The Band of 40 Thieves Story
A true story
Written 07/14/2015, rewritten 03/23/ 2016 unedited
By the end of 1962, I had been working with Abe Zion for about a year, Abe Zion was the fellow who had shown up at my auto wrecking yard in Stamford, Connecticut, and said he owned it. I had leased the yard in good faith from my old boss at Milford Auto Wrecking, Lenny Wisnesky. When I did it, I already knew that Lenny was a car thief and con man, I found that out when I had worked for him at Milford Auto Wrecking while attending College. While I was working there I discovered that the cars I was hauling for Lenny were all stolen, but that’s a whole other story.
When I leased the Stamford yard from Lenny, I was young and enthusiastic college graduate, and I didn’t asked him too many questions about who owned the junk yard name, or the license, or who owned the lease on the property. So when this fellow Abe Zion showed up, and claimed that he held the lease on the property that presented me with a decision to make.
Running that auto wrecking yard on West Main Street in Stamford Connecticut had become a big headache for me. I was driving every day all the way from New Haven to Stamford, and the ride was getting on my nerves. Then I found out that when my business was closed on Sundays, practically everyone in Stamford jumped over my junk yard fence and stole whatever they wanted. So when Abe showed up and claimed that he owned the yard, I was really ready to do something else anyway.
Abe Zion was a short agile fellow with a distinct Arabic look, he dressed well in an expensive blue pin striped business suit and nicely designed tie, and Abe wore highly polished pointy black dress shoes and he had slicked back black hair. Abe looked like he just stepped out of a Wall Street office.
When I spoke with Abe, he said that he was an Israeli Citizen, so other than the fact that he looked like a Palestinian Arab, I had no reason to ever disbelieve him. After partnering up with him, I recognized that Abe was probably the smartest man I had ever met.
Abe had an associate named Eichel Blumenstock, Eichel was about eighty years old and he followed Abe around wherever he went. (See the Abe Zion Story). According to Abe, Eichel was originally the Michelin franchise holder for all of Germany and he had fled to Israel after being imprisoned by the Nazi's. Once in Israel, that’s where Eichel met Abe, and Abe became Eichel’s assistant. Years later, and now that they both lived in the United States, their roll was reversed, Eichel had now become Abe's assistant. Eichel wasn't a real assistant in any way, as he really couldn't do much, but Abe out of kindness of his heart treated Eichel as his associate anyway.
Looking back on it, I think when Abe showed up in Stamford and met me, he must have thought it was a dream come true for him. Because at the time I was young and I had a lot of energy, also, I was interested in learning, so, what that meant to Abe, was that if he played his cards right, he had a willing assistant, and a hard worker that wouldn’t cost too much money, and that was exactly how Abe liked to operate. So once I sat down with Abe, he offered me a proposition that I couldn’t refuse, and I agreed to join with him and Eichel. It wasn’t long before I could see that Abe was smart that way, he always made sure that I made good money with him, but he also made sure it was not too much money, he wanted me to always be hungry to join with him on the next project, and to do that, Abe always had a way to make me feel that there was going to be a very big payoff coming very soon.
I had never met anyone like Abe before, you could say he was a real “Wheeler Dealer”, who every day had some new project or deal for us to work on. Thus for as long as I worked with Abe, I could say we did a lot of crazy deals together, and I never regretted a minute of it, and that’s what this story is all about, it is about one of those deals, one that I regretted at the moment, but never regretted what I had learned from it.
I have to admit that sometimes, I wanted to say Abe was a Con Man, but he really wasn't, Abe was just too smart for his own good, and his thinking always got way ahead of himself, and that made him always about ten steps ahead of anyone around him. Thus as Abe moved forward with his new deals, he left a lot of people behind him never knowing what was going on, or what had happened, I was usually left with the headache of rectifying and cleaning up the mess Abe left in his wake, as he moved on.
Abe always drove his car everywhere, with me sitting in the passenger seat, and Eichel sitting in the back seat with his eyes closed. We only stopped for gas or to get “take out” food which we all ate while Abe continued driving. Abe ate with one hand and drove with the other, he said that he didn’t want to waste our valuable time sitting in a restaurant.
As we drove, Abe taught me constantly, he talked about business, and the philosophy of business, as well as a million other subjects in his head. For me it was just like being in school again, Abe was my professor. Whenever I came home and complained to my mother about how Abe operated, she said, “The education you are receiving from Abe, was better than any Ivy League college you ever could ever have attended”, and she was right.
