In light of the recent Stooges rip-off (see below), a longtime friend of mine who’s a music attorney and manager in a nearby Midwest state (where he’s handled some high profile groups) posted the following story and advice for bands regarding rip-offs on a music business forum I sometimes visit. Since the story not only offers good advice but is specifically about Detroit, I figured he wouldn’t mind me posting it here as a public service as well -- anonymously, of course, since he originally posted it under a pseudonym. Here ya go:
A band I manage was ripped off in Detroit two years ago. Even though the gear was inside a fencing operation, within 30 minutes of the theft, we recovered quite a bit and put the thief in jail. He is doing time in Jackson, MI right now, as I type this.
How we did so may be instructive
Right after the theft
-- We cancelled that night's show and went straight to the Detroit police.
-- We told them, "As low as the odds are of any good coming from this, we will help you any way we can. We want this guy in jail, even if we do’nt recover anything. We will spend the next few days here helping you, if you want."
KEY - We did not put the emphasis on our needs, but rather on the credit the cop would get if there was a bust.
-- After they took a report, we kept getting them supplemental info and built up a pace with them that kept them focused on us. That makes an essential difference in a place where the cops might be handling 112 homicides per division, and an even bigger number of violent crimes.
1st - Our merch guy had taken pictures the night before, so the cops could see what was stolen. This gave them a boost.
We also got them a list that we had used to insure the gear. Cops love a lead, so with that in hand, they started the network of passing along i.d. info.
2nd - We then asked the cops, "Are there any pawn shops we could go to while we're here?" The detective gave us a list, told us, "That will save me time, but please be careful."
Knowing we wouldn't get shit back, we went to three pawn shops and poked our heads in the door.
The detective loved it and said, "Those three shops will pass on your gear now."
3rd - When you carry on with the police this way, bonds quickly form. We were in due time invited into the dispatcher area, asked to help listen to every conversation taking place, and to run back to the detective's office if we heard anything useful.
The whole time, this helped bolster everyone's spirits, as we saw the police went from not giving a shit to actually rooting for us.
BUT I KID MYSELF, if I don’t put 99% stock into what really spurred the recovery:
4th - We had stenciled inside our cases, "Reward for finding our gear, lost or otherwise"
(key words) CALL COLLECT (Your phone number here)
When your shit is ripped off, the odds that a crackhead, snitch, and other low life (who is associated with a fencing operation) will see it before you ever do again, are enormous. So it helps to make it easy for the snitch/crackhead to get self interest in the game.
About 75 minutes after the theft, I received a collect call. Ahead of time, I figured if that happens, I need to keep the calls short, the stall long, and the info tempting.
CALLER: "I have your gear in front of me. $150,000 and you can get it all back."
ME: "That is a tall order, but it is worth it. But I'll need time to get the money. I'll have to fly it in. Can you give me five minutes to try to get that set up?"
C: "If you aren't ready in five minutes, your shit is GONE"
ME: "Dude, you're my hero. Just stay in touch"
I got five more more calls in the next 15 minutes. "Got my money?"
ME: variations of,"Not yet. Damn, today is not a good day for me. I can’t believe I am going to lose your help"
C: (on the 7th or 8th call): "Hey, man, you better get ready. Your stuff is rolling out of here."
ME: "Well, I have the money, but I have to fly it in. Shit, maybe I should just call our insurance?"
C: "No, you can wire it to me!"
ME: "I'd do that if you are standing next to the detective we have on the case
C: "Let me think about that
Meanwhile, because of the volume of calls, and the fact I was in a different state, the police got the FBI to run a trace. They traced the location of the caller, and the police were over at the snitch's house within the half hour. Three minutes later, they were at the fencing pad
They caught the thief with our band credit card in his pocket, and, no shit, it turned out the guy had just been released from jail because of a lack of witness cooperation on another car theft. He literally had walked six blocks from the jail, saw our van, and hot wired it.
I flew in and helped the police put the guy in jail on probable cause. The D.A. and the police were able to rack up a resolved case, they got a life time crook off the streets, and they got a kick out of helping us, despite the fact that NONE OF US LIVE THERE, KNEW ANYONE IN THE DEPT., and HAD ZERO clout whatsoever.
But now, every time we're in Detroit, the police’s kids are on our guest list; the cops watch our gear, and provide free security at our shows, and generally, they make us feel like not all of humanity sucks.
* We also installed an ENGINE KILL SWITCH and never more will our gear grow legs and walk off without our permission.
* The CLUB (for your steering wheel) is useless and was shattered by this 110-pound crack head in under 10 seconds.
* Make sure you write down and keep handy a list of ALL SERIAL numbers. That is sufficient for the cops to seize stuff from a pawn shop.
On edit: My friend e-mailed and said to go ahead and credit him. The above was written by Minneapolis music attorney/manager Dennis Pelowski and the band that was grateful to get its gear back in Detroit was Quietdrive.
The Club: Don't even bother...!