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Why Would Someone Break Into Their Own Workplace?

Is it the height of laziness, or does the ‘inside man’ have the ultimate edge?

I left my lunch.” 

That’s what Armando Torres, a 17-year-old armed robber, said to his former co-worker in order to gain entry into the back door of Cantina Laredo in Fort Myers, Florida — a restaurant Torres had been fired from three months earlier. It was after hours and Daniel Gamez was the last employee on duty. He was about to leave, but the kitchen doorbell rang and he recognized the voice at the door, so he opened it. He was then greeted by someone with a mask and a semi-automatic pistol who demanded the money from the safe. Despite the mask, Gamez knew exactly who it was, and honestly thought it was all a joke at first. 

According to the local paper, “The employee told detectives that during the robbery he identified Torres because he spoke the same way and used the same sorts of words to address him when he worked there.” So when the police arrived after the robbery, they went straight to Torres’ house and arrested him. 

Case closed. 

As an ex-employee, you could argue that Torres had the inside track when it came to robbing his former job. He knew what time to go there, which door to approach and what to say to gain entry. Or you could also argue that Torres was a fucking moron, thinking that somehow he wouldn’t be recognized by someone who obviously knew him pretty well. “When you think about a person stealing, it’s important to ask the question, ‘What is the person trying to make up for that they feel that they’ve lost?’” explains psychotherapist Robert Tyminski, author of Male Alienation at the Crossroads of Identity, Culture and Cyberspace. Tyminski adds that in any type of theft, there’s some sort of loss that points to the motivation for the crime. 

In another of his books, The Psychology of Theft and Loss, Tyminski says that, generally speaking, there are five motivations for stealing that he’s seen in his practice. “They include shoplifting; people who are trying to get revenge; people who feel entitled to something; adolescents who do it to see what they can get away with; and people who want to get caught.” Pretty much any of those can apply to employees or ex-employees who rob or burglarize their place of work, but it comes down to the individual and their circumstances to determine what their exact motivations were.

When it comes to shoplifting, Tyminski says that this usually originates from an impulsive part of the brain, and thus, he feels like it’s the least likely scenario for breaking into your job, which takes a good deal more planning. Even snagging money from the register is quite different, as that, too, generally falls into the impulsive category.

As for Torres, perhaps it was youthful indiscretion that motivated him. After all, he was only 17, and maybe he merely wanted to see if he could commit armed robbery without getting caught. The same could be said of Jose Mesa-Velasco, who, around 10 p.m. one night, decided to break into the Dunkin’ Donuts where he worked. Along with an accomplice, the donut clerk used a sledgehammer to smash in a window, before raiding his manager’s office and leaving with thousands of dollars in hand. He returned to work the next day, where he was arrested because surveillance cameras had shown him breaking in, looting the office and remaining in the shop until about 1 a.m.

Then, of course, there’s vengeance. Tyminski says that it’s likely the primary motivator for ex-employees who return to their prior jobs to steal. Like this guy who committed armed robbery at a Burger King where he worked. He was identified by his “distinctive voice” by someone he’d known at the fast-food chain for more than 15 years. There was also a similar case in Indiana, where a former employee of a Dairy Queen was identified by his accent and face tattoos. 

The best revenge story, though, is summed up perfectly in this headline: “Massachusetts Pizza Shop Workers Take Down Armed Robber, Discover He’s Their Former Boss.” Basically, an armed robber came in with a ski mask and what was later discovered to be a fake gun. He jumped over the counter and demanded a register be opened. Employees at the pizzeria, however, jumped him and held him down as the police were called. When the cops arrived, the mask was removed and underneath was 30-year-old Sean Coulson, a manager who’d been fired the previous summer. 

Indeed, ex-employees robbing their former place of work seems to be much more common than current employees doing the same, but that definitely happens too. Like this security guard who robbed a bingo hall after hours, or this supermarket employee who called in sick only to be the getaway car for his friends who robbed the place. While such cases may seem like misguided opportunism — and they very well may be — Tyminski says that when someone decides to rob their employer, there’s a personal element to it. They’re trying to get even in some way, either because they feel they’ve been wronged or because they feel like they’re entitled to that money.

Entitlement was likely the motivator for Ronald Ali Massey, a Detroit man who walked into his boss’ office during a shift and demanded more work hours while holding him at gunpoint. Massey then made off with $1,400 before being apprehended by the police a few days later. (No word yet on whether he’s gotten those extra hours he wanted.)

In terms of the people who want to get caught, while Tyminski admits this may be hard to believe as a motivator, he says, “Unconsciously some want to get caught because they’re stuck in some bigger problem in their lives.” This one’s deeply personal, so it’s hard to assume it’s anyone’s motivation unless you know them pretty well, but perhaps it’s why Brandon Wilkes decided to rob the country club he works at, since he was all over the cameras and made use of his access codes to gain entry.

It could also be none of the motivations above, as Tyminski says that there are likely “hundreds” more motivators than just these five. For example, there was this couple who robbed a grocery store where one of them worked — perhaps it was just their way of having a date night.

Or it may be extreme hubris — i.e., the employee sees themselves as some master criminal. Like this Domino’s employee who was arrested for conspiring with a friend to rob his work while he was on the register. The employee’s buddy came in and passed him a note saying he had a gun and the Domino’s dude handed him the money. Police later questioned the employee and got him to confess to assisting in the robbery and both guys were charged. 

A similar case from Hudson, Florida, saw an employee conspire with five others to rob the safe at the bar where he worked. According to Patch, when one of the robbers was questioned by police, “he admitted that [the employee] provided a drawing of the restaurant’s layout and photos of the office and office safe.” The same went for a bank robbery in 2013, in which a teller and her boyfriend recruited two men to rob the bank she worked at. What tipped off authorities was the note the men used, as it contained lingo only used in the bank in the event of a robbery. 

Along those lines, Tyminksi explains that it’s likely that when police are investigating a workplace robbery, the employees and ex-employees are going to be the first place they look. This is especially true when some kind of insider knowledge seems to have played a part in the crime. So oftentimes, the very thing that made them think the robbery would work is exactly what gets them caught.

And finally, there’s this. Back in 2013, a man named Anthony Williams was arrested for grabbing some money out of a register of his local gas station — where he was a regular. How was he caught? Well, he committed the crime right after filling out a job application with all of his personal information on it. I’m guessing he really didn’t want the job in the first place.