,000 tax-free a year, in addition to their salary. I walked out on my last shift with $6000. There are about 240 workers in that system, 11 facilities. A lot, if not all of them taking money. No wonder New York’s going broke. I bought a car. I banked a lot of it. We went on a lot of trips. I took the kids to Florida, Disney World. Sometimes I feel remorse. I wasn’t setting the right example for my kids.

Ken, 26

I work in construction. I pump concrete. I’ve stolen construction supplies — hand tools, lumber usually, from the developers or contractors. Sometimes work is slow, like lately with not much construction going on. When times get a little hard, and if the customer pays me in cash. I'll tear up the job ticket and rewrite it and pocket the difference. It adds up to about 1000 extra bucks a year. A lot of limes we work hours of the day for free, and the owner does make a lot of money. I like my job, I like my boss, it’s not like it’s a kind of hate thing. But it’s taboo; you don’t really talk about it with other workers. If you’re pouring a kind of concrete that takes two people, it’s a different kind of concrete, you have to get together with your buddy and decide how you’re gonna work it, how you’re gonna rewrite the ticket, how much you’re gonna take. I feel bad about it. But sometimes when checks are small ... I don’t know. It’s a victimless crime.

Kevin, 24

I used to work at Sea World. We used to steal thousands of dollars. We walked around and sold refreshments, like cups of Pepsi. Sometimes guys would take several hundred dollars a day. Sometimes six or seven hundred dollars a day, like over the Memorial Day weekend. It was so easy that it was unbelievable. There was so little control of the inventory. We had these trays of cups of Pepsi. Twenty cups per tray, $1.25 a cup. We’d just pocket the money. Once I sold 40-something trays at one Shamu stadium show. Forty trays for one show! I took about $250 from just that one show. I worked there for a year and a half. For a good eight or nine of those months, I and a lot of other guys were stealing. Some of the guys were on drugs. It amazed me that no one caught on. I became an employee trainer. Even while I was training people I was stealing. For me, it was purely for the money.

Karen, 30

I want to make amends. Last winter I was working for my father in the South Bay. administrative work. He was renting office space with this other company, a financial company. Then I stopped working with my father and moved to Encinitas. I couldn’t find a job and became afraid that I couldn't pay the rent. I went back to where I worked. I still had the key. My reasoning was that they weren't nice to my father. I don't know what I was thinking. I can't believe I did this. I went back to the office and took three blank checks from the financial company that shared office space with my father. Three from a new box at the bottom of the big check ledger. I even went so far as to take the most recent statement from their bank to make sure they had enough money in the account to cover the checks.

I had a fake I D. A friend of mine gave it to me. It belonged to a friend of hers who lived out of state. The girl looked sort of like me — red hair, green eyes. And this same friend, the one who gave me the fake I.D., forged the signature. On the first check I typed in the amount — $700. Then I went to the bank. I park, go in, walk up. and hand it to a teller with the fake I.D. She looked at the check and said she wanted to check the signature on it. This was the first time this had ever happened to me, a teller wanting to check the signature on a check. The teller I was talking to said, "Just a minute. I need to go to the fax machine.’* I got a gut feeling something was wrong.

She goes over to the fax machine, and I saw her talking to someone else. I said “Excuse me, I forgot my wallet in the car. I’ll be back in just a minute.” I didn’t come back.

You go with your gut feeling. I shouldn't have pushed it. But I was a fool. I didn’t listen to my heart. I decided to go to a checkcashing place. I called to get directions. It was a fairly sophisticated place. I thought it was strange when they said they had to take my picture before they could cash the check. The personnel were acting oddly. Suddenly this guy comes out from behind the counter and says, “Sharon. I think we've got a problem, put your hands on the wall.” He slapped the cuffs on me. You can’t imagine the feeling. it’s the most devastating thing to ever go through. But they were nice, they moved my car for me. The guy grabbed my real I.D. right out of the glove compartment.

