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How Safe is Your Safe? [Part 2]

Posted on 09. Apr, 2012 by in Spring 2012

How Safe is Your Safe? [Part 2]


Just how safe is your safe? In the Winter 2011 issue of Today’s Pawnbroker, we took a look at state-of-the-art safes vs. outdated ones, placement of safes, the negative sides of modern technology, and how burglars may gain access to your safe. We also examined safecracking, and detailed non-destructive methods of breaking open a safe. In this issue, we pick up with the more destructive ways criminals may attack your safe.

Destructive Safecracking Method

For years, drilling was the most popular method of destructive safe attack. In drilling, a single hole or multiple holes are drilled into the safe’s locking mechanism or face in order to destroy the locking bolt or lock cylinder which would then allow the handle to be turned retracting the bolts.

The first safes were made from metal. The first safecrackers simply drilled them using a drill bit made of a harder metal.
Safe makers then started using really hard metal — a “hardplate.” Eventually, manufacturers settled on cobalt plating, particularly right around the dial and the mechanisms that stop the lock bolt from moving.

So the safecrackers started using diamond-tipped drill bits that will eventually drill through cobalt, although the drill motor may burn out first.
In response, the safe makers started using tricks like this: They make a hardplate of a cobalt-vanadium alloy and sprinkle it with tungsten carbide chips, which can shatter the diamond-tipped drill bits.

It was a cat-and-mouse scenario.

Long gone are the old shoulder-brace drills. They’ve have been replaced by portable magnetic drills. You can be sure that the burglar will come with special tungsten-carbide, titanium or diamond drill bits to get through hardened steel or composite materials.

Nowadays safecrackers use only three types of drill bits.
1. High speed drill bits for just drilling metal
2. Carbide drill bits for drilling harden steel
3. Diamond core bits for drilling carbide chips embedded hardplate

So the safe makers started adding other layers of material besides the cobalt, like spongy stuff or angled soft-steel plates in concrete to tangle drill bits instead of stopping them cold.

They also came up with the concept of “relockers.” Typically, if you trigger the relocker, a new set of bolts spring into place. Ironically, the trigger mechanism in some cases is a glass panel which holds a relocking mechanism in place. If the hole is drilled in the wrong area, the glass panel will break, triggering the relockers. If the drill or any other impact tool strikes and breaks this glass panel, the burglar will never get the door open.

Relocking devices were first fitted to safes in the 1950s to prevent safe doors from being opened through the use of explosives. Originally, steel cables were routed around the inside of a safe’s door and connected to a lever that would release a second set of bolts that block the retraction of the main locking bolts in case of a forced breach. The cable was held in place by a piece of hardened glass.

Any explosion would shatter the glass, causing the additional boltwork to be activated. Changes in design now often use a larger plate of glass that covers the entire inside of the safe’s door, which can still be broken by explosives, but also by drilling or impact.

Now keep in mind, a true safecracker will know something about the safe that he is planning on attacking. He will know of the burglary countermeasures the manufacturer has put in place; about the relockers, reinforced areas around the lock itself and where the points of least resistance are located.

Manufactures publish drill-point diagrams for their safes and although highly protective of this information, it is available to locksmiths and has been known to be leaked. This could allow the safecracker to drill from a steep angle above the lock and then drill into it.

The objective here is to not destroy the wheel pack, but to be able to look inside it. Once the safecracker can see inside the wheel pack, he can watch the wheels spin as he turns the dial to line them up to open the door.

This is also where a borescope or other electronic viewing devices, like fiber optics, come into play. Fiber optics brought a tremendous advancement in the ability of a locksmith, safe mechanic or safecracker to manipulate combination locks from outside the safe.

