By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Victor Arnold Gabler talks fast. Faster than a play-by-play announcer or a cattle auctioneer. Faster than John "Mighty Mouth" Moschitta, the rapid-fire executive talker in the old Federal Express ads.
Gabler talks the way Moschitta might after a thermos of espresso and a snootful of crystal meth. There's a frantic urgency to his speech, as if he couldn't possibly get out everything he wants to say in time. At full throttle, the 37-year-old ex-salesman sounds like an electronically speeded-up disclaimer at the end of a radio commercial: offernotvalidinAlaskaHawaiiorPuertoRico. Except in his case, it's more like a series of rat-a-tat statements that collide in a breathless rush:
"I've been victimized in prison because people see that I want everybody to like me. You can't go unnoticed going this fast. Actioncausesreaction. Now I know so many people that it's not an issue, but when I first got in the joint, Igotfuckedupallthetime, Igotteethknockedout. When I was in Illinois, Igotbeatupeveryfuckingday..."
Over the years, many people, mostly police and probation officers, have accused Gabler of being on drugs. But he talks fast, he explains, because he's trying to keep up with his thoughts. If his brain were a car, it would be going 100, 200 miles an hour. "My mind is two steps ahead of what I'm saying right now," he says.
His thoughts race, but not always in the same direction. They tumble, circle, corkscrew and mambo. Sitting behind a grille at the Adams County jail, he's asked to explain himself; two hours later, the story of his life has sprouted more subplots than the JFK assassination.
It's the story of a chaotic childhood, of an adolescence bouncing from one place to another, of homelessness and motel rooms and jobs that never last long. But mostly, it's a story of prodigious crime and erratic punishment.
Gabler's rap sheet encompasses dozens of arrests on hundreds of charges in four states. A recent police report describes him as "a Multi State Offender with an extensive criminal history dating from 1993 to Present with 104 entries in his [Colorado] record," including credit-card scams, identity theft and computer crimes; larceny, fraud, forgery and receiving stolen property; numerous bail skips and parole violations; trespassing, assaults and domestic-violence complaints; stolen cars, several of which were crashed in drunken accidents; and several other varieties of havoc.
And those are just the times he got caught.
Although he boasts of making thousands of dollars a day on credit-card scams and being recruited to teach identity theft to a Latino crime syndicate in Chicago, Gabler is hardly a master of "organized" crime. Many of his crimes have been not just impulsive, but reckless. He's been known to bond out of a stack of charges in one county and start racking up new ones in another jurisdiction within hours. Busted frequently, he's managed to plea-bargain multiple felonies down to a handful of convictions, resulting in short jail or prison sentences — and a quick exit back to the streets.
That may soon change. After serving two years in the Colorado Department of Corrections on theft and fraud charges, Gabler was released on parole last year and was soon in deeper trouble than ever. He's now facing a bundle of theft, traffic and domestic-violence charges in Adams County and a grand jury fraud investigation in Boulder County. He's behind bars on a $100,000 bond he can't raise and hearing noises from prosecutors about habitual criminal charges that could put him away for 48 years.
"I wish I had a drug problem to blame it on, but I don't have that excuse," Gabler says. "I go 200 miles an hour without drugs."
Yet going fast is, in a sense, Gabler's excuse. Hours after his interview with Westword, he was transferred from Adams County to the state mental hospital in Pueblo to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He claims to be suffering from an untreated manic condition that has dogged him since childhood. At various times, he's been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Less formally, a sixth-grade teacher once told him he was the most obnoxious student she'd ever had; decades later, a halfway-house manager declared him the most institutionalized prisoner she'd ever seen.
In 2004, a court-ordered evaluation by a clinical psychologist found him to be bipolar, exhibiting "intense psychomotor agitation" and "narcissism mixed with paranoia." The psychologist believed that while he was competent to stand trial, a mental-health professional should be present in the courtroom to act as a mediator if Gabler started to act impulsively. His current lawyer contends that Gabler has a mental disability that prevents him from effectively assisting in his defense.
