Innocence and Naivety

When Daniel Reubeux’s case came across my desk, I had been a career law enforcement officer for thirty-two years. I started as a beat cop in Chicago back when I was young and naïve. I thought the cops were the good guys. I thought the cops caught the criminals. But all I did was make things worse for people who already had it bad. Things like writing tickets to single moms doing their best to make ends meet; locking up children who were only doing what they were taught; and once, killing a man whose only crime was being black and upset. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I may as well have. That’s another story.

I caught a lucky break when a recruiter from the FBI came around looking for new blood. They needed young field agents, a lot of them. At the time, crime was booming. Drugs, serial killers, trafficking, arms dealing, smuggling, and fraud. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to go after the real criminals. The guys that were out there hurting innocent people to make a buck. I ended up in a fraud investigation unit and stayed there for thirty years. Not once in those thirty years did I question the morality of what we were doing. We caught criminals. I caught hundreds of them. A kid named Daniel Reubeux was my last.

Daniel’s case was altogether different from the start. I had shut down plenty of conmen and fraudsters before, but I’ve never had to shut down someone giving away the money they were stealing to charities and individuals in need. That took me for a loop. It was gut-wrenching to have to seize assets and money from people that just had all their prayers answered. I hated him for it. I hated him for dragging those people into a world of a mess that would only make their lives harder.

The other thing that threw me for a loop was Daniel himself. He was charismatic, they all are, but he was genuine. Usually, when I talk to these kinds of guys, I can hear their words passing through the layer of slime and grease that they are covered in. Not with Daniel. He felt clean, charming, and shockingly honest. I never once picked up on an ounce of guilt in his voice. He was so forthcoming and confident that he almost had me convinced he wasn’t doing anything wrong at all.

Daniel was a thief, a conman, and a fraudster. What made his crime different was that he stole money strictly from the affluent. Trust fund kids, heirs and heiresses, and brats with silver spoons and mommy and daddy’s credit cards. His first marks were a group of boys at his college. Apparently, they set up their own investment group. Nothing sophisticated. They were mostly taking shots at stocks with little to no research. Gambling, basically. Daniel infiltrated their group and convinced them all to invest in a startup. Something about an app that lets you know what parties the hottest girls were at and who they were with. Insidious, creepy, and stupid, at least I thought it was. Daniel, however, knew exactly what these guys would respond to. They gave him fifteen thousand dollars each. Daniel dropped out of that school the next day with $105,000 of rich kid money and never looked back. Since then, Daniel has defrauded the Affluent-American public of over two-hundred and thirty million dollars.

Two years after I was handed Daniel Reubeux’s case, and the day before I was to get the warrant for his arrest, he called me. As far as loops go, this was a big one. I assumed he knew he was under investigation, but how he knew I was the one leading his case is beyond me. How he got my personal cell number is even further beyond that. We talked for hours. We talked about sports, cars, movies, women, everything but his crimes. It was like I was talking to a friend, a colleague, and even briefly, it felt like I was talking to my own son. I don’t have kids, but if I did, the way we spoke that night is how I imagine talking to my own children someday.

By the end of the call, I had almost forgotten who I was talking to. I almost forgot that the last two years of my life hinged on bringing to justice the person I was on the phone with. As the conversation was wrapping up and a quiet lull presented itself, I asked him.

“Daniel? Do you understand the people you are stealing from are innocent? That it’s not a crime to be wealthy?”

“Innocent also means naïve, Simms.”

“I suppose. What’s your point?”

“Did you ever have a bike stolen as a kid?” he asked.

“Who hasn’t?”

“How old were you?”

“The first time? I was maybe ten or eleven.”

“Did you leave it unlocked? Maybe you walked away from it for a minute?”

“Actually…” I hesitated. The truth was embarrassing, and it made me feel stupid.

“Go on…” he said.

“Well, a kid in the neighborhood asked if he could ride it around and try it out for a minute.”