Today, for example, a digital inspection camera is available at Harbor Freight for $80. It has a 38-in. long flexible shaft, a 2.4-in. color LCD display and two white LED lamps for low light viewing.
Again, to combat frontal drilling, the safe manufacturing industry now incorporates hardplate steel or composite hardplate steel (a casting of metal such as cobalt-vanadium with embedded tungsten-carbide chips designed to shatter the cutting tip of drill bits) in high security safes.
If relockers and hardplate are installed in the door of the safe, another drilling option would be the side of the safe. Side drilling is a method used to reach the bolt itself. Again, the safecracker would use a borescope or similar tool to view the bolt inside the lock and then use a long punch to push it out of the way or destroy it.
Safes may also be drilled from the rear. This method is often easier than an attack from the front, especially if the safe is not an X6 model (an X6 designation indicates all six walls of the safe provide the same level of protection).

Impact is a method of attack where a safe may be dropped from sufficient height to cause enough damage to the exterior that the door may be pried open.
Other forms of impact would be to knock off the combination lock dial and then drive the spindle and wheel pack into the safe with a large punch. A default relocking mechanism on a modern safe may defeat this method.

Peeling is a method where an axe and/or a hammer and chisel are used to breach the external layer of material of a safe and a large crowbar type of tool is used to peel away the protective outer covering.
This was a very common method of breaching older safes that may have had only an outer layer of protective material.
Although this may be a time- and labor-intensive endeavor, remember, even a TRTL-60X6 safe is only rated for a 60-minute attack.

Prying is a method very similar to peeling. The same tools are used, but instead of peeling off the protective outer covering, this method involves tearing open the safe or prying off the door or sides.
This method is also very time- and labor-intensive, but may have better results than peeling.

Cutting is by far the most popular method for successful safe attacks by professional burglars. Cutting may include grinding, sawing or use of a cutting torch.
a. Cutting with hand tools
A common handheld electric saw or electric high-speed angle grinder fitted with a modern cutting blade or disc will inch its way through the hardest materials, including concrete.

These tools are readily available, easily transported and are not too expensive. If you deal in tools at your pawnshop, you frequently see saws and grinders fitted with fiber or diamond cutting blades or discs that are being used to cut both concrete and metal. In my mind, these would be the ideal tool for a safe attack.

Also, using a disc cutter, unlike a torch, doesn’t require much skill.

Since we’re talking about cutting, rather than chopping with an axe, the burglars may just cut through the roof with a battery-operated saw. Roofs and roofing material are not as hard as a composite safe body.

Cut, not burn — one of the last things a burglar may want to do is set fire to the cash or melt the gold in a safe. Locked doors and a secure-looking building may cause the police to turn away. The fire department has their own attitude and usually the persuasiveness to show a door who’s boss.

b. Cutting with torches
All metals and composites burn at certain temperatures. Cutting with a torch of some kind is a very efficient method to access the contents of a safe.

Torch attacks, like many other cutting method attacks, are often performed on the side or back of the safe. This avoids the relocking mechanisms in the door. However, it is not uncommon to have a combination lock wheel pack cut out of a safe door.

Oxy-acetylene torches have been the torch of choice in the past and they can operate at temperatures up to 4,500°F, and are still the most used torch for gaining access to a safe. But today a portable plasma cutter is often taking its place. While some models will work on 120 volts, there are also portable devices readily available that will convert common 120 volts found in all businesses to 240 volts for use with heavier, more powerful, but still portable plasma torches.

Both these torches are capable of creating enough heat to burn through a large safe or vault. The downside is the amount of smoke and heat generated.

Again, to combat torching, safe manufacturers often include a layer of high-strength concrete in between the inner and outer layers of the safe shell. So the reactive safecrackers had to move on to the next level as well, the thermic lance.

A thermic lance is typically a hollow fuel rod with a high-pressure oxygen source in the center used to burn through anything that gets in its way. However, they are very messy, loud, emit a lot of light and often burn up everything in a safe. There is also the possibility of burning down the entire building.

A thermic lance, thermal lance, oxygen lance or burning bar is a tool that burns iron in the presence of pressurized oxygen to create very high temperatures for cutting. It consists of a long iron tube packed with iron rods, sometimes mixed with aluminum or magnesium rods to increase the heat output. One end of the tube is placed in a holder and oxygen is fed through the tube.

