It’s a great story about a crew of shoplifters who earn six figures boosting expensive electronics. Matt Caputo (Class of 2007) is such an engaging writer and the reporting is impressive. Matt is even with the thieves in a store one day as they steal laptops.
He uses fake names, which is inevitable in a story like this, but the trade-off means the reader gets amazing insight into how these guys commit their crimes:
“Here are some tricks of the trade they’ve developed over time: Never spend more than 15 minutes in one store. Change cars as often as possible by complaining to the rental service about squeaky brakes or weak airconditioning, etc. Pay for everything in cash. If you get pulled over, crack the screen of your GPS to erase the device’s history. Blend into your surroundings: If this means donning hunting gear in Colorado or posing as surfers in Santa Cruz, so be it.”
Matt is Assistant Editor at Maxim Magazine and has written for the New York Times, Penthouse, Men’s Fitness, SLAM, VIBE and The New York Daily News. He’s also been an editor at The Daily News and SLAM. Despite what you may think about Penthouse, they have a reputation for paying well and publishing great stories that have nothing to do with pornography.
Matt was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece in an email interview:
1) You are class of ??
Officially class of 2007, but I walked in 2006. Damn senior project.
2) How’d you find the guys you focus on in your piece?
When I finished college in 2006, I briefly moved back to the Queens Blvd area where I grew up. I ran into old friends in a barbershop and I was introduced to Steven Steals in the fall of that year and was told the short of how he came to have such a nice car, wads of cash, pounds of weed and even a legitimate business for a while. As time passed, mutual friends kept me up to date on their sprees and also about the stuff Steven and his friends had gotten them at a cheap rate. I arranged to meet Steven alone for the first time at a pizzeria in 2011 and he was very willing to be interviewed and have me ride along once. I mean, it was practically his idea.
3) What was the dynamic like with them?
Honestly, very open. They’re the type of subjects that knew the significance of their story. They already feel like rock stars and star criminals, so they didn’t mind saying anything. I think you’ve got to be yourself when you’re speaking to anyone and be clear you’re not afraid to ask about touchy subjects.
4) Any fallout from the piece?
There wasn’t. I got a few emails from some kind people who said they’d read and enjoyed it. The names are changed and one or two elements were considered to conceal their identities further. The guys went out and bought something like 50 copies of the magazine and paid cash from what I know. I’m not terribly worried about any federal agents knocking on my door, in such case I’d remind them that journalism is the only profession protected under the constitution.
5) Why Penthouse?
I must say there were a few magazine editors who were interested in this story. Timing – both on my end and on the end of one or two other editors elsewhere in this case – plays a huge role in placing any story. Page count is an issue, but sometimes you come up with your best idea a month after it would have been perfect in magazine because of a timing issue ( like an anniversary or annual event like the Oscars or NBA draft). In this case, Penthouse was the first one to step up and agree to publish the story. Ok, it is pornographic, but they do publish a considerable amount of general interest content. Long form crime stories always make for great men’s magazine content and their editor there has taken an interest in my work.
Here’s the link to the story again. Remember, you’ve been warned, it’s Penthouse.