JUNE 10, 2012 6:42PM

A Professor's Tale of the Great Philly Platinum Caper

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Although the overall concept that led to the story above didn't work out, at least to date, the concept being Tales of the City, Philly Style, nonetheless, I did get an interesting story out of it: The Great Philly Platinum Caper.

http://articles.philly.com/2006-06-28/news/25402376_1_johnson-matthey-legal-fees-metal/2

That story in the link above doesn't have everything right, but lawyers think they know mor than they do.

It was more than that amount as stated, only $2.8 million in the link, it's just that they just can't prove it was more, because of the nature of what Mario and his "wokers" were doing.

But then again... sometimes people are too smart for their own good, like Mario.

I first read about the Great Philly Platinum Caper when I moved to the Philly area from Irvine, California in January 1997.

The article in the local paper, the Daily "No News" some wags called it later when I worked at the East Whiteland Wawa, made note of someone named Mario having been declared dead amid guily pleas to a theft of several million dollars of platinum.

His full name was Mario D'Addezio, who supposedly ... well.

Mario had been about to be arrested by the FBI, whose agents of course stood out like sore thumbs in East Whiteland, PA, but was for unaccountable reasons allowed to take his annual trip to the Home Country: Italy.

The next day after his arrival in Italy, there was a fiery car crash, in his Alfa Romeo, hmmmm..., and his body ... conveniently burned beyond recognition, hmmmm, and the remains cremated in the family mortuary back in the Home Country: Italy.

Exile has its place for some in life, but its usually not a happy one, in the end, and often cowardly, as to evading fights or accepting responsibility.

Then again, if you're sitting at the Hilton in Belize with a beautiful baby on each arm, with one of those big blue tropical drinks with the big umbrella in your hand, smoking a Cuban, do you really care about feeling guilty, or sorry, or responsibile for other people doing a little time after a great adventure?

I struggled with that a lot as I did the research for this story. People root for that Belize Hilton with a tropical drink a lot, but when you see the whole thing, it's not so simple really.

In any event, that newspaper article triggered an interest of mine as to what happened behind that "fiery car crash,"as the paper spoke of platinum having gone missing, and gone missing in large quantities that led up to that moment: like up to ten million dollars missing, maybe even more than that.

They say only $2.8 million in the story, but, as we shall see, that's probably the tip of the iceburg, when they were just being stupid greedy.

Over the years I lived in the Phildelphia region, mainly at 27 Ridge Rd., Malvern-East Whiteland, the childhood home of Megan, Eric, and Barry, the story gradually acquired more and more of an interest to me, especially after 2001, when I started working at the local Wawa.

I got that job at the Wawa in August 2001 after I was hired to teach an economics class by Delaware County Community College. I knew my family situation was going to change soon, and that's not casting aspersions.

Having taken care of the children those four years during the day and during business travels, I knew some pretty big economic moves were rather important.

After having failed to complete UCI's Ph.D. program, which is why no aspersions,  that teaching job was a godsend, or so I thought. Life's a box of chocolates, and the teaching, other than the money and lack of health insurance, those were very good chocolates indeed.

Tome lo que quiere, y pagaselo, now that's the motto of people the corporations decide aren't one of them really, like Mario, my hero, at least to my alter ego, but I don't think that's the best me either. .

As to my trivial if engaging to at least me involvement in the Great Philly Platimum Caper, as I started teaching again in 2001, I got involved as well with the Phildelphia Council on Business Economics, Philly NABE. As part of that, I took an interest in the economic development prospects of my then adoptive city.

What particularly struck me was how their was a natural nexus in film for Philly, if what I realized much later is that the media oligarchy knows this rather well in Los Angeles and New York, and resists that happening, which is short-sighted, as America has plenty of stories to tell. It's what economists call a "barrier to entry," if at a human level it mushes dreams so that a small set of rich people can get richer.

I knew about the nexus better than most economists would have from working at the Blockbuster Video for two years prior to the Wawa, as to seeing all the kids there who had dreams of working in film or entertainment.

I had applied to all sorts of corporate jobs over that time, but American corporations didn't seem interested really in someone with my education, even the economics, just one of those things, if it helped me understand what happened with Mario too.

The New York-L.A. media duopoly of course relies on those dreams in a way that could be more generous, although in the long-run, its really in their own interest to be more generous, if maybe that's wishful thinking too. Mario teaches that lesson in part, the good lesson for powerful people to give people below them more of a shot at seeing what they can really do.

In any event, as to the natural nexus, all those kids at the Blockbuster wanted to go to various arts schools, with which Philly is blessed.

Part I of the natural nexus, The Arts Schools, save of course for the New York-L.A. duopoly, which the economist in me should have understood better as to a barrier to entry that is a limit on the efficiency, and therefore equity, of markets.

