Friday, February 18, 2011

Stolen Camera Equipment

We're creating this blog to get out information on how over a quarter of a million dollars worth of camera, lenses, monitors and support equipment was stolen from Visual Edge Productions on February 12, 2011 and our subsequent experiences reporting and dealing with the theft. While we have little expectation on the equipment being recovered we were stunned to discover exactly how thorough the thieves were. If this blog serves only to enlighten and warn others so that they aren't the victim of this type of crime and also how to better protect themselves in the event of this happening then we'll feel a little better.

Before I get into this I should say that if you came across this blog because these criminals contacted you or stole from you we'd love to hear from you. We can be reached at info@visualedge.tv

On February 7, 2011 we were contacted by a gentleman with the email address kevinlear@thefilmingcompany.info. He was looking to rent two Sony HDW-F900R camera packages with lenses, tripods, monitors, batteries, chargers and AC power supplies. We refined the package over the course of multiple phone calls and emails and finally had everything they required. As the value of the equipment was roughly $275,000 (and it's standard practice for any rental) we asked that they provide insurance in the event of damage or loss. The gentleman contacted a local firm in Maryland that I recommended and was able to procure insurance though that company -- we were sent a certificate of insurance for our records that covered the period of the rental. We also requested payment via credit card. The gentleman suggested a wire transfer to our bank which we agreed to and we received a confirmation of the wire transfer on February 11, 2011.

At 1:30pm on Saturday February 12 two guys pulled up at our office in a taxi:
  • "William Stickland" was roughly 5'8" tall with messy gray hair, roughly 150-160lbs, spoke with a mumbling possibly Irish accent and wore glasses, a dark suit and dark shoes.
  • The other man, whose name I didn't catch, was black, roughly 6'1" tall, about 240lbs, with short dark hair and had a mustache and small beard. He wore blue jeans, a dark T-shirt, sneakers and a light jacket.
They entered the office and proceeded to check out the equipment:

(1) Sony HDW-F900R (#10235) with black and white HD viewfinder in a Portabrace camera bag
(1) Sony HDW-F900 version 3 (#10225) with black and white HD viewfinder (#10580) and Miranda DVC-800 (#061999-13424008) in a Portabrace camera bag
(1) Fujinon 22x7.8 HD lens (#381020)
(1) Fujinon 17x7.6 HD lens
(1) Fujinon 13x4.5 HD lens (#440212)
(2) Panasonic BT-LH900 8.4” HD monitors (#J5TWA1053) with (2) short BNC cables, (2) long BNC cables, (2) P-Tap cables in Pelican 1450 cases
(2) Sachtler carbon fiber tripods with off-ground spreaders and Sachtler 20 fluid heads
(2) Sony camera plates with Sachtler wedges
(4) Anton Bauer Dionic 160 batteries (#28841, 30385, 28840, 30386)
(2) Anton Bauer Dionic 90 batteries
(2) Anton Bauer 2722 dual position chargers (#5386 & 4880) with AC cables and 4-pin XLR power cables
(2) Anton Bauer Titan AC power supplies/chargers with AC cables
(1) Pelican 1550 case (had all the batteries and chargers in it)

We'll update this list with other serial numbers as we locate them.

The guys went through the equipment, knew what they were here to pick up, asked a couple of technical questions (power supplies, what type of monitors they were getting, additional video cables) and loaded the gear into the taxi. I talked with "William Stickland" about their shoot and he told me it was about Irish travelers -- the irony of such a stereotype being used to front the theft is not lost on us...

I made a copy of the credit card provided, which matched the name "William" gave me, had him sign two copies of the rental agreement detailing the equipment they were taking and they left.

We never saw them or the equipment again.

The equipment was meant to be returned on Monday February 14. At about 1pm that day we realized that the wire transfer still hadn't come through and so called our bank to check to see if it was pending -- it wasn't. I checked with the firm who had insured the rental at 1:25pm to see if the banking information they had received (they were paid via wire transfer as well) matched our information. The representative there let me know they'd agreed to the wire transfer and activated the policy based on the confirmation of initiation alone. We started to worry.

We called the bank in the UK to check on the status of the transfer. They couldn't find the account number (wrong number of digits) and had no record of a transfer for the rental amount pending.

We called the bank for the credit card we had and discovered it's not a credit card, it's a debit card - Visa Electron cards are tied to an account and no credit is offered with such an account.

We called and called and emailed and emailed the gentleman who had set up the rental with no response.

At 8:45pm we knew we'd been robbed.

We called the representative at the insurance company at that time and left her a message that we felt there was a major problem and they should start the wheels turning on their end.

The next morning, Tuesday February 15, there had still been no answer from the renters and the equipment was not returned. We received a call back from the insurance representative and we informed her that it appears the gear had been stolen. The responses were not encouraging and I let her know I was going to call our insurance company and the police. I called our insurance broker for advice, she told me to contact the claim division at our insurance company and call the police. As I knew I would need a police case number for the claim I call Montgomery County, MD police first and reported the theft.

An officer arrived within thirty minutes and spent the next hour+ taking a statement. We gave him all the information we had and he gave us a case number. I then called our insurance form and filed a claim. The person taking the claim took the information, told me an adjuster would be in touch and that they would have answers to our (many) questions.

It's now February 18.

A detective has been assigned to the case and we've sent him all the information. We've filed a report with the FBI who are investigating the report for merit for investigation. We called Dulles Airport police (the taxi was from Dulles) and US customs and the TSA and nobody was interested.

We called UK Customs and they at least took all the information to create a detailed report. But there's nothing they can do without an official request from law enforcement in the US.

Through our own initiative we've been able to find out some details surrounding the theft which we'll fill in as we go forward. We'd like to believe that it may help. Finding someone who gives a damn is proving difficult.

If you've been the victim of a theft under the same circumstances or have had dealings with "William Stickland" or if the description of the two men who took the gear is familiar to you PLEASE CONTACT US AT info@visualedge.tv

We're not expecting to get the gear back -- it's probably on the other side of the world or in a locker somewhere in the UK or being used to shoot some crappy film. But we'd like to make sure everyone is aware of these people. We'd like to make sure that if you ever find yourself in this situation you are protected. And, more than anything, we'd like to have a part in putting these bastards in jail.

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