Episode 19: Expelled From School
So, the last I left off, I was flashing back to a few of my first childhood scams and hustles. That little trip down Memory Lane sparked a lot of memories I’d totally forgotten about, some of which I will eventually share in future Chronicles. Today, the one I’m going to write about is how when I first got involved in the stolen property racket, it ended up getting me permanently expelled from high school. It also landed me on probation for a second time. The first was for felony destruction of property over $100, the result of me and my crew “tagging” a half-dozen local schools with graffiti when I was in 8th grade.
Sometime during the summer before 9th grade, I began hanging around a shady kid named Ricky, a known hustler and petty thief. The two of us became really tight. Not because I liked to steal. I didn’t. I was never a good thief. Only two times in my life did I try to steal something, and both times I almost got caught. Maybe I was chicken shit. Maybe it just wasn’t my gift. Or maybe I felt some level of honor knowing that I had at least earned the things I had, even if I earned them through other criminal means. If that makes any sense. Ricky, however, loved to steal and never felt guilty about it. And he was good at it. Kickers, amps, fuzz busters, stereos, TVs, cameras, guns, jewelry, he stole it all. And he usually traded it to me for a bag of weed. He was a real character, funny and fun to be around. The girls loved him because he was classically Hollywood handsome. Between me, him, and my best friend, Jason Battaglia (RIP), we were constantly up to something. Ricky was the guy who always had a plan. A party. Something fun. A house full of girls. And a pocket full of money. So naturally we became, for lack of a better term, “thick as thieves.”
We lived in St. Clair Shores, a middle-class suburb of eastern Detroit. On the surface, the city appeared to have money, as it was known for being “upper middle-class.” But there was a lot of crime happening. Same as probably everywhere. Plenty of drugs to be had. A lot of petty street crime. And, of course, elements of organized crime, even if that meant the government itself. There were a lot of trouble-makers at our school. Tons of burn-outs, punks, and degenerates. Half the 1,500 kids at my school were from broken homes and supported by welfare. So, contrary to what many people from the surrounding suburbs believed, our school was NOT filled with rich kids. Nearly all of my friends had divorced parents. Some were almost as messed up as me. Almost. Believe it or not, in 8th grade I was voted “Most Likely To End Up In Prison.” Seems I fully lived up to their expectations.
Only a few weeks into high school, Ricky was able to figure out a way to break into school lockers. The process was quite simple, actually. Every locker had a built-in combination lock. When most people shut their locker, they’d give the dial a half spin to make sure it was locked. Well, Ricky discovered that if he slowly turned the dial back, he could feel when the mechanism clicked onto the right combination. He could then open it right up and steal whatever was inside. During class, he would use a bathroom pass to walk the halls, “spinning locks,” until he got one to open. Then he would steal any and all valuables inside. Usually nice coats, purses, money, whatever. He was a kleptomaniac.
Ricky was also a pot head. Lucky for him, I sold pot. So, it was a great symbiotic friendship. He was constantly coming to me with everything from gold chains to elaborate car stereos. I’d pay him in small bags of weed, literally giving him pennies on the dollar for items I knew I could resell for a 1000% profit. One such item was a beautiful leather coat. A real nice one. Like a black bomber jacket. Ricky told me it was his brother’s coat. “It don’t fit him no more,” he said. “So he told me to sell it for him.” Kid swore up and down it wasn’t stolen from our school. Because if it had been, what good would it be to me? Our school wasn’t that big. Sooner or later the guy who had his coat stolen would see me wearing it. But Ricky assured me that it was his brother’s coat. I thought it was a dope coat so I gave him a 1/4th ounce of weed, which cost me maybe $15, while the coat had no doubt cost $400 or more. Well, it turned out that this idiot had in fact stolen the coat from school, and within a couple days its original owner saw me wearing it. And, of course, he reported it to the school cop. The next day I was arrested from class.
