Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 10 - A Simple Plan Gets Complicated
I glanced at Marilyn and noted that she saw the bag, too. I was wondering what to do when my cellphone vibrated. I took the call outside.
"Junior?" It was Dad. He seemed calm, but I could hear some excitement in his voice. "I've been talking to Bill Vose, and we came up with an idea. ..."
As he spoke, I could feel a smile forming on my face. The plan was as elegant as it was simple. And if it worked, we would force the players into the open, and Vose could nab them with their hands in the cookie jar -- literally.
But before we could put it into action, Marilyn and I had work to do. I asked her to step outside and explained what we were going to do. She nodded and went back inside the garage office to proceed with step one: pulling off a rock-solid damning audit of the garage, but we had to work fast.
Finding problems in a parking garage can be easy, as long as you know where to look. I had no clue; however, after years of experience both working in garages and as an auditor, Marilyn knew it all.
Parking garages work mostly in cash, she said, and have two basic types of parkers: dailies and monthlies. Plus, she explained, there are sometimes side deals that the owner of the facility or the operator cuts with local businesses such as restaurants and valet companies.
Dad had told me how, nearly three decades ago, he had, with some auditing help, discovered a money laundry going on in a parking operation. Since it's a cash business, the bad guys would simply run ill-gotten cash through the garage's books and since there were no records of the actual number of vehicles parking, the cash would suddenly become legitimate.
However, the issues here were different. According to Marilyn, the goal was to under-report the income so the operator didn't have to pay the taxes due on it. If we could prove that Smith's company was grossly under-reporting the income in the garages, the local DA could go after him and close him down, and there could be some substantial jail time. Cities don't like it when you don't pay your taxes.
Dad and Bill's plan went a bit further than just a forensic audit and months of lawyers and courts. They wanted to catch Smith and LaFlonza with the money in their hot little hands. It was the only way. If Smith could get our licenses pulled in half an hour, he could easily skate on a tax fraud charge. This had to be iron-clad.
Marilyn and I had to find a way to track the cash from this facility all the way to Smith and LaFlonza. That meant we had to do two things: ensure that money was being siphoned off and into the medical bags, and then "follow the money" and see where it went. If we could find where it moved from Smith to LaFlonza, then we could catch them in the act.
Dad told me that he figured there was no honor among these thieves and that no one trusted anybody, particularly when there was as much cash moving around as we had determined earlier. Smith runs 35 locations, Marilyn said, and she estimated that he skimmed about a grand from each location a day. If that was the case, its three-quarters of a million dollars a month, in cash. That's a lot of greenbacks to be hauling around.
None of the crooks would trust underlings with such big numbers. Somewhere in the process, Smith and LaFlonza had to meet regularly and divvy up.
So all Marilyn and I had to do was make sure that the skimming was happening, and then I had to follow the cash -- discretely, of course -- and determine where and when they met to count it. This might take a few days since they probably didn't meet every day. Once we found out when and where the exchange meeting was taking place, we would mark some bills, put them in with the regular haul, and then surprise Smith and LaFlonza with the goods. The cops would be there and slap on the cuffs. Simple.
Of course, something could go wrong at any point in the process. And in this case, go wrong meant that my neck was on the line. Sounded like fun.
Marilyn had started the audit. She had parked across the street for the previous few days and counted the cars going in and out. She knew exactly how much money should have been collected on those days. Today, she asked for the reports for those days and, guess what, they were off about $500 each day. That didn't seem like enough.
She then ran a list of active cards on the computerized revenue control system. She compared that with the number listed on the operator's records. There were 575 active cards, but only 385 listed on the books -- 190 monthly customers at $125 is 23 grand a month. Assuming these were "under the table" and the folks got a discount by paying cash, that certainly made up the difference.
We had our smoking gun. Now all we needed was the location of the transfer.
At about 3 p.m., a car much like the one Lundquist had seen on the roof of the garage showed up, and the garage manager handed the driver the doctor's bag we had seen in the office. It was time for me to jump in the jeep and put my detecting and following skills to good use.
We started up Topanga Canyon, obviously heading for Pacific Coast Highway. Then the car did a strange thing. It turned left on Mulholland. I followed and was so intent on not being spotted that I completely missed the car that was following me. It was open country up there -- no houses, nothing but sagebrush and coyotes.
Then the car in front of me slammed on his brakes. I immediately became aware of the car behind me as it rammed into my rear bumper. Suddenly, the whole idea of slapping the cuffs on Smith and LaFlonza didn't seem so simple.