In 2009, roughly 5 percent of the global population owned a smartphone. Before 2015 is out, that number is expected to hit 35 percent, or 2.5 billion people—approximately the populations of China and India combined. Considering the ever-quickening pace of technological innovation and the shrinking cost of processors and chipsets, it does not take a particularly fertile imagination to picture the day when, perhaps as soon as 2017, half the world will be hooked up to the small screen of a smartphone. ... street theft of mobile devices—or “Apple picking,” as it’s known—has been such a widespread crime in recent years. According to Consumer Reports, 3.1 million Americans were the victims of smartphone theft in 2013, up from 1.6 million in 2012. The mobile security firm Lookout believes that one in 10 smartphone users in the US have had their phones stolen; 68 percent of those victims never saw their device again. Nationally, about one-third of robberies now involve a smartphone. ... estimated Americans spend $4.8 billion annually on premium phone insurance and $580 million a year on replacement devices.
Why thieves love America’s health-care system ... INVESTIGATORS in New York were looking for health-care fraud hot-spots. Agents suggested Oceana, a cluster of luxury condos in Brighton Beach. The 865-unit complex had a garage full of Porsches and Aston Martins—and 500 residents claiming Medicaid, which is meant for the poor and disabled. Though many claims had been filed legitimately, some looked iffy. Last August six residents were charged. Within weeks another 150 had stopped claiming assistance, says Robert Byrnes, one of the investigators. ... Health care is a tempting target for thieves. Medicaid doles out $415 billion a year; Medicare (a federal scheme for the elderly), nearly $600 billion. Total health spending in America is a massive $2.7 trillion, or 17% of GDP. No one knows for sure how much of that is embezzled, but in 2012 Donald Berwick, a former head of the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Andrew Hackbarth of the RAND Corporation, estimated that fraud (and the extra rules and inspections required to fight it) added as much as $98 billion, or roughly 10%, to annual Medicare and Medicaid spending—and up to $272 billion across the entire health system.
It’s hard to imagine an encryption machine more sophisticated than the human brain. This three-pound blob of tissue holds an estimated 86 billion neurons, cells that rapidly fire electrical pulses in split-second response to whatever stimuli our bodies encounter in the external environment. Each neuron, in turn, has thousands of spindly branches that reach out to nodes, called synapses, which transmit those electrical messages to other cells. Somehow the brain interprets this impossibly noisy code, allowing us to effectively respond to an ever-changing world. ... Given the complexity of the neural code, it’s not surprising that some neuroscientists are borrowing tricks from more experienced hackers: cryptographers, the puzzle-obsessed who draw on math, logic, and computer science to make and break secret codes. That’s precisely the approach of two neuroscience labs at the University of Pennsylvania, whose novel use of cryptography has distinguished them among other labs around the world, which are hard at work deciphering how the brain encodes complex behaviors, abstract thinking, conscious awareness, and all of the other things that make us human.
Bison Dele, once known as Brian Williams, left the NBA behind to explore the world. His quest carried him to a mysterious end near Tahiti. More than a decade later, his spirit sails on. ... It has been 11 years since the NBA player’s catamaran went missing off the coast of Tahiti and the FBI descended upon this small island in the middle of the Pacific, flanked by journalists, asking questions about murder and love and fame. Eleven years since the TV reenactments and the breathless tabloid reports. Eleven years, and the mystery remains unsolved. ... Many on the island have forgotten. Others prefer not to speak about what occurred. “It has been so long,” they say, averting their eyes. “That has nothing to do with us.” Tahiti relies on tourism, on its reputation as a paradise on earth; why talk about death? ... Dig deeper, though, and you can find those who remember. Not just what happened, but what came before.
