Earlier this month we got in a new recruit, (We'll call him Ricardo).
Ricardo was a very hard worker. During his interview days he must of ground, (cleaned), 30 or more frames in 5 hours. The next day he came back and did even more. Ricardo showed lots of promise as a new member of The Underground crew. He was interested in learning to sell, post and of course build. He also had good skills in amp repair / solder rework so we were really excited to have him. I met his wife briefly and they brought in their beautiful daughter that had the cutest curly hair I haven't seen since a Shirley Temple film.
After a couple of days of delays, he finally let me know that he could come in on a Sunday. I was taking my wife to work when we saw he and his wife coming into the neighborhood. So I turned around and went back to the house to let him know I'd be back in a few minutes. I got there and told him to go ahead and get started around back and that I'd be back in 15 minutes to join him.
So I dropped Sheri off and when I got back, my worst fears had come true. Ricardo was nowhere to be seen and several of the Soundstream XXX subs he'd been cleaning were gone.
My mind starting racing over my decision to trust him. All I could focus on was all the, 'signs', that I had ignored in my quest to give a hand up. What part of town he was from, his ethnicity, his accent, even his oddly green eyes that reminded me of a pit bull. It looked like Ricardo just wanted a hand out and decided to help himself. I decided to beef up security even more and worse, I started to distrust my loyal staff. The financial loss was there but more than anything I felt hurt and betrayed. I wanted to do something about it but I didn't even know where Ricardo lived. I didn't even know his last name. I trusted too much I thought to myself. How stupid could I be?
A week later I received a call from one of our loyal clients asking me if I'd like to buy some XXX motors. I of course asked if he'd already bought them or just saw them in an ad somewhere. He told me a guy named Ricardo had contacted him wanting to trade. I quickly found out he'd been living with his grandmother 10 miles away. I got his address and put together a team to set up a sting! "I can have justice!", I said to myself.
Everything was going to plan. I was around the corner waiting in my car while my plant was feeding me information. I found out Ricardo still had the subs and that he even took one that still worked! He was quite the salesman as I listened to the open phone call that my undercover buyer had going.
My guy told him he was looking for six to eight big woofers for his project. Ricardo boasted that you'd only need one of two of these super-woofers he had. He boasted that the one he had working was even pushing out the glass on his truck! I listened for my cue and swooped in to surprise them!
Ricardo realized what has been going on and went into, 'Tough Guy', mode. I wasn't any better when I, with great sarcasm, told him that we'd missed him coming into work. My undercover guy had done time and knew he could make things happen if need be. To my relief he backed down when Ricardo started to really started to get crazy. I told Ricardo that all he had to do was give back what was mine and there would be no violence and no trouble for his family. He didn't back down. Ricardo was ready to lay his life down to protect his treasure.
I decided the best thing to do was use my phone to record video of the whole scene so that I could give it to police to help me prosecute. Ricardo's wife came out to see what all the yelling was about and I immediately laid into her about helping him steal from me. She was quite surprised and quickly defended herself verbally. She was not amused to have a stranger yelling at her. It was all quite a scene but ended up as a short stand-off and a volley of rude quips. We left with only a bad video recording and the jitters from all that adrenalin.
The drive home was quickly filled with wise sayings and other stories of heartbreak and past errors.
That night I had called Ricardo's house looking to talk; his grandmother answered. I pleaded with her to stop Ricardo from making things worse and that there was still time to make things right. She replied that she'd been encouraging him to return the items and that it wasn't worth it. I then felt bad for their family. Did I really want to destroy their Christmas by punishing a thief? Sheri, my wife comforted me and said that we didn't have to let this get in the way of our celebrations. We decided to forget it for now and just enjoy the time she had off and watched some movies to distract us and went to bed.
A day later I received a call from a restricted number. I hoped it was Ricardo and answered the phone friendly but on guard. It was him!
He wanted to know if he could keep the good sub if he gave back the dead ones he took. We argued for several minutes about it. He felt that he deserved something for his labor and told me about how hard it was to get four 100lb woofers back to his house. I couldn't believe the audacity he had. I told him that just because I owed him for his time, did not mean he could take my property and he certainly couldn't keep an item that was worth 3x his labor! I told him that I wasn't going to negotiate with a terrorist and that he needed to give everything back before there was any negotiation! The call ended with both men standing their ground.
