Why Everything at Walgreens Is Suddenly Behind Plastic

Photo-Illustration: Joe Darrow; Photos: Marcus McDonald, Getty Images

Just about any booster hanging around the Diamond District a few years ago knew Roni Rubinov’s pawnshop, New Liberty Loans. Rubinov wasn’t the only fence who would buy stolen goods and resell them online, but he had a reputation for taking pretty much anything a shoplifter could bring him: Rolexes, baby formula, condoms, boxed chocolate, prom dresses, K-cups, Amazon gift cards. He’d even buy food stamps. Once, a booster offered him a box of pens he’d found in a trash can. Rubinov bought it.

Most often, though, boosters sold Rubinov cosmetics pinched from pharmacy chains. On any given day, they would head to Duane Reade or CVS or Rite Aid, sweep an armful of creams — L’Oréal, RoC, No7 — into a pillowcase, and leave. In and out in 60 seconds. Occasionally, some poor sales associate or “loss-prevention specialist” would attempt to scare the culprit, but company policy often prevented their doing much more. Cosmetics in tow, boosters would head to 47th Street near Sixth Avenue, where they were greeted by New Liberty Loans’ soot-stained marquee: WE BUY GOLD & 💎. 2 FLOOR. Up the stairs, past Rubinov’s pawnshop, through a room cluttered with gold testers, money counters, and precision scales, and up a back staircase, they would arrive at Rubinov’s second office, a room he kept for the bounty his legion of thieves brought him. Sometimes there would be a line because boosters came back two or three times a day.

“He was doing that shit like he was operating a completely legitimate business,” said Jerard “Italiano” Iamunno, 39, who boosted for Rubinov on and off for years. “There were other operations out there, but nobody did it like Roni. Because nobody was as greedy as Roni.”

A 42-year-old from Queens, Rubinov had the soft, handsome features of a club promoter and the sleepy eyes of a father of five. He favored Louis Vuitton boots and Gucci shirts and often started his mornings sipping coffee on 47th Street, watching hawks steer customers to pawnshops. In addition to his reputation for hoovering up merchandise, Rubinov was known for being cheap. In 2015, an Ecuadoran immigrant sued Rubinov, alleging the pawnshop owner had paid him just $1.67 an hour to wear a sign outside New Liberty Loans. (Rubinov settled that case only to stiff his own attorney.)

Inside the office, boosters would unload their bags so Rubinov or one of his employees could look over the haul and calculate its retail value. Usually he paid seven to ten cents on the dollar. Two leather jackets: $200. Fifteen pairs of Gap jeans: $150. Two pairs of Gucci sunglasses: $140. Boosters were getting robbed by their fence. Rubinov’s staff would then clean the packages of any tags or labels that made them look stolen and list the goods at a substantial discount on his eBay store, Treasure-Deals-USA. When he saw a particular product was selling well, he would instruct boosters to steal more of that item.

Rubinov’s operation thrived in an era that tabloids have labeled a golden age of shoplifting. The NYPD says that retail-theft complaints have gone up 66 percent since 2019, and the problem isn’t confined to New York: 54 percent of small-business owners polled in a recent survey reported a rise in shoplifting with 23 percent claiming their stores were robbed on a daily basis. In April, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board declared that America was battling a “shoplifting epidemic.”

These thefts have exacted a psychological toll on store employees. According to the Retail Industry Leaders Association, nearly 76 percent of stores said that shoplifters had threatened the use of a weapon against a sales associate. “We call it selling sunglasses and fighting crime,” said a jaded Sunglass Hut employee who claimed he’d been threatened by a booster wielding a knife and, on another occasion, a pair of scissors.

“It took me a very long time to not give a shit,” the employee said. “A couple of weeks ago, someone came in and stole four pairs of Cartier glasses, and those frames are $1,200 apiece. While everyone was standing there freaking out about it, I was just sitting there like, Okay, and …

Ken Giddon, co-owner of Rothmans, a menswear shop near Union Square, said his store was hit twice by the same crew of boosters in a three-week period in 2021. The culprits got away with $20,000 worth of merchandise. Now Rothmans keeps its front doors locked at all times, letting people in only after they knock. “Behind every shoplifting is a staff that’s often terrorized,” said Giddon.

Big-box stores are also frequent marks. In November, Target’s CFO estimated the company would lose some $600 million in profits to theft by the end of the year. In December, Walmart’s CEO warned of store closings and higher prices thanks to shoplifting. And during a recent call with investors, Rite Aid’s chief retail officer said his chain was mulling “literally putting everything behind showcases.”