As to Part II of this natural nexus, the Philadelphia Naval Yard had just closed down when I arrived there, a place by definition full of huge buildings so easily made into soundstages and such.

Part III was even more obvious, other than the power exercised in Los Angeles and New York, as to the presence in Philly of the Comcast Corporation.

1-2-3, content, location, distribution mode: Nexus for Tales of the City, Philly Style, which would if replicated serve the interests of the country as a whole in getting to know different regions beyond easy stereotypes, and the argument for making that part of the Comcast-NBC merger, if there is a pure profit argument for doing that anyway.

Over the years, I presented the business plan for Tales of the City Philly Style to a rather large set of decision makers in Philadelphia, who did express interest in the sense of talking more than you would think to a pretty oddball character: "You teach economics, but are pitching an entertainment idea?"

So little imagination sometimes in this world, if there were people who encouraged it too, both in the venture capital world and at Comcast.

Over the years, I saw some things that seemed familiar as to certain business announcements, if not the grand vision, as of course the Roberts family has to be careful not to step on toes in New York and L.A. even as of course that kills some dreams in Philly too. Maybe that will change more someday too.

Then again, plenty of dreams die in Philly, like the rest of the country, which is where the story the Great Philly Platinum Caper comes into play.

My theory was to demonstrate that such a story could be made, and so began doing research on the story, in which the Wawa proved to have been the perfect location.

If one person reads this and enjoys it, no one can take that away.

You see, the Wawa was right down the hill from the Johnson-Mathey fabrication facility, the one where the platinum came from in the caper.

Every morning, the workers would come in to get their coffee, and if a few looked really, really nervous when a Wawa clerk expressed interest in that tale, most liked the idea.

More importantly, several went out of their way to talk with me out of work and talk to me about Mario, since most of the workers wanted that story told, media duopoly in L.A. and New York or the Roberts family's short run interests be damned.

Maybe that's too hard on the Roberts family too, as in so many other ways they have been generous patrons of things in Philly, arts inclusive, and they didn't create the New York-L.A. duopoly either, but had to live with it as a barrier to entry.

In any event, the story of who Mario was is as follows.

Mario Addezio came from a small town in Italy to the United States in around 1970, like Arnold, part of a last wave of ordinary Europeans from the Continent seeking to better their lives in America.

Mario's family were mainly stone masons in Italy, which is what he did upon arriving in the United States, working on mansions on the Main Line, reknown for the fieldstone walls and stone barns.

Ah, the Main Line, home of Old Money Philadelphia, Agnes Irwin, Baldwin's, Villanova, the boys schools Haverford, so very Old Philly wealth from the railroads especially in the nineteenth century, one of whose fallen descendents is also part of this story, shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations being an old aphorism for a reason.

As to Phully, if you were wealthy in the age of the Robber Barrons, you moved to the Main Line, where Mario moved to first work on the mansions, and then like his brother would move up in the world by getting a highly paid job manufacturing, and especially in Mario's case, fabricating Platinum.

Platinum usually trades at twice the price of Gold, because it is used in so many industrial products. That value means that those who work with it are highly paid, and have to be trusted.

Mario from everything I could gather from those who knew him was always the go-getter, always wanting to get ahead, always with great suggestions for Management about how to improve productivity.

He was an odd mix, really tall and broad chested, but with a high-pitched voice and Italian accent that meant pretty clearly to me that the Old Main Line Money couldn't get it through their thick skulls that they had a genius on their hands.

They would never see him as more than an average worker, and never let him get very far.

People get frustrated in that situation, and sometimes do some crazy things that can't be condoned, if they can also be understood.

What Mario did was say, "If they don't want my suggestions about preventing Platinum losses as a manager, I'll do it for myself."

He proceeded to organize workers to cut more precisely, as he had suggested to Management, but instead, smuggled out the excess productivity, one quarter ounce at a time a shift, often in broomhandles, sometimes more, sometimes less, always careful to evade the metal detectors.

One quarter ounce at a time, just a little more precise cut here, a little closer on the tolerances there, for millions of dollars over the years.

I find that amusing, and yet... life's not so simple.

In the course of doing the research, one person really stood out; the fence.

You have the Platinum, which is great, but then you have to turn it into cash, not so easy a thing, since Platinum comes mainly from the former Soviet States, and so raises a lot of eyebrows if it appears outside normal channels.

The fence's family name was Baldwin, like one of the Main Line Baldwin's, one branch of which was in the metals business.

Mario and him both liked to party, amusing and yet so often not, as to how their worlds of immigrant and decayed old money came into contact.

Temptation, envy, and the American Dream of being able to do anything having an edge as in The Great Gatsby were how it came to seem in my eyes as to fateful intersections.

As an adjunct, I could really, really relate to how Mario felt. I submitted journal article after article, opeds, a huge volume of material, and just like with Kerry here, no dice. Ripping off some institution I began to understand very well as a sentiment, if it would have shamed my family just enough more than being poor to not want to do, exile maybe being what Mario and I will share next in life.

