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Mícheál Ó hAodha (ed.)
Danger! Educated Gypsy! An Anthology of Essays by Ian Hancock
Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications

Gypsy Mafia, Romani Saints: The Racial Profiling of Romani Americans

Ian Hancock

The Romani Archives and Documentation Center
Calhoun Hall
The University of Texas
Austin, Texas 78712

The increase in racial profiling by the police directed at Romani Americans has led to some fumbling attempts on the part of their spokesmen to cover their bigotry by creating their own distinction between “Gypsy” and “Romani,” on the model of the distinction between “Mafia” and “Italian.”  But it’s not working.  Following is my document  in support of one such individual who has been the target of such categorization.
Compared with the massive record of murder, theft, kidnapping and other crimes by non-Gypsies against Gypsies throughout history, Gypsy crime against non-Gypsies pales almost into insignificance, so that to prioritize the study of the latter over the former shows a twisted sense of values.
(Letter to Dennis Marlock dated August 2nd, 1990 from Dr. Thomas Acton, Professor of Romani Studies, University of Greenwich, London, England).

It is evident that in the present case Mr. Willis is being singled out on the basis of his ethnicity, and is therefore the target of racial animus. My review of selected discovery, which includes a bulletin issued by the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Police written by Investigator John Thomson which refers to “Gypsie” (sic) activity (attached as Exhibit B) and a tape recorded conversation with one of the investigating officers (a transcription of which is attached as Exhibit A), as well as my knowledge of Romani history, confirms this conclusion.   It is also clear that those law enforcement officers who focus on the people they refer to as “Gypsies” and on “Gypsy crime” are in violation of the constitutional protection afforded Romani Americans (“Gypsies”), who are shielded as a group from this kind of discrimination under the terms of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  While an individual must be judged on the nature of his offense, he cannot pay a price for being what he is, though it is abundantly clear that in the United States today, as in 18th century England, simply being a Gypsy is enough to brand a person as a lawbreaker.  I intend to establish in this report that this situation rests on a pattern of inherited treatment and attitudes that have become fixed over time, and on the vague understanding of what the perception of “Gypsy” identity actually is on the part of the law enforcement body, which has resulted in the racial animus/targeting exhibited in this case. 

The popular conception of the Gypsy is rooted historically in story and song, though it is mainly kept alive nowadays by the media.   Despite the emerging awareness of Romanies as a real people, particularly as a result of the drastic changes that have taken place in the world since the fall of Communism, the fictional Gypsy still asserts itself.  Thus an announcer on New York television station WABC’s 11 o’clock news on October 6th, 2006, could still report on an incident involving “real live Gypsies.”  That she would never have referred to “real live African Americans” or “real live Jews” suggests a subconscious comparison with storybook Gypsies.

Discrimination against Romanies (“Gypsies”) in America dates from colonial times; three were with Columbus on his second voyage in 1498 as unwilling transportees of the Spanish government.  Romanies were shipped as slaves to Virginia, Jamaica and Barbados from England and Scotland (Dawson, 2001), and to Louisiana from France and Spain (Hancock, 1987 and 2002). Anti-Gypsy policies towards the end of the 19th century probably derived their impetus from the increase in discrimination evident at the beginnings of Reconstruction, following the abolition of slavery in America; there are several references to Romanies as a “people of color,” i.e. as a visible minority, in the literature of that period; Lincoln’s successor President Andrew Johnson vetoed the right to vote for Romanies, expressing his fear that the requirements of the Civil Rights Bill were designed “to operate in favor of the colored, and against the white, race [because they] comprehend  . . . the people called Gipsies as well as the entire race designated as blacks” (Legislation for the Colored Man, Philadelphia, February, 1866).

Romanies are recognized as a distinct ethnic population of Asian origin by the federal government; five special Congressional sessions have been held in the past decade to address the increase of anti-Romani racial violence in Europe and the consequent increase in Romani asylum seekers coming to the U.S.; acknowledgement of the substantial and growing Gypsy presence in our country is evidenced by the fact that the Census 2000 forms were circulated for the first time in our Romani language.