When we weren’t working on some project, we would retreat to our small office on West Main Street in Stamford Connecticut. Abe, always sat with his feet up on our old scratched wooden desk and he would act like a corporate CEO, discussing our various projects. Then around lunch time I would run out to get sandwiches and go to the news stand and get a copy of the New York Herald Tribune.
We would all look to see what kinds of auctions were going on. The Herald Tribune would print a solid two pages just devoted to all the auctions that were taking place in the New York and New Jersey area.
Abe would read each auction very carefully, always looking for something interesting and profitable for us to do. Abe was always looking for an auction with merchandise that we knew something about, so if we went and bought anything, we would have a good idea as to where to sell it. To someone smart like Abe, our making money from all of auction stuff was like a game that he was good at, and Abe wanted to teach me how to do it.
As we studied the newspapers, Eichel Blumenstock sat quietly in a chair with his hands folded together, just waiting for some kind of lofty pronouncement from Abe.
All of a sudden, Abe smiled, he said, there was to be a big auction the day after tomorrow in New York City. It was a large “AA A” automotive towing company located in one of those tall parking garage buildings, It had a floor with just offices, another floor with a parts department then a mechanical repair shop and there was also a complete body shop. Abe said the bankrupt business was located in New York right in Manhattan, within sight of the United Nations building.
In the morning I drove from New Haven to New York City, I drove right to the address of the auction, that’s where I was to meet Abe and Eichel.
When I got there, the first thing I noticed was how big the building was, it was one of those parking lot buildings where you entered on the ground floor and you drove in circles to each floor on an endless curved concrete ramp, with your wheels squealing. I parked my car on the seventh floor and walked to the next floor, it was the floor that had the bookkeeping and administration offices. When I got there, I saw that the whole floor was made up of large and small glass walled offices, perhaps fifty of them, all filled with file cabinets loaded with company files and invoices, and then there were lots of desks with elaborate telephones systems on them, with some phones appearing to have a hundred push buttons on it.
The next floor I walked up to, was the automotive work shop, it had departments where the mechanical repairs were made on the cars. There were engine repair departments, transmission repair departments, and endless bays and benches where the mechanics could work on cars. On the next floor was the companies parts department, it was where the auctioneer and most of the people were now waiting. The auctioneer had a table set up and was handing out catalogs that told you what the various lots were that were going to be auctioned off.
I quickly looked over the parts department, and saw there were endless shelves with all types of new spare parts on them. I didn’t see Abe or Eichel anywhere so I walked up to the top floor, it was the body shop. The body shop was complete with chassis straighteners, paint booths everything a body shop mechanic needed. This AAA automotive center had obviously once been a giant operation, employing hundreds of people. From the top floor I looked out the windows and on the other side of the East River I could actually see the United Nations building complex.
I estimated that there were over a hundred people at the auction, all doing the same as me, looking at everything that was to be auctioned off, and that’s when I saw Abe, and Eichel so I walked over to see them. Together we again walked around each floor discussing what Abe thought would be the best items for us to bid on.
As we walked, I saw that Abe recognized someone, his facial expression changed completely. What’s the matter I asked him, “Nothing”, he said, and then Abe leaned over and whispered to me, “The mafia is here”. I heard him, but I didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about, so what if the mafia was there at the auction, I had nothing to do with them.
We then walked to a quiet area where Abe could talk to me, with no one listening, he explained to that in New York and New Jersey, the mafia controlled all the big auctions. He said they were called the “Band of 40 Thieves”. Abe said, “When the Mafia showed up at an auction, you couldn't buy anything unless you cleared it with them first. If they liked you, they would do all the bidding for you and buy what you wanted, and then they would sell it to you at a profit, and that was only if they liked you. If they didn't like you, they wouldn't let you buy anything.” And if you tried to go around them, they would run the prices up high so you wasted your money. If that happened and you got mad at them, they would take you outside and do to you what the Mafia does to people they don’t like.
I asked Abe, why don’t we just leave and forget this auction, it wasn’t like we needed to be there.
I said, who need to get involved with mobsters? Then I asked Abe if he would point them out to me,
I wanted to dee who the boss of the Mafia was, I wanted to see what a real live New York Mafia mobster looked like. Abe motioned with his head for me to follow him, and we slowly walked back to where the crowd of people were.
Abe approached a fellow that was having a loud discussion with several men, all whom looked like wise guys out of the godfather movie. Abe approached them with Eichel and me in tow.
As we got close, I could see one of the tough looking guys that had been facing me, made a motion with his eyes and an older fellow whose back was towards us, turned around, and he immediately saw Abe. He smiled and put his hand out, “Abe Zion, how are you,” he said, “I’m Good Tony,” Abe replied.
