The Monopoly Gang
What if? Inspired by a question asked by Zachary Fine, age 5 (7/2003)
Smitty’s father had been a cop. Smitty’s grandfather and great grandfather had been cops. So Smitty was a cop. Being a police officer was as hereditary in Brian “Smitty” Smith’s family as, say, cancer was in others. Not quite the same thing, but just as potentially deadly.
Brian Smith had been on the Boston police force for over twenty years, and he’d been a part of busting most of the city’s notorious thieves in that time. He collared the McDougal Brothers in just his first year on the force, way back in 1979. They had knocked off eight banks before Marty, the youngest of the brothers, had gotten sloppy and bragged to a prostitute whose services he had enjoyed. Smitty was in on the O’Shaughne bust in 1983 and the McCallahan arrest the following year. Both involved the black-market sale of high-end electronics such as large screen televisions and stereo components. More recently, he’d busted Kris “The Diesel Weasel” Kerwin, who had embezzled over $2 million from the Department of Motor Vehicles using a security vulnerability in their electronic payment website.
When he stopped to calculate it, which wasn’t often, Detective Brian Smith had arrested and imprisoned thieves that had stolen over four million dollars, and perhaps would have stolen several times that much had they not been caught. Smitty was proud of these accomplishments, but was never one to rest on his laurels. Especially not when the Monopoly Gang was still out there.
The so-called Monopoly Gang had been operating in Boston for over a year now. Smith himself had coined the name for the group after the lab realized that a large number of bills recently used around town were counterfeit. The “Monopoly Gang” became the moniker for the perpetrators within the department.
The tip had come from an ancient Chinese shopkeeper on Sycamore Street. The eighty-year old man called the police one day after a teenager had come into his store to purchase several six packs of soda, a dozen bags of chips and pretzels, an assortment of candy and gum, and the like. The cop receiving the call was about to write the incident off as the unnecessary worrying of an old man when the octogenarian added that the kid had been doing the same thing pretty much every day for two weeks, and had been doing it each time with a wad of crisp, brand new bills in various denominations.
Smitty had been the cop that took the call.
Now, eight months later, he was nowhere. All they knew now that they didn’t know then was the lab’s finding – that the bills were indeed counterfeit. And that hundreds of other merchants around town were calling with similar concerns.
The counterfeit bills were exquisite. Only under a high-powered microscope and the focused eye of a trained professional could the lack of authenticity of the bills be detected. None of the merchants that had called the police did so because they suspected the bills. They all had called because of the suspicious behavior (repeated, carefree spending) of the buyers in their stores. It was always this way, thought Smitty to himself. Sooner or later, people spend what they steal. That’s when they get caught.
Smitty had no leads, nothing to go on. Sure people around town were getting “careless” by spending their counterfeit money so freely, but almost all of the reports were of young teenagers, even younger kids, spending the money. As cynical as Smitty had become through the years, he refused to believe that a bunch of kids were responsible for this, his city’s most recent crime wave.
Brian Smith was not your ordinary police officer. Sure, he was Irish, Catholic and from a long line of cops. But he was also a bit of a Renaissance man, having majored in sociology with a minor in statistics. In a feeble attempt to keep up with schooling and his associated personal interests, Smith subscribed to American Demographics magazine. As it turned out, someone at the magazine had started to notice a trend. A trend that could not be explained away as a simple statistical fluctuation.
As soon as he finished reading the article, Smitty placed a phone call. As strange as it seemed, Smitty was convinced that there was some kind of connection to his case. Perhaps it was just a case of his now well-trained brain synapses firing correctly. Perhaps it was because of the name he’d serendipitously given the criminals when he’d first got the case. He’d never know, he supposed. But he knew he was on to something.
Having the right hunch, the right mental picture of what had happened, or was still happening, was the hard part of police work, Smitty thought. The actual investigation – collecting of evidence and so on – was easy, he felt. Sure, it took time and patience, but Smitty had more than his fair share of both.
On a particularly cold February morning, a full year almost to the day since he’d received the call from the Chinese merchant, Smitty walked down to the nearby convenience store to buy a carton of milk.
That’s when he saw a young kid, maybe ten years old, buying a couple hundred dollars worth of soda and potato chips. He watched as the kid paid with a wad of crisp, new bills.
Smitty put the carton of milk back in the refrigerator. He followed the kid, who went straight home.
Smitty brought several other detectives in on the case. They surveilled the kid for a few days until one night around 10 p.m., the kid was seen receiving a wad of cash from an older teenager. The surveillance moved to the teenager. A few days later, it moved again, this time to an eighteen year old driving a Mercedes SL500. Smitty and the other cops knew they were on to something.
Eventually, Smitty and his men tracked the source of cash to a small, undistinguished house on Mulberry Street. A little background checking indicated that Mr. and Mrs. Ben Granger, both in their early eighties, owned the home and lived there with their grandsons, 20-year-old Flip and 19-year-old Morton.
A few days later, when the preparations had been all carefully made, Smitty went in to make the bust. The judge couldn’t believe his ears when he’d received the request for the search warrant. But sure enough, Smitty and the other policemen found over 500 partially empty boxes stacked all around the boys’ room. Plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit bills.
The Monopoly Gang, in business for just over a year, had been shutdown after counterfeiting over $5 million.
Smitty was pleased, and, as always, graciously shared the credit with his fellow officers. He immediately began working on his next case.
Morton Granger was sentenced to a year in prison. Given his “unique skill” as they called it, he would be monitored for the rest of his days.
Flip Granger, who was found to have coerced his younger brother into their illegal activities after realizing what his brother could do, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Mr. and Mrs. Ben Granger, the boys’ grandparents, were declared innocent, unaware of the activities of their wayward grandchildren.
Parker Brothers officially praised the arrest of the Granger boys, but the CEO and CFO both secretly regretted that the recent spike in demand had been stopped.
And local toy store managers were happy to once again be able to keep their shelves stocked with Monopoly games.
(Inspired by a question asked by my son at age 5)