Crime knows no boundaries when it comes to weirdness. If there is something of value, there will be a criminal out there strange enough to peddle it for profit — no matter what that something is. Be it porn, dirty underwear, autographed items, even children’s toys. There is no honor amongst thieves, and no shame, either.
Take one Oregon man who, back in April, was busted with his pants down (proverbially speaking). Raji Afif Azar, 40, was arrested by undercover cops attempting to buy approximately $13,000 worth of illegally acquired Lego playsets.
Yes, Lego sets, you know the ones: those boxes full of brightly colored blocks that snap together to build castles, space ships, trains or cars. Every good childhood had Lego’s involved in it at one point or another. And, if you remember playing with them, you’ll remember how inexplicably expensive they always were at the stores (and still are). Wouldn’t it have been awesome if there had been some way, any way, that you could have gotten your hands on those sets for cheaper than the retail price?
Well, that was the idea behind Azar’s clever criminal syndicate. Here’s how it worked: Azar would hire people who really needed money — usually junkies or drug addicts of some breed or nature — to rob a store of Legos. Among others, they targeted Fred Meyers stores, swiping Lego sets left, right and center, then delivering their haul to Azar in return for payment.
Azar would then sell the stolen Legos for cheaper than Fred Meyers was trying to sell them for, effectively undercutting the market and making bank in the process. This practice is known as “fencing” — it isn’t uncommon, but the way Azar was doing it was undoubtedly … unique.
And, in fact, actually kind of ingenious, too. Because, Legos, unlike guns, or cars, or electronic devices, do not have serial numbers that police can use to identify stolen merchandise. Once a Lego set is stolen from the store, it becomes virtually untraceable. Azar it seems, had stumbled onto the perfect crime.
But the forces of justice were quick to catch on. Not the police, mind you, but actually the Fred Meyers Organized Retail Theft Unit Investigators. That’s right, mall cops brought down this top dog villain, this mastermind of Lego resale.
Not typically known for their investigative skills, these “Theft Unit Investigators” eventually realized, after being robbed repeatedly, over and over, spanning a period of months, that something was wrong. Their keen intuitions were right, too. Eventually, after a little digging, they discovered that Azar was the ringleader behind a small army of junkies robbing Lego sets from retailers all over Portland.
The case was turned over to real police officers once the scheme was uncovered. Which meant that the Portland Bureau Division’s Detective Coordination Team (DCT) needed to go undercover. They posed as Lego dealers, got ahold of Azar, and pretended to have $13,000 in stolen Lego merch they were looking to hawk.
And Azar, that chump, he took the bait.
No sooner had he handed over the money, an undercover cops slapped cuffs on him and took him into custody. He has since been charged with Aggravated Theft in the First Degree, Theft in the First Degree (10 counts), Laundering a Monetary Instrument, and Computer Crime Felony (15 counts). His home was searched, and enough stolen Lego merchandise was discovered to entirely fill his driveway with Lego sets stacked four feet high — a haul that Fred Meyer’s valued at about $50,000. It was the proverbial jackpot.
Azar’s is not the only instance of Lego crime in America, though. In Phoenix in 2014, police arrested four people in connection with a heist worth $40,000 and discovering $200,000 in Lego playsets when they raided the house. And in 2015, a Florida man was arrested and convicted for having shoplifted $2 million worth of Legos and other merchandise.
Grand theft Lego is apparently a crime on the rise in America. How will our men and women in blue combat this menace to society? How will they mitigate the threat this poses to the average American? What can be done to stop this crime against humanity?!
Maybe Lego could help by making their plastic blocks a little more affordable for the average family. But that would be anti-capitalist, anti-entrepreneurial. It would devalue the company (and eliminate small businesses like the one Azar created for himself).
Which means consumers everywhere are probably better off just shopping for their Lego sets on the streets.