In event, I drove over to the fence's store, a well-known antique bookstore in Chester County one early winter day.

It's a beautiful place, an old barn, stone walls, long original timbers for the flooring, old leatherbound volumes placed in intriguing order on the wall, just inviting those who like to reflect on things to have a cup of coffee and wander around like I did that day.

I wasn't sure about how to approach the fence, telling myself "One shot one kill more than likely than this, so play it cool whatever you do."

It helped he had a nice friendly cat I petted, as someone came up in the otherwise unoccupied store and said, "Can I help you today?"

I paused for a bare second, telling myself "the age is right," and then just went with the direct approach, saying, "I am doing research on a documentary, and I read that there was someone here who knew someone named Mario."

The sixty plus year old man of smaller build and bushy if well-kept gray hair smiled lightly and paused for a good twenty seconds, before saying,"Mario. Yes, I knew Mario. Would you like to come in back and talk about him?"

I was overwhelmed by a sense of "At least this will be interesting" as I said, "That's very kind of you sir, you being Mr. Baldwin."

"Yes, I am the fallen Baldwin."

He led me back to a trailer he had attached to the barn and turned into a very modest little kitchen area, and put on a welcome cup of coffee for a cold day with just me and him in an old PA barn.

He talked of how he and Mario had met out in bars, and how the family metals business had come into play, as Mario tried to push ahead in time of the generations it takes to build wealth on the Main Line or anywhere else.

He liked Mario a lot, if he spoke mainly of regrets, as to embarrassing his family, and how he was trying to help out with the church near his house as to some troubled youth there.

Now at the time of my Interview with a Fence, I didn't realize it, but he had been through the final stages of the legal process, and may well have thought I could have been a trap of some sort, and yet as to regrets, that seemed real, as to family.

He admitted freely really liking the money a lot, laughing at spending it whimsically at times, just paying out hundred dollar bills at bars like they were ones for tips, if of course for all I know, he had a bag in the wood pile in back with a quarter million that got missed, since there's no way to really know what Mario stole, since he worked in quality control management in effect.

And then of course we arrived at the main event, "So, what do you make of Mario?"

Here he got very, very cagey, which wasn't as hard to read as to motive.

Some workers, I think they encouraged me to tell the story not because of the reasons they said, that he was a hero, but because they wanted him caught, to validate their own lives in the factories, understandable enough, because if every person who had ever had a really bad experience with an American corporation were to steal, there'd be nothing left.

Other workers really did want Mario to "make it big," as it also validated their existence as to someone taking a real chance in life and making it work, if the grass is always greener too, as Mario can't go back to that little Italian village without a lot of risk, and partying in Belize might grow really tiresome after a while.

"So, what do you make of Mario?" Since he had grown very quiet again.

"Well, the FBI declared him dead."

"Right, but because of the life insurance, which required that, as to put up or shut up. What do you really think?"

"Well of course I have no knowledge..."

"I'm not the cops. Just what's your take?"

"I hope he got away. It seems a shame if he didn't, to go through all that and then die in a stupid car crash. He was a smart guy, just misunderstood by Management, and frustrated, and went a little crazy, that's all. It's not worth a death sentence, so, I hope he got away, if I don't know that, one way or another," his eyes and countenance assuming a certain distance that you just couldn't tell.

It was time to go then, Interview with the Fence having done what it could accomplish, if its a nice memory as I left, of a mystery maybe even to the old man, just sipping another cup of coffee on a cold PA day in a lonesome old but beautiful PA barn in winter, seemingly thinking about joys and regrets in life, like everyone else.

finis

 

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That second paragraph made me convinced I'd enjoy this informative (long post) Read.

No say ill `bout lawyers?
smile? Send to the dessert.
In a dessert there's no sound.
You can yell a`MOR and more.
`
`amour means Love.
forgive us lawyers so we forgive you.
and then we can cease and desist cusses.
`
silly . . . sens lawyers back to Spain.
Queen Issabella afrees with `Don Rich.
We need to place No Trespass signs up.
`
There a lot in here to ponder. Smell hay.
I sees particles of barn dust in sunlight.
I'll email to me and reread off line`gin.
`
Yep.
We same same.
Know self. Yes.
I best sip shake.
`
I am in a diner ice cream parlor.
You help me envision moo parlor.
I feel like a glass of raw goat milk.
`
The mailman brought me some.
We best not drink `Power Drinks.
I was told they can kill folk quick.
`
huh?
People tell lobster tales in parlor.
Followed Mr. Art James here. Enjoyed this tale. What an experience for you. What, no movie?
r./
Didn't quite have access to the right decision makers to make it work, if it was trying to demonstrate entrepreneurship since I taught economics as to partial motivation, and, if some people liked the story, that's better than nothing, so glad you liked.