Inside the strange world of kidnap and ransom survival schools. ... Wilson, a 43-year-old British Army veteran who once served in Northern Ireland, picks me up on a swampy morning at a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, a suburb of Miami. He is the founder of Risks Incorporated, a private security firm that offers a three-day kidnap and ransom course in which I’m enrolled. A skeptical man with a dark sense of humor who has worked in the security industry for two decades, Wilson moved to South Florida 13 years ago with his then-wife and never left. ... Wilson briefs me on the bourgeoning business of international kidnapping. The White House’s recent acknowledgment of the accidental killing of two al-Qaida hostages in Pakistan in January, as well as the dark news from Syria in recent months, both overshadows and underscores the fact that kidnappings are a global scourge. As incidents have increased worldwide, a parallel industry has emerged, one that includes insurance companies, negotiators, lawyers, and security firms like Risks Inc. In a 2010 investigation, London’s Independent newspaper dubbed this the “hostage industry,” and estimated its worth at about $1.6 billion a year. ... Costs range from about $600 to a couple thousand dollars. Some are entirely in a classroom; others include role-playing. ... Wilson’s course is somewhere in between: part tutorial, part field exercise, tailored to the needs of the client. The company’s website promises to “take you into the real world of terrorism and kidnap and ransom!”
As the Somali piracy blockbuster Captain Phillips raked in $26 million in its opening weekend on U.S. screens, Mohamed Abdi Hassan, better known as "Afweyne," was on a flight to Belgium with gainful plans to sell a very different story about East African marauders. Expecting to consult on a movie based on his life as a seafaring bandit, Afweyne and his associate were instead arrested by Belgian police and charged with the crimes of piracy and hostage taking. The two men had fallen for a hard-to-believe, reverse-Argo ruse -- a months-long sting operation set in motion to catch the mastermind behind the 2009 hijacking and ransom of the Belgian-owned dredging vessel Pompei. … Though his hopes of being immortalized on the big screen have been dashed, Afweyne, more than any other pirate, is responsible for making Somali piracy into an organized, multi-million-dollar industry. … Beginning in 2003, the former civil servant was plying investors with a self-described "very good business idea" and headhunting veteran pirates from Puntland to train his own "Somali Marines." The result was the birth of modern Somali piracy: organized bands of skiffs and supporting motherships hunting hundreds of miles from shore for commercial vessels that would deliver multi-million-dollar ransoms.
Say you want someone, you know, eliminated —a lover, a business partner, a mother-in-law. There are guys out there who will do that. For a price. Then there's another kind of guy. A guy who looks and acts just like a regular hit man. Prison tats, do-rag. But instead of doing the job, he turns sides and then you realize that you were his target all along
Hunting the thieves behind a rash of six-figure wine heists ... “They’re not crawling under laser beams or anything. They’re using sledgehammers and crowbars. But they know what wine they want. This is wine stolen to order.” ... The FBI thinks so, too. The agency’s San Francisco bureau has been tracking the crimes for similarities. The thefts usually occur over a holiday, when the targeted restaurant is closed. Only certain types of wine are taken–usually French or Californian, priced at thousands of dollars a bottle. ... A wine theft is notoriously hard to investigate. It’s often compared to an art heist, because once a bottle is stolen it usually makes its way through a series of black market dealers before winding up in somebody’s private collection, where it remains unseen for years. But unlike art, if stolen wine does resurface, it’s difficult to prove what it is or where it came from. ... Downey trained as a sommelier before becoming a part-time wine fraud investigator. For the past 10 years she has been on a one-woman crusade to rid the wine industry of counterfeit and stolen wine. And there’s a lot of it out there. The French newspaper Sud Ouest estimates that 20 percent of wine sold in the world is either fake or stolen; Wine Spectator puts it at around 5 percent.
The Dread Pirate Roberts, head of the most brazen drug trafficking site in the world, was a walking contradiction. Though the government says he raked in $80 million in commissions from running Silk Road, he allegedly lived under a false name in one bedroom of a San Francisco home that he shared with two other guys and for which he paid $1,000 a month in cash. Though his alleged alter ego penned manifestos about ending "violence, coercion, and all forms of force," the FBI claims that he tried to arrange a hit on someone who had blackmailed him. And though he ran a site widely assumed to be under investigation by some of the most powerful agencies in the US government, the Dread Pirate Robert appears to have been remarkably sloppy—so sloppy that the government finally put a name to the peg leg: Ross William Ulbricht.