The police did not read me my rights or anything. Three felony counts were against me. I spent four nights in jail. Thank God it had nothing to do with drugs. I'm in sitting there in my little sun dress, and I'm chained to a bench. I could see the policemen go through my purse. I decided I wasn’t going to tell my father. So they take me to a holding tank, and I walk in and my best friend’s little sister is in there! I didn’t want anyone to know about this. But that’s another story.

Anyway, the next morning, after a 4:00 a.m. breakfast of Duffy burgers —baloney, bread, and cheese — they take us to Las Colinas. And I'm just beside myself. I thought I should be flogged. I still don’t think I got what I deserved. The girls called Las Colinas Camp Snoopy. We watched The Exorcist one night on television. I got two counts of burglary and one of fraud. This was almost a year ago. I haven't been able to go anywhere and do anything since then. I don’t feel comfortable anywhere. What this is all about is being able to forgive yourself; you can't believe how hard this is.

Molly, 24

Perhaps this qualifies as sabotage, but it may be too mild. This summer I'm working at a snack bar. As an advocate of sustainable living. I'm conflicted about working in a joint which serves burgers, Coke products, etc. But I need the money. I can't stand the waste which takes place at any fast-food restaurant. So I've taken it upon myself to help reduce the waste by reusing everything I can.

When cleaning up after people who left their garbage out on the tables, I quietly gather up cups, plates, straws, napkins, plastic utensils and bring them back inside the snack bar. Plastic utensils are easily wiped off with a rag. Plenty of people take more napkins than they need, so the still-folded, clean-looking ones go back into the dispenser. I let straws dry out and put them back in the tray. Unless people have chewed on or otherwise vandalized their Styrofoam cups. I can wipe off signs of use. And the plastic covers for cups go back on the stack too. I try not to use water to clean these things, as that would negate my efforts at conservation.

When I'm working alone, sometimes I lie and tell customers who ask for lids that we have run out. and I encourage people to buy sodas in the can. because they can at least be recycled. I realize this isn't real radical behavior, but I expect I’d lose my job if people found out I serve them food and beverages on used plastic and cardboard. Yeah. I’m more part of the problem than the solution because I work in such a place, but I hope that by reusing things I'm less a participant in consumption. All I know is that the company will be quite puzzled when they do inventory.

Stacy, 30

I was in a management position, and I had figured out a way that I could take money without being found out. It was a drug-related situation — cocaine. I wasn't a heavy user, maybe half a gram or so every day or two. I had started because of where I worked, and most of the salespeople were using it. You work 10-to 12-hour days, and it was a way of staying up. awake, alert. I used cocaine for about six months before I started to steal. I was running out of cash.

I don't know if this will make sense, but when you're drug-induced. everything makes sense. I figured I deserved the money because of all the work I did. I wrote bogus return checks to nonexistent customers. I would endorse the check because sometimes if the amount was low enough we would let customers cash the return checks out of our drawer. I also did the inventory. It was a noncomputerized system. It was difficult to track down. I also did the books so I was the only one who had access to that information on a regular basis. I estimate that I stole over a nine-month period about $4000. When I went into recovery and decided to pay them back.

I’ve probably stolen a couple million dollars’ worth of stuff from stores and employers.

I estimated high to be on the safe side.

I knew I was stealing, but stealing isn’t a pretty word. My supervisors were wonderful; in fact, they helped me get into recovery. What happened is that my health started to deteriorate. When you stay up for two or three days at a time, you get ill. My personality started to change, and friends thought I was working too hard. But a friend who had worked in that business called me on it. I didn't know how to stop, and I wanted to. I had a sense that I wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I went to my boss, and they helped me go into an outpatient clinic here in town.

When I was sober the justification went away. So I went to my supervisor and confessed. She told me not to be a martyr about it and to write a letter to the corporate office out of state, telling them I was an ex-employee and that I had taken this money and wanted to repay it in a responsible way. I told them that I could do maybe $25 a week until I had paid them off. I've almost paid them off.

