Episode 20: Alarm Codes and Larceny
So, as I mentioned before, I worked for a couple years at a gym called Rose Shores Athletic Club, where I fleeced the place for my uncle, Pete Tocco. The owner was a cokehead gambling degenerate dirtbag, so I felt no guilt about skimming a couple grand a week from the place. It was a real gold mine, too. At least while it lasted. Working there as a manager allowed me to hustle steroids and weed all day, while collecting a nice fat salary ($900 a week) on top of a cut of whatever I was skimming. It was definitely one of the few times in my life that I was happy and stable.
But the other thing the place was great for, was making connections. There were people from all walks of life who came in regularly. For example, there was a bunch of local cops who always came in to workout. And I became cool with most of them. In fact, a few of them pulled me over and let me go when they saw it was me, even when I had some minor warrants or a suspended license. Which I always had, thanks to me driving my crotch rocket like a maniac. I also became friendly with several judges and prosecutors who met there regularly to play racket ball. They also did a few favors for me over the years when I came before them in their courts. For example, Judge Crouchman of St. Clair Shores let me go with only a $500 fine every time I went before him for driving on a suspended license. I literally went in front of him 19 times for driving on suspended, and he let me go every single time with only a $500 fine. Meanwhile, I regularly saw guys get 90-day jail sentences for their 3rd driving on suspended offense. Sometimes even up to a year!
Yeah, that gym was good to me, but perhaps the greatest connection I made while working there was to a guy who worked for ADT Alarms, one of the biggest alarm companies in Michigan. He was a younger guy, around my age at the time, which was 25. Good-looking guy named Doug. Tall, muscular, your regular Detroit gym rat. He liked to act like he was a tough guy, but I knew he wasn’t. He was just one of those musclebound guys who thought they were tough because they had a little muscle on them. I remember him walking out the gym one day with a pump, saying to me.
“I don’t think anyone could whup me.”
I looked him deadpan in the eye and said,
His disposition changed and he said,
To which I replied,
“Guaranteed you wouldn’t last ten seconds with me.”
He seemed to deflate and accept this without argument, obviously remembering that he wasn’t a real tough guy, that he was in fact just a poser.
Over the months, I got to know him pretty good. He was a decent guy, with two roommates who bought weed from me all the time. I even went water skiing with them a few times. But as I got to know him, I began feeling out what he did at that alarm company. At first, when he told me he was just a tech support guy, I figured there wasn’t much I could do with him. And really, I wasn’t a larcenist. I was a drug dealer and a collections agent for some of the bosses and bookies in the family. But an opportunity was an opportunity. And I saw one there. So, one day, I asked him a series of serious questions about what he did actually did for his alarm company. It turned out that he was the guy who installed upgraded software/hardware and also fixed them when they messed up.
“So, you know how to deactivate them?”
I finally came right out and asked.
“Uh… yeah, sure,”
he replied hesitantly.
He knew where I was going. I could tell he was nervous, so I didn’t pressure him right away. But an idea was forming in my mind, so I took it to my Uncle Pete and his partner, Arty, knowing that they had guys who specialized in home invasions and larceny. Very proficient guys. One of them had even robbed a bank by cutting a hole in its roof to circumvent the alarm, and then repelling into the vault. Obviously, he had someone on the inside help with logistics, but he really pulled it off. True story.
“Put the squeeze on him,” my uncle said to me. “Apply some pressure.”
I knew what that meant. I mean, that’s what I did best. So, I went to the dude’s house and told him I wanted him to show us how to deactivate certain alarms for certain commercial and residential properties, in some of the more upscale neighborhoods outside of Detroit.
At first, he looked at me like I was crazy and said,
“No way, man! I could lose my job!”
To which I told him he had no choice.