To New Yorkers at least, it may feel as if everything is behind showcases already. We know all too well the humiliating ritual of hailing a sales associate to retrieve a topical hair-regrowth treatment, lube, or ice cream from behind locked Plexiglas. The loss-prevention method reached high comedy when someone tweeted a photo of a tin of Spam protected by a translucent security box. Even the Reverend Al Sharpton has had enough, pleading with Mayor Adams on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last year, “Eric, they’re locking up my toothpaste!”

Whether the crisis is real or the continuation of a long-standing trend remains up for debate. Every generation goes through a shoplifting panic, and comprehensive data on this frequently unreported crime is nearly impossible to come by. But Rubinov’s crew offers a window into how the shoplifting industry has evolved over the past decade in ways that have made it more visible and more pervasive. Scratch the surface of an operation like his and you’ll find a criminal enterprise in which nearly everyone, from the world’s biggest corporations to the most oblivious online bargain hunters, plays a part.

The Boost Cycle: How Duane Reade’s shelves end up on eBay. The Booster: Jerard “Italiano” Iamunno beganstealing from pharmacies and department stores to pay for his heroin habit.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

Even if you’ve never purchased steeply discounted perfume from a guy on the street who claims he knows Madame Sephora, you have almost definitely trafficked in stolen goods. If you’re a New Yorker, you might have bought a cup of coffee from a midtown cart that brews exclusively stolen beans or have eaten an Italian sub from a bodega that uses pilfered salami. If you shop online, the likelihood that you’ve purchased stolen merchandise is even higher. Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and others have made it easier than ever to anonymously set up shops like Rubinov’s Treasure-Deals-USA. Fences have never had it so good.

To the extent that there has been a nationwide spike in shoplifting, it correlates to the growth of online retail. As one cop told the Journal, Amazon “may be the largest unregulated pawnshop on the face of the planet.” The problem likely got worse during the pandemic, as more people relied on online shopping and the number of sellers using online marketplaces grew.

The rise of e-fencing has turned some shoplifting operations into big businesses. In Tulsa, Linda Been managed a 29-person crew until she was busted by local and federal agencies in 2021. Been allegedly dispatched her boosters with lists of merchandise that noted how much she would pay for each item. Compared with Rubinov, Been appears to have been a generous fence: She would sell the merchandise to other fences and give half of whatever she earned to the booster. She also reimbursed her boosters’ expenses when they traveled out of state, bailed them out when they were jammed up, and topped off their commissary accounts if they couldn’t make bail. Her operation cost retailers more than $10 million in losses. (Been pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud in July.)

Or consider the case against Steve Skarritt, a former housepainter in Katy, Texas, who allegedly fenced $5 million worth of stolen goods, mostly power tools, in just two years. In 2018, a Black+Decker employee noticed an Amazon user with the name Painting SBS selling the company’s tools. The company did a “controlled buy” of a drill to determine its provenance and notified Home Depot loss-prevention investigators of its suspicion that someone was trafficking tools stolen from its stores. Home Depot investigators then worked with local law-enforcement agencies in Colorado and Texas to build a case against Skarritt, the account’s owner. When authorities arrested Skarritt in 2020, later charging him with money laundering and engaging in organized crime, they found an estimated $1 million worth of power tools in his house; he had reportedly installed an elevator to move them between floors. (Skarritt has yet to go to trial.)

Large retailers, aware that petit larcenies aren’t a top priority for police, have beefed up their loss-prevention departments in the past two decades. Many have specialized units that build cases against organized-retail-crime rings like those operated by Rubinov, Been, and Skarritt. Target has its own forensics lab near its Minneapolis headquarters, CVS recently bought a high-tech surveillance van, and Lowe’s invested in radio-frequency tags and blockchain technology to record legitimate sales of its products.

Online marketplaces have been slow to address the crime wave hiding on their platforms, but last month, just as the congressional session was ending, lawmakers approved legislation as part of the $1.7 trillion spending bill that will require such platforms to verify information about sellers who make at least 200 sales and earn at least $5,000 a year. For its part, Amazon has said it was already taking steps to cut down on e-fencing in recent years, including the requirement that all new selling accounts in the U.S. pass in-person verification.