I was very fortunate. They could have sent me to jail, and I know that. I don’t take it for granted that I lucked out. Never stolen from any job before. Drugs or no drugs, it’s obviously a part of my personality that I'm not proud of.

Maurice, 44

It was a Tennessee Valley Authority job, 15 or 18 years ago. TVA jobs are, as a rule, a very, very bad work situation. It was a very big job. When there's a huge job like this, supervision just gets strung out. There’s a long chain of command, and things just don’t turn out the way they were supposed to. There were a lot of screw-ups. So. TVA’s attitude was to say, “We need more supervision.” So it turned out there was a supervisor for every six workers. They had supervisors just standing around like efficiency experts, trying to get feedback on how they could speed things up.

The supervision was usually college-educated white-collar workers, and the construction guys were a rough and tough crowd. There was always friction between the two groups.

Things’d happen, like letting the air out of a supervisor’s tires in the parking lot.

Screwing up some minor thing on purpose. There’s always a lot of stress between labor and management. It’s such a large group of people. Lots of the workers there were really pissed off over the work atmosphere.

With this in mind, I was working there as an electrician. I had been working there for a few months, and in the course of my work I found that the quitting whistles — several huge sirens that come on for about ten seconds to announce when to quit, start, eat lunch — could be tampered with. I discovered how to actuate these on their own by sort of screwing around with their electric system a little bit.

I was looking at the system once, and I realized. “Hey. I can change that!" I decided that five minutes was the correct amount. I synchronized my watch with the work clock, and I turned the siren on exactly five minutes before official quitting time. Everyone threw their tools down and said, “Hell, let’s get out of here.” It was quite a sight. Five thousand workers. There was a massive traffic jam. The gates weren’t ready to open.

I did it four times. The first time it was considered to be a kind of electrical problem. The second time management realized that something was going wrong. They sent a team out to investigate it. But the system I had rigged up to actuate the siren was very well concealed and they didn’t find it. The third time there was a real hullabaloo. They started talking about “the Phantom.” People started joking about. “Well. I wonder if we’re gonna get off early again today?”

Then management got really serious about it. I realized that if I did it any longer they were going to catch me. They used an entire electrical team to stand guard over the system. And finally there was the fourth time. It turns out that after the second time, one of the guys on my team told our supervisor that I was the one doing it. They knew all along it was me. but they couldn’t catch me.

So management called all the electricians out to a safety meeting. We were gone about 30 minutes, and while we were gone they checked the system one more time. But I managed to sneak out of this meeting, and I came back to the work area ahead of everyone else. And I got my system ready to go. I blew the whistle five minutes ahead of time as usual. My supervisor came up to me and said. “What are you doing?” I said I was getting ready to go. He called in all the electricians, and they checked over all the system, and they found my device. I was fired. And that’s it.

Lee, 28

I worked at a check-cashing place. The kind you see all over town. There were lots of ways of making extra money. One of the easiest was to use the sliding scale we had for the percentage we would take for cashing checks. We had a sign that said that for checks over $1500, we would take three to five percent. We, the tellers, were supposed to use our judgment. figure out how risky the check was, and charge a percentage accordingly. It was a discretion-type of thing. What you could get away with. Try to figure out how much the customer was willing to give up.

What you would do was, say, if a customer brought a check in for over $1500, you’d say, “I have to go back and call our main office to get an okay for this check, to see how much I have to charge you.” So you’d come back and say, “My boss says I have to charge you five percent on this.” And if the customer said okay, then you’d make the transaction and mark down that you’d charged the customer three percent, and pocket the difference.

The largest check I ever did this with was in the $30,000 range. Then there were the smaller checks. Of course, we had our set fee for how much we would normally take. But if the check looked suspicious, you might tell the customer that the only way you would cash it would be for a ten percent fee. Then what you’d do is mark down that you took the standard fee of, let’s say, $7 for a $500 check. But in reality you've charged the customer $50. So you’ve made $43 for yourself off this one check.

