Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stealing From the Slots

While I was stationed in Vilseck, Germany, a scandal broke. Several NCO's who supplemented their income by working part time at the Enlisted Men's Club were adding to those supplements by stealing. I believe the position title each held was "Master at Arms" and I'll call them MA's, but in any case their duties included keeping order in the club and paying slot machine winners.

In order to collect a jackpot you had to complete a form which listed your name, rank, service number and organization, and some information about the machine involved and the jackpot amount. The stealing was accomplished by forging such slips and taking the money from the EM Club funds. I don't know what triggered an investigation by the CID (the Army's Criminal Investigation Division), and can only speculate that someone noticed that the profits from the club's slot machines were not what they should have been. I did hear that the investigation revealed some name and service number combinations that didn't exist.

I was interviewed by two CID members in civilian clothing, a Warrant Officer named Smith - I was told that he was the ranking Warrant Officer in the Army - and an enlisted man whose name I do not recall. He played the heavy, sort of, while Mr. Smith mostly just sat back and listened. The interview occurred because during the time the NCO's were stealing I had won three $37.50 jackpots on the same machine in perhaps fifteen minutes. Naturally, this raised a red flag during the CID's investigation of jackpot payouts.

During the interview it was easy for me to recall the details of that night, as I virtually never went to the EM Club. But one of my friends had suggested a group of us go and six or seven of us did. One of them lost ten or fifteen dollars on a machine and gave up. I stepped in and he watched as I hit it several times. I remember his sarcastically humorous remark to me regarding how lucky he was to be watching me win.

The CID EM brought up the matter of the three jackpots and suggested rather ominously that the slot machines "just don't hit like that." I disagreed. He asked for the names of any witnesses and I was pleased that I could give him a half dozen.

The MA who processed all three of my jackpots was named Kohser (real name here, as it's all a matter of public record somewhere) and being a little annoyed with the EM interviewer I added Kohser's name as a witness to my wins. The EM was not amused.

He asked me how many $37.50 jackpots I had won at the club in all the times I had been there and I told him there were only those three. He then asked how many $75.00 jackpots I had won and I said, "I've never won a $75.00 jackpot in my life."

Mr. Smith came to life: "What did you say?" I repeated my statement.

Presumably, the CID checked with my witnesses, and I was never contacted about the matter again. Kohser was granted immunity in return for testimony against the others (ironic because it was my understanding that he had conceived the scheme and was the ringleader, but that is definitely second hand information), the others were court-martialed and reduced one grade in rank.

From the time they were charged I never again saw any of the NCO's. After the courts-martial they were all transferred.

End of story? Not quite. Years later - I don't know how many, but certainly twenty or more - the situation popped into my mind along with the memory of going to the EM club one afternoon while searching for someone. I was probably only there ten minutes, nine of them because I was approached by SFC Rogers (yup, one of them) with a sob story about how he had been fooling around on a slot machine and had hit a $75.00 jackpot that he couldn't collect because the MA's weren't supposed to play them. Would I sign a claim for the money?

I felt sorry for him (I was that naive at age twenty) and agreed. He tried to give me ten dollars but I thanked him and told him "It's your money" and that I didn't want it. He insisted to the point where it would have been rude to continue to refuse and I took the money and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

The CID certainly had seen the claim slip with my signature, as evidenced by Mr. Smith's attentiveness when I said I had never won a $75.00 jackpot. I can only surmise that they must have grilled the NCO's under investigation, with particular attention to SFC Rogers (who had approved the claim), been told the truth, and believed it. Even so, I could have been busted for the clearly illegal act of signing a false claim, but they were after bigger fish.

Close call, that.

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