There nevertheless remain laws on the books in various states and counties that continue to operate against Gypsies. Many of these laws, a list of which fills thirty-four pages (Gilbert, 1947:567-601), were inherited from Europe and were intended to be used against the earlier Gypsy populations in the United States; they have since found new application against the more recently arrived, and more visible, eastern-European Romanies escaping the post-Communist increase in racial violence in that region, many of whom are seeking political asylum here.  Following is a selection of such laws (from Hancock, 1987), some of which remain in effect; the last such law in New Jersey was only repealed in 1998:

gypsies ... for each county ... shall be jointly and severally liable with his or her associates [to a fine of] two thousand dollars (State Code of Mississippi, Section 27-17-191).
The governing body may make, amend, repeal and enforce ordinances to license and regulate ... gypsies (New Jersey Statutes, 40:52-1).
After the passage of this act, it shall be unlawful for any . . . gypsies . . . to . . . settle within the limits of any county of this state [without having first obtained a yearly license to do so] (Pennsylvania Statutes,  Section 11810).
Any person may demand of any . . . gypsies that they shall produce or show their license issued within such county, and if they shall refuse to do so ... he shall seize all the property in the possession of such [Gypsies] (Pennsylvania Statutes, Section 11803).
Gypsies [in the State of Maryland] must pay jurisdictions a license fee of $1000 before settling or doing business. When any gypsy is arrested, all his property and all the property of members of any group with which he may be traveling, can be confiscated and sold to pay any fine a court may levy against the arrested gypsy. Sheriffs are paid a $10 bounty for any gypsy they arrest who pays the $1000 fee after he is arrested (Logan, 1976).
Whenever . . .  gypsies shall be located within any municipality . . .  the county department of health or joint county department of health shall have power . . .  to order such [Gypsies . . . ] to leave said municipality within the time specified (Pennsylvania Title 53: Municipal and Quasi-Municipal Corporations, Chapter xvii, Section 3701).
It is illegal in Pennsylvania to be a Gypsy without a license . . . Any Gypsy who insists on being what he was born - a Gypsy - without a license, is liable to up to $100 fine and 30 days in jail. A constable may confiscate and sell a convicted Gypsy’s possessions to satisfy the sentence . . .  any person may demand to see a Gypsy’s license. If the Gypsy cannot produce a license, the person may turn the Gypsy in to any convenient justice of the peace (Smart, 1969).
Upon each company of . . . Gypsies, engaged in trading or selling merchandise or livestock of any kind, or clairvoyant, or persons engaged in fortunetelling, phrenology, or palmistry, $250 [is] to be collected . . . [from those who] live in tents or travel in covered wagons and automobiles, and who may be a resident of some country or who reside without the State, and who are commonly called traveling horse traders and Gypsies (Georgia Acts and Resolutions, 1927, Part I, Title II, Section 56, p.3).
Texas law refers to “Prostitutes, Gypsies and vagabonds” in the same breath, and charges the Romany people $500 to live there (Bernardo, 1981:108).
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that it shall be unlawful for any band of Gypsies . . . to camp in tent, wagon or otherwise, on any public highway in this state, or lands adjacent thereto . . . Any person or persons violating the provisions of this Act shall be deemed guilty . . . and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding twenty-five dollars or imprisoned in the county jail not exceeding thirty days, or both (State of Indiana Statutory Regulations, Section I). “This statutory law has been used so often against the Gypsies in that state, that Indiana has not been visited by Gypsies for a long time” (Marchbin, 1939:152).

Smart (1969) pointed out the injustice inherent in such laws: “Because a state does not require an Irishman to have a license to be Irish, or an Italian to have an Italian license, it is both un-American and discriminatory for the state to require a Gypsy to have a license to be a Gypsy.” Steve Kaslov, who founded the first Romani benevolent society in the United States, the Red Dress Association in New Jersey in 1927, and who met with Franklin D. Roosevelt to try to get some support for the plight in which he saw his people, believed that it was the police, enforcing such laws, who posed the greatest threat to American Gypsies:

In county after county, state after state, troopers whisk unwanted Gypsies over the boundary . . . Steve tells of one such journey: “We were not allowed to stop for rations” . . . Real tears ran down his cheeks at the bitter memory of that experience . . . In New York, as in other places, the law is often applied to them with needless cruelty. Only a few weeks ago, a five weeks old nursing baby died of starvation in an unheated room when the mother, who was arrested on a charge of stealing a wallet, was held in the custody of the police for three days (Weybright, 1938:142,145).