This was something I sort of picked up along the way after being at this job for a while. With the kind of analytical mind I have, it wasn't hard to figure out. There were other employees who were doing this, but no one told me how to do it. Ninety percent of the lime we were alone, we had no supervision — unless it was a big. busy day. like a welfare day. There’d be extra employees. But since they were doing it too. it didn’t matter. Welfare day was a big day to make money. People come in with checks you know are stolen. They’re desperate to get in and get out. They just come in one after another after another. There’d be two or three windows open.

There were so many ways to make money. For example, we had this policy where every fourth check that a person brought in was free — we wouldn’t charge ’em for it. But bookkeeping had no way of knowing whether or not a check was really a fourth one or not. So you could charge the person a fee but write down on the check for the company’s records that it was the fourth check that person had brought in, but you’ve really pocketed the fee.

There’s also ways of borrowing money. Let’s say that someone’s brought in a utility bill to be paid a week early. That means that I can hold onto that person’s bill and that person’s cash and use it for a week, then when I get paid, deposit it back in the drawer. And nobody knows what’s happened.

We had a lot of those Mexican guys come in. coyotes, the ones who smuggle people, and they’d be getting money wired to them from all over the United States. One of these guys was finally investigated — he was getting too much money wired to him. The FBI came in and investigated. I don’t know what happened to him.

Another thing you could do was to get a little Western Union money for yourself. You needed to have money come in for a very common name like, say, Jose Gonzalez. I had thousands of Jose Gonzalezes in my card file. So all you’ve got to do is take one of ’em. zap his I.D. onto the copy, and it’s "Hey, I paid this out to Jose Gonzalez. This guy showed me his I.D. and it said Jose Gonzalez." And I’ve pocketed the money for myself. maybe $350. maybe $400.

Over the three years that I worked there, the first year I didn’t take any money. Then I met this girl who 1 gave all my money to. She dumped me after the money was gone. I actually tried to get a grip on what I was doing. I was giving her so much money, it was like, well, you know, after a while you don’t even think about it anymore. Then I realized, my God, I’ve given her $10,000 more than I made in a whole year. I’d say that I took, in total, maybe 18 or 19 grand.

It wasn’t money that I was actually taking from the company — they were making their profit. It’s just what I was taking from transactions. I wasn’t really stealing. There was another person there who was doing what I was doing, and he probably made about three quarters of what I did. He was leery to take big chances. You see, we were videotaped the whole time that we were there. There was no audio. The cameras only took one still photo per time, and the cameras switched at four-second intervals. Four seconds in the lobby, four seconds in the workplace, four seconds on the employees. So you’ve got at least four seconds to play with, and although that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, believe it or not. it’s enough time to stick a dollar bill down your pants.

This was all for a girl. She already had a boyfriend. They lived together. She’s a masseuse by profession, was one when I met her. We started dating as friends — a real friendship kind of thing. We'd go out everywhere together. But I got in this habit of wanting to spoil her. I thought maybe if I did it, I could, well, I could convince her to come to me. basically. To dump the guy she was wilh. So I ended up trying to shower her to death with gifts, and money, and everything I gave.

I finally figured out that she’d gotten about $14,000 in cash from me, and then, like, $3000 from all the money I spent on massages at the place where she worked, and then all the gifts. These weren’t erotic massages. At first. At the end it became that. I convinced her to do that. I kept pressuring her. and I think there’s a point after which people are willing to lower their moral standards for money. She wanted, you know, to lower her moral standards for money. She wanted to go to acupuncture school and needed the money. And I said. “Well. I'll give you the money if you’ll do this, and that’ll keep me from having to go out and fool around with just anyone and. after all, we’re friends.” We never carried it to the ultimate level. We never got that far. But still I kept on taking more and more money to pay her.