An hour later I thought that getting three back at all would be better than nothing. That the police wouldn't do anything but take a report and they'd tell me to take it up in civil court. I didn't want to destroy his family or take away their dad but I felt Ricardo had to pay for what he did and thought he left me no choice but to do what I could with the police.
I remembered my conversation with Ricardo's Grandmother. I had one last thought of hope that maybe she could do something. I called and guess who answered? My hope turned to opportunity! I felt superior that I had just downloaded an app for my phone that allowed me to record all phone conversations. (Arizona is a non-consent state for phone recordings). I knew I had him! All I had to do was get him to admit his crimes and I'd have him on the ropes!
I got the conversation I needed to convict but what really threw me for a loop was the way Ricardo thought I was going to screw him out the hours he worked. He still had no empathy for regret for what he did. He simply didn't want to be without bass. He threatened that he'd call the Better Business Bureau and the police for being paid so little for his time. That I was paying him under the table and that it was illegal for me to do this. He then began to rant about all the bad things that other people had said about me in the forums and that he was standing up to me and felt that stealing from me was doing justice for the others I had mistreated.
At this moment I realized that here again was a person in pain asking me to fix his pain. That they wanted me to feel sorry for them and that if only I could give them their ransom that they would be OK and they'd end their tantrum.
He told me about his hard life in South Phoenix and how he felt the first day he worked for free wasn't right. That I owed him. That I was the one victimizing him and that he was standing up to a bully. I did my best to describe that what he did was wrong and that there were no excuses for what he did. That he wasn't the law and it wasn't his job to punish me for things people wrote on the internet. Exhausted, I managed to promise a downgraded sub and car alarm in exchange for the motors. I figured it was better than nothing and I really did just want to put this behind me.
I arrived as promised with no weapons or police. That I just wanted the property back and that I would press no charges or involve his family. He informed me that he had given a motor to a friend in West Phoenix. That he had trouble contacting him as well. I suggested we take a ride out that way and just see if we could pick it up. He loaded up the subs and nervously got in the car and we took off.
I immediately thanked him for doing the right thing and that's all I wanted from him. I made a few jokes to break the ice, I knew the drive would be long.
Along the way he confessed to everything and even told me how he did it. He told me he admired what I was doing and had wanted to come work with us for quite some time. I asked him why he would do something to sabotage his dream. He explained that he'd been going through some tough times. He had no reliable work and that doing tattoo work on the side just wasn't paying the bills. His wife had also been nonsupporting of his work with The Underground as it didn't pay right away and would best if he took trade instead. She also complained of him not providing a good Christmas for their family and that he needed to put his dreams of car audio aside for the good of the family.
He felt trapped. He saw an opportunity and reverted back to his survival skills he'd learned since being on his own since age 11 in South Phoenix. He made his move to have a good Christmas and do well for his family.
He reminded me that the night before he came in that Sunday, he'd asked me what it'd cost to buy just the motor and a frame. I quoted him $380 shipped. He kept that number in mind thinking he'd get some easy cash from a pawn shop or Christmas bass head. He quickly found out that the market for a 100lb sub woofer, especially one that didn't work was quite small. I laughed and said, "Welcome to my world!"
We exchanged stories and I preached to him all the ideas I have for Robot as well as other projects. He was again, saved and wanted to support us the same way we supported him. We laughed about the whole thing and I told him that I could still teach him to sell and make money part time without having to labor on the back porch. I gave him a few ideas and I could see that twinkle in his eye that I saw when I first met him. I knew it was going to be a great Christmas.
We got to his friends house but he wasn't home. I left some business cards with the friends and let them know about our referral program. His eyes lit up too. I felt like Santa himself!
I knew where the guy lived so I could get the motor later. The tension between Ricardo and I was gone and it was just two guys talking about Christmas plans on a warm Arizona winter day.
I drove him home, gave him his new SPLX 15" sub and car alarm. We wished each other merry Christmas and both looked forward to time with our families.
I wish you a warm and happy holiday season as well. Thank you for your support and well wishes all year round. Lets make 2013 the best year ever!
Co-Founder of Robot Underground