Naturally, I kept my mouth shut and didn’t finger Ricky. I took the hit for possession of stolen property. Ended up in the youth home for a few weeks. My dad wanted to murder me when they handed him a $1,000 bill for my stay in the youth home. That was a lot of money back in 1988. He looked at me and said,
“You aren’t getting a Christmas or birthday gift for the next twenty years.”
And he pretty much stuck to it.
But the youth home was not the worst thing that came of the bust. I ended up getting expelled from school. Like, permanently banned from the entire school district! If I wanted to graduate, I was told that I’d to attend adult-ed. This really messed me up. I was actually a smart kid. I did enjoy school when I could remain focused. School was my hunting grounds for girls. I wanted to play sports. I wanted to go to school and hang out with my boys all day. It was where all the girls were! But the district superintendent said I was expelled for good. Period. End of story.
So here is where the story gets kind of funny. I told my Grandpa Tocco that I really wanted to stay in high school, so I could graduate with my class. And he never liked to see any of us unhappy. So, he got on the phone and called the superintendent and set up a face-to-face meeting with him. Later that week, he took me to this meeting and it was the first time I saw my grandpa try to intimidate someone using his name and “the Family.” There were several people in the room—my principal, the assistant principal, the school cop, and some counselor. Witnesses perhaps. I’m sure they were more than familiar with our family name, and who my grandfather was. But the first thing he did was look them all in the eye and introduce himself very slowly as, “Mr. Peter Paul Tocco…”
He made sure they all knew who he was before he dove into a very forceful, red-faced diatribe about how important it was to him for me stay in school and graduate with the rest of my class. To his shock and my dismay, the superintendent didn’t seem to care. After some heated arguing, the stubborn superintendent still wouldn’t budge. Looking deadpan at my grandpa, he said,
“Your grandson comes to school smelling like pot. He’s always getting in fights and starting trouble. We know he sells drugs…”
He jammed a finger at my huge gold chain and $600 Troop jacket.
“Look at how he dresses. He doesn’t even try to hide it! No, he’s not cut out for high school. He’s not welcome here and he can’t come back. I’m sorry. Our decision is final.”
So that was it. Barely 15-years-old, I was already kicked out of high school for good. All because that dumbass Ricky and his “brother’s coat.” I ended up getting in a small beef with his brother later because Ricky did steal his coat and then told him he sold it to me. Which was a total lie. I didn’t even know what coat he was referring to. Ironically, his older brother (he will read this and smile, but I’m sure he will appreciate that I left his name out of it), a well-known tough guy in the neighborhood, would end up working for some of my family and the same people I’d end up working for, doing the exact same things. He would eventually be part of a large RICO indictment that included the Boss himself, his underboss, and several other highly-ranked capos in the Syndicate. Like any standup guy, he clammed up and refused to cooperate. Eventually most of the charges were dismissed when witnesses refused to testify on behalf of the prosecution.
But his little brother, Ricky, was a thieving scumbag and pathological liar. I almost beat the shit out of him one time because I knew he stole a very valuable boat motor from my garage while I was away camping with my dad. I knew it was him because he had stopped by right before we left and was asking about the motor, where I got it, and what I was selling it for. I’d just bought it. Or rather, traded a $70 bag of weed for it, a real nice Mercury outboard, which I knew I could easily sell for $400. But when I got home from camping a few days later, it was gone. I knew it was Ricky. The kid was a kleptomaniac who couldn’t control his impulses to steal. Even from his friends. I called him, and before he could say one word, I growled into the phone,
“Bring me $400 or my motor. You have an hour. If you don’t, I’m going to smash your bitch ass every time I see you for the rest of your life. Capisce?”
Then I hung up and waited.
I meant what I said and he knew it. I didn’t say things like that unless I meant it. He knew this. So, sure enough, twenty minutes later, he pulled up in his dad’s old Mustang. Right away he jumped out and dove straight into a story about how he found a buyer for the motor, how he was going to make a couple hundred bucks on the sale. I didn’t care. I had already decided I was going to beat the shit out of him. As I began walking at him, he saw the look in my eyes and knew what was about to happen. Backing away from me on the sidewalk, he started begging.
