Ronnie Polaneczky: A BAD CALL: Phone-prank victim told $1,200 not worth cops' time

Pizza-shop owner Frank Maimone says he's out $1,200 because some wiseguy called his place with bogus orders that ended up as waste. To top it off, he says, a detective wasn't interested because, he said, the crime fell under the $2,000 limit.
Pizza-shop owner Frank Maimone says he's out $1,200 because some wiseguy called his place with bogus orders that ended up as waste. To top it off, he says, a detective wasn't interested because, he said, the crime fell under the $2,000 limit. (SHUMITA BASU / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 05, 2012

NEED CASH? If you steal $1,200 in Philadelphia, the police will look the other way.

That's the impression I got after hearing the story of Frank Maimone, owner of Rustica Pizza in Northern Liberties.

Since no one in the police department will comment on Maimone's case, I don't know if his experience is the exception or the rule.

But I'm worried.

On Super Bowl Sunday, someone using a blocked phone number called Rustica with a dozen bogus pizza-and-wing delivery orders. By the time Maimone's drivers returned with the spoiled goods, Rustica was out $1,200.

"I had to throw the food away," says Maimone, who has owned his pizza place since 2001.

Maimone's phone records showed the exact time of the blocked calls. So he contacted his carrier, Verizon, to identify the perp who'd robbed him of $1,200.

Verizon, citing privacy policies, doesn't provide blocked numbers to civilians. However, the company will release the info to an investigating law-enforcement agency.

"They told me to file a police report and have police fax a subpoena" to Verizon, says Maimone.

A helpful 26th District cop took Maimone's report, then referred him to East Detectives - where things got weird.

"A detective said they wouldn't bother with it, because it was under $2,000," Maimone says.

I'm sorry. What?

"I swear to God, that's what he told me," says Maimone.

Maimone, like most small-business owners, has a habit of not taking no for an answer. So when he pushed the issue, he says, he was passed to another detective.

This time, he was told the case wasn't worth handling because the cost of a subpoena was too high for the department to pay.

I'm sorry. What?

"I know!" says Maimone. "I told him I'd pay whatever it costs. He said he'd look into it."

(A Verizon spokesman told me the company does not charge "subpoena" fees for routine number searches. If Verizon needs to do extra digging, the company may charge a "nominal" fee. Turnaround takes 24 to 48 hours.)

After 10 days, Maimone called the detective, who had nothing to report, but said he'd be in touch if "anything turned up." If he wasn't in touch, it meant nothing had turned up.

Maimone wondered if he was being blown off. A week later, when he phoned the detective for an update, he got his answer.

"He kept saying there was nothing he could do," says Maimone. "He said he'd checked with four other detectives and they said the same thing: Even if they found the number, there'd be no way to prove that the person made the calls, because maybe someone else used the phone. And then the D.A. wouldn't bring charges. Basically, he decided the case wasn't worth following."

So the detective jettisoned Maimone's complaint, because he'd already decided how it would play out.

Way to decriminalize a first-degree misdemeanor - an offense that, in Pennsylvania, can result in a five-year sentence or a fine up to $10,000.

"I don't want anyone in jail," says Maimone. "But if I knew who stole the $1,200, maybe I could get it back in civil court."

So: Is it police policy to ignore thefts under $2,000? If so, what should citizens like Maimone do when they're ripped off?

Since no one from the department responded to my many requests for comment, I ran Maimone's story past a veteran detective in another part of the city.

Frankly, I figured he'd say that Philly is so choked by violent crime that finding Maimone's harasser would never be a priority, nor should it be. That detectives need to let the small fish swim or they'll never net the sharks.

But the veteran investigator, anonymous in this column, was appalled that Maimone had been treated so shabbily.

"He got a lazy detective who didn't feel like working the case," said the veteran, who routinely works with phone carriers to obtain numbers for investigations.

Not that it matters, he added, but Maimone's case would have been a cinch to chase down.

"You get the number, you find out who owns the phone, you go have a talk with him," he says.

What about the argument that Maimone's case is small peas?

"Twelve-hundred dollars is a lot of money, especially to a small-business owner," he says.

Maimone is livid, for all the right reasons. He argues that it's because of scrappy urban pioneers like him that Northern Liberties has evolved from a faltering neighborhood to a thriving community that's adding to the city's vitality, not draining it.

And he's outraged that his civic committment appears to be taken for granted by a detective who won't help him.

"I live and work in the city. My wife and I are raising our kids here. We're the kind of people the city always says it needs more of," says Maimone. "But the one time I need the police, they blow me off.

"I love this city. But this could be the thing that makes me leave."

Everyone knows that police work is hard work. But when police won't do the easy stuff, what, exactly, is a good guy like Maimone supposed to do?

Email Call 215-854-2217. Blog: Twitter: @RonniePhilly.

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