The far end of the tube is pre-heated and lit by an oxy-acetylene torch. An intense stream of burning iron is produced at the lit end and can be used to cut rapidly through thick materials including steel and concrete.

The tube is consumed, so every few minutes the operator shuts off the oxygen, discards the remaining stub of a lance tube and starts using a new one.

Besides its ability to cut through just about any man-made or metal material, the thermic lance will also burn through, or melt, concrete.

And while a thermic lance requires a large amount of oxygen to operate, I remember reading a little while back where one was used to cut into a bank vault from an exterior wall in a parking garage over a weekend. The thieves merely draped off the area of attack to look like a construction job was being performed in the garage itself (not too uncommon over a weekend) and then proceeded to cut into the vault.

The use of torches does, however, requires a skill level that can’t be learned on the job. Sufficient time to learn proper cutting techniques and use of equipment may take weeks, months or years of preparation. Still, there are lots of employed and unemployed construction and demolition workers, trained military personnel, factory workers and a host of others who possess the necessary skills.

One possible exception to the old TL-30 standard may be the Roland Pawn Safe. Not that their TL-30 safe is better than anyone else’s, but the Roland Pawn Safe system is designed to afford an additional level of protection against armed robbery through its built-in electronic time-delayed drawer system, which is enclosed in an additional steel shell inside the safe.

Even if breached by a cutting disc or a torch, access to its contents is limited to only a small area of the safe resulting in minimal loss. This goes back to the “safe within a safe” concept.

Explosives are still an option for gaining access to a safe, but are rarely used today. Although this method may be very successful, it is not very discreet. Even if used to destroy a lock, bolt or hinge, the results would also likely activate any relocking mechanism. There is also the likelihood of alerting someone (by way of the explosion) and personal injury.

The burglar must also possess the knowledge that the safe’s contents will survive the forthcoming explosion.
The method of choice to blow a door off a safe is a “jam shot,” which gets its name from a highly explosive mixture of nitroglycerin [C3H5(NON2)3] (glycerin, nitric and sulfuric acids) that takes the form of a jelly-like substance. I’m not going into all the details of how to prepare and execute a jam shot, but it is not that difficult.

For a true professional with more connections in the explosives world, C-4, PETN or RDX may be the choice explosive. The advantage of these compounds is that they are more stable than nitroglycerin and come in a moldable, clay-like form that is ready to use.

The general rule for vault breaching is to never use the door. Always attempt to breach the walls, floor or ceiling. Security precautions are taken with walls, floors and ceilings, but not usually to the extent as with the vault door. Vault doors look big and mean. It is a psychological defense mechanism and works. People feel they are impenetrable.

Straw Purchase Leads to Prison Sentence

Posted on 09. Apr, 2012 by in Spring 2012


Sometimes a prohibited person will ask a relative to buy firearms. A buyer who is caught after making a straw purchase is usually trapped by his or her own answers and signature on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Form 4473, as a relative recently discovered.
A woman, whose first name was Barbara, moved to Georgia from Elizabeth, N.J., in early August 2008. On August 18, she went with her brother to a Georgia pawnshop about 1.5 to 2 hours away to look at some handguns. Barbara and her brother browsed and physically handled the guns together.
The brother was interested in several handguns — in particular, a Taurus 92 handgun with a laser sight. When the pawnshop clerk mentioned that the ATF would be notified immediately of a transaction involving multiple guns, Barbara told him that she and her brother were starting a gun collection.
She purchased five handguns that day, including the Taurus 92, another Taurus 9-millimeter, two Hi-Point 9-millimeters, and a .45 caliber pistol. A receipt made out to Barbara indicated that she paid $1,357.75 in cash. She completed a multiple-sale form and an ATF-4473 form.
On the Form 4473, she answered “yes” to the question, “Are you the actual buyer of the firearm listed on this form?” The form included a “warning” that a dealer could not transfer a firearm to an individual if the individual was acquiring it on someone else’s behalf.