The problem, though, is only growing. In 2022, the Prosecutors Alliance of California estimated that $500 billion worth of stolen or counterfeit goods changes hands online annually. Fences aren’t the ones galvanizing people to become professional boosters — consumers are. Boosters will continue to steal and fences will keep reselling goods as long as consumers jump at suspiciously steep discounts. The showcases may make all of us feel like a suspect, but maybe that’s what we deserve.

The Boosted: Cosmetics were a favorite target for boosters because they were expensive and easy to sweep into a bag.
Photo: Jerard Iamunno

By 2020, Rubinov’s second office proved too small to hold his inventory, so a few times a week, Rubinov or one of his deputies allegedly loaded a black Chevy Suburban with stolen goods and transported them to his Queens home. He also allegedly hired a tech consultant to help him game Google’s algorithm so that Treasure-Deals-USA appeared more prominently in search results.

Every so often, Rubinov couldn’t resist ordering something for himself. “Roni used to say he wants designer clothes in this size because it’s for him. He wants Apple products, two or three at a time, so he can give them to his kids,” said Iamunno. “People would do it hoping they’d get an extra 2 or 3 percent from Roni. But they took whatever he gave them.”

In addition to boosting, Iamunno considered himself New Liberty Loans’ off-the-books line wrangler. He would idle on a couch in Rubinov’s office or in the stairwell outside, his face fixed in a Stallone-like pout. Most of the boosters, he said, were addicts, and they stole to feed their habits. According to Iamunno, Rubinov’s payouts would usually afford a lucky booster a few bundles — enough to keep them high for 24 hours — which they could sometimes score right outside the pawnshop. But the clock is always ticking for heroin users, and the fear of dope sickness kept them boosting all day every day.

I talked to Iamunno on a sunny afternoon in October. We sat on a bench in the backyard of a Harlem brownstone operated by Create, an addiction-treatment program. In September 2021, Iamunno was caught shoplifting at Nordstrom Rack, a store that had already issued him a trespassing warning, which bumped his arrest up from petit larceny to burglary in the third degree, a felony. Iamunno, who had been arrested dozens of times in New York and Florida, pleaded guilty, and the judge ordered him to participate in daily group sessions for drug addiction at Create. By the time we spoke, he had been clean for two months.

Iamunno had agreed to tell his story mostly because he was angry at Rubinov, whom he described as a “greedy, scumbag piece of shit” for taking advantage of strung-out boosters, many of whom Iamunno considered friends. “The money he was paying us for the merchandise was crazy. Nothing,” he said.

Rubinov and Iamunno met through a mutual acquaintance six years ago, after both Iamunno and his common-law wife were diagnosed with endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart’s chambers caused by bacteria. They most likely contracted the disease because they had shared needles — Iamunno had been using drugs since age 13, his wife for almost as long. Then, in April 2017, his wife died of a heart attack. She was 31.

“With her gone, me thinking I’m dying, I literally just went to Manhattan and threw myself into addiction as much as possible. I was just getting high 24/7,” Iamunno told me between drags on a Newport 100. “I was dealing drugs to support my habit, and a lot of my customers were boosting. I saw how much money they were making, and that’s how I got involved.”

Iamunno showed me pictures of designer jeans and sunglasses, action figures, and stacks of OtterBox phone cases he had stolen for Rubinov. After his wife died, he bedded down in a subway station on 57th Street, but he occasionally made enough money to rent a room at a two-star hotel like the Senton on 27th Street. When Rubinov requested specific clothing items for himself, Iamunno often volunteered to find them. “Any jerk-off can go into Duane Reade and steal 40 deodorants,” he said.

Iamunno was particularly adept at dealing with plastic security tags pinned to expensive clothing. If he didn’t have a high-power magnet (available on Amazon or at Home Depot), he would wrap the tag in aluminum tape to prevent it from tripping the alarm. As for those exploding ink tags, Iamunno would slip a condom over the tag before wrapping it with aluminum tape. Once he got away, he’d use a $10 handheld torch to harden the ink before cutting the tag off. He’d also pull switcheroos in which he’d go into a Macy’s dressing room with seven shirts and replace three of them with $2 T-shirts he’d bought at Lot-Less. On the way out, he’d hand the attendant seven shirts. “A lot of the time, they don’t even check you when you’re going into the dressing room,” Iamunno said. Like any other customer, he would sometimes get annoyed at the security measures. “I get pissed off at them, and I’m fucking robbing them,” he said.

