Post by Graveyardbride on Jan 31, 2014 20:23:54 GMT -5
Gypsies: Kings of Con
In August 2011, a gypsy “family” was indicted in a $40 million fortune-telling scam. Members of the Marks family (pictured above on the way to court) convinced victims to hand over their jewelry, money and other valuables to be cleansed of evil spirits, promising to return the valuables once the evil spirits were exorcised. Victims were told if they failed to have the evil spirits removed from their possessions, they and their loved ones would fall ill. Of course, the money and other items were never returned. Recently, Nancy Marks, one member of the family, was tried in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, and convicted of larceny. She was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution to her victims. During sentencing, her attorney attempted to convince the court Mrs. Marks deserved leniency because, as a member of the Romany culture, in which women have worked as fortunetellers for centuries, she did not know what she was doing was wrong.
We have all heard or know about organized crime. But most people do not realize there are organized crime families specializing in fraud that have successfully operated throughout the world for almost 2,000 years. Their schemes net millions, tax-free, every year, and less than 5% of their victims complain. “Nobody cares! Not the bosses, not the prosecutors or even many judges. They don’t want to hear about it ... until it happens to them, their families or a big-wig,” says one Florida police officer.
Who are these crime families: Gypsies!
Who Are they? The name is steeped in history and mystery. “Gypsy” is short for “Egipcien” or Egyptian; originally thought to have come from Egypt. A Gypsy is a member of a nomadic people who migrated to Europe from India in the 15th century. No one knows how many Gypsies are in the United States, but it is estimated there are some 10 million worldwide. There are Gypsies in virtually every major city in the United States. Large populations of Gypsies live in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Washington and Las Vegas. There are also significant populations in Florida (particularly Orlando and Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties) and Texas. True Gypsies are known as “Rom,” however, there are Yugoslavian, Romanian, Russian, Polish and Hungarian Gypsies and each group has its criminal specialty. There is also a group collectively known as “Travelers.” Travelers are Irish, English or Scottish and different from the true Rom, but are often mislabeled Gypsies. True Gypsies speak a language called Romany derived from various Indo-European languages. There is no written Romany. (In an episode entitled “Graansha,” Law and Order: Criminal Intent Detectives Goren and Eames investigate a band of Irish Travelers.)
What’s In a Name? Names mean nothing to Gypsies, which is confusing to law enforcement officers. The Rom (and Travelers) tend to name children after family members as a means of honoring both the living and the dead. For example, Danny and John Anderson are the sons of William Anderson. Danny marries and has three sons named Danny, John and William, but without the suffix “junior,” “senior,” “I,” “II,” etc. Confusing? You bet. Gypsies are experts at false identification. Along with the confusing names, January 1st is often commonly used as the date of birth for every member of the family. Let’s take a look at how a family name really isn’t. Marks is a common Gypsy name. The Marks family in Florida is related to the Marks family in Kansas City, and the Colorado Marks family members are related to the Marks clan of Las Vegas. All are into fortune-telling scams and will do anything to maintain their territory. Yet, no relationship is known to exist among these families of the same name. Confusion reigns supreme when identity questions arise.
The Rom Gypsy culture is fascinating, but explains why law enforcement has great difficulty investigating and solving Gypsy crime. Gypsies often lack any formal education. Many do not read or write, mainly because the children rarely attend school. They also shun organized society and the gaje (non-Gypsies). It is a tight-knit world and they keep it so.
The Con. The Gypsy’s world revolves around one thing – the family business: The “con.” A Gypsy child is brought up listening to the story of the young Gypsy boy who saved the life of Jesus. The tale (with some variation) tells of four nails made to be used in the crucifixion: one each for the hands of Jesus, one for his feet and the fourth, a nail of gold, for his heart. Late at night, the Gypsy boy stole the golden nail, so when the crucifixion took place the following day, only three nails remained. God appears to the boy telling the child his act of thievery saved Jesus from having the nail plunged through his heart. As a reward for his deed, God granted Gypsies the right to steal with no moral consequences ... forever and ever. Gypsies choose a lifestyle of thievery – one that is as natural to them as eating and sleeping. These organized crime families, masters of fraud and false identification, do not associate with normal people and speak a language rarely mastered outside the culture. Seldom caught, rarely prosecuted and almost never imprisoned, Gypsies even have their own court, known as a kris, where all grievances (marriage, territory, debts, etc.) are resolved. They see the rest of society as nothing more than “prey.”