The infiltration was discovered when detectives tapped the mobile phone of a Ferrari-driving businessman suspected of laundering money “on a vast scale” for organised crime gangs and reported hearing him receiving secrets from inside the Bank. ... The major national security breach has been kept tightly under wraps by police chiefs and spies at MI5 for more than 16 years, shielding those implicated in the highly embarrassing scandal from public, parliamentary, and judicial scrutiny. ... In 1998, as part of a major probe codenamed Operation Beregon, the detectives reported that they had eavesdropped on a high-rolling young stockmarket speculator receiving highly sensitive information about the bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC). ... A source with knowledge of the operation said: “Organised crime’s infiltration of the City of London and financial services industry has long been a concern. Intelligence such as this was a real risk to the economic well-being of the UK and shouldn’t have been suppressed.”
The trade in stolen antiquities from Syria funds all sides of the civil war that has engulfed the country. BuzzFeed News’ Mike Giglio traveled along its porous border with Turkey to meet the people involved in this black market, from grave robbers and excavators to middlemen and dealers. ... Four years into a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions, Syria’s immense history is being sold off on en masse as looters descend on ruins across the country. An untold number of people have joined Mohamed in a black market that helps to fund armed groups from ISIS to Western-backed rebels to the Syrian regime. Many of the newcomers have no interest other than making money, but Mohamed is enamored with the history of the ancient objects in which he trades. Known among his colleagues for having an expert eye, his phone buzzes endlessly as he receives photos via WhatsApp from sellers trying to catch his interest and fellow traders wanting advice. People ask him to come and “talk” with their artifacts. “Falso,” he says, his voice rising, when he sees a forgery. If he likes a piece, he calls it “fantastic.” ... “We have been living in a war for more than four years, and people will do anything to feed their kids,” said one middleman on the border, guilt-ridden over his role in bleeding Syria’s history. “I don’t care if the artifact is coming from [rebels] or from ISIS. I just want to sell it.” ... diggers around Syria work daily to pull them from the ground. The digs range from backyard affairs by heavy-handed amateurs to skilled excavations. ... The risks of traveling to Syria make the looting all but impossible to witness firsthand, leaving archaeologists with little more than satellite images that reveal a pockmarked landscape.
How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force. ... the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres ... In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.
The Colombian cartel boss who once supplied 80 percent of America’s cocaine has become an unlikely tourist draw. Jesse Katz pays a visit to Pablo-land. ... Villains come in all shapes and sizes, but there is always something curious about evil geniuses who turn out to be less imposing than their reputations. His chins were legendary, square hunks of padded bone engulfed by a thick, doughy ring, like a man who had swallowed his travel pillow. His mustache expanded by the year, from a tight Burt Reynolds to a flowing Joseph Stalin, usually framing a distrustful smirk. ... His hair was long and curly and cleaved by a side part, the way lesser-known nineteenth-century American presidents wore it, and at five feet five he appeared shorter than his teenage bride and a good many of his later mistresses. Pablo Escobar—once the most hunted man on the planet—was, we can say it now, kind of a schlub. ... Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behind. ... The commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them. With his Faustian slogan plata o plomo—accept the bribe or get pumped full of lead—he turned Medellín into the murder capital of the world (6,349 killings in 1991), a badland no right-minded tourist would have visited, and pushed Colombia to the brink of a narcocracy.
Fixations are a symptom of Asperger’s, along with social problems, elevated stress, and a propensity for numbers over words. The kids in Winchester bullied him for it. Hayes remained a peripheral figure in college, at the University of Nottingham. While his fellow students took their summer holidays, he paid for school by cleaning pots and lugging kitchen supplies for £2.70 an hour. ... Seeking better money, Hayes won an internship at UBS in London. After graduating, in 2001, he joined Royal Bank of Scotland as a trainee on the interest rate derivatives desk. For 20 minutes a day, as a reward for making the tea and collecting dry cleaning, he was allowed to ask the traders anything he wanted. It was an epiphany. ... On the rare occasions he joined other bankers on their nights out, he stuck to hot chocolate. They called him “Tommy Chocolate” and blurted out Rain Man quotes like “Qantas never crashed” as Hayes walked the trading floor. He was bad at banter, given to taking quips and digs at face value. The superhero duvet was a particular point of derision. The bedding was perfectly adequate, Hayes thought; he didn’t see the point in buying another one. ... Not everyone in finance was a jerk. Hayes made a few friends, and he found that his machine-gun approach to messaging and trading made him a favorite among brokers, who didn’t care where a trader had gone to school as long as he brought them deals. ... His M.O. was to trade constantly, picking up snippets of information, racking up commissions as a market maker, and building a persona as a high-volume, high-stakes risk-taker. ... Libor was a component in securities ranging from U.S. student loans and credit cards to Kazakh gas futures, but it was determined each day by just a handful of distracted, guesstimating individuals.