Private Purchase

While Barbara and her brother were looking over the guns, another customer was completing paperwork to trade in two guns from his collection. The brother approached him and asked whether he had any other guns that he would be interested in selling. He told him about a .357 Magnum that he wanted to sell.
The seller met Barbara and her brother in the parking lot of a gas station. Barbara’s brother handled the .357 Magnum and said that he wanted to purchase it, but Barbara would be making the actual purchase. Barbara then completed the bill of sale.
Some of the guns purchased by Barbara began to turn up in New Jersey. One of the Hi-Point 9-millimeter pistols was recovered on
Sept. 15, 2008. The Taurus 92 was recovered on Oct. 13, 2008, and the .45 caliber pistol was recovered on Oct. 22, 2008.
Barbara reported to the Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 24, 2008, that six firearms had been stolen from her.
As a result of the recovery of the three firearms in New Jersey, an ATF Agent interviewed Barbara at her home on Nov. 20, 2008. She told him that she had wanted to buy six firearms, one for every room in her home.
In explaining why she had purchased the guns at a pawnshop so far from her home, she initially said that she was looking for employment and just happened to see the pawnshop. Later, she said that she happened to be in the area while going to visit another brother.
She also gave differing explanations for how she came to pay in cash, first indicating that she happened to have with her $3,600 that she had brought from New Jersey, then stating that she withdrew $2,000 from her bank account to make the purchase.
Barbara also changed her explanation for the purchase, indicating that she only planned to buy three firearms, but when she saw six that she liked, she claimed that the pawnshop clerk suggested that she buy all six and return three of them.

Claims Customer’s Idea

She told the agent that the customer at the pawnshop had approached her at the sales counter and offered to sell her the .357 Magnum, and she claimed that clerk at the pawnshop told her that it would be fine to arrange a private sale inside the store.
The pawnshop, however, did not allow customers to arrange private sales inside the store, and the clerk at the pawnshop said he did not tell Barbara otherwise.
Barbara also variously indicated that she had stored the guns in the trunk of her car and in the shed on her property. She initially told the ATF agent that she returned home on August 18, put the firearms in her shed, and then drove to another town. When she returned home later that day, the lock on the shed had been broken and the guns had been stolen.
When the agent noted that she had not filed the police report until after one of the guns had been recovered in New Jersey, she said that it took her a day or two to obtain the necessary paperwork and go to the Sheriff’s Office.
He then noted that several weeks had passed before she filed the report, upon which she claimed that she had stayed in the other town until September 3 and discovered the theft when she returned home. Although Barbara claimed to have discovered the alleged theft of the guns at least by September 3, she did not file a police report until about 21 days later.
In 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Barbara and her brother on two counts: (1) making false representations regarding information that was required to be maintained in the records of a federal firearms licensee, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 924(a)(1)(A), 2; and (2) making false representations to the licensee that were likely to deceive it as to facts material to a sale of firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(a)(6), 2. Specifically, the indictment alleged that Barbara and her brother falsely represented that she was the actual purchaser of the five pistols obtained from the pawnshop.
At trial, in addition to all of those facts, the government presented testimony from the pawnshop clerk that it was unusual to sell five guns in a single transaction and from the ATF agent that a gun with a laser sight was not a standard home protection gun.