The most vocal crusader against “Gypsy scams” is a Detective Dennis Marlock of the Milwaukee Police Department and president of Professionals Against Confidence Crime, who maintains the FraudTech website and who lectures to police departments around the country on the topic. His attempts to define “Gypsy scam” are, however, made entirely in the context of behavior—what he sees as a culture of criminality. In his1993 error-ridden book on our “secret language” he defines Gypsy as “a criminal lifestyle of thievery and deception dating back to 1000 AD,” and Romani as “of India; its people; a native or inhabitant of India, or a person of Indian descent” (1993: 6). Kenneth Blachut (2005:181) of the Kaplan online university defines “Gypsy-type crime” as a “crime of trickery or deception with a specific MO in the planning and commission of crime committed by the criminal element of self-proclaimed Gypsies.”

Marlock’s influence has been far-reaching, and it is evident to me that statements made in the present case by Investigators Worst and Thompson have been very much influenced by his misguided rhetoric.  Discovery of internal law enforcement records, including all training materials, would establish this link.  The law enforcement’s widespread identification of Gypsies as any people involved in ‘crime on the run’ became well-rooted at a time when little was known about actual Romani history or identity.  Now that an understanding of these areas is reaching the general public (including the police), the realization has also hit home that statements about Gypsies have been made that one would never dare make about any other American ethnic minority.  This has led to an attempt to cover the damage already done, resulting in the promotion of an entirely spurious distinction between “Gypsies” and “Romanies.”  On the Geraldo Rivera Show on CBS Television, broadcast in April 1990, which dealt with Gypsy confidence crimes, one ‘Gypsy expert’ who appeared on that program, Professor John Dowling of Marquette University in Wisconsin, asserted that

Eventually the Rom are going to be forced to do what the Sicilians did many years ago, i.e. terminologically distinguish between the broader population (Sicilians) and the smaller, criminal element (the Mafia). Using the ancient term ‘Rom’ for all those descendants of the exodus from India, and the much more recent term ‘Gypsy’ for the criminal element, makes sense and would permit the honest Rom to take pride in their ethnicity and their achievements by distancing themselves from the Gypsies.

Thus we can trace the origin of this new distinction directly to Professor Dowling and Detective Marlock who, on the same show, referred to “. . . those who once embraced the Gypsy life-style. In fact, the Gypsies who came to Milwaukee are now, quite by choice and on their own terms, abandoning their destructive life-style and becoming Romani citizens.”   On that program too, Professor Dowling asserted in all seriousness “Gypsies don’t know the difference between right and wrong, like the rest of us do.”

Knowing that he should follow the Marlock & Dowling “not-all-Italians-are-Mafia” line of reasoning, Mr. Worst was aware that he should be contrasting “Gypsies” (as the bad few) with something else (as the larger “honest” group), but was unable to do so: nowhere in his exchange with Ms. Steliga were the words Romani or Rom mentioned.

That recorded conversation shows unequivocal racial bias, and the targeting of Mr. Willis by Cherry Hill law enforcement. It takes very little effort to demonstrate that there is an institutionalized antigypsyism on the part of some law enforcement agencies in the United States, and that there is profit to be made for some individuals by keeping this bigotry alive.  Clearly it is in Mr. Marlock’s best interests to foster this relentless barrage of prejudice, since it enables him to travel around the country as a paid, invited speaker, educating his fellow police officers about “Gypsy criminality.” We have in The Romani Archives and Documentation Center at The University of Texas a flyer that was circulated nationally listing over 25 presentations on “Gypsy crime” scheduled for just one year in different U.S. cities, by different police department specialists.  Based upon his extensive law enforcement seminar experience Detective Marlock has almost certainly spoken to police departments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (as we shall attempt to determine), and is no doubt partly responsible for implanting anti-Gypsy attitudes among law enforcement personnel in those states; in any event his publications and his FraudTech website and others like it are available to everybody.  But it is abundantly evident from the sources available that Mr. Marlock, and the groups he addresses, remain nevertheless unsure of what a “Gypsy” actually is, and herein lies the root of the problem.  In Austin, Texas in 2004 a national seminar was held by the APD entitled “Gypsy Cops.”  It dealt with police officers who moved from department to department.

