Paul Stock of Librairie Astro in Montreal, Quebec wrote this cautionary tale about helping to break up a theft ring operating out of the biggest North American printer of comics for the Comic Book Industry Alliance discussion boards.  Reprinted here with his permission:


Early October 2002 we started getting offers from one of the thieves working at Quebecor.  Same guy that was around a couple of years ago, someone who apparently works in the bindery.  He'd come in on a Tuesday, show us what was coming off the line, that week, deliver whatever quantity we wanted on Wednesday.  Five bucks Canadian per TPB.  He had books from DC, Viz, Diamond (Previews) and Bongo.


I got in touch with [DC VP-Direct Sales] Bob Wayne, we confirmed I should keep the thieves on the hook pending an investigation, but I asked that DC not proceed until we had a chance to talk about the situation at the RRP.  At the meeting, PL [DC President Paul Levitz], Bob and I had a short discussion about the situation.


The problem from DC's perspective is that the books don't belong to DC until they take title (i.e. the Diamond warehouse), so the theft is really not from them.  Nonetheless, DC is (and always has been) very concerned about this type of problem, and whenever it has cropped up they make every effort possible to stop it.  It may not be a theft from them, but it is a theft of sales from both DC and their legitimate customers.  I can certainly confirm DC's making every effort: this is about the fourth or fifth time I've participated in one of these deals with them.  DC jumps on Quebecor very quickly.   Other publishers were somewhat slower to react.  Frankly I haven't bothered calling the others the past few times.  I know DC will do the right thing, and do it fast.  Why bother with ditherers?


I emphasized one thing at our meeting, in correspondence, and in talking to the people at Quebecor: I wanted a store arrested.  My feeling is that the lawyer's letters that have been sent in the past were ineffective, that a retailer dealing in stolen merchandise simply had no reason to stop if he knew that the only penalty was a slap on the wrist.  I didn't care if it was a comic shop, magazine store, or a bookstore.  I wanted it known in the Montreal bookseller community that there could be severe penalties for receiving and selling stolen merchandise, that Quebecor (and DC) were tired of being nice guys, only to be victimized again.  I MAY have gotten my wish.  I believe I did.


Back from Burbank, DC immediately jumped on the situation.  Between November 13 and November 25, there was an exchange of correspondence between DC, Quebecor and myself.  We had a meeting at Quebecor in early December (my insistence -- they wanted it earlier, but order week was in the way).  The meeting was cordial, and Quebecor emphasized the importance of pleasing DC/Warner, of concern over security, of appreciation of assistance.  I emphasized that Astro would help in any way we could.  The outside investigation agency asked if this included installing cameras in my store, depositions, and so on.  I had no problem agreeing -- I wouldn't have started the process if I weren't prepared to do whatever was necessary.


I sprung a bit of a surprise on them, though: A second batch of thieves had shown up, this one seemingly specializing in hardcovers. Mostly DC, but there were Marvel titles, and Crossgen's Forge TPB. A bit feckless, these bozos had parked near the store for convenience. They had some 200 hardcovers in the trunk (I recall something about them having 'over 800' in total). Quebecor was a bit dismayed to hear they had a second problem, but this dismay was alleviated a bit when I gave them the hardcover thieves names, model and color of their car, and their license number too.


Throughout December and January, we had operational contact within our group, and, of course, we were recording the 'buys'. Amazing bit of technology- the camera was tiny, connected to a computer. 200gb hard drive, it could record 16 cameras, 24 hours a day for a month before the disc filled.


Quebecor certainly did not stint on cost. The books themselves are really worth nothing to them. As we discussed at the setup meeting, there was no 'grand theft' felony involved, because while the books belonged to Quebecor they were valued at cost- probably less than $1.00 a piece. Nonetheless, the importance of pleasing DC was so great, that they instituted an investigation that saw two operatives on stakeout outside my store for at least 16 days, that saw operatives following suspects from work to fences, that required technical support staff, film vans and so on. They spent a lot of money on this- it was no brush-off.


Anyway, toward the end of January, I got a call from someone important to the investigation. He let slip some info, so I won't identify him. The TPB thieves had been caught, and fired. There would be no prosecution, because of the petty nature of the theft. A store had been caught receiving, however. It was not one of the expected ones, nor either of the stores in the south and north shore suburbs that had been mentioned by name by the hardcover thieves. It was a magazine store being supplied with Penthouse. They were likely to be prosecuted, but this was strictly a Quebecor decision-Penthouse is not a DC product.


So it appears I've got my bust. Word will spread. Even if the magazine store beats the charges, they'll have to go through a period of worry, they'll have to spend money for lawyers, maybe they'll think twice before buying stolen merchandise again. And maybe the word will get out to other would-be fences that Quebecor's a little fed up with this, and that real consequences can happen.


The hardcover thieves were also nailed. We got a call from the investigation agency asking for a deposition, but in follow-up, it was no longer needed. They signed a full confession. I don't know if they're being allowed to walk, make restitution, or are facing charges, but their game is finished too.


So why this post?


First, to emphasize that this theft thing can be huge -- the TPB guys were 'stealing to order' -- we ordered (and got) 10 copies of a couple of TPB titles.  All in all we 'bought' I'd guess somewhere between 75-100 books from them.  At $20 US a pop retail, that's at least $1500 for one putzy little store, and if we had wanted, the thieves told us they could deliver ten times as much.  The hardcover guys?  The ones with the Marvel Encyclopedias, Green Arrow: Quiver, and the JLA/JSA?  Well they had 200 of these things in their trunk alone.


Second, to emphasize that DC and Quebecor were responsive, concerned, and quick to act in the interests of their customers.  They put a lot of work into what is really a petty theft to them, but a major problem for their clients.  They did the right thing without even a moment's hesitation, and deserve a statement of appreciation.


Third, to spread the word.  Even if (and presuming that) the stores fencing stolen goods are not on this board, a word to a customer known to shop at one of these places should get the message back to them.  The sooner the news gets to the fences, be they near Quebecor, Brenner, Sullivan, or wherever, the better it will be for all of us who are on the up-and-up.