When I met al-Khal in late September, he was organizing two to three trips a day to the Greek island of Lesbos, about eight miles from the Turkish coastline. He fits 30 to 50 people a raft and charges $1,000 to $1,500 per person. Each crossing costs him between $10,000 and $15,000. In the past two years, he claims to have made more than $2 million. ... With nearly 400,000 people arriving illegally in Greece this year, the refugee crisis has been good to him. And he is not alone: the underground economy of human smuggling is thriving. According to some calculations, there are up to 2,000 fellow smugglers in Izmir, while the trade on European territory is thought to employ up to 30,000 people.
For years, Phua has navigated the globe in an ultra-long-range business jet, its tail designation -- N888XS -- a nod to the Chinese belief in lucky number eight and the overindulgence that often accompanies a gambling windfall. With billions of dollars reportedly at hand, Phua has erected a gaming empire, touching down in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Melbourne and anyplace in between where there are casinos, nosebleed poker games and gamblers ready to place max bets on the world's most lucrative sporting events. ... an unassuming 51-year-old Malaysian and the reputed principal owner of the world's largest sportsbook, IBCBet. ... What follows is the story of Phua's rise from a Borneo numbers runner to the biggest bookie around -- as well as the most powerful figure in poker. And how the FBI finally hooked him, only to watch him walk away a free man. ... According to trade estimates, IBCBet handles roughly $60 billion of betting per year. With a 1 percent take, the book clears $600 million annually. An IBCBet source in Manila says Phua owns 70 percent of the enterprise. ... By 2013, Macau's annual gaming revenue had grown to more than $45 billion. This growth -- which Adelson and Wynn publicly fronted -- was propelled in part by Phua, who for the moment remained unknown to those located anywhere but at the center of the industry.
The Darknet (sometimes called the Dark Web) works on the Tor browser, free software that masks your location and activity. Originally designed by the Naval Research Lab, Tor receives 60 percent of its backing from the State Department and the Department of Defense to act as a secure network for government agencies as well as dissidents fighting oppressive regimes. It is a privacy tool that has been used for both good and evil. Over the past decade, Tor has empowered activists to spread news during the Arab Spring; it has helped domestic-violence victims hide from online stalkers; and it has allowed ordinary citizens to surf without advertisers tracking them. But at the same time, the Darknet, which Tor enables, has become the primary cove for criminals like Ross Ulbricht, imprisoned founder of Silk Road; the hackers behind the recent Ashley Madison attacks; and the international crew busted by the feds in July. As an instrument for both activists and criminals, Tor presents an increasingly difficult problem for law enforcement to solve — exacerbating the hapless game of whack-a-mole facing those who try to bring law to the most lawless part of the Net. And the battle over the Darknet's future could decide the fate of online privacy in the U.S. and abroad. ... Since its inception in 1923, the NRL has been the military's most esteemed research and development lab, inventing everything from radar to GPS. In 1995, Syverson and his colleagues conceived a way to make online communications as secure as possible. The idea was to provide a means for anyone — including government employees and agents — to share intelligence without revealing their identities or locations. With funding from the Department of Defense, Syverson brought on two scruffy graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, to help bring his vision to life.