Like Mr. Marlock, Investigator Worst also believes “Gypsy” to be a category of person defined by his behavior rather than by his ethnicity. Caught off guard when reached on the telephone by Ms. Gail Steliga, and pressured by her to provide a definition of “Gypsy,” he evidently realized that he was required to make some sort of contrast between “Gypsies” and something else, but was quite unprepared.  What he said was what in fact he believes, i.e. that we were “probably Hungarian . . . a culture as such . . . that’s what a Gypsy is . . . this is just a culture.” 

Ms. Steliga reminded Investigator Worst that he had earlier told her that Gypsies were “uneducated, and they traveled in a ring, that they were fraudulent,” and asked him “is that their ethnicity?”.  His immediate answer was “No.”And because Gypsies in Mr. Worst’s mind are criminals, and because Mr. Willis is a Gypsy, he is therefore also a criminal.  Mr. Worst’s negative analogies to “Micks” and Irish, and to “Guineas” and Italians demonstrate the racial animus he feels towards Gypsies.

Like Mr. Marlock and Mr. Worst too, sociologist Erdmann Beynon believes that anybody at all who pursues a certain means of livelihood can become a Gypsy, since “one’s membership in the pariah (i.e. Gypsy) group has tended to become identical with participation in their characteristic function” (1936: 358), a notion repeated by Terry Getsay, formerly head of the Illinois State Police Gypsy Activity Project, who was quoted as saying in the pages of Centurion: A Police Lifestyle Magazine that “[t]he label of ‘Gypsy’ refers to any family-oriented band of nomads who may be from any country in the world. . . the only measure of respect a Gypsy woman can get is on her abilities as a thief” (1983: 59). Her success as a wife, a mother and a homemaker obviously count for nothing in Mr. Getsay’s eyes.  Perhaps most egregiously, Joseph Sheley, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at California State University and author of Criminology: A Contemporary Handbook includes the information that

. . . emotionally dependent women are more easily persuaded by criminal men to ‘do it all for love.’  Among Gypsies, where traditional gender roles prevail and male dominance is absolute, Gypsy women do practically all the work and earn most of the money, and the culture dictates a large female-to-male involvement in thievery (2000:103).

The authority for this information is Peter Maas’ fictional novel King of the Gypsies (1978); Professor Sheley’s book is used in a class on criminology at my own university.

For these gentlemen, as Ralph Sandland wrote in The Journal of Law and Society, the word “Gypsy . . . is merely is a job description” (1996: 384). This was certainly the case in a story that ran in the Wisconsin Capital Times; it began “Employees arriving at Bruegger’s Bagels on Madison’s west side were robbed by two black males and two black females described as ‘gypsies’ early this morning” (anon, 2007).

In the telephone conversation Mr. Worst defines Gypsies as “those type of people who “consider themselves to be . . . con artists,” and tells Ms. Steliga that we can be recognized by certain characteristics (which he attributes to Mr. Willis by way of confirming that he is a Gypsy): thus we don’t want to educate our children, we don’t want to educate ourselves, and we’re “incapable” of reading and writing.  When she told him that Mr. Willis did not fit this description, and that he “made goals and everything . . .he wanted his kids to go to school . . .” Mr. Worst replied “I’m told, and I haven’t confirmed yet, he doesn’t have any children . . . I’m telling, correct, I’m telling you what I’m told.”  Mr. Willis does in fact have children.

Apparently in an effort to head off any possible charges of racial prejudice, Messrs. Marlock and Dowling have created an entirely arbitrary distinction between “Gypsies” and “Rom.” They did so in their book License to Steal (Paladin Press: Boulder, 1994) and again on Geraldo Rivera’s television talk show referred to above. In Mr. Marlock’s words,

the term Gypsy is not meant to cast any aspersions on the majority of Romani, who are honest and active law-abiding members of American society.  Gypsy is to Romani what Mafia is to Sicilians, a designation intended to separate the criminal from the noncriminal elements of Romani society.