I've got pictures of us together in Vegas, at Universal Studios. I've got all these cards from her thanking me for helping her out financially. And she left me claiming that she didn’t like thinking about the things she had done for money. Live and learn, I guess.

Adam, 33

During the mid-*80s I worked for one of the biggest defense contractors in San Diego. This was at the height of the Reagan era, when the Department of Defense had money to burn. Well, I burned plenty of it. The thing was, being efficient got you nowhere. If you delivered the work ahead of time or under budget or both, the Navy would nail you the next time you bid a similar contract.

They’d say. “Hey, you didn’t need all the time and money before. why do you need it this time?” So it didn’t pay to be efficient.

Over five years, there were so many stretches where dozens of us would sit around reading the paper and shooting the shit for weeks at a time — all on the government dole. We all had secret government clearances and worked in a secured building. But all you needed was a card key to come and go, and no one ever checked.

I used to take confidential documents home with me. work on them in the evening. Of course, that was early on, when I actually worked.

I hung out with Sam and Ben. younger guys about my age. I was living in South Mission Beach, and most mornings I’d go surfing and roll in 30 or 45 minutes late. I caught shit at first, then after a while everyone still joked about it, but they just accepted it. Every morning we’d take a half-hour break at a nearby deli, then lunch, which usually lasted an hour and a half. A lot of times I’d stretch it to two hours — go home, eat a sandwich, kick back on the beach. We’d leave for the day as close to 4:30 as possible. I averaged probably two or three hours of work every day. We put 40 hours on our time cards, and no one ever questioned it. This went on for six years.

Sam and me had a video game called Asteroids on the computer in our office. We worked in these shoulder-high cubicles, and everybody around us could tell we were playing Asteroids by the machine-gun speed of keystrokes. Plus we’d swear a lot. We’d play round-robins for hours. Ben rigged it so that if you hit the escape key, the computer screen would default back to a dummy page of the technical manual we were supposed to be working on. That saved us a few times when a manager walked in unexpectedly. We also collaborated on a novel. In a year the three of us wrote 250,000 words.

Sometimes on Friday nights Ben and I would meet at the Beachcomber or the old Mony Mony’s on Sports Arena and let ourselves into the office, smoke some dope, play video games on our computers. One night I even brought a date into the office and we had sex. She thought it was great making love on classified military documents. During the day I used to take naps under my desk — crawl under and pull the chair up so you couldn't see me unless you bent over. Sometimes we'd smoke a joint at lunch and just be goofy all afternoon. Once we had some particularly strong weed and giant amounts of Fritos and M&Ms. I lay down on the floor in my cubicle in plain view and slept all afternoon. When I woke up three hours later, no one had noticed me.

When I finally left the company — took a big pay cut to work outside the defense industry — I realized how low my self-esteem had been during that job. In six years I must have wasted close to $80,000 worth of taxpayer money all by myself. And I wasn’t unique at all. Multiply that by probably millions and you get some idea of the waste. I’m not proud of it.

Marla, 27

I worked as a front desk clerk for a residential hotel. I stole about $500 by figuring out a way of covering it up on the computer so that nobody would ever find out. This wasn’t for drugs. I just wanted money.

I also worked at three different positions at three different shops in Horton Plaza. These were minimum-wage jobs, but they were positions of responsibility and trust. I enjoyed all of these jobs, but I needed money very badly, for groceries and to pay bills. It wasn’t even a thrill. I saw that it was so easy to do. A lot of the times I’d simply tell customers that the registers weren’t working and wouldn’t ring up the sale. I'd take the money instead. I probably took about $2500 in all. It’s pretty bad if you think of all the merchants I screwed over. I’ve felt so guilty about it. There were times when I’d drink myself into a stupor just thinking about it.