Swatting isn’t new; law enforcement encountered a ring of swatters in the mid-2000s. But the phenomenon is touching more and more lives in more serious ways. (The F.B.I. doesn’t keep statistics on swatting incidents; a bureau spokeswoman says it is still working out which part of the F.B.I. should handle swatting investigations, because the crime ‘‘crosses so many of our delineated thresholds for who handles what.’’) Activists and political operatives on the right and the left have been swatted. Reporters writing about computer security have been swatted. Celebrities have been swatted: Ashton Kutcher, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna. Politicians trying to pass anti-swatting bills, including a state senator in California and a state assemblyman in New Jersey, have been swatted at their homes. Video gamers, male and female, have been swatted. ... While a swatting hoax is often preceded by other kinds of Internet attacks (Twitter threats, the public posting of a home address or phone number), swatting is the most troubling manifestation of online harassment, because it’s not online at all — it’s actual weapons and confusion, showing up at your door. ... Swatting isn’t an easy crime to charge; law enforcement is still developing a language for it. Is it a type of fraud? Identity theft? Cyberterrorism? Is it a prank?
To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist. ... Legends of red mercury’s powers began circulating by late in the Cold War. But their breakout period came after the Soviet Union’s demise, when disarray and penury settled over the Kremlin’s arms programs. As declining security fueled worries of illicit trafficking, red mercury embedded itself in the lexicon of the freewheeling black-market arms bazaar. Aided by credulous news reports, it became an arms trafficker’s marvelous elixir, a substance that could do almost anything a shady client might need: guide missiles, shield objects from radar, equip a rogue underdog state or terrorist group with weapons rivaling those of a superpower. It was priced accordingly, at hundreds of thousands of dollars a kilogram. With time, the asking price would soar. ... Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. ... When the Crocodile placed his order, Abu Omar said, the smuggler asked how much the Islamic State was willing to pay. The answer was vague. The Islamic State would pay, he said, ‘‘whatever was asked.’’ This was not the practical guidance a businessman needs. So the Crocodile sharpened the answer. Up to $4 million — and a $100,000 bonus — for each unit of red mercury matching that shown in a set of photographs he sent to Abu Omar over WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging service. ... the hoax has roots in an intelligence-service put-on, a disinformation campaign of phony news articles planted decades ago in Russian newspapers by the K.G.B. and one of its successors, the F.S.B.
Mr. Hardberger is among a handful of maritime “repo men” who handle the toughest of grab-and-dash jobs in foreign harbors, usually on behalf of banks, insurers or shipowners. A last-resort solution to a common predicament, he is called when a vessel has been stolen, its operators have defaulted on their mortgage or a ship has been fraudulently detained by local officials. ... Tens of thousands of boats or ships are stolen around the world each year, and many become part of a global “phantom fleet” involved in a broad range of crimes. Phantom vessels are frequently used in Southeast Asia for human trafficking, piracy and illegal fishing, in the Caribbean for smuggling guns and drugs, and in the Middle East and North Africa to transport fighters or circumvent arms or oil embargoes ... Usually the vessels are not recovered because they are difficult to find on the vast oceans, the search is too expensive and the ships often end up in ports with uncooperative or corrupt officials. ... sometimes, when the boat or ship is more valuable, firms like Mr. Hardberger’s Vessel Extractions in New Orleans are hired to find it. His company occasionally handles jobs involving megayachts, but more often the targets are small-to-medium cargo ships that carry goods between developing countries with poor or unstable governments.
For centuries, the monks of the Shaolin Temple mostly prayed and practiced martial arts, while living off the land and the donations of worshippers. Under Yongxin, their activities expanded to include food and medicine sales, construction, entertainment, and consulting. In 2006 the temple teamed with a Shenzhen media company to produce Kungfu Star, an American Idol-style TV competition. Shaolin announced last year that it would begin developing mobile apps, including instructional kung fu software. The Shaolin Village project in Australia was only the next logical step in the abbot’s expansionist theo-corporate empire. “If China can import Disney resorts,” he said in March, “why can’t other countries import the Shaolin Monastery?” ... One evening I was sitting in a nearby guesthouse, reading a copy of Yongxin’s memoir, when an old man with a long white beard shuffled over. His son accompanied him and said his father had studied at the temple long ago. The old man stepped to the center of the room and performed an elegant kung fu routine, striking and kicking invisible enemies. Here it was, I thought: living heritage, unsullied by crass commercialism. When the man finished, I applauded and went to shake his hand. “Now give me some money,” he said.
