What a Tool 

Tool thieves run rampant and a new documentary hails an Oakland crack hustler.

Steal someone's wallet and you've stolen a wallet. Steal someone's tools and — if he's in construction — you've stolen his livelihood. An international tool-theft epidemic is leaving countless contractors empty-handed. Stories about it pepper the media, from "Truck owner tussles with tool thief" at South Bend, Indiana's WSBT.com to "Alleged tool thieves booked" in UCLA's Daily Bruin to "Tool Theft Fuels Burglary Spate" in the BBC. The loot is sold at flea markets, on the black market, online, or as scrap metal.

Albany contractor Nicholas Christ was working on a house recently when his team lost $10,000 worth of tools overnight. Breaking into a garage, the thieves then drilled through locks on metal boxes to reach the tools inside. "They were professionals," Christ says. "They were fast. They took an amazing amount of power tools, a laser level. ... It's hard for a small business to recoup that. You have to plunk down a bunch of money right away to replace all the missing items, because you can't work without them." Among that night's losses was a vintage wooden box full of hand tools that one worker had inherited from his grandfather: "Things like that, you can't replace."

Supplied with new tools, he was nervous. Christ installed motion sensors and modified his storage boxes, welding metal caps over their locks so that a drill can't access them, only key-bearing fingers. He still frets. Unattended job sites and trucks are prime targets. One of Christ's colleagues dashed into Orchard Supply Hardware en route to a job; his tools were swiped from his truck within minutes. "We're reluctant to put our sign out when we're working on projects," Christ says: It's free advertising, but it's also a thief magnet. "Likewise, we're reluctant to talk to people who come up and ask us for work. Put up a scaffold and they'll walk right over and look around. I understand that people need jobs, but they could be casing."

Berkeley Ace Hardware store manager Sherrin Farley jokes, "I think people say not, 'Let's go shopping at Berkeley Ace' but 'Let's go shoplifting at Berkeley Ace.' The last person we caught in the act was loaded down with them." Like a thief in a cartoon, the man had stashed saw blades and hammers inside a long coat. Ace has had to start stocking tools inside glass cases to protect them. "It's a barrier to sales, and it's irritating for the customer, but that's how things are now," Farley sighs.

Yeah, Right

Doorstep scammers are still out in force, asking for cash under false pretenses. As reported on neighborhood-watch forums by intended victims, one in North Oakland offered "a confused story about his wife being locked out of the car by a grandkid on Shattuck and he was at the tow place on 55th and Shattuck and needed $13.50 more." Another, striving to open a South Berkeley screen door, "gave me a long, slow, drawn-out story about wanting to raise money for his school and could they use the street to set up a basketball court." (Courts are already nearby.) A limping Rockridge scammer "wears a suit and carries a newspaper or some flowers as a prop." Watch captains urge: Call the cops.

Hi, Neighbor

What are those neighborhood-watch forums? Search at Groups.Yahoo.com by street, city, or district for one near you. Learning how many cars have been burgled on your block this week sparks solidarity and scares.

Better With Coke

Oakland crack-house operator Charles Cosby became the twentysomething lover of fiftysomething Colombian cocaine queenpin Griselda Blanco after writing the then-incarcerated billionairess a fan letter that said: "I wanna rub elbows with a legend." Mano a mano with Blanco, Brookfield Village-bred Cosby soared to Medellín-financed überhustlerdom in the early '90s, stashing his millions in suitcases and car trunks, burying some in backyards. See his saga in Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' With the Godmother, a straight-to-DVD documentary due out next month from Miami-based Rakontur Productions. Magnet Releasing, part of Mark Cuban's Magnolia Pictures, has picked up world distribution rights. At one point, Cosby narrates authentic-looking footage of cocaine, water, and baking soda boiling in a coffeepot. "The cocaine turns into a yellow gel-like liquid," Cosby intones somberly; subtitle-instructions superimpose the stovetop. Tapwater, ice cubes: a crack-cake forms and is tipped out onto a plate: "Take a large knife or a meat cleaver or what have you and break it down into ten-dollar pieces," Cosby instructs. Now retired from mackerdom and married with children, he describes himself as "incredibly blessed ... it's my turn to save lives." For starters, at CharlesCosby.com he sells Cafe Press items depicting his cigar-smoking face at the center of a hundred-dollar bill, wielding a semiautomatic weapon, and pointing the weapon at viewers with the caption "Respected by a City of Killas." Select your favorite on a shirt, notepad, messenger bag, or thong.

Editor's Note

The original printed version of this story contained an error. The tree-sitter activist who was arrested was misidentified as Marisa Schneidman. We regret the error.

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