“You’re gonna do this or we are going to have a serious problem. You’ll make an enemy out of me and my people. They’ll find a way to get you fired from your job anyway. But if you work with us, we will make sure you’re always taken care of. There’s nothing to worry about. There’s no way anyone will ever find out. Just a code here and there. No pattern. A house in Grosse Pointe one week, a warehouse the next…”
He sat there looking stupid, knowing I meant it when I said he had no choice. So, I added,
“Listen, you’ll get a piece of each score. That can be serious money for you!”
That’s when his eyes lit up with interest. I knew I had him. Not long after this conversation, I brought him for a sit-down with my uncle, Arty, and two of their larcenists, Tony and Bobby, the guy who had robbed the bank by cutting a hole in its roof. A plan was laid out. And our alarm guy, Doug, was all in. He explained to us that these high-end alarms were finicky and often required both hardware and software upgrades to keep up with new systems. Installing these new upgrades was what Doug did all day at work. He literally had access to the company’s mainframe computer, where every single alarm code was stored, as well as a master code that could override any alarm the company installed. If an alarm got wonky and went off without provocation, a master code could be used to override it and shut it off. This master code would be our bread and butter.
But Doug himself was the one who provided us with the best angle. You see, many of these sophisticated alarms are silent. When tripped, they don’t activate a bunch of blaring lights and sirens. Instead, they instantly notify the alarm company’s switchboard, which then calls the owner of the home or business to see if they accidentally keyed open the door and forgot to enter the code. This happens all the time. Like hundreds of times a day. And 99.9% of the time the owner just forgot to punch in the code, or accidentally typed in the wrong code before keying open the door. However, if nobody answers the call from the alarm company switchboard, or the owner says it wasn’t them, the alarm company immediately notifies the police. The whole process takes about 30-60 seconds. The police usually arrive within 3 minutes. Or less, depending on the city. Believe me, I know this because we did several tests. Depending what city the property was in, the cops could be on location in as little as 90 seconds. Grosse Pointe, an extremely affluent suburb of Detroit, where some of the wealthiest people in Michigan live (also where I grew up), prided itself on having a squad car for every square mile of the city. If an alarm went off there, a cop would be there within 90 seconds every time!
But Doug explained that the alarm company was often notified by homeowners when they were going on vacation, for example, for an extended period of time. That way, the alarm company would have a note in their computer, for the switchboard operators, stating that if the alarm went off during this time, it was absolutely a “RED” (Real Emergency Deployment) call, not an accident. Good old Doug had access to all this. He was able to provide us with codes to certain alarms, and addresses to homes and commercial businesses where the owners had informed the alarm company that they would not be home between certain dates. It was like handing us a road map to which houses and businesses to rob!
Of course, we didn’t want to leave a trail leading back to Doug, so he trained us on various methods on disabling alarms. It turned out to be surprisingly simple. After the code was entered, all that was needed was a small 12-volt battery connected to the right two wires. This would fry the circuitry of the keypad’s motherboard. Boom, just like that, nobody could trace it back to Doug. There would be no record of anyone entering the correct code or master code. It was just a fried piece of junk. But it had to be done right. And Doug made sure we knew how to do it. There was a little sim-card type chip that had to be cooked. Otherwise, an investigation could prove that someone entered the proper code. But even if an investigation was able to prove the proper code had been entered, the cops would blame the homeowner, thinking it was a friend or family member that they had given the code to. It was fool proof!
So, the next thing I knew, we were out casing various homes and commercial properties Doug had tipped us to. Although, most major businesses had multiple alarms so we usually left those alone. But warehouses and the big residential homes in affluent neighborhoods? They were gold mines. Literally! We would spend hours, even days, scoping out our next mark. I was never involved in the actually “entries,” since there was no breaking in. I was simply a lookout who drove chase vehicle—just in case someone tried to follow them, including the cops, I would follow behind and block the road if I had too. Like stall out in the road. Even cause a minor accident, just to let my guys get away. It never came to that though. Everything always went smooth. Only once did we think a neighbor called the cops, because their dog started barking and their porch light went on. A minute later, I heard on the police scanner that a squad car had been dispatched to our location for a possible “10-70,” prowler. I quickly radioed the guys with the walkie-talkie, and they were out of there within seconds, hopping over the back fence to the next block where their van was parked. Just as I turned off the block, a cop car went racing past me!