While—in his terms—there may be individuals within the Romani population who are defined wholly by socially-determined criteria, and whom he refers to as “Gypsies,” these are not typical of the Romani population, “the majority of [whom]”, he says on the cover of his book, “have assimilated into American culture as honest and active members.”

I maintain that this is nothing more than a poorly-conceived and insupportable example of the semantic manipulation of ethnic labeling, a scrambling to cover earlier uninformed statements, the purpose of which has been to allow Mr. Marlock to indulge his bigotry toward the Romani people while seeming not to be doing so.

However this is not a legitimate distinction.  It is certainly not one recognized by members of the Romani community ourselves, for whom “Gypsy” is by far the most common self-ascription when speaking English—nor is it one reflected in the principal dictionaries of the English language.  Thus the Oxford English Dictionary defines Romany simply as “a gipsy” without discussion (p. 1750), and Gipsy in turn as “a member of a wandering race (by themselves called Romani) of Hindu origin” (p. 794), while the Webster’s New World Dictionary entry for Romany lists simply “a gipsy” (p. 1750), this being further defined at that entry as “a member of a wandering people with dark skin and black hair, found throughout the world and believed to have originated in India” (p. 648).  In neither of these leading standard dictionaries is there any indication that a semantic distinction exists between the words Gypsy and Romani; both works in fact list them as synonyms—variant names for the same thing.  The two words are used interchangeably in the titles of a number of authoritative and scholarly works, some of which are listed below (e.g. Mazzone, Mirga, Rekosh, Weyrauch).

Indeed Mr. Marlock himself seems to confuse his two labels at times.  On page 16 of his book he refers to “Gypsies, or Romani as they prefer to be called.” On pages 34-35 he says he is sure that having read thus far, the reader will realize that “this book does not provide a complimentary view of the Romani society” (my emphasis). On page 281, he refers to “Gypsies in general, most of whom are honest, law-abiding citizens” (emphasis added); just three pages later, however, he speaks of “the Romani who are beggars, cheats, con artists and thieves” (emphasis added). On page 294 he refers to “Romani on both sides of the law.”  He writes about “dishonest Romani, the true Gypsies” (p. 17), and cautions that “no one is invulnerable to Gypsy crime” on the dust-jacket.  Such crime, it says, “has a feel, a smell and an aura that screams ‘Gypsy’” (p. 5).  His latest commentary on his FraudTech website is headed “Scam in progress: Romani activists targeting US tax dollars.”  In his own defense, however, Mr. Marlock argues that “the law enforcement organization never attributed negative attributes to the Romani people [his emphasis] . . . only the organized criminal groups who call themselves Gypsies” (Marlock, 2002b:4).  Clearly Mr. Marlock is as confused about his terminology, and about which people he is really referring to, as I am.

Consider too that the word Gypsy should, as a proper noun, be written with a capital initial letter.  If the word really referred to a person defined by behavior, criminal or otherwise, it would be a common noun and written as such, i.e. with a lower-case /g/.  In Mr. Marlock’s book he writes Gypsy with an upper case initial throughout—suggesting that, despite his careful insistence that “Gypsies” refers not to an ethnic population but to a behaviorally-defined subgroup (i.e. criminals) within the larger number of Romani Americans, it’s clear that he still regards, at least unconsciously, the word as applying to our people as a whole.  Implicit too in his belief that Gypsies stand in relation to Roma in the same way that the Mafia stand to Italians, is the totally erroneous—let me say preposterous—idea that Gypsies constitute an actual structured, criminal organization, a “crime family” networking countrywide. In his most recent deposition Detective Marlock could not provide a single instance in which he was able to “prove” that a “Gypsy” mafia actually exists.