“And you let him?”

“… yeah,” I said, looking at the ceiling.

“Naïve. And?”

“… and he just kept riding away and never came back.”

“Amazing. So, did you call the police?”

“Yeah. My mother insisted on it, but…”

“But nothing came of it.” he said.

“Right.”

“Right. Why?”

“Because it’s just a bike; They have more important things to do.”

“Was it ‘just a bike’ to you?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Were you upset when it was stolen?”

“Of course I was.”

“Did you learn a lesson?”

“What are you getting at, Daniel?”

“What’s a bike to a lower-middle-class ten-year-old? A bike is everything to that kid. You were devastated that it was taken and embarrassed by your naivety. Right?”

“Okay?” I wasn’t catching on to whatever point he was trying to make.

“So what’s a hundred thousand to a trust-fund kid? Twenty million in the bank, and they lose a little money through their own naivety. The thing is, Simms, they’ll have that money back in no time, whereas your bike was gone for good, and mom and dad couldn’t afford to replace it.”

“Your point, Daniel?”

“My point is, why do you go after the trust-funders money but not the poor kid’s bike? The impact a bicycle, a baseball glove, or a skateboard has on a young kid’s life far outweighs the value of fifty or a hundred thousand dollars to some rich kid.”

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say; he made a great point. Why is the money more important than the bike if they both mean the same thing to the victims? I didn’t have an answer.

“So yeah, Simms, maybe I’m the bike thief in this scenario, but I’m stealing bikes from people with hundreds of them and giving them to people who desperately need just one.”

I wanted to say something, anything, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking about how stupid I was to let that kid take my bike. How bad it hurt, and how upset I was all summer. I thought about how my dad told me I deserved to have it taken for being so stupid. I thought about how I agreed with him.

“All I’m saying is that if you’re going to come after me, then you should be going after the bike thieves too. They’re doing just as much damage, if not more.”

He was upset. So was I. We sat there in the quiet for what felt like another hour. Finally, I felt I had to try and get some kind of lead on where Daniel was and how to get to him.

“What am I supposed to do, Daniel?” I asked.

“We both know what you’re going to do, Simms. You’re going to close the case, like all the others.”

“Well. I don’t think it would go very well if I just let you go.”

“Why is that?” He asked.

“The fact remains that you defrauded innocent Americans of their money. Just because they have a lot of money doesn’t make it not a crime. I have a duty to stop you and hold you responsible for what you’ve done.”

“I agree. I would never ask you to let me go. But, I won’t make it easy for you to find me. I’m going to do this as long as I can.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Why?”

“They’re innocent people, Daniel!”

“There’s that word again! Innocent! Aren’t the kids that have their bikes stolen innocent?”

“… of course.” I genuinely had to think about my answer. My father really made me believe it was my fault.

“Then innocence isn’t the reason, is it? If innocence was the standard, then you’d find the bikes, you’d find the skateboards and the baseball gloves and the scooters.”

“Well… when you put it like that.”

“So why, Simms? Why do you want me to stop?”

That was the last I heard from Daniel Reubeux. I was blindsided. I couldn’t answer him. I could have easily said, “You’re right, Daniel. It is about the money. Money is important. So please, stop taking the rich people’s money because it’s more important than a poor kid’s bike!” But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be the one that confirmed his entire reasoning for what he was doing. It would have been like I was telling my own kid the tooth fairy didn’t exist.

About a year after I spoke to Daniel Reubeux, I retired from the agency. Not because I didn’t believe in what I was doing anymore. I did. We did good honest work in bringing real criminals to justice. I started my career in law enforcement because I wanted to catch criminals. It was Daniel that showed me that what I really wanted to do was help victims.

I run a private detective agency now. We specialize in personal asset security and recovery. We visit the local schools regularly to give seminars on keeping your things safe and what to do if they go missing. We have a 50% off coupon for recovery services on children’s bikes.