Falling From Grace

Richard Rother lived by his good name. When the cops took that away from him, he walked off a ten-story building.

Antique stores aren't exactly high on the anti-fencing unit's list of places to try cold hits. Mumford says he can recall making only one other case involving an antique dealer in nearly seven years in the unit. The odds of making a big bust in the trade are even more miserable than they are for pawn shops.

"Very seldom do we ever get a pawnshop," Mumford says. "They don't care where it's coming from, but if they hear the word 'stolen' or 'boosted,' they won't buy it."

But that hasn't discouraged the unit from taking occasional shots at pawnshops or secondhand stores--or even used bookstores, a business unaccustomed to the sight of police officers. The stings are supposed to keep everybody honest, but they also create an opportunity for criminal activity that may not have otherwise existed.

Mumford believes that Rother may have trafficked in stolen goods before he bought the silver set last fall. After Rother's arrest, he says, "I started getting calls from people in the antique business, saying in their own words that he was a crook and this and that. But nobody would ever identify themselves."

But people who knew Rother well doubt that he ever crossed the line before. A picker who trafficked in stolen items would be shunned by dealers; when you're trying to move thousands of dollars in art with hardly a scrap of paper to authenticate the goods, the deal rests on your reputation.

"I'm positive Richard had never done this before," Bankston says, "because that would get out. No one would deal with him anymore."

Rother told several people that he had a "bad feeling" about buying from the stranger practically the moment the deal was done. By the time he figured out what was going on, though, it was too late. Mumford needed at least two sales to make his case, and he got them.

It's possible that Rother was drunk each time he did business with the police. His side of the taped conversations is so baffling at times as to suggest not simply nervousness but genuine confusion. Boderke says Rother usually started drinking late in the day, but other friends say he often started breaking open the beers by early or mid-afternoon.

"There were antique dealers who told him he was barred from their place after one o'clock because he was always lit," says Randy Roberts, a dealer who frequently bought furniture from Rother. "He was like one of those guys in Barfly--I've seen him at 6:30 in the morning drinking a beer."

Rother's first and second meetings with Mumford both took place after 2 p.m. Of the first, the encounter at That Place, Bankston says, "Richard might have had a couple of cocktails that day."

It's not official police policy to lure intoxicated people into committing crimes; but whether Rother was tanked or not, his willingness to make a second buy from the detective all but guaranteed his arrest. If he'd had any doubts about the legality of the first deal, Mumford made sure he understood what was going down the second time around.

A week after the encounter at That Place, Mumford called Rother at his apartment and asked him if he was interested in a 79-piece set of Gorham sterling silverware. Rother agreed to meet him in Cheesman Park that afternoon. They examined the merchandise at a picnic table.

"I get this shit all day long, man," Mumford boasted.
"Well, you can get it all day long," Rother said, "but I mean, it matters where it comes from, you know."

"Well, it's stolen," Mumford said. "But it's not from here, bro. You don't even have to worry."

Once again Mumford spun his tale of bringing in stuff from California, stuff that couldn't be traced, while Rother fidgeted and counted the spoons and forks.

"I don't even deal in this," Rother complained. "I've never done this before...I got a feeling I should stay away from this, to tell you the truth."

But Mumford pressed his bro to "make me a deal." Finally Rother offered him $100 for the lot. He shoveled the silverware into a black bag while Mumford began to babble about another silver set he was interested in selling.

"You look like a crook with the bag," Mumford said.
"We're all crooks," Rother replied.
"Huh, we're all crooks, I like that. Hey, I'll give you a call on some of that other shit."

Rother told several friends about the silverware. He didn't tell them what Mumford had said about it being stolen, only that he felt something wasn't quite right. They asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, messing with such stuff. To replace an entire set of Gorham sterling might cost around two grand, but it was hard to sell secondhand; he'd be lucky to get five hundred bucks for it.

"He asked me about the silverware, and I told him it sounded hot," recalls Randy Roberts. "I told him I didn't want anything to do with it. I told him what a dumb motherfucker he was for being so greedy. He tried to tell me he was just like a junkie, he couldn't pass up a good deal."

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