After pleading guilty, I received 20 days in the county jail. This was a bit more of a deterrent than a fine, but still, 20 days in the county jail for a profession that had supported me for over two years at this time wasn't such a high price to pay. And there were still very few honest jobs to be had in my area, so I wasn't anxious to give up on stealing from vending machines.
In my home state, vending machine theft is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of a year in jail. So up to this point, I had stolen an estimated $150,000, and had received 20 days in jail and a $200 fine. That estimate may seem high, but I calculate I worked three days a week, and never returned home with under $500. The average was probably close to $800 a day.
So where did the money go? I was a crack addict, and $300 to $400 a night is spent very easily.
As easy as it was, things did go downhill. I was still friends with the person who taught me my first lock-picking lesson. Unlike my own cautious habits, my friend's habits were more careless.
While I would look for machines isolated from public view, and never spend more than a minute or two at the machine, my friend would take each lock as a personal challenge. He also didn't share my aversion to working in public areas.
He was videotaped picking a lock at a gas station for eight minutes. The camera did not capture his face, but it did capture him picking the lock. This was in a well traveled entryway to a populated gas station, 2 feet from the register and the clerk!
The videotape evidence was not sufficient enough to convict him of the crime, but it did get the police on his trail. Six months later, his girlfriend was arrested for a drug offense. As part of a plea bargain, she ratted on her boyfriend and some other associates.
Fortunately, I didn't get caught, but I decided to move. I headed south. Little did I know that the state I moved to had stiffer penalties for vending burglary. A week or two later, I made another mistake.
I went down at midnight to visit the vending machine in the lobby of my hotel. While I was inside the machine (a whole 30 seconds), the door behind me opened and a policeman entered, and so ended my career.
Plying my trade in the wrong location
Unlike my home state, this state considers vending machine theft a felony if you have any previous convictions, and I ended up with a 30-month prison sentence. One good thing that came out of it was that I entered a drug rehabilitation program, so I eventually overcame my drug addiction.
In the last two years, I've learned a lot about myself, and a lot about locks, and a lot about stealing. I'm not your concern any longer, but what I've learned about the locks and stealing can be useful to you, the businessman, if you care to listen.
Preventive measures that don't work
Here are some things not to do.
- Putting a marked coin or bill into the machine to determine whether theft has occurred. Yes, I've seen my share of these when I count my earnings. Most of the time I went back to the machine and used the marked currency to make a purchase, so they would be in the machine when the owner counted his money.
- Immediately suspecting inside theft, or relying on public presence to
prevent theft. I shudder to think of the machines that I have emptied more than
once. Since the tool settings can be written down after picking a lock, going
back a second time is simply a matter of setting the tool and walking inside.
There have been machines I emptied every week for two months; there was even
one change machine which I emptied eight times in a three-month period.
Don't rely on the public to report suspicious behavior, because if I have the tool already set to the lock settings, it looks like I walked in with a key.
Counting on building employees to notice suspicious behavior. Many employees are not aware of who is supposed to service machines. I've had employees walk right past me while emptying money out of machines, with not even a second glance.
Employees can be fooled
As long as I act like I am supposed to be there, most employees will not question it. There were times I considered getting a jacket with "Empty Vending Services" printed on the back.