In this excerpt of Chapter 3 from High-Tech Crimes Revealed, author Steven Branigan introduces "Wesley" and the incidents that led to a computer forensics investigation.
The problem with many criminals is that they get addicted to illegal behavior. The excitement that comes from committing the first crime has its roots in the fear of getting caught. If they don't get caught, they are encouraged to do it again and possibly again. As they get away with more crimes and infractions, they begin to feel untouchable. Eventually, they feel like they can commit any crime and get away with it.
Fortunately for us, that becomes their fatal flaw. All of these little crimes eventually catch up with them. This is why police training teaches cops to investigate small crimes, because they can lead to the discovery of much larger ones. Of course, you can never tell when a small incident will turn out to be nothing or become a pretty big deal, so it is important to examine them all.
Take the case of our new friend, Wesley. He was renting an apartment in New York City (NYC) for about $2,000 a month. NYC is a tenant-friendly city, so it is difficult to evict a deadbeat occupant. It did not take much for Wesley to figure this out, and soon he stopped paying the rent on his apartment -- which went on for months. As you might imagine, his landlord William didn't like this at all.
William was getting weary of trying to chase him down to collect the rent. He would get evasive answers and empty promises of payment, but no money. After six months of fighting for some attention, he had enough and decided to proceed with legal action. It was time to evict Wesley. It was not an easy route, but the way he saw it, he simply had no alternative.
William hired a lawyer and filled out the necessary paperwork to start the eviction process. In NYC, this can be very tricky, and trying to do it without a lawyer is often a mistake. The process requires a final, formal demand for the rent. Once this is done, and after a few more steps, the case can go to court. Only through a trial can the landlord get the legal authority to forcibly evict the tenant. When he gets the judgment in his favor, he gets a Warrant of Eviction, which empowers the government to physically remove a person from his rented home.
In this case, Wesley went without paying the rent for six months before the Warrant of Eviction was finalized and assigned to Sheriff Yar to execute. Expulsion can be either difficult, or more difficult. Difficult is when the tenant is in the place at the time of the eviction. The Sheriff lets the tenant take his personal belongings and escorts him out of the apartment. The more difficult option is when the tenant is not there. The Sheriff then needs to forcibly enter the apartment and remove the personal property that is inside, usually putting it on the street. Either way, once the process has been completed, the apartment is turned over to the landlord.
Tenants can usually sense that they are about to be kicked out of their residence, especially when they haven't been paying rent for a while. By that time, they have usually vacated the apartment, taking away anything of value. Wesley wasn't this bright.
There was no one home when Yar arrived, and it was beginning to seem as if Wesley had skipped town. Because William was there as well, he was more than happy to open the apartment for Yar. Upon entry, it was obvious that Wesley had not cleared his apartment out, as there were quite a few televisions and other strange electrical equipment. This seemed very odd, and Yar immediately suspected that the apartment was being used to store stolen goods.
Because the equipment might have been considered evidence of a crime, leaving it on the street was not an option. He needed help and wanted to contact the NYPD to have them check it out, but what was he going to do with the apartment in the mean time? Unfortunately, since this was not an emergency, he could not call and wait for them. Instead, he would need to set up a time when they could come by and in the meantime secure the site to prevent Wesley from coming back in. He could not let William have his place back—not yet. Oh great, William thought, he would have to wait even longer before he could rent out the apartment again.
So Sheriff Yar padlocked the door, put some yellow tape across its opening, and posted a notice that an eviction warrant was being served. He wanted to make sure Wesley was not going to be able to remove or destroy any of the evidence. Now he could go contact the NYPD.
Read the rest of the story, including the forensics investigation.
This was first published in June 2005