“Spider-man” turns to the dark side

The lure of wealth draws many peculiar chancers to try their luck.


Tomic: a visionary burglar
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Shutterstock. No use without permission.)

When one reads that an American burglar has made a killing by pretending to be an estate agent, one wonders which is the more lucrative and more criminal trade. But perhaps that's just my experience. Police in Los Angeles have arrested Benjamin Ackerman for allegedly "targeting high-end celebrity homes" that were put up for sale, says Ryan Parker for The Hollywood Reporter. They claim Ackerman gained access to the properties by posing either as an interested buyer or a real-estate broker hoping to show the property.

Ackerman seems to have thrown himself into the persona of "slick real-estate agent" with gusto, appearing at listed homes "dressed up to the nines", says Pilar Melendez in The Daily Beast. He was an adept at blending in at open-house marketing events and "no one ever questioned his presence or demanded to see his real-estate licence". This subterfuge enabled him to pull off some major heists.

Police have, for example, linked him with the theft of about $800,000 worth of jewellery and cash from the singer Usher last April and a further $300,000 from another musician, Jason Derulo. By the time the long arm of the law finally caught up with Ackerman, his stash included more than 2,000 items in his home and a storage unit that he rented. The haul, which authorities claim had a total value of "multiple millions of dollars", included "clothes, jewellery, art, electronics, fine wine, sports memorabilia, and pricey purses". So many goods were discovered that police have been forced to list them on a special website to help reunite them with their proper owners.

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Ironically, Ackerman's downfall was due to being too polite and honest. He first came to the attention of the authorities when they discovered his name on several sign-in sheets for open house events.

An act of the imagination

Ackerman may have had chutzpah, but he isn't in the same league as master burglar Vjeran Tomic, known in the French press as "Spider-man". Tomic thought himself a "visionary", as Jake Halpern reports in The New Yorker. He described robbery as an "act of the imagination" and claimed to be driven by aesthetic desire. Certain paintings "can provoke me like an electric shock", he said. His most celebrated heist involved using "a crossbow with ropes and carabiners" to sneak into an apartment while its occupants slept. He took two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works.

However, stealing the goods was the easy part. The reality is that "famous paintings are almost impossible to resell even at 10% of their value, a common rate on the black market". Some criminals try to collect ransom for museum paintings based on their insurance value, but that is "a risky proposition". Tomic was eventually nabbed trying to arrange a sale in Israel, which has a law making it hard for people to reclaim stolen goods. He was sentenced in 2017 to seven years in prison. He is using the time to make art surely a more wholesome if less lucrative outlet for his "aesthetic desires".

Tabloid money we should be grateful for James Dyson

You can't blame people for saying "yes, please" to money for not doing much, says Karren Brady in The Sun on Sunday. But there is something wrong if Instagram users aren't aware that the celebrities they follow are paid thousands of pounds to promote products on their social-media accounts. Celebrities are supposed to make it clear in their posts when they are being paid to plug. But it's still a bit of a grey area.

Last week, 16 British "influencers" were found to have breached guidelines, including models Alexa Chung and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. They agreed to change their ways, and none were fined. But is a rap on the knuckles enough of a deterrent? After all, it is easy to see how an offer of, say, £100,000 might make it hard to stick to their principles.

Given that James Dyson employs 4,800 people in Britain, has invested his own money in a technological university and paid £185m in tax in 2017, you'd think politicians owed him a bit of gratitude, says Ross Clark in The Sun. Instead, he has been called a hypocrite for moving his company HQ to Singapore. "But if you will excuse the pun, the charge against the vacuum maker really sucks."

Dyson's decision has nothing to do with the Brexit he supported and everything to do with long-term thinking: his most rapidly growing markets over the next few years are going to be in the Far East. As for the charge of hypocrisy, it could only be made by someone who hasn't bothered to listen to his case for leaving the EU to hire talent from across the world.

Talk about irony, says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. The topic at this year's gathering of billionaires and plutocrats above the ski slopes of Davos was "tackling global inequality". Here's a gathering of the masters of the universe, who have a combined wealth of a trillion dollars made "through bleeding the profits out of their companies and bribing the world's politicians to give them tax cuts and sell them their nation's public assets on the cheap."

These are the people that play nations off against each other and pay their workers less than the living wage before diverting the profits to "some morally dodgy tax haven". Yet they want to "peek below their designer ski hats to tell the world that inequality is eating away at them. Ain't that cute?"