There’s nothing proprietary or secretive about Iamunno’s methods, many of which can easily be found online. Anonymous YouTubers explain anti-theft-system vulnerabilities “for fun”; Reddit threads provide tips and techniques from self-styled experts. “I learned these skills through experience, research, and necessity,” starts one post. “I’m sharing this because I believe that stealing from corporate retail is (mostly) karma-neutral.”

Sometimes boosting can be elegant, like the ring broken up in 2017 that wore custom-tailored vests with hidden pockets to hide ink cartridges, headphones, cameras, and Fitbits. Other times, it’s a crude affair, as when shoplifters use crowbars to break showcases at Walgreens. Occasionally, boosters benefit from dumb luck. One I interviewed said he stole a key at a Duane Reade only to discover that he’d hit the jackpot: It opened every showcase he tried it on. “They had my picture in every single Duane Reade after that,” the booster said. “It didn’t stop me, though.”

The preeminent gadget in the shoplifter’s toolbox is the “booster bag,” a tinfoil-lined shopping bag used to evade alarms. Preferring the tape trick, Iamunno never used booster bags, but more recently, he and his colleagues used “surprise bags”: foldable 20-gallon nylon sacks named for the look on a security guard’s face when boosters walk in holding nothing and walk out with a sack bursting at the seams. And sometimes the best tool is negotiation. When a Rite Aid location in midtown was closing for good, Iamunno said, he gave a manager and a security guard $50 each to let him walk away with hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise.

Shoplifting started as a way to finance his addiction, but as we discussed his escapades, it became clear that Iamunno considered the crime (mostly) karma-neutral. Boosters like to say shoplifting is the lesser of many evils: better than robbing people on the street or in a subway station, easier than sneaking under cars and ripping out catalytic converters, safer for women than selling their bodies. “It keeps the crime down, believe it or not,” Iamunno told me. “What do you think drug addicts are going to do if they can’t get their drugs and they can’t steal face lotion?”

The Fence: Roni Rubinov ran the New Liberty Loans pawnshop in midtown Manhattan, where boosters would take their spoils day after day.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

In the past two years, shoplifting has become a preoccupation for both tough-on-crime officials and criminal-justice reformers. Retail executives, loss-prevention experts, and the police tend to blame the apparent increase in thefts on measures like ending cash bail and statutes that raise the bar for -felony crimes. Viral videos of smash and grabs at San Francisco department stores helped gin up support for progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin’s recall, and in New York, Mayor Adams has used the issue in his campaign to encourage state lawmakers to revisit bail-reform regulations. “We can’t have a city where our drugstores and bodegas and restaurants are leaving because people are walking into the stores, taking whatever they want on the shelves, and walking out,” Adams told the State Legislature soon after taking office.

Over the summer, Adams and NYPD commissioner Keechant Sewell released information on ten of New York’s “worst of the worst” recidivists. The four “high-volume offenders” on the list — all with pending retail-theft cases — had a total of 317 arrests among them. The move was intended to show how New York’s elimination of cash bail for most misdemeanors and some non-violent felonies contributed to the rise in petty crime.

“The criminals were aware of the changes in the laws and that xyz charge would basically get them a ticket instead of a night in central booking,” Detective Vincent Catalano of the Manhattan Grand Larceny Squad told me. Police kept seeing the same faces again and again. By the end of the year, just 327 people accounted for about 6,600 of the NYPD’s 22,000 shoplifting arrests.

Last year, the @NYPDnews Twitter account caused a stir when it posted a photo of diapers and cough medicine confiscated by the 44th Precinct during a shoplifting bust in the Bronx. Progressives were outraged. “The NYPD deleted this tweet, but the fact is they proudly displayed having caught people who took diapers and cough medicine. Basic. Necessities,” tweeted public defender and former Manhattan district-attorney candidate Eliza Orlins. “This is not public safety. This is cruelty on display.”

Any solution to the problem, reformers argue, would have to address demand in all its forms: the online shoppers buying these goods, yes, but also the housing and addiction crises that are pushing boosters to steal in the first place. “The narrative that the mayor and the press are putting out there is just absurd,” said Thalia Karny, an attorney with New York County Defender Services who has represented a number of shoplifters in recent years. Karny says the debate around bail reform and shoplifting rarely takes into account that many, if not most, of the people shoplifting are doing so because they’re addicted to drugs, unhoused, or both: “It’s always easier for the solution to be locking more people up.”

To illustrate, Karny cited a client, Dennis Guevares, who developed an opioid addiction after he cut his hand while trying to separate two frozen hamburger patties when he was in college. A few years after a doctor prescribed painkillers, Guevares was living on the street in Washington Heights, boosting to support a heroin addiction.