Cost of the Scams. The Gypsy crime family population in the United States is directly responsible for an estimated $15 billion in varying forms of thievery annually. Gypsy hunter, Detective Donna Fitzgerald of the North Palm Beach, Florida, Police Department said, “Most Gypsy crimes are directed at people who are the most vulnerable. People in times of emotional pain are often easy prey. Our elderly are their primary targets because they still trust people. The victims are our biggest concern.”
Let’s look at one “family” and its operations for an idea of the revenue generated. A few years ago, 18 members of the Jim Miller family in Phoenix, Arizona, were indicted on 23 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The Millers allegedly bilked 12 insurance companies out of more than $1 million dollars in claims for staged or fabricated incidents over a six-year period and submitted 145 claims, primarily in Arizona, California and Nevada. However, they also operated in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. Claim settlements ran from $1,200 for being run off the road by the infamous “phantom” driver/car to $189,541 for home vandalism.
As we take a look at the more popular Gypsy scams – from fortune-telling, home repair and distraction thefts to home invasions and insurance fraud – remember, it is the “style” and not the “con” itself that identifies the crime as Gypsy. Gypsies rarely work alone and are always in pairs or with several other family members.
Fortune-telling. This is the most recognizable of all Gypsy crimes. Not all fortunetellers commit crimes and not everyone who enters a Gypsy fortune-telling establishment will become a victim. But everyone who enters is a potential victim. Fortune-telling establishments are found in every sizable city in the United States. Most who enter will pay their $10 or $15 and leave. But some will keep returning until their life savings is gone. The victims are often those who are at a “last resort” stage in their lives in which (1) he/she, or a loved one, has a terminal illness, (2) the person has experienced a death in the family; or (3) the man or woman has been deserted by a spouse or lover. Because it is embarrassing for people to admit they spent thousands attempting to contact the dead or regain a lost love, the crimes are seldom, if ever, reported. Adding insult to injury is the fact the general public views such victims as “stupid” and many feel the person got what he or she deserved. In other words, it is extremely difficult for people bilked by Gypsy fortunetellers to ever recover any of their money.
Home Repair. Gypsy home repair cons are also rarely reported crimes and often ignored by law enforcement. The “driveway coating/sealing” scam in which the loss is no more than $50 to $100 and looks good until the first rain is common. House-painting and roof repair work are the same. The homeowner is approached by several men in a pickup truck – sometimes accompanied by children – who have “leftover” materials from another job and offer to do the repairs on the victim’s property for a stated dollar amount to make a little extra money. The home repair scam can also be the prelude to a burglary (home invasion). Who would refuse a child a drink of water on a hot day or the use of the bathroom? Guess who commits the theft that isn’t discovered until hours, or days, later? Who is going to complain about losing $50 on a driveway-coating job that washed away? Yet, there was the 84-year-old widow who lost $367,000 over a 22-month period to Gypsy home repair scammers. To Gypsies, homeowners are just prey. What’s $50? Multiply that by 10, 15 or 20 victims a day with two, three or four teams in a family working different areas of town.
Home Invasions. We’re not talking about the armed take-over, common among black gangsters. This is better known as a residential burglary and methods vary. This particular crime is more common among Polish Gypsies and usually committed in the daytime while the homeowners are present. Entrance may be through a back door or window, or by distraction at the front door. Commonly, there will be two women (with or without children) walking about in an affluent neighborhood and speaking a foreign language. A male driver will be close by, usually in a rental car, for a quick escape. A few years ago, in McLean, Virginia, Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s wife was gardening in front of their home while Gypsies entered the house through the back entrance and stole $654,000 worth of jewelry. This sort of Gypsy crime is easy to detect because only jewelry, silver, gold or cash is taken and nothing is disturbed.
Distraction Thefts. Better known as a store-diversion robbery, suspects will often be Eastern European Gypsies, simply described as “foreign-speaking” or sometimes “Latin/Hispanic” by store owners/employees. The key to this crime is diversion. Several members of a family will divert attention by causing a disturbance – often “accidentally” knocking something over – and while the clerk’s attention is diverted, other members of the group empty the till and/or steal merchandise. Often the crime isn’t discovered until the Gypsies are long gone. Diversion thefts can be lucrative. Several years ago in Florida, the sum of $42,000 was taken from a supermarket during such a diversion theft. Capturing a diversion theft on videotape is of little use because the perpetrators will be similarly dressed and because Gypsies never turn in their own, locating, charging and convicted the single man (or woman) responsible is impossible.