Jail authorities have tried to treat Gabler's condition with drugs. Except for short periods, he's been resistant. The meds don't work, he insists, or work entirely too well, and he doesn't like gaining fifty pounds and feeling slow — and vulnerable.
"I've been on 35 different medications," he says. "My fear is I'm going to get down to the state hospital, and they're going to get a court order, and they're going to drug me up like they have in the past. They slow me down to the point where I can't defend myself, I can't function, I'm laying in the rack all day. When I get to going slow, I want to die. I start thinking about razor blades."
His mother, Rae Gabler, says that she doesn't know anything about bipolar disorder but that her oldest son has a long history of abrupt mood swings, delusional thinking and impulsiveness — all textbook symptoms. "He is grandiose," she says. "If you looked up the word in the dictionary, it would say 'Victor.'"
"He gets really hotheaded, really fast," adds Victor's sister. "It's not a normal temper. He lashes out at people. I don't think he knows how to live in the real word. He thinks he's doing the right thing at the moment, but he doesn't look at tomorrow or the next day or a week from now."
But Lori Marquez, an ex-girlfriend who first met Gabler sixteen years ago, suspects his bipolar claims are one more feat of criminal impersonation, one more scam. "I probably know him better than anybody on this earth," she says, "and I don't feel sorry for the guy. He tries to play off like he's crazy, and that's why he commits these crimes. Maybe he has a little ADHD. His mind is constantly going, and that could be manic. But he's had a lot of time to get help for that."
After years apart, Marquez and Gabler became reacquainted earlier this year. She's now the complainant in two criminal cases against him, alleging assault, stalking, harassment and retaliation against a witness. "I don't see him, then or now, as having a major bipolar condition," she says. "I've seen a lot of that, and I don't put him in that category. I do think he's a very dangerous person, even on a good day."
According to Colorado Department of Corrections figures, at least one-fourth of the state's 23,000 adult inmates have a "significant need" for mental-health treatment. Fifteen percent have been diagnosed with serious, chronic mental illness; many more are undiagnosed and untreated ("Head Games," September 21, 2006). While some inmates may fake a mental condition, others try to hide it, fearing that being identified as a "psych case" will single them out for attack and prevent them from taking classes that could get them paroled faster.
Even if the state's doctors find that Gabler is bipolar, chronic mental illness doesn't constitute an insanity defense in Colorado; it doesn't necessarily mean you're not competent to stand trial, either ("The Good, the Bad & the Mad," May 29, 2008). Gabler admits that he knows the difference between right and wrong. It's just that when things start going fastfastfast, the line starts to blur.
"It's not like I don't have guilt over this stuff," he says. "When I'm in a controlled situation, I can stop and see what people have to go through because some asshole like me, someone who's taken shortcuts their whole fucking life, has messed up their lives. I read that it takes the average person 700 hours to get their shit whole after identity theft."
He pauses — a rare breather — and reflects on that staggering figure. "I think it's ridiculous," he says.
If, as some scientists believe, there's a strong genetic component to the mysteries of personality, brain chemistry and mood disorders, then Victor Gabler might prove to be a promising case study. Gabler never knew his father, Arnold Richardson. Yet to his mother, it seemed that the boy started following in his father's wayward footsteps at an early age.
"I don't know how many times I've wondered about it," Rae Gabler says. "I've said, 'He didn't know Arnold. How can he be so much like the man that impregnated me?'"
Now deceased, Arnold Richardson was a thief and a brawler — aggressive, restless, teeming with energy and criminal schemes. He went to prison shortly after his son was born. Rae divorced him and married a trucker named Tom Gabler. "Both of the children grew up knowing that Tom was their stepdad and Arnold was a waste of space," she says.
Gabler was raised in the suburbs northwest of Chicago — not a classic urban war zone, though young Victor apparently found it so. "From preschool, he would pick fights," his mother recalls. "It was Victor hitting this kid, Victor spitting on that kid. Then around third grade, five of them jumped him and bashed his head into the street."