When we knew someone wasn’t going to be home for a few days, we’d recon the house for a few days, marking the activities of the neighbors, noting how late they stayed up, things like that. We had to figure out if pulling right up to the house was feasible—to boost large items like art, safes, and big-screen TVs—or would it be better to sneak up commando style and just boost cash and jewelry?
Like I said in previous Chronicles, I was never a good thief. It just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t have the balls for it. I could smash a guy, rob a guy, brandish a gun, knife, or bat to intimidate someone, but stealing just scared me. I guess too many variables were out of my control. And I preferred to always be in control. But some guys had nerves of ice when it came to things like stealing and larceny. Our guys, Tony and Bobby, they were the best. I mean, these guys were fearless. They would rob peoples’ homes while the people were actually home! I am NOT joking. There were these big homes in Birmingham, Bloomfield, Novi and Rochester—multimillion dollar homes that were like 10,000+ square feet. A mistake people make is leaving their doors unlocked when they are home, a mistake Tony and Bobby capitalized on. They would wait till dinnertime, when people were in the dining room eating dinner, and slip into houses and head right up to the bedrooms, where they would make quick grabs of jewelry and cash before slipping right back out the way they came in. I witnessed them do it many times, as I was their spotter and chase car. To me, it was like craziest thing I ever saw. But to them, it was a rush, like a drug. They loved it!
So, after a time was set, I’d park down the block in my crappy chase car, with a police scanner on the seat next to me, listening for any squad cars being dispatched to our location. Tony and Bobby always had a walkie-talkie, so in case I heard a cop was en route I could give them a heads up. It was usually very late at night, like 3:00-4:00 AM in the morning. Tony would either pull their stolen van right up behind the house with lights off, or they would park on the next block over, sneak through the yard behind the house, jump the fence and make their entry. Which was only a matter of typing in the alarm code and then frying the mother board. Boom, they were in!
Sometimes these crazy bastards would take forever. I mean, literally spend hours in houses. Meanwhile, I’d be out in street, ducked low in the chase care, listening to the police scanner, freakin’ the eff out, wondering why they were taking so long. When I’d buzz them on the walkie, they’d laugh and make fun of me, cracking jokes about how they had made themselves a sandwich and were now watching some of the homeowner’s porn while soaking in their Jacuzzi. Cazzu! I wanted to kill them! But they were very thorough and would rip a house apart looking for stashed money and valuables. On one occasion, they discovered a small safe hidden inside of an old washing machine. Tony noticed it while ransacking the basement, looking for anything of value. He wondered why they had two washing machines, so he decided to look in them. Low and behold, there was a safe in one. Ended up having a bunch of cash and jewelry in it. Their motto was leave no stone unturned. And it paid off.
The way the scores were divvied up was pretty simple. I would get to pick one piece of jewelry (if there was any, and there usually was) and Doug, our the alarm guy, would get to keep any of the electronics, which we would swap for cash at my uncle’s pawn shop. The electronics would then become part of the Chicago pawn shop swaps I wrote about in a previous Chronicle. The rest of the score went to my uncle, Tony and Bobby. How they split it was something I was never privy to. Nor did I care. I’m sure Tony and Bobby hid almost all of the cash from us, because in all the scores we did, ironically they never came up with more than a few $100 in cash. I’m sure they found some nice cash stashes in at least a few of the houses, but they never admitted to it. A few times there were articles in the paper about how a hone was broken into and thousands of dollars had been stolen. When my uncle questioned Tony and Bobby, their answer was always the same, “Bullshit. Everyone says a bunch of cash was jacked. That’s so they can collect a big insurance payout.