I thought the fellow looked pleasant enough, he looked like he could be someone’s grandfather. He was about 60 years old, a bit potbellied, and wore his work pants with suspenders.
“What brings you here Abe?” He asked. Abe said, “We thought we could find something to make a few dollars on,” Abe replied. “Let me know if you see something you like”, the older fellow said”, “I will”,” Abe replied.
Then Abe said, “Tony, I want to meet a good kid from New Haven”, and he introduced me.
I was surprised that Abe knew the mobster so well that they were on a first name basis and I was even more surprised that the mobster guy knew who Abe was, and he knew him by his name, and he appeared to be friends with Abe.
The Mobster boss glanced me over and said to Abe, “Does the kid know the score?” “Yes.” Abe said, “He knows the score” and if you need some help just ask him, he’s available to assist you if you need him. With that having been said, the fellow, turned back to the men he was talking to, paying us no more attention.
The auction started, and the auctioneer walked from each lot to lot, auctioning off each one as he went. Abe had already given Tony one of the catalogs with six lots circled that we wanted Tony to bid on for us.
By about three in the afternoon the crowd had thinned out, it was possible most of them were scared off by the “Band of 40 thieves” being there. Eventually there were only about thirty people remaining, and as we all followed the auctioneer, I soon found myself standing next to Tony, the Mafioso, and his band of 40 thieves.
Tony turned to me and said quietly, hey, New Haven, you got twenty bucks on you? I got a little nervous, because in 1962 twenty dollars was like two hundred dollars would be today “Yeah” I replied, I have twenty dollars. So Tony said, “Take a twenty dollar bill and roll it up so no one see's it, and put it in the auctioneer's left hand. Then tell him Tony said that you get the clean-up.”
The moment the auctioneer slowed his pace down, I stepped up to him and pressed the twenty dollars into his left hand, and I told him, Tony said, I got the clean-up. The auctioneer looked at me, nodded in the affirmative, put the twenty dollars in his pocket, and kept on auctioning as if nothing happened.
After the auction, I asked Abe, “what he thought, regarding Tony telling me that I had the “clean up”, I told Abe that it cost us twenty dollars.
Abe said, “I think, Tony has taken a liking to you, and the cleanup could be very profitable for us, it means that after the auction was over, and everyone had left, you can come back and take anything that was left over, and no one would say anything to you. You can even take the building, as there will be no one here to watch what you are doing”.
I knew Abe was joking regarding taking the building, but for me it was exciting to think that for only twenty dollars everything left over from the auction was ours. Then Abe smiled and said “You see, now, you are number forty one in the band of forty thieves”.
That afternoon, as everyone was loading up from the auction, Tony the Mob boss came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He said his boys were loading a truck with what we bought and what they bought, and he asked me to follow the truck to New Jersey. He said I was to make sure nothing fell off the truck on the way there. I didn’t dare refuse, and it became quite a scary trip to New Jersey for me. Their truck was way over loaded, and it was loaded with more than a hundred eight foot long fluorescent fixtures they had removed from the building. As they loaded the truck, many of the glass fluorescent tubes had become loose from the metal fixtures. So every time their truck made any kind of turn, all the fluorescent glass tubes would slide out the side of the truck about three feet, and almost hit the cars in the other lanes. My heart was in my mouth the whole trip, but fortunately there were no accidents and once we all were in New Jersey, I was treated to a spaghetti supper as if I was a new member of the mob and they all referred to me as “Mister New Haven”.
The next morning, I got an early start from Stamford, driving our one and a half ton stake body GMC truck to the building in New York. Our truck had a nice flatbed on it about seven feet wide and ten feet long.
When I got to the building in New York, there was a security guard at the entrance and I leaned out the window of the truck, and in my best New York mobster accent, I said, I’m the cleanup guy, and he just waved me in. I was so very excited at the prospect of what I might find left over on the different floors, I didn’t know where to start.
I drove round and round all the parking floors until I got to the administration floor where all the offices had been. I parked the truck and got out to survey the situation. It appeared that all the filing cabinets had been sold and whoever bought them had emptied all the papers from the drawers onto the floor. In some places the papers piled on the floor was over a foot thick. I couldn’t believe it, as I thought I was going to be rich after loading up and selling all the scrap paper. I thought, that guy Tony was wasn’t a bad guy, his letting me get the cleanup, and all.