In the 1970s, no one talked about "attention deficit" or "hyperactive" children; Rae remembers that her son was simply regarded as disruptive and different. Gabler says he was the class clown who couldn't sit still and blurted out things he didn't mean. One teacher put up a screen around his desk, walling him off from the rest of the class. He claims to have been abused at home. (He was spanked, Rae says: "Now it would be considered child abuse.")
But Gabler quickly adds that he's not trying to make excuses for himself. "I was a horrible kid," he says. "I was acting out. I was trying to get attention. I got beaten and sent away and forgotten about."
From adolescence onward, Gabler's story reads like a primer in crime. It goes like this: At twelve, Victor is formally adopted by Tom Gabler. Filling out the court paperwork, he sees for the first time the name he was born with: Victor Arnold Richardson. At thirteen he starts skipping school and running away, sleeping in a park behind a friend's house and freezing his ass off, working a paper route and busing tables for cash. He figures he might fare better living with his grandparents in Tucson. His stepfather tells him that if he starts running from his problems, he'll never stop.
Victor doesn't want to stop. He wants to go fast. With his parents' blessing, he moves to Arizona. His grandparents are plodders who shop at thrift stores. Victor makes up stories to impress his schoolmates about his rich parents back in Chicago. He picks up a movie camera on the cheap, then gets busted shoplifting film for it. His mom tells him he's headed for "juvie" and a life of thugdom, just like his old man.
His grades improve in Tucson, but there are battles in his new home, too, and he ends up bouncing back and forth between Arizona, Illinois and an uncle in St. Louis. He never finishes high school. He has a notion of joining the Marines, but that dream recedes as he starts piling up charges for theft. At first it's small stuff, mostly, that he cadges from his dead-end convenience-store jobs. One summer he works at an Illinois lakefront marina and steals gas that he delivers gratis to grateful relatives, friends and other boaters.
"It's been my history that I stole to become the hero, to buy love," Gabler says now. "Sometimes I did it to survive. But more often than not, what I steal is given away."
In 1991 Gabler and a friend are arrested in Arizona for helping themselves to some nice things from another friend's parents' house. Now twenty, Gabler gets the burglary whittled down to a simple theft-by-receiving case and receives probation. He blows off the probation and gets jail. Then he blows off a more tightly supervised probation and gets 67 days in prison.
The day he's released, he steals a car for a friend, then heads to Denver, where Rae and Tom now live. There are construction jobs aplenty at the new airport, and Victor lands a sweet but temporary spot on a maintenance crew taking care of runway pavers. He turns 21 and discovers, more or less simultaneously, booze, blackout drinking and strip clubs, a combination that drains his pockets as fast as he can fill them.
"I'm such an attention hound that I'll go to a bar and be the Super Bowl quarterback of drinking," he explains. "I'll drink so much so fast that people will be amazed, and I'll be the life of the party. And then I'll get in some kind of wreck. I didn't commit crimes on alcohol, but I'd usually get caught because of alcohol."
He also discovers seventeen-year-old Lori Clayton, and the two soon start a stormy, off-and-on relationship that lasts three years. Gabler doesn't drink much around Lori, but they argue frequently, and the arguments often get physical. "We started out with problems right away," Lori says. "It became very abusive, and I didn't know how to handle it at the time."
"All of our arguments were about me trying to find some shortcut in life," Gabler says.
The airport job ends. Gabler goes to work at Broadway Southwest in the Westminster Mall, writing up bogus deliveries of televisions and camcorders and stealing the place blind. He picks up his first DUI in Westminster, then a domestic-violence charge for assaulting Lori. While sitting in jail, he arranges to buy a stolen checkbook off another con. He uses it to buy stuff advertised by private parties in the classifieds, then hocks the stuff. Some wiseacre catches his license plate, and he winds up doing time in Jefferson County for forgery.
Lori visits him at the jail every day.
Behind bars, Gabler learns more scams. Another inmate explains a shoplifting deal that involves exchanging the stuff for gift cards, then selling the cards at a discount. When Gabler gets out, he tries the new con and eventually gets popped in Arapahoe County. More charges follow, including another domestic beef.
Lori leaves him.