My uncle couldn’t prove otherwise, but he knew they were full of shit. So did I. Those two always had pockets stuffed with cash. I knew this because they were degenerate gamblers who always lost big to me playing 3-dice. They were just able to hide the cash because they were the only ones inside when they robbed those places.
Safes were a different story. They could be VERY hard to open. If they were small enough to carry, though, Tony and Bobby would always come out with them. Afterwards, we would take them to warehouse and have our box man open them. My uncle was always standing there watching so he would know exactly what was inside. Of course, lots of them had legal and business documents in them, things like wills and stock certificates. But there we also made a few nice scores. Once there was over $40,000 in cash. Another time there was like $20,000 in cash and a half kilo of coke! But most of the safes—and I bet we got at least a dozen of them—had guns, cash, and jewelry in them. Sometimes they would be bolted to the floor, but Tony and Bobby would use a pry bar to literally rip them out of the floor. A couple times, I had to come help them carry a safe out of the house. We would leave it on the front lawn, then go get the van. I remember feeling so exposed. Just the three of us carrying a big box safe out into the driveway or front lawn at 4:00 in the morning. In hindsight, it’s funny but we sure were living on the edge.
Since I only got to keep one piece of jewelry from each score, I became an expert on gauging the value of diamonds, gold, platinum, and watches. I had some experience with these things because I’d been buying them off the street for years with pot, but never real high-end stuff like large diamonds and high-end designer watches. I was grateful for my uncle’s pawn shop. He taught me how to instantly spot an authentic diamond, and how to value a high-end watch. These were what I usually grabbed from the score. Watches became my main focus. Almost every one of the homes we burglarized had at least one high-end watch in it. Sometimes several. And I’d get one—everything Rolexs and Movado, to Patek Philippes and Longines. Even on the black market, these watches were sometimes worth thousands! And the thing is, a lot of people don’t realize that women also wear high-end watches. We always scored some beautiful woman’s watches. Also, being that it was just outside of Detroit, quite a few of the watches were gift watches, engraved on the bottom, given to someone upon retirement or for selling 10 Cadillacs in a month at their dealership. Those watches were usually just scrapped for precious metals, since they were too easily traced.
At one point, I must have had 20 high-end watches and more gold chains, rings, and bracelets than I could ever wear. I would cash them in from time to time when I needed money. Which of course was always. I remember my ex-girlfriend, who I lived with, asking me, “Why do you have so many watches?” I just sort of played it off and said I would buy them off the streets at wholesale prices. By the time I got locked up, I had quite an impressive watch collection.
Of course, after I was arrested and in jail fighting my case, I needed money to pay for lawyers so I had my girlfriend take some of my watches to my uncle’s pawn shop and cash them out. But more than half of them had suddenly come up missing. And I knew right away where they went. Because I had left her high and dry with a big house and big mortgage payment, she had brought in a roommate to help cover the bills. I knew it was her roommate’s dirtbag boyfriend who jacked all my watches. I knew the guy. He was slimy like that. Or it could have been her brother, who was a crackhead rat I always hated. Whoever it was, they got me for about $30,000 in watches.
But I guess what goes around comes around. Easy come, easy go. Someone stole my stolen watches. How could I complain? The worst part, even my uncle at the pawn shop fucked me. He gave my girl pennies on the dollar for the few watches I had left. Really screwed me. I think she walked out of there with only a few thousand dollars. All the while, I thought I was sitting on about a $100,000 in stolen watches. That was supposed to be my secret stash, my lawyer fund. But such is the life. You can’t trust anyone. Everyone is your friend when you’re there to help them make money. Soon as you’re gone, they forget your name and will screw you in a heartbeat. Even your own family!
If you would like to sample more of Gunner’s work, checkout his novels, “To Be A King,” and see for yourself why it is being called “the next Godfather…