Police talk of their ‘binder full of gypsies’ at 7th PDAC meeting

Ed Ho­er­ger and An­thony Krebs have a bind­er full of gypsies.

No, Ho­er­ger and Krebs aren’t on the hu­man re­sources staff of Mitt Rom­ney’s latest polit­ic­al cam­paign. They’re de­tect­ives in the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment’s North­east Di­vi­sion. And their bind­er is a col­lec­tion of 150 mug shots of people who in­vest­ig­at­ors be­lieve are part of an un­der­ground, closed so­ci­ety of no­mad­ic thieves and scam artists.

Last Thursday, Ho­er­ger and Krebs told mem­bers of the 7th Po­lice Dis­trict Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil about how gypsies travel from state to state, rip­ping off in­no­cent people and elud­ing long-term cap­ture. Mem­bers of their group usu­ally winter in the Amer­ic­an South and show up in the Phil­adelphia area dur­ing warm-weath­er months. Like clock­work, they have re­turned to the area in re­cent weeks.

“We have 150 pho­tos of people we know who ‘work’ the area. Some of them we’ve met,” Ho­er­ger said dur­ing the 7th PDAC’s monthly meet­ing at Deer Mead­ows Re­tire­ment Com­munity.

When Ho­er­ger and Krebs, or po­lice in gen­er­al, refer to “gypsies,” they don’t ne­ces­sar­ily mean the much lar­ger eth­nic group known as the Ro­mani people. They are re­fer­ring spe­cific­ally to an or­gan­iz­a­tion with­in the Ro­mani Di­a­spora that isol­ates it­self through lan­guage and a closed mar­riage policy while sus­tain­ing it­self with the pro­ceeds from scam-based prop­erty crimes.

Gypsies are gen­er­ally non-vi­ol­ent, Ho­er­ger said, and prefer de­cep­tion and dis­guise to ex­ploit un­wit­ting vic­tims. The de­tect­ives out­lined three of the most com­monly re­por­ted ruses.

In a util­ity-style scam, the gypsy will pose as a util­ity work­er, such as a wa­ter de­part­ment em­ploy­ee. The crook will show up at a vic­tim’s house un­an­nounced and de­clare that he’s there to “check on your pipes,” or to per­form some oth­er un­sched­uled work. The crook’s ob­ject­ive is to take the homeown­er to a re­mote area of the prop­erty and dis­tract him while the crook’s ac­com­plice slips in­to the house and steals the vic­tim’s valu­ables. The gypsies are ex­perts at find­ing cash and jew­elry in a short peri­od of time, wherever it may be hid­den in the home.

In a second sim­il­ar type of put-on, a gypsy will pose as a land sur­vey­or, show up at a house and de­clare that he’s there to meas­ure prop­erty lines. He may claim that a neigh­bor is plan­ning some con­struc­tion. Again, the crook’s goal is to dis­tract the vic­tim while an ac­com­plice sneaks in­to the house.

A third com­mon scam in­volves a gypsy pos­ing as a home re­pair con­tract­or. The lead crook may of­fer to seal the drive­way or re­pair the roof. He may state that he was work­ing on an­oth­er prop­erty in the area and has leftover ma­ter­i­als.

In the case of a drive­way job, Ho­er­ger said, the crooks may spray the as­phalt with a shiny black sub­stance that looks like seal­er, but is ac­tu­ally a worth­less and use­less oil-based mix­ture. Crooks have been known to use a sim­il­ar tac­tic for roof work.

On June 6, Ho­er­ger said, po­lice in Lower Mo­re­land Town­ship iden­ti­fied a sus­pec­ted gypsy who tried to pull a drive­way scam on a res­id­ent there. The homeown­er re­jec­ted the pitch and called po­lice, who stopped the sus­pects in a truck with a tank full of bogus drive­way seal­er in tow. 

Res­id­ents should take sev­er­al pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves from seasoned scam artists. In gen­er­al, folks should nev­er al­low any strangers in­to their homes, par­tic­u­larly if the per­son shows up un­an­nounced. A pub­lic util­ity will al­ways no­ti­fy a homeown­er in ad­vance of sched­uled work. Homeown­ers also should also be wary of any con­tract­ors driv­ing out-of-state vehicles. There’s really no good reas­on that a con­tract­or from Texas will be roam­ing North­east Phil­adelphia to look for work.

• Also dur­ing Thursday’s 7th PDAC meet­ing, the coun­cil re­cog­nized Bri­an All­ridge and Ter­rence Black as the dis­trict’s Of­ficers of the Month. On May 25, All­ridge and Black in­ter­rup­ted a burg­lary in pro­gress and ar­res­ted two sus­pects in the crime.

The break-in oc­curred on the 8000 block of Lang­don St. A wit­ness called 911. When the of­ficers ar­rived, one sus­pect was stand­ing in front act­ing as a lookout. All­ridge stopped and ques­tioned him, while Black went to the back door and waited for the second sus­pect to emerge from the house. •• 

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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