I looked around and it appeared that I was the only one in the whole building, but it also felt very hot, as the air conditioning in the building must have been shut off, but who cares, all I had to do was load the truck up with the paper and run it down to the scrap paper dealer and collect my money.
I started to pick up the piles of papers off the floor and piling it on the bed of my truck, it wasn’t as easy as I thought, the papers were all invoices with carbon paper, they were slippery and they were laying in all directions on the floor. I had to organize them into stacks, then carry a stack to the truck. Then when I had several piles on the trucks bed, I had to climb up on the truck and stack them up in an orderly fashion. After several hours, I hadn’t even made a dent in loading the papers on the floor. I was soaked in sweat, and my hands were black from the carbon paper. That’s when I started to have second thoughts about everything.
As I stood there thinking of a better solution, I heard someone whistling, it was the security guard, and he was just making his rounds of the different floors on the building. He said, “How's it going pal?” Not bad I replied. He looked at the paper I had on the truck and said, “What are you going to do with all the scrap paper, you going to the dump”? I'm going to fill the truck up and take it to the scrap paper mill, I replied, he stared at me for a few seconds, then he said, “Are you sure they will buy paper with carbon paper mixed in?” Well, that’s when it dawned on me. The papers on the floor were invoices all in triplicate with carbon paper in between each sheet. I should have known, it was absolutely worthless as scrap paper, no one wanted scrap carbon paper.
The security guard left and went about his business, and I climbed up on the truck again to throw all the paper that I had stacked up, back onto the floor. For over an hour I pushed it, I threw it, I kicked it, and I think it took me longer to push the paper off truck than it took for me to load it on. If I could have kicked myself in the ass I would have done it. I didn’t know how I could have possibly been so stupid, it was now late in the afternoon, so I drove back to Stamford Connecticut that night very depressed.
The next morning, I was re-energized, I drove the truck back to the building in New York. And that morning, fortunately for me, there was a different security guard so I didn't have to face the one that told me about the carbon paper. But today I was determined to find something of value in the building, I knew there had to be something good there.
When I got to the administration floor, that’s when I noticed all the telephones that were buried under the papers on the floor. I pulled one out, it must have had thirty or forty buttons on it. I took out my cutting pliers and cut the phone free. After that I cut about another hundred phones free, and I had a big water blister on my hand from using the cutting pliers, I had to stop. I looked over at the phones, the housings were plastic and most were cracked or broken. I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was making another mistake. I was killing myself loading plastic telephones that were broken and couldn’t be sold. So I felt that I should leave the pile of telephones and look for something that was a little easier to do.
I drove to the next floor in the building which was the mechanical repair shop, but like the floor below it was just littered with trash from all the people removing what they had bought at the auction.
I walked around the entire floor and checked every inch, but I never saw one item of value for me to take. After lunch, I drove the truck up to the next floor which had been the paint and body shop area. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this clean up deal that Tony the mobster had so kindly fixed me up with.
Just like the other floors, the body shop floor was completely cleaned out, except for trash. But there was one small room that was about 10 foot wide by 20 feet deep with a door that was stuck closed. On the roof of the room was about ten used, bent chrome car bumpers. So by using a piece of a bent bumper, I got the door of the room opened and went inside. Thank god I had finally found something.
The little room was full of car paint, there was shelf after shelf of paint, gallons, quarts and pints, every car color you could imagine. At that point I realized that there was nothing left in the building but the paint to take back to Stamford, so I spent a couple of hours loading everything from the room on the truck.
The next day, I was back in Stamford Connecticut, and Abe and Eichel came down to the yard to see what I had brought back from the auction cleanup. Abe looked at the paint and I could tell by the expression on his face that he didn't know what to say, as he reached in and pulled out a quart of paint and brought it over to me to read the label. It said 1952 Pontiac Forest Green, and the can was obviously used, it was only half full. “Who can you sell this to,” Abe asked? By then I already knew
Abe was right, there was no one to sell half used cans of old car paint to. But I had to take something, after all I had twenty dollars invested.
Then Abe said, if we get caught with all this paint pollution on our property, we could get in big trouble, and I knew that he was right, so I drove to the nearest trash dumpster and threw all the paint away. I now know that if it were today, and we were caught with all that paint, the EPA would probably fine me a million dollars or put me in prison, but in 1962, there was no restrictions on throwing paint in the trash.
After that auction experience, I couldn’t determine if Tony, the Mafioso leader of the “Band of 40 Thieves” was trying to do me a favor, or if he was he teaching me a good lesson. If it was a lesson, I had learned it pretty good. Anyway Abe was right, for a short time I was number forty one in the “Band of forty thieves.”