Terry Getsay’s input was responsible for an article in the Chicago Tribune with the headline “Gypsies are new element in organized crime,”—which also includes the information that “the race, whose origins have been traced to Egypt . . . ” (Elson, 1982:2B). It is significant that while criminal activity associated with specific ethnic groups makes up many of the entries in The Encyclopedia of American Crime, e.g. the “(Italian) Mafia” and the “Jewish Mafia,” (Facts on File: New York, 1982), there is no discussion of “Gypsy crime,” even at the entry on spiritualism.  “Gypsy crime” (as opposed to “crime”) is a created concept, and a concept created for a purpose, as I shall demonstrate; there are no crimes Romani Americans might commit which are unique to our people; there are more non-Romani fortune tellers in the USA for example, than those who are ethnic Romanies.

An article on Gypsies published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1994, in wording reminiscent of the 1899 police conference in Germany which set the wheels in motion that ultimately led to their attempted genocide in Nazi Germany (Hancock, 2002:35), stressed that “interagency cooperation represents the greatest asset law enforcement can employ [against Gypsies]” (Mazzone, 1994:5).

Sergeant Roy House of the Houston Police Department has spoken in the past about “Gypsy crime” on Radio KPRC in that city, where he has been regularly introduced as “the Gypsies’ worst nightmare.”  One need only replace the word “Gypsies” with the name of any other ethnic or religious minority to realize how frighteningly oppressive such wording is, coming from a representative of the law, and how reminiscent it is of similar statements made in Hitler’s Germany in the last century.  Sergeant House has been known to wait outside Gypsy churches in Houston with his video camera, to capture local Romanies on film.  The fact that some U.S. law enforcement agencies are contributing to this state of affairs has escaped Detective Marlock, who otherwise seems to recognize on some level that something must be wrong somewhere:

Just as numerous contemporary Jews fear almost irrationally the resurgence of anti-Semitism, Romani on both sides of the law (sic) have cause to dread a new wave of terrorism directed at them (License to Steal, p. 284).

The targeting of Gypsies as a group, and the maintenance of unconstitutional legislation singling Gypsies out in state and county by-laws, and arguably the existence of ethnicity-specific police “task forces” can be traced to one Dr. Cesare Lombroso, a professor of psychiatry and criminal anthropology at the University of Turin, whose book, Crime: Its Causes and Remedies (Boston, 1918) served as the basis for American legal attitudes and a model for law enforcement manuals in this country until 1940.  In it, he devotes a chapter to Romanies who, he wrote (p. 40) “are a living example of a whole race of criminals.”  The association of behavior with race (i.e. a genetic association) is racism pure and simple, and yet such attitudes continue to be supported by representatives of our police to this day.  No acknowledgment is made of the fact that the conviction rate for Romanies arrested for rape or murder is far lower than the national average; no acknowledgment is made of the fact that since the very founding of our country Romanies have been excluded by law from participating in the larger society, and have had to exist as a marginalized people in America.

Having established that by use of the word “Gypsies,” the Romani American population as a whole is included, the following examples take on a sinister aspect: Officers Alcantara and Boughourian, formerly both assigned to the so-called Gypsy Detail in the Los Angeles Police Department, say “there is no such thing as an honest Gypsy fortune teller. Or an honest Gypsy for that matter” (The Charlotte Observer, September 4th, 1985). In their article in the June, 1975, issue of The Police Chief the same officers advised that “[s]trict laws and the enforcement of them will deter Gypsies from inhabiting your community.”

The Spokane Police Department’s Gypsy File, a document half an inch thick, has determined that crime constitutes our very culture: “scams, theft and confrontations with law enforcement officials is a way of life with Gypsies” (dated 1986, on page 9).  The LAPD’s Gypsy Identification File (1967) states that “Gypsies are accomplished pickpockets.”

In a Detroit News article entitled “it’s Gypsy season, so don’t get gypped!” (Willing, 1985), Detective Sergeant William Bradway of the Michigan State Police Gypsy Criminal Activity Task force is quoted as saying that “Gypsies are domineering, very loud, outspoken, cunning and quick-witted; they are completely comfortable with a lifestyle centered around victimizing others; they are not very nice.”  I could go on.  Only Craig Gunkel, Chief of the Saint Paul Police Department in Minnesota, had the wisdom to admit publicly that use of the term “Gypsy” in police reports refers to a type of crime, not the identity of the perpetrators.  A crime committed by a Gypsy is not a “Gypsy crime.”