Requests Instructions

Barbara asked the court to include among the jury instructions the sentence, “A reasonable doubt may arise not only from the evidence produced at trial, but from a lack of evidence, for the law does not impose on the defendant the duty of producing any evidence.”
The court found that the possibility of reasonable doubt arising from a lack of evidence was sufficiently covered and clearly implied by the pattern charge that it intended to give the jury. Accordingly, it declined to add Barbara’s proposed instruction.
During its closing argument, the government contended that when Barbara purchased the five guns from the pawnshop, she knew that she was not the actual buyer because she was going to transfer the guns to her brother, who was a convicted felon and not able to buy the guns himself.
When it reviewed the Form 4473 for the jury, the government argued that to question 11a, “Are you the actual buyer?” Barbara wrote “yes”. The form explained, using the word “warning,” that “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm on behalf of another person.”
The government argued that when she acquired the guns on behalf of her brother and wrote yes on the form, she violated the law.
Barbara’s counsel argued at length during the closing argument that the government had failed to present sufficient evidence to support its case. The court then gave the jury instructions regarding the government’s burden of proof.
It told the jurors that it was their duty to decide whether the government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt the specific facts necessary to find the defendants guilty of the crimes charged in the indictment.
The jury was to make its decision only on the basis of the testimony and other evidence presented during the trial and must not be influenced in any way by either sympathy or prejudice for or against the defendants or the government.
The court told the jury that the indictment or formal charge against the defendants was not evidence of guilt. Indeed, the defendants were presumed by the law to be innocent.
The law did not require the defendants to prove their innocence or to produce any evidence at all; and that they were not to consider the defendants’ decision not to testify in any way during their deliberations. The government had the burden of proving the defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it failed to do so, the jury must find the defendants not guilty.

Reasonable Doubt

The court went on to note that although the government’s burden of proof was a strict or heavy burden, it was not necessary that the defendants’ guilt be proved beyond all possible doubt. It is only required that the government’s proof exclude any reasonable doubt concerning the defendants’ guilt. A reasonable doubt is a real doubt, based upon reason and common sense after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, said the court, therefore, was proof of such a convincing character that a juror would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of his or her own affairs.
If the jurors were convinced that the defendants had been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, they should say so. If they were not convinced, they should say so.
The court also reminded the jury that the defendants were “on trial only for those specific offenses charged in the indictment.”

Both Guilty

The jury found Barbara and her brother guilty on both counts. Barbara faced a statutory maximum of 5 years’ imprisonment, as well as guideline ranges of 15 to 21 months’ imprisonment and 2 to 3 years’ supervised release.
Barbara argued that a sentence of 12 months’ home detention would be appropriate in light of her life history and the circumstances of the offense. She claimed she had been a law abiding and productive citizen for her entire life, never having received even a traffic citation before the gun offense. She had complied with all of the conditions of her pretrial supervision.
Furthermore, she said she had supported her family over the course of her life, had worked in the same demanding job for nearly 20 years, and had no history of substance abuse. In light of these characteristics, she claimed she was unlikely to recidivate.
She added that incarceration was not mandated in all situations and should not be the default choice.
At the sentencing hearing, the government argued that Barbara had already gotten a break when the probation officer in the pre-sentencing investigation declined to apply the firearms trafficking enhancement, and that straw purchasers of firearms “by definition” have no criminal history and “almost always” are family members or girlfriends.
Such women often unwittingly agree to participate in the straw purchases, but Barbara, said the government, appeared to know “what she was doing,” because she made both the pawnshop purchase and the private purchase of the .357 Magnum.
The government added that six firearms “is an awful lot,” and that Barbara had falsely reported to the police that the firearms had been stolen.
The government agreed that Barbara was not a likely recidivist, but it contended that she understood the potential “aftermath” of guns because she had worked for many years at a hospital in a high crime area.
Her history and characteristics did not weigh in favor of a strong sentence, but the seriousness of the offense warranted some “meaningful punishment.”
The court found that a guideline sentence would be appropriate. It sentenced Barbara to 15 months’ imprisonment, 2 years’ supervised release, and 100 hours of community service. It stated that it believed the sentence to be just and fair and that it had considered all of the sentencing factors.

Appeals Conviction

Barbara then appealed her conviction and 15-month sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Barbara argued that she was entitled to an additional jury instruction stating specifically that reasonable doubt could arise from a lack of evidence and that the imposition of a term of imprisonment was unreasonable under the circumstances.