Insurance/Financial Frauds. This seems to be the trend of the future for Gypsies and a mountain of money is being made from fraudulent insurance claims. “Slip-and-Falls” and staged motor vehicle crashes are the most common. These are committed with little detection because the settlements are always made quickly and for cash. The amounts involved are never outrageous and are usually the “Just cover my medical bills” sort of a thing. Those involved are usually eager not to have an insurance claim on their record, so they fork over cash. A quick $1,000 to $2,500 cash settlement isn’t bad for a few minutes’ work a couple of times a week. One Las Vegas Gypsy scammer was quoted as saying: “The cops don’t care and what’s best, they don’t know anything about us. Hotel security has no idea what’s going on. Gypsies are running their scams every day and no one is the wiser.”
In 1992, Disney Corporation in Orlando was in the process of paying $1.4 million in a well-publicized case. On Halloween night of 1992, Wanda Mary Normile, age 21, claimed she had just returned to her room at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort Hotel when a man dressed as Dracula attacked her. She was beaten, duct-taped to the bed and raped while her 10-month-old daughter lay nearby. The scam was discovered only because Normile’s sister admitted the hoax after she had a falling out with Wanda and her brother, Burke Normile. The incident was so well-planned that Normile deliberately had sex with another man earlier in the evening so test results would be positive for semen and allowed her brother to beat and bind her to make her claims more convincing. It was later discovered Normile and her brother were part of a band of Gypsy con artists. Had the hoax been successful, it would have been the biggest known single scam attributed to Gypsies. Within the Gypsy community, this would have been an inherent honor, one a gaje could never understand. The case was later turned into a Law and Order SVU episode called “Taken.”
Las Vegas. Even after the national publicity that resulted from the Florida hoax, Las Vegas hotels and casinos are being scammed daily by Gypsies. Vegas has become a Mecca for the traveling con artists because hotels and casinos, in order to avoid negative publicity, are willing to pay a few thousand dollars to slip-and-fall “victims” and those who claim items have been taken from their cars and hotel rooms rather than submit claims to their insurance companies. Also, what started in San Francisco is now a big moneymaker in Vegas. Called the “sugar-daddy sweetheart” deal, it is usually spread over a period of several months. A young, attractive Gypsy girl (and her family) will target an elderly rich man and provide companionship, which will eventually end up costing the man everything he has. Preying on a senior citizen’s loneliness often translates into big bucks. According to Gypsy sources, Las Vegas is literally being financially raped daily and doesn’t even know it. This is not surprising because Gypsies and other Travelers are notorious “high rollers.” While gambling for fun, they often figure out a scam and end up making more money than they lose in the casinos.
Unfortunately, this ignorance exists in a lot of other locations as well, but people are becoming more aware. Gypsy crime is dependent upon the ignorance of the police and public alike. Gypsies count on their mobility, disguises and false identification and realize their scams are seldom reported. But law enforcement officers are now being trained to identify Gypsy crime and more and more Gypsies are being arrested and prosecuted, e.g., the Marks family in Florida.
Fighting the Gypsies. The South Florida Gypsy Crimes Task Force has made a dent in Gypsy crime and gained national attention. The task force is multi-jurisdictional and composed of federal, state, county and city law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Gypsies are photographed, their business establishments visited, licenses verified, fire codes and other ordinances enforced, etc. It is difficult to pull a successful scam when you are well-known to the cops.
The New Gypsy. As in every other culture, the times are changing, even for Gypsies. The young bloods have discovered drugs (cocaine is preferred) and guns. Violence was almost unheard of in the life, but now there are more reports and verifiable instances of arson and gun involvement. The old hats seem to be slowly losing control in these areas of modern-day pleasures and vices. Progress has brought the Gypsy crime families into the computer age where, like the telephone psychics of the 80s and 90s, credit card fraud, identity theft and online scams allow long-distance larceny in which the Gypsies never meet their victims face-to-face.
Even though law enforcement is becoming more aware of Gypsy crime and monitoring insurance companies, car rental agencies, etc. in an attempt to prevent some of the scams, business leaders, senior citizen groups and other community organizations need to educate people about these traveling con artists. Unfortunately, no matter how aware people become, the scams will continue because there is always the presence of greed and the “something for nothing” desire prevalent in most people. If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But too many people still believe otherwise and no one knows this better than the Gypsies.
Sources: E.G. Hall, Police Magazine; The Orlando Sentinel; The Palm Beach Post; and NBC.