Gabler bounces around. He's living in a Jeep and working at Pizza Hut. Then he's living with his parents again, until he throws a lawn decoration through a window during an argument with his mother. ("He's had some family issues, definitely," Rae says. "He beat the shit out of me once. I crawled to my neighbor's house." Gabler denies that he ever assaulted his mother.) In 1996 he heads back to Arizona, determined to drink himself to death. Instead, forced to deal with some of his probation violations, he wanders into a Tucson clinic in search of domestic-violence classes — and someone notices that he's talking 200 miles an hour and takes him to a shrink, who tells him he's having a manic episode.
"I think you're bipolar," the shrink says. "You need to be evaluated for medication."
Gabler doesn't know how to take the off-the-cuff diagnosis. It was, he would later explain, "like going through a Taco Bell drive-thru, and they say, 'Hey, you're bipolar!'"
He doesn't want to be labeled, doesn't want to be stuffed with drugs. He heads out of there, back to the gang of thieves he knew from the old days. The gang is now exploring new frontiers in the realm of credit fraud — stealing credit cards, creating new identities and credit lines, and riding the online shopping explosion.
It's the perfect opportunity for an ambitious, energetic, quick-thinking young man.
In the $500-million-a-year credit-card-fraud industry, there are probably as many types of scams as there are fine-print exclusions to the cards' bonus rewards programs. In recent years, as anti-fraud measures have grown more sophisticated, so have the methods of the scammers.
Gabler liked to keep things simple and fast. No elaborate construction of false identities by digging through dumpsters for personal information, no phishing online for PIN codes and all that crap. No, better to prowl a parking lot for wallets left in cars by begging-to-be-robbed doofuses and head for the mall with the real thing — two, four, maybe even half a dozen cards, usually with limits of $25,000 or more each.
Better yet, get somebody else in the crew to do the car-hopping and shopping while you take care of the disposal of the merchandise. That way your face doesn't end up on any surveillance videos.
A thief has a narrow window of time to max out the card before its absence is discovered and the cardholder notifies the company. Gabler took an audacious route to buying more time. After a wild night of shopping, he'd call the doofus, identify himself as an investigator from "Card Services" and inform the victim that his crack team had detected unusual activity on the card.
Doofus: "Ohmygod, ohmygod, my wallet is...gone!"
Don't worry, Gabler would calmly reply. Card Services is on the case. The account has already been canceled. We'll be back in touch.
Back in this golden age of credit-card scamming, when laptops cost two grand or more, Gabler would buy ten or so of the same model with the same card before hitting the card limit. He'd take out an ad in the newspaper offering a single, brand-new laptop for the bargain price of $1,200; the ad would run until all the laptops had been sold.
By 1999, Gabler is pulling down boatloads of cash from such scams. He spends a lot of it on a richly furnished apartment and gifts for Allison, his new girlfriend. But he keeps getting derailed by old charges from Colorado and new ones in Arizona, some of them connected with his penchant for drinking and high-speed chases with the law. While sitting in the Adams County jail on an old beef, he finds out Allison is pregnant.
He goes back to Arizona and spends six months in jail on an obstruction-of-justice charge, a convoluted case involving a buddy and a witness who might or might not have been told to keep quiet about a robbery at the Tucson Mall. He uses the downtime to take classes on alcohol abuse and anger management and whatever else he can find, and vows to go legit for the sake of his baby daughter. He gets out and lands a straight job at Dillard's.
"I'm really doing my best," he says. "We are on shoestring money, and Christmas is coming around, but you don't have to have much for a kid who's a year and a half."
But while shopping in the crush at the mall, Gabler spies a wallet stuffed with credit cards that somebody left just sitting on a counter, where anybody could help themselves. After a few seconds' deliberation, he decides this is not temptation but Christmas coming early and often. Everybody gets fancy gifts, and Gabler feels on top of the world again. "Imagine," he says, "going to the store every day and being able to get anything you want for free."