He sold America on a West Coast gangster fantasy — and embodied it. Then the bills came due ... His exploits — some mythic, some real — during the heyday of Death Row Records have become part of hip-hop lore: In the early Nineties, he allegedly shook down Vanilla Ice into handing over publishing profits, walking the rapper out to a hotel-room balcony to show him how far his fall would be. ("I needed to wear a diaper that day," Ice said later.) In his memoir, former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller alleged that Knight and his cohorts, bearing baseball bats, intimidated Eazy-E into releasing Dre from his Ruthless Records contract. (The claims have never been substantiated.) Knight was sitting next to Tupac when he was gunned down in 1996 in Las Vegas; his participation in a fight on the night of the shooting would land him in prison for five years on a probation violation. ... As Knight's fortunes have crumbled, he's gotten closer to the streets, according to prosecutors. In a motion arguing for the high bail (which would later be reduced to $10 million), the L.A. District Attorney's office alleged a recent scheme by Knight to "tax" out-of-town rappers for as much as $30,000 just to work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. ... former associates struggle to understand why such an undeniably talented businessman can't escape this kind of small-time drama and thuggery. ... Knight already has two prior violent felonies on his record: If any of his current charges stick, under California's Three Strikes law, he could be going to jail for the rest of his life.
The frenzied, fanatical politics of Tamil Nadu, India. ... Before she went into politics, Jayalalithaa was the most popular Tamil movie actress of her time, the heroine in more than 100 films. She followed the model of her mentor and co-star, an actor-politician named Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran but more commonly known by his initials M.G.R. He ruled Tamil Nadu for 11 years, and since his death in 1987, Jayalalithaa and her archenemy, a wily 92-year-old screenwriter named Muthuvel Karunanidhi, have taken turns running the state. As the head of the D.M.K. — the party to which M.G.R. belonged until their rivalry forced a split — Karunanidhi has built a cult following on par with Jayalalithaa’s. The two of them rule as if in a melodrama, having each other arrested, dropping snide insults and wild accusations, destroying each other’s pet projects. The D.M.K. and the A.I.A.D.M.K. have almost no policy differences, but no other party can gain a foothold.
The financial crisis has fuelled a huge expansion of organised crime in Europe with 3,600 criminal syndicates now active across the continent, profiting even from such prosaic products as household detergents, the head of Europol has warned. … Rob Wainwright, director of the EU’s crime-fighting agency, said Europe’s black market in counterfeit foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and machine parts doubled to a value of about €2bn in the early years of the recession. … The groups are profiting from an increased demand for cheap goods and finding ways to cash in on EU member states’ attempts to boost tax revenues … a new breed of cyber criminals in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe are carrying out increasingly sophisticated online attacks on financial services groups. … In the UK, for instance, the VAT rate increased in early 2011 from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent, making any fake claim on this tax instantly more profitable. VAT fraud is now estimated to be worth €100bn a year across Europe.
Over more than 20 years at Buffalo Trace, Curtsinger had worked his way to a senior position on the loading dock, but it wasn't necessarily clear where he might go from there. ... Still, what might drive a man with a wife and two kids, who's worked some two decades for the same company, to start stealing from his employer? The simple explanation might be that bourbon prices were soaring and that stealing it was pretty easy. Buffalo Trace has 450 employees spread across 440 acres, and more bourbon aging in its 15 warehouses than at any time since the 1970s. ... Curtsinger started small. According to the investigation, around 2008 he began lifting bottles from display cases at the distillery. As a precaution, he would casually ask co-workers about security cameras around the facility. Curtsinger could be a generous colleague, loaning cash to co-workers but then asking that they repay him in stolen bottles. Eventually he got bolder: One night Curtsinger loaded more than 50 cases of Eagle Rare onto a pickup truck that was so weighted down it bottomed out on his driveway when he got home. ... Business was brisk, but there were only so many bottles of Pappy to be found, and eventually Curtsinger started stealing entire barrels, each containing the equivalent of around a hundred bottles.