Darryl, 30

I worked in the hotel industry here in town. There is a tremendous amount of theft that goes on in hotels — food, liquor for the bar, free rooms for parties, whole sets of sheets and towels. It adds up to thousands and thousands of dollars. A lot of this happens because there’s a great deal of corporate crap in the hotel industry. A lot of ass-kissing goes on. They say they want intelligent employees, but they treat you badly. You have to be ready to work for them 24 hours a day. You get passed up for promotions, and it doesn't do any good to complain, to speak to anyone. Nothing changes.

Carol Lee, 20

A few years ago I worked at a very nice drugstore. I worked behind the perfume counter. They had a lot of high school-age kids who worked at the store, and just about everyone was stealing. It was almost like a contest to see how much you could steal. One day I remember one of the guys walked right out of the store with one of those giant stuffed pandas, stole it for his girlfriend. But I guess I won the prize for most expensive. The manager didn’t pay any attention to things. The store wasn’t very well run. Boxes of inventory would just sit in the back of the store for days. Stuff disappeared all the time.

I got the idea for doing what I did when I went to Nordstrom with a friend of mine who worked there. In the back of the store, where the employees come in, they have this sign that says, “Nordstrom’s Customer Policy: 1. The Customer is Always Right. 2. If the Customer is Wrong, Refer Back to Rule Number 1.”

At the drugstore, at the perfume counter, we had these large bottles of very expensive perfume. Bottles that cost around $250. They had these little security tags on them that were very easy to peel off. So what I would do was take the bottles from the store and return them at Nordstrom. For cash. Because of their policy I knew that they had to take stuff back, no questions asked. And since it was nice, expensive perfume, in the box, still wrapped, the same kind they carried, I knew they would take it. If they asked me for a receipt. I’d play the innocent little kid act, tell them my grandmother gave it to me for my birthday.

I had to be careful about this. I knew I couldn’t go back every time to the same Nordstrom. Once I even drove up to Orange County to return a bottle because I was a little nervous. This was years ago. It was the first job I ever had. I was pretty immature. I haven’t stolen anything since then.

Gregory, 23

I work for a moving company. We move offices, people from their homes. If people are obnoxious with us, you know, if they have a bad attitude, their stuff, well, we aren’t very careful with it. We drop computers, drop desks, throw desks through walls. It’s kind of a way of getting back at the person.

Once we were moving this very rich old lady out of her home in Rancho Santa Fe. She was an arrogant bitch, very eccentric. She watched everything we did. It was, “Be careful with this! Be careful with that!” all day long. She had these porcelain figurines from China, these porcelain dogs. And she kept yelling at me to be careful with them. So I’m walking out of the house and, right in front of her, I accidentally “fumble” one of these dogs. It starts to fall and I grabbed it by the tail and Snap! Crash! Respect gets respect, you know.

I have a friend who works for one of those companies that moves military families overseas. I guess the family just packs their suitcases and leaves, and the company comes in and packs up everything else in crates and sends it overseas. Well, what happens is that these guys will go in, they use, like, 30 or 40 boxes, and they’ll just set one of them aside for the stuff they want. They put whatever they want in it — coin collections, watches, video players, whatever. And the box just won’t get marked. It never gets sent.

The fixtures have eyes

The images evoke the simple, melodramatic universe of the hand-cranked mutoscope in the penny arcade. Scenes of good and evil, mostly evil, parade before the voyeuristic eye in stark black and white: the pregnant clerk with a drug habit who can’t keep her hand out of the till; the UPS manager who works overtime on weekends to steal packages destined for someone else; the long-haired, suspicious warehouse worker who drives the muscle car who is exonerated — we watch him, he doesn’t steal; the well-mannered pharmacist quietly filching cocaine from the company stock, replacing it with lactose; the entire night shift at a print shop that leaves, en masse, for four hours each evening to go to the corner bar; the racist co-worker who sneaks into the bathroom of his company’s black vice president to scrawl hate words on the walls; the trusted employees of a brokerage house tip-toeing into the office after hours, passing down the hallways wearing rubber gloves, and wheeling to the elevators dollies laden with office equipment.