His boosting career got off to a rocky start. He had heard he could sell salami to bodegas for $5 a pop, but when he tried to lift some from BJ’s in Bronx Terminal Market, he was caught at the door and arrested. After that, a fellow addict told him the easy money was in cosmetics. Soon, Guevares was spending most days stealing from pharmacies in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. “You’re so addicted and so sick you’re willing to take that chance because your body is telling you that you need it. Your mind is not thinking rationally at all,” he said in an interview. “You know you’re taking a chance and going to get caught. You know you’re going to be dope sick for however long you’re in Rikers.”

After Guevares’s sixth arrest, Karny managed to convince the DA’s office to agree to a plea that sent him to a treatment program. Despite one relapse, Guevares has been clean for eight months and is now applying for jobs. “Dennis is not an example of how bail reform has ruined everything. He’s exactly the opposite,” Karny said. “He’s an example of how bail doesn’t matter. It’s about treatment. It’s about somebody being sick.”

The Stash: Rubinov transported the stolen goods to his home in Queens before selling them online. In 2020, police seized more than $3.8 million worth from him.
Photo: Office of the New York State Attorney General

Even as retailers sound the alarm on shoplifting, grasping the scope of the problem is maddeningly difficult. The term shoplifter, as used by the media, often lumps candy-bar thieves in with cosmetics boosters, who get lumped in with smash-and-grab gangs and large-scale-robbery rings. Data from the FBI suggests the incidence of shoplifting has remained relatively steady, but a significant number of state and local law-enforcement agencies don’t share their data with the FBI. Many incidents go unreported because employees don’t call the police — a poll of loss-prevention managers put that number between 50 and 95 percent of known thefts. And, of course, no agency’s data set will include the times boosters slipped away undetected.

What we’re left with is a conversation driven by theories and numbers provided almost exclusively by retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, “shrink” — the total amount of unaccounted-for merchandise on retailers’ balance sheets, which includes goods lost to shoplifting, processing errors, and employee theft — represented $94.5 billion in losses in 2021. But as a percentage of total sales, that number has been fairly static, hovering around 1.2 percent since 2016. Because retailers don’t provide underlying data, their numbers are usually taken on faith. After a representative from the New England Organized Retail Crime Alliance told me a general principle in the industry dictates that 80 percent of outside theft (as opposed to employee theft) is done by professional boosters while 20 percent is done by impulse shoplifters or people who steal products out of need, I asked him what that formula was based on. He didn’t know.

Loss-prevention consultants, of which there are many, are only as good as the information provided to them by corporate executives, who don’t always interpret the numbers correctly. At the beginning of 2022, Walgreens CFO James Kehoe was concerned about an alarming increase in shrink. “This is not petty theft,” he said on a call with investors. “It’s not somebody who can’t afford to eat tomorrow. These are gangs that actually go in and empty our stores of beauty products.” But during an earnings call with investors at the beginning of 2023, Kehoe said the company’s shrink had stabilized by the end of 2022 and admitted that his company, which owns Duane Reade, had pushed the shoplifting narrative too hard. “Maybe we cried too much last year,” he said.

The dissonance between how the retail industry describes shoplifting and the way Karny and criminal-justice reformers describe it may in large part be summed up by the term professional booster, which conjures images of cat burglars and Ocean’s Eleven–style operations. In interviews with a half-dozen loss-prevention experts, almost all of them described lunch-pail boosters who put in eight-hour workdays. “They’re professional and self-employed,” said David Rey, who, after years overseeing security teams in New York department stores, published Larceny on 34th Street: An In-Depth Look at Professional Shoplifting in One of the World’s Largest Stores. “Just like what we do for a living — going to work — they pay their bills and rent and raise their children off the proceeds that they get from shoplifting.”

None of the boosters interviewed for this story could name someone who shoplifted for any other reason than to support a drug habit.

In January 2020, investigators from the New York State attorney general’s office and the NYPD carried out a search warrant on New Liberty Loans. It took more than two years for Attorney General Tish James to prepare her case, but she eventually indicted Rubinov and 40 co-defendants, including Iamunno, seizing an estimated $3.8 million worth of stolen goods.