Posted on 09. Apr, 2012 by in Spring 2012

Kahlden Takes La Familia to New Heights


When Lawrence Kahlden took over as CEO of La Familia Pawn & Jewelry last September, he expected to wait a year or so before moving on expansion plans. But 2011 was such a successful year for the Winter Park, Fla.-based company that he’s already moving full speed ahead with plans to open five to 10 new stores.
Indeed, the company’s 2011 figures are jaw-dropping: revenue for the fiscal year came to a whopping $26 million, almost triple the $9 million tallied in 2010. La Familia, whose stores are in Florida and Puerto Rico, added four new stores last year for a total of 19 and hired 69 more employees.
Instrumental in La Familia’s growth were investments in the company of $7.5 million, $5 million of which came from private equity form Advent-Morro Equity Partners.

Pawn Background

Kahlden has a strong background in the pawn industry, having spent 10 years as COO of ValuePawn. When EZ Pawn bought the company at the end of 2008, Kahlden joined the pawn giant as vice president of operations. After 18 months, however, he left to start his own pawn company, Tampa-based Quick Cash Pawn, with a partner.
When Kahlden was approached by La Familia last year to take the company’s top job, he decided to join the growing chain.
Expansion turned out to be a no-brainer. “Business is strong in both Puerto Rico and Florida,” Kahlden points out. In Puerto Rico, about half of the managers were originally from the island but had moved to Florida, looking for employment opportunities. They gained experience with La Familia in the Sunshine State, then were happy to move back home. About 10 employees are native Puerto Ricans who first were with La Familia in Florida.

Ready to Roll

Kahlden is emphasizing the traditional La Familia model of customer service, clean stores and the best staff.
“Employees are punped up,” Kahlden says. “We have a lot waiting on the bench, ready to go. We’re already structured to do 10 to 12 more stores.”
Still, he wouldn’t mind seeing an uptick in the economy. “We would like the economy to improve, for people to have jobs so they can come in and pick up their pledges,” he says. At present, La Familia has a 70 percent to 80 percent redemption rate. Retail jewelry sales are very soft, but general merchandise sales are good.
Although La Familia’s customer base is primarily Hispanic, it isn’t exclusively so. “This is a diverse area, and everyone comes in,” Kahlden says. “We advertise to everyone.”
Kahlden adds that the reality television shows featuring pawn shops have helped attract new customers. Viewers are intrigued by pawn shops and become curious about the deals they may find, he says.
The company has also been aggressive in its use of social media. Last year, it doubled its Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers.
Although so far the company has stuck to Florida and Puerto Rico, in the future the chain is likely to move into other areas, Kahlden says, and continue on its mission of providing “the most enjoyable customer experience in the industry.”


Hattman Named First Pawn America RM


Pawn America has appointed its first regional manager. Karl Hattman, an 11-year veteran of the Burnsville, Mn.-based chain, has been named to the new position. Hattman had been a district manager overseeing the company’s five Wisconsin locations.
The chain added the regional manager designation to help handle its constant expansion; it has 23 stores with plans to open more.
Pawn America’s five district managers now will report to Hattman. Previously, DMs had reported to Vice President/COO Steve Caulfield.
Besides adding outlets, Pawn America has seen business skyrocket in its existing stores.
“We’ve gotten busier and busier,” Hattman says. “The number of transactions has increased dramatically. And we have a lot more employees.”
For example, the Madison, Wis., store today has about 35 employees, and plans to add about five more. Yet as recently as 2007, the four stores Hattman supervised then had a total of about 40 staff members.
As regional manager, Hattman meets with DMs every Monday to go over issues that surfaced in the past week. They discuss new products and promotions, and address areas where individual DMs need help.
Hattman also tracks store performance in a variety of categories. New areas receive special attention. For example, Pawn America has added a clothing department in its Madison store. The section is on the lines of Plato’s Closet (see sidebar).
District managers continue to oversee four to six stores each. Managers and assistant managers report to DMs, who fill put a multi-page evaluation of each store monthly. DMs visit their stores frequently, handling everything from some human resource areas, signing off on bills, and making sure the stores look good.

— Charlene Komar Storey