This is a world Barry Levine knows well. Levine brings this silent, hidden world into plain view. From his ample Point Loma living room, you can see for miles — the yacht club, the bay, all of downtown, the mountains beyond. Levine has obviously done very well at helping employers see clearly things that would otherwise remain invisible. Levine is a specialist in what is known as investigative video surveillance technology. He’s been involved with this industry since its inception. His company, Sperry West, deals in ultra-miniature, low-light level cameras. The wide-angle lenses on these devices are roughly the size of match heads; the entire video camera is smaller than a package of cigarettes. They can be concealed anywhere, their information broadcast to a remote video recorder that can run for as long as three weeks. And with Levine’s help, the Almighty Eye is getting smaller and smaller all the time.

“These statistics aren’t mine. But it’s estimated that 33 percent of hospital and medical center employees are involved in theft. Now when they’re talking about 33 percent, they’re talking about people who’ve stolen pencils also. Because. I mean, you and I can’t possibly believe that one out of every three people you see working in a hospital are stealing. But there’s a survey done by the University of Minnesota that says that 35 percent of retail employees were in involved in some type of theft during the period of one year. The highest percentage was in the misuse of discount privileges. In manufacturing, 28 percent of employees admitted to theft, the highest percentage in the theft of raw materials normally used for production. From statistics out of my head, the Fast-food industry claims — are you ready for this? — 67 percent of employees admitted to being involved in theft, the highest percentage being in eating food without paying. Do you really want to call that theft? Well, it is.

“The Food Marketing Institute says, for employees of supermarkets, 46 percent of respondents admitted to some cash or property theft during the past six months. That’s the number that responded. The statistics are a little colored, and so I’m not a big believer in statistics. But lastly, a group called Loss Prevention Consultants in Minneapolis said in 1990 that the dishonest employee steals an average of $2991. What they’re saying is that for each case, for each dishonest employee who’s caught, he or she has stolen, on average, $2991."

While Levine rattles off the statistics, he toys with a product his company has developed. He wants to keep it a secret. Let’s just say that it’s a common electric fixture, one found in just about every room of every home and business. If you look very closely at it — very closely — you notice a small bluish eye, a lens the size of a collar button, winking discreetly at you from its cunningly disguised home. The circuit board to which it’s attached, mounted inside the device, is no bigger than a business card. “No one," Levine says with a chuckle, “would ever know it’s there.” Levine has sold thousands of these and similar cameras to businesses throughout the United States. Locally, he’s done business with the Navy to help them catch civilian thieves.

Levine testified as an expert witness before a Senate subcommittee hearing in 1967 investigating invasions of privacy. The recommendations of that committee led to the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, ultimately called the Safe Streets Act. That act prohibited audio surveillance in most forms. But, says Levine, because video technology was so new back then, the cameras so large, the law failed to take video surveillance into consideration.

“The one issue that comes up most often when discussing this industry is that of privacy. Actually, there are few abuses of video surveillance. In all my years of doing business, I’ve only had one customer ask me to put a camera in ladies’ and men’s rooms, in bathrooms, and he was in the diamondcutting business. We refused to do it, and he ended up not doing it anyway. He was from Europe and thought he could get away with it.

“Employees should be told when there’s video surveillance going on. There’s no reason not to. In fact, it can help. But by the same token, why should there be privacy in the work place? When we’re talking about bathrooms and locker rooms, of course. But that’s another kind of privacy. But why shouldn’t cameras be allowed when a manager or supervisor could be watching over you? Why, then, should a business have to employ, pay personnel, to watch over other employees?

“I really don’t believe that there’s anything in our business lives that is so private, short of bathrooms, that a camera shouldn’t be present to view. There’s nothing that people should be doing in a business environment that’s private. If they are, then they’re in violation of good business practice. And if they’re caught, because of concealed camera, well, that’s good. They should have been caught."

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