“Come on, Al, I know what you’re thinking, but you got it all wrong! I was just trying to make a buck! You weren’t home. I had a buyer!”
Well, I got soft and gave his punk ass a pass. Not because I believed him. I 100% did not. I know he stole it thinking I’d never think it was him. He was that stupid. But I actually liked the kid. We’d been real tight for a couple years, and already done a lot of dirt together. I just didn’t have the heart to beat up someone I considered a friend. But I did tell him to get the fuck on before I changed my mind and beat his ass. I never hung out with him again. There was no way we could ever be friends after that. He saw me here and there, and tried to be friendly, but I’d just give him a “you’re lucky I gave you a pass” look, and kept it moving. I wouldn’t even talk to him. Anyone who would steal from their own friend is a scumbag on the lowest level.
Anyway, after I was kicked out of school I had nothing left to do but hustle. And hustle I did. There were a lot of older kids in the neighborhood, and they were always looking to score drugs. Everything from coke and pot to acid and mushrooms. I began driving around the neighborhood all day on my moped, delivering drugs to people who paged me on my beeper.
Once I turned 16, I started doing the same thing in my Thunderbird. Selling drugs all day and night. This is how I began to accrue a large cache of stolen property in my bedroom. I was constantly trading drugs for stolen goods. When my dad asked me why I had all the stereos, speakers, amps, and gold chains in my room, I lied and told him that I was a “loan-shark,” that I held people’s collateral like a pawn shop.
LOL I know, funny, right? I figured it was better than telling him I was a “drug dealer.” At least it accounted for all the goods and money I had.
Later on, when I was living back with my Grandma and Grandpa Tocco, my Uncle Pete Tocco Jr. walked into my room and saw a large stack of speakers, amps, and stereos. “What the hell is all this?” he asked with genuine curiosity.
“Shit I bought off the streets,” I shrugged. “Why?”
“Because our cousin Johnny (name has been changed to protect his identity) just opened a pawn shop. I got points in it. We can move all this shit there. Bring it in. Tell Tony—he’s the guy who runs the place—that you’re my nephew. Let him cash you out. We’ll pump everything at the store for you. This shit ain’t making you no money sittin’ here.”
Well, it sort of worked out that way. Our cousin, “Johnny L.,” offered to buy a few of my items, such as jewelry he could melt down, but that was it. “I can’t just toss a bunch of stolen goods on the shelves,” he explained. “We get cops coming in all the time to audit our stuff. They’re always looking for shit that’s been reported stolen.”
If you read The Lindbloom Chronicles Episode #4, “Pawnshop Swaps,” you know some of what happened next. I eventually got involved with helping my Uncle Pete swap huge loads of stolen merchandise with a crew out of Chicago. Basically, we sold their stolen merchandise in our pawnshop, and they sold ours in theirs. It was a match made in heaven. The arrangement made it so people couldn’t walk in our cousin’s pawnshop and see their TV on the shelf. Nor would any cops come walking in looking for something that was stolen in Chicago.
This is how I got involved in the fencing of stolen merchandise. There was never a ton of money in it. Just nickel and dime stuff, but money was money. It beat working. And I made a lot of good connections because of that pawnshop. I rubbed elbows with some of the Syndicate’s top capi, and I also became friendly with some powerhouse Chicago guys. That pawnshop was sort of ground zero for a lot of guys working the streets. Especially the eastside. Everyone had crews out stealing and doing petty street stuff like I was. The pawnshop was our primary fence, thanks to the Chicago guys. I can’t even same the name of the place because it is still open and Johnny L. is likely still doing the same stuff. Back then, I never really made any serious money fencing stolen goods. Like I said, it was just nickel and dime stuff. But, later on in life, when I moved back from New York, I ended up managing a small crew of larcenists for my Uncle Pete. At one point, I met a guy… a programming technician for one of that largest alarm companies in Detroit. And, of course, I put the squeeze on him. But I’ll save that for next time. It gets interesting. I never thought I’d ever have anything to do with stealing or thievery, yet there I was, casing out multi-million dollar mansions to break into!
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…