Except, of course, it isn't free. Christmas 2000 rolls around, and Gabler quits Dillard's for a high-paying job as an RV salesman that fails to materialize, and he and Allison have a huge blowup over that and his crimes and the constant threat of arrest and prison. Allison leaves him, and he's off and running again, pulling scams, loading up an apartment with stuff for a daughter he rarely sees.
2001, 2002, 2003: On another expedition to the mall, Gabler uses a stolen credit card to purchase some expensive clothes, then rings up a $186 bar tab at Red Robin. He tips generously and leaves. An employee pursues him over a second tab he didn't know he'd started; he thinks it's mall security chasing him over the clothes, and he runs into the parking lot and gets hit by a car. The cops find charge receipts in his bag in a woman's name, and he refuses to give his real name.
More busts follow. He flees Arizona for California, planning to leave the country. His parents convince him to return to Denver. Soon he's car-hopping for wallets in the northern suburbs, buying laptops and converting them to cash. He opens up credit lines under the name of Thomas Ray and passes bad checks at Black Hawk casinos. He's arrested while buying a tanning bed at FlatIron Crossing and lands in the Boulder County jail on fresh fraud charges. As Gabler tells it, things just get more complicated from there.
"These fraud cases are a bitch to prove, and I'm fighting the case," he recalls. "Meanwhile, there's a hotel room in Arapahoe County that's full of shit. The cleaning lady goes in there, and they find a gun and a bulletproof vest that don't even belong to me. But the room is filled with fake ID and Rolex watches and computers. And I'm getting in all kinds of fights in Boulder and not taking medication, and they put me in the hole for 87 days until I agree to take the meds. They give me Zyprexa and Klonopin, and I gain fifty pounds."
The charges pile up in Boulder, Arapahoe County, Adams County — not to mention the warrants out of Arizona. But with credit for time served and concurrent sentences and the fact that fraud cases are a bitch to prosecute, Gabler does a few months in jail, a few more in prison, beats an Arizona case and is back on the streets of Denver.
Out for 43 days, he gets caught in a stolen minivan with five laptops and the stolen identities of a slew of doofuses. He bonds out, and in less than 24 hours he's arrested driving drunk in a stolen Infiniti. This time he makes bond and flees the state.
According to Gabler, a well-heeled criminal of his acquaintance sends him to Chicago to teach the finer points of identity theft to a Latino crime family. "It's a real tight-knit Mexican thing," he says cryptically. He's staying in a hotel with a new set of ID documents that say he's Henry Baez and supposedly waiting for this big crime school to get under way. But Gabler can't wait. He starts pulling his own scams again, online and off. He starts drinking, steals a car, gets in an accident and gets busted.
A psychologist gives him a court-ordered competency examination. She notes that he is unkempt, disheveled and clearly manic.
"His speech was tremendously pressured," she reports, "so much so that it was often difficult to comprehend the sheer amount of information he imparted.... His legs shook constantly underneath the table. More generally, his movements might best be described as 'bouncy.'"
She doesn't think Gabler is psychotic or hallucinating, but he does seem grandiose and "prone to exaggeration." Without access to his Colorado court records, which detail scams totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraud and stolen property, she's understandably skeptical of Gabler's claims that he sometimes made five or ten grand a day from his exploits, lived the high life and wore Rolex watches.
"It seems highly unlikely," she concludes, "that someone suffering from such a severe mood disturbance, and the resulting cognitive dysfunction inherent in manic episodes, could also have the organizational skills necessary to engage in this degree of white-collar crime."
Extradited back to Colorado in the spring of 2005, Gabler manages to dispose of his 2003 Adams County car thefts, the hot property in the hotel room and other charges with a few months in prison. He gets out and promptly lands another two-year jolt on criminal impersonation and parole-violation charges in Boulder.
Released again in the summer of 2008, Gabler moves back in with his parents. He has a new plan for reform: He's written a treatise on how to prevent identity theft, and he hopes to market it on DVD. But he has no idea how to find investors and struggles to find work.
"When he got out the last time, he tried very hard," Rae Gabler says. "The economy wasn't there, and job hunting was discouraging. He really needs some one-on-one help instead of being one of the hundreds of cases these parole people have."