Adams spoke at a splashy press conference announcing the indictment. “Shoplifting is often dismissed, but it destroys the economy. It sends a signal that we are in a city out of control,” he said, surrounded by stolen goods — boxes of CeraVe moisturizer and Vichy creams, perfumes, an Oscar de la Renta dress, and more — arranged on card tables like square groupers seized in a Miami-Dade drug bust. “This case is so important because what it does — it highlights that this is not just shoplifting; it’s organized crime attempting to exploit our merchants and ou r city.”

Adams’s nostalgia for the era of broken-windows policing and his disgust for repeat offenders are winning over at least one constituency: the partnership for New York City — a consortium of businesses that includes some of the city’s biggest retailers — whose CEO, Kathy Wylde, stood next to Adams and James at the Rubinov press conference. For years, Wylde’s members have been raising their concerns about shoplifting. Now, she says, New York seems to be turning a corner. “There’s been a real concerted effort in the past year, particularly since January, when Eric Adams took office and installed Keechant Sewell in the NYPD,” Wylde told me late last year. “I think that had an impact on getting the prosecutors of the five boroughs to take this seriously, and the prosecutors have begun to work closely with businesses.”

The day of the press conference, Larraine Kurack was in her living room in Haskell, New Jersey, when an investigator from the attorney general’s office called her cell phone. The investigator told Kurack that her daughter, Shannon Winkler, had been indicted in the Rubinov case. Kurack wasn’t entirely surprised; she had spent the better part of the past decade trying to rescue her daughter from drug addiction. After she hung up, Kurack watched a video of the mayor’s remarks, pausing it to find her daughter’s face in a lineup of mug shots on a giant poster board positioned next to the podium. “It infuriated me,” said Kurack. “If you looked at all of the pictures of all of those people who got busted, they’re all drug addicts. They’re all homeless.” Winkler was charged with three felony counts and has yet to go to trial. The indictment accuses her of selling Rubinov 42 items from a drugstore for $80.

While many of Rubinov’s boosters lived on the street, the pawnshop owner seemed to be living large off his profits. In 2019, after Rubinov wrote his wife two checks totaling nearly $400,000, she purchased a seaside condo in Hallandale Beach, Florida, and in 2021, she purchased an adjoining unit for more than $357,000. During my brief phone conversations with Rubinov over the past few months, he was defiant, claiming he had been indicted for political reasons perhaps driven by the envy of his competitors in the Diamond District. (He didn’t offer evidence to support that theory.) He was considering reaching out to Adams antagonist Curtis Sliwa, whom he described as a close friend. (Sliwa said he didn’t know Rubinov, referring to him as “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.”)

When I visited New Liberty Loans last summer, I met Rubinov’s father, Avner, a wiry septuagenarian dressed in a faded suit. A Russian immigrant who came out of retirement to look after the business after his son’s arrest, Avner was both upset by his son’s actions and angry at prosecutors for punishing him. “He made a mistake,” Avner said. “The guy never learned the law. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Two months after the Rubinov indictment was unsealed, just before a judge was scheduled to sentence Iamunno for his Nordstrom heist, Iamunno turned himself in to the NYPD. He’s hopeful prosecutors will agree to let him remain in a recovery program. His mug shot was one of the first I’d noticed in the lineup of boosters on display at the press conference. In it, he looked malnourished and high as a condor in flight. He has put on some weight since that photo was taken, and in Create’s backyard, with afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees, he looked human again. The dope-sickness clock wasn’t ticking, which gave him time to reflect.

​“I used to be scared to steal a candy bar,” he said, trailing off. “For a while, it felt like it was a job. Literally. But now I have nothing to show for it.” He’s raising money to buy tattooing equipment in the hope of starting a new career, but he’s also toying with the idea of becoming a loss-prevention consultant.

After my last conversation with Iamunno, I decided to go pharmacy-hopping in midtown. At each location, store employees rolled their eyes or laughed when I asked about shoplifters. Surprisingly, none of them seemed to mind the showcases; two were grateful for them for breaking up the monotony of the day. “They give me a chance to talk to people. We get a lot of tourists in here,” an employee at a CVS on Madison Avenue said.

“We get shoplifters every single day,” an attendant in the cosmetics department of a Duane Reade a few blocks from New Liberty Loans said as she unlocked a case for me. Still, she didn’t seem bothered: “We’re just used to them by now. I even recognize a few of them.” I loitered outside, hoping to catch a booster in action, but no luck. Eventually I headed home, my wallet $25.71 lighter and my raincoat sagging with Advil, Old Spice, and Colgate — products I would later find online for $15.48.

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