In Orlando, Bob and I attended a four-day NABI training seminar–that’s the National Association of Bunco Investigators. Don’t you love the word bunco? More on that later.
NABI members, mostly law enforcement officers, want to squelch organized crime families whose favored targets are seniors. The gangs do home repair scams, sweetheart swindles, fortune telling, home invasion burglaries, and many, many other crimes. They’re perpetrated by self-proclaimed “Travelers,” large families who make these crimes their business, know the system inside-out, and usually manage to avoid prosecution. They live largely off the grid and outside of our system, under numerous aliases, and move from city to city, state to state.
Unfortunately and all too frequently, neither victims, officers, prosecutors, nor judges see these individual complaints for what they are: massive, ongoing, organized crime. Property crimes are easily swept aside to make time for violent crime. The perps, many of whom are functionally illiterate, are wily, slippery, and even seem to enjoy the chase as a game. When arrested, they’ll often pay restitution in exchange for having charges dropped. They employ their own legal experts to get them released. They’ll pay enormous bonds and abscond–it’s just a cost of doing business. And they’ll do everything possible to avoid positive identification of their true identity and where they may be wanted. The end result is an unrecognized criminal population on the loose, free to carry out their scams and frauds perpetually.
NABI’s raison d’etre is information-sharing. And they mean enthusiastic information-sharing with whatever agency needs it–a unique attitude in the world of law enforcement, where competitive, anal-retentive agents and officers hoard every tad, shred, and iota in hopes of bagging credit for the big score. NABI maintains a database of these specific organized crime family members, complete with color photos, FBI file numbers, descriptions of crimes, relationships to other suspects, and who knows more about them. Many arrests and prosecutions are thanks to NABI’s network.
Seniors are the favored victims of these fraudsters. With our population aging rapidly and life expectancy growing, the pool of potential victims is expanding. It includes us! The same attributes that make seniors good victims from the criminals’ perspective (poor vision, mobility, hearing, memory), make them poor victims from a prosecution perspective.
Bring on the bunco squad! Do you even know the word bunco? It’s not much in use these days, even among cops. The word is about as old NABI’s founders, who are still active in the association. To me, bunco connotes tricky, clever, complicated, convoluted, non-violent con. The bunco squad in my mind, before getting to know NABI, was comical and cartoonish. The victims, I thought, were motivated by greed. This couldn’t be further from reality. Crimes can be as simple and innocent-seeming as this one.
The Bunco Investigators toss around the idea of updating their association name to something that reflects their objective in today’s terms. National Association Against Elder Crime? A name like that might work better today, but it would be sad to lose bunco. We might lose the word entirely, without NABI to keep it alive.
Regardless, their mission remains unchanged. They’re a passionate and dedicated group of individuals, all giving their time in order to help eradicate these crime families. In my experience of working with police officers around the world, I most often sense a protective culture of silence, a preference to withhold information rather than to share it with other agencies. NABI is just the opposite.