Gabler's efforts to turn over a new leaf apparently don't last long. Fooling around online, he meets a 22-year-old art student, Abbie Worley, who offers to help him with his DVD. Instead, Worley is soon involved in identity-theft operations herself — a series of credit-card and gift-card hustles that authorities suspect is being orchestrated by one Victor Gabler.
On another front, Gabler gets the shock of his life when his ex-girlfriend Lori, now divorced and known as Lori Marquez, turns up with an eleven-year-old son that Gabler never knew he had. Gabler says Marquez contacted him to inform him of this startling fact; she says Gabler picked up a rumor from other sources and sought her out, and that her son's paternity has not yet been established.
As Gabler sees it, though, his life has come full circle. At twelve he was a hyper, mixed-up kid who never knew his real father because he was a criminal maniac. Now he finds out that he has a son who never knew his real father because — well, you get the idea. And Gabler insists the boy resembles him too much for there to be much doubt about the relationship. "He didn't understand where he got all this energy from," he says.
Whatever the discovery might mean to Gabler, it doesn't alter the tumultuous nature of his relationship with Lori. "He was pretty clean until March or April," she says. "Then I told him I didn't want anything to do with him because he was just threatening. That's when he chased me through my house and beat me up pretty severely."
Over the next few days, Gabler barrages Lori with text messages and e-mails. She spots him on the streets near her home and job. The cops play a cat-and-mouse game with him, tailing and losing him as he resurfaces in a stolen black Range Rover. He e-mails a suicide threat to one detective from the address email@example.com. Using cell-phone triangulations, the police locate Gabler on I-70, heading east. Kansas state troopers chase the Range Rover through a rainstorm until it rear-ends another car and crashes.
Once again, the charges pile up: assault, stalking, eluding, auto theft. And more fraud charges out of Boulder. Facing theft charges in five counties, Abbie Worley takes guilty pleas that put her in community corrections for ten years — and in a position to testify against the reputed ringleader, Vic Gabler. (Worley didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.)
Once again, Gabler has no trouble making bond. "He wasn't out for two hours and he started calling me and harassing me, telling me that my days were numbered," Lori Marquez says.
The phone calls are in violation of a restraining order and generate more charges of stalking and witness retaliation. A few hours later, shortly before three in the morning of August 16, Thornton police check out a stolen, brand-new Audi A4 that's plowed into a curb, a fence and a tree on East 99th Way. They find court papers and letters belonging to Victor Gabler in the car, along with credit cards and other items that belong to other people. They find Gabler himself, bruised and speech-slurred, hiding behind a bush.
Geographically, at least, Vic Gabler is no longer running from his problems. He's sitting in jail with them, looking at possible sentencing as a habitual offender, going nowhere except to Pueblo and back. He talks bitterly about alleged partners in crime enjoying the fruits of their labor, plasma TVs and fancy cars, while he rots behind bars, but then he shrugs.
"I accept most of the blame," he says. "Maybe I am institutionalized. Maybe the Department of Corrections is the only stable life I've ever known. But the system is broken. I've been just stored, warehoused. There are so many people with problems in prison that I can just blend in."
Gabler's attorney, Patrick Vance, says he can't discuss his motion to the court to evaluate his client's competency, which was filed under seal. But he readily agrees that problems like Victor Gabler seldom get properly addressed.
"I see a tremendous amount of mental illness in the criminal justice system," says Vance, a former public defender. "The people you see over and over again have a combination of substance abuse and severe mental illness. It's almost impossible to deal with the volume. Most of them just keep going through the system."
Marquez says the real problem is how easily people like Gabler manipulate the system and get back on the streets. "I have to look over my shoulder and wait for the phone call telling me he's been released on bond," she says. "I live in fear of when that happens."
Gabler still goes fast. Before the trip to Pueblo, he walked the day room at the Adams County jail five, six hours a day. Or he ran up and down stairs. Or used the toilet in his cell as a stairmaster.
Did all the exercise help? Did it sweat out the mania, make him feel more in control?
"Not really," he says. "But for six hours a day, I'm not doing something else that could get me in trouble."