The Maltese Messina gang controlled the London vice scene with an iron fist. Prostitution boomed in the war in line with the massive inflow of soldiers, sailors and airmen. By there were over 1. Hordes of servicemen would pour into London or other British towns and cities on nightly furloughs looking for fun.
The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases naturally soared, as did business for back-street abortionists. While there was always scope for individual entrepreneurialism, the criminal gangs soon came to dominate the black market.
In London, the main player was Billy Hill, who grew up in Seven Dials which had been a major hub of London crime for centuries. He was quick to realise the potential of the war, not only the advantages conferred on the criminal classes by the blackout, rationing and the Blitz, but also the obvious benefits of police manpower being constrained due the loss of officers to the forces. He duly took advantage and made a fortune, and was always grateful to the black market.
Make no mistake. It cost Britain millions of pounds. Hill had many other strings to his bow. These crimes were easier to pull off with Blitz chaos all around combined with a weakened and heavily stretched police force. The most significant and lucrative black-market activities centred on the long list of staple products subject to rationing. Food, petrol and clothing rationing was administered through ration books and coupons.
These provided forgers and thieves with great opportunities.
In , 14, newly issued ration books were stolen in a raid. Forgery took place both on a small and a large scale but was hard to pin down.
A rare major prosecution took place in Manchester in , when 19 men were accused of involvement in a wide-ranging racket of selling forged clothing coupons. A printing press in Salford supplied a host of wholesalers in the north and south of England with high quality forgeries. Rationing naturally gave rise to a great deal of corruption amongst shopkeepers, farmers and officials and many culprits ended up in court.
Corruption was not confined to rationing and the black market. Many other wartime activities offered scope for the unscrupulous.
For example, the massive amount of civil defence work commissioned was ripe for fraudsters. In west London, a dodgy contractor conspired for gain with the Hammersmith clerk of works to falsely certify air-raid shelters as sound when they had been shoddily built, fraudulently expensed and were unfit for purpose. People died who should have been safe from the bombs and manslaughter prosecutions followed. Elsewhere, unscrupulous doctors profited from a popular scam of providing false military exemption certificates to shirkers.
In Stepney, Dr William Sutton would freely issue such exemptions for half a crown without even bothering to see the candidate. He went to jail. Unusually, the writ of the wartime British courts did not extend to all crimes committed in the country. Crimes committed by American military personnel were exempt, as the US authorities insisted on trying such cases in their own courts, which were set up in several locations. This arrangement caused no real difficulty until some disturbing statistics became known.
The record showed that many more black GIs were prosecuted than white ones and were given much stiffer sentences if convicted. One case in particular drew public attention to this discrimination. Leroy Henry, a black GI, was convicted of rape, a capital offence for the Americans, on apparently flimsy evidence. He was sentenced to death by the presiding American colonel. The case led to deep public unease in the British press and elsewhere.
Thirty-three thousand people from Bath, where the alleged rape took place, signed a petition calling for a reprieve. General Eisenhower, the commander of US forces, had to intervene; he threw out the verdict as unsafe and returned Henry to his unit. The wartime criminalisation of previously legitimate activities was another factor boosting crime figures.
Striking, for example, became illegal under defence regulations in order to ensure that wartime industrial output was maintained at the maximum. Inevitably, this proved problematic. No other strikers were imprisoned thereafter during the war, although fines continued to be levied. The government set up various wartime compensation schemes for the population and people were quick to spot the opportunity for abuse. One scheme provided generously for people who had been bombed out.
The internet has been catalytic, providing those without underworld ties new ways of fencing goods: auction sites and payment methods that facilitate anonymity. Prime targets include clothing and handbags — expensive, high-demand goods that are relatively easy to conceal — as well as top-shelf liquor, pain-killers and laptops.
Pharmacy wares are favorites, too. In , Shultz helped neutralize a theft ring dealing in health and beauty products. The following year, he broke up a group of middle-aged Florida men who sometimes feigned infirmity — affecting a limp, using a motorized cart — to help them relieve retailers of countless razor blades. The third-most-targeted item, according to the N.
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Shultz noted that the thefts did not seem attributable to people stealing for personal use — they were taking way too much. And they were craftier than your run-of-the-mill smash-and-grabber. One man, in Orlando, liked to select an opaque, lidded storage bin from a sales display, fill it with formula, then proceed through the exit doors, brandishing a phony receipt for the bin. Others worked in teams. One couple used their children as camouflage, stowing their take in a specialized diaper bag that retained its shape empty or full.
Another hid formula in a stroller with a spacious undercarriage. Many thieves favored reusable Walmart bags, which had the advantage of a substantial, precise capacity: 18 As Shultz identified repeat offenders, he circulated the footage to other stores he considered likely targets for the same thieves. But clever boosters are difficult to apprehend; store-security officers serve a largely deterrent purpose, and cashiers and stock clerks cannot be expected to confront criminals. To improve its prospects, Publix stepped up inventory checks in formula aisles, enabling the company to zero in on the window during which a theft occurred, alert nearby stores and swiftly fold the data into the case file.
One night in July , Shultz got a break — a phone call from a Publix in Pinellas County, about 20 miles from Tampa. Police officers there had apprehended a couple trying to steal 13 cans of formula. Shultz recognized them from security footage. Now, under arrest, they had names: Jessica Gordon and Brian Oliver, both about Shultz hoped they could provide some clue about the organization he suspected they were working for.
One proved, after a brief investigation, to be an online business trading in quantities too small to explain the losses retailers were seeing. Dattadeen read online about the arrests. Encouraging and sympathetic at times, Tondreau-Leve could also be stern.
She had become increasingly focused on high productivity, bristling at mistakes. A sizable haul was one thing that Dattadeen could be sure would make her happy, and so, when Oliver contacted her some weeks later, offering to sell more formula, she agreed to meet. Soon, Oliver arrived, driven by someone Dattadeen had never met. She got out of her car and greeted Oliver, who hulked over her in a green polo shirt. The other man was introduced as Donnie. From an unmarked car, another officer filmed the exchange. In recordings of their interactions, she speaks in a high, soft voice, with the scattered animation of a teenager.
Details about Formula Mom pour forth: Dattadeen has a partner, near Orlando, whom she meets on Mondays; the formula is shipped to Massachusetts, and also to China. Beside it, another van had backed in. Both trunks yawned open. Dattadeen and a woman unknown to Shultz moved formula from one van to the other. Tondreau-Leve arrived in Florida with her two adolescent sons in July , becoming one of the roughly new residents the state absorbs per day, an aspirant lured by its redblooded interpolation of Californian mythos: sun, surf, opportunity.
Having recently endured a difficult period, the family had come from Freetown, Mass. In , Alan realized a long-held dream of opening a restaurant. But the business failed, and the family filed for bankruptcy. Sonoma at Viera, the subdivision 45 miles southeast of Orlando where the Leves settled, might reasonably have seemed an auspicious place to start again. Diminutive palms lined its streets, which bumpered neat lawns garnished by flowering shrubs.