Jozsef Vekerdi (1986:14) noted that “the mass media, in a veiled and often less-veiled form, goad opinion in an anti-Gypsy direction.”  On several occasions during 2005, a journalist named Hector Becerra telephoned me for a series of interviews in connection with an article he was writing for the Los Angeles Times.  He even flew to Austin and spent an afternoon with me at the Documentation Center.  I gave him contact information for Romani businessmen and community leaders, including a college professor and a psychologist, though he spoke to none of them, and while he was aware of Romani representation in The United Nations and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the Council of Europe and the U.S. Department of State, he made no mention of any of that.  I explained at length the nature and origin of Romani criminality, stressing that it was regarded as a serious issue within the Romani American population, though one greatly exaggerated by the media.  Rather than deal with the situation in any responsible way, however, and providing a balanced picture, his article—reproduced below in Appendix 4—relied on sensationalism, and consisted of summaries of specific scams, and the liberal use of biased quotes from the same Mr. Sgro.  I am still receiving anonymous attacks resulting from that article; an example is appended to the article.

The more recent publications issuing from these sources now attempt an air of scholarliness by including some ‘serious’ Gypsy history; but just as historians and sociologists should not pass themselves off as law enforcement officers, neither should the latter attempt the academic. Their sources are confused and they succeed only in repeating misinformation.  For example, it is (of course) hard for them to resist including the story of the stolen nail which, so it goes, earned us the right to steal as a divine reward for sparing Christ some suffering.  That our ancestors left India almost exactly a thousand years later than the time that Christ lived is neither here nor there.  The story in any case is of non-Romani origin.  It’s not one of ours.

It is easy for conclusions of this kind to be reached by spokespersons such as those listed here, since by the very nature of their profession the only Romani Americans they routinely come in contact with are those who have been apprehended.  Jack Morris, author of Master Criminals Among the Gypsies (Palmer Press: Loomis, 1994) goes so far as to admit that he hasn’t interacted personally with Romanies at all, that in fact in writing his book he “has relied entirely on Rom Gypsy-related criminal records” (page 1, emphasis added). Yet on this basis alone, he felt qualified to discuss our origins, history and culture.

I have deliberately dwelt at some length on institutionalized antigypsyism within American law enforcement, and on Mr. Marlock’s complicity in it, in order to provide some perspective on his arguments, and to make the case that they are biased and therefore inadmissible.  He is directly responsible for police attitudes throughout the country, including those of Investigators Richard Worst and John Thompson. Put simply, there is no such thing as a “Gypsy fraud,” any more than there is an “Irish fraud” or a “Swedish fraud” or an “Anglo fraud.”

On his FraudTech: Cons, Frauds and Other Lies website, Detective Marlock reported on the international policy symposium organized by the late Senator Paul Simon on the contemporary plight of the Romani people in post-Communist Europe, and how our own government should be involved.  Held at Senator Simon’s Institute for Public Policy in Carbondale, Illinois, the keynote speaker was former Washington Attorney General Ramsey Clark.  The principal targets of Mr. Marlock’s charges of fraud are myself and the chairman of the Canadian-based Roma Advocacy Centre Ronald Lee, who teaches at The University of Toronto. Despite my background having been intensively investigated over a period of several months by the FBI before my appointment to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Clinton, despite the credibility and integrity of a former U.S. senator and the former U.S. Attorney General, we were nevertheless all “players” (Marlock’s word) complicit, he charges, in an elaborate scam to cheat the federal government.  His almost neurotic obsession with “Gypsy criminality” inserts itself into another report on the same website, this time of my visit in India at the personal invitation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in March, 2003.  Summarizing my own account of that visit, Marlock takes me to task because (he says) “missing from Hancock’s response is any mention of crime or other similar antisocial behavior. Then, too, neither did he see fit to attack the Dalai Lama for suggesting that Romani people should integrate into the bigger national society ” (emphasis added).

Relying on his colleague John Dowling for academic legitimacy, Mr. Marlock has more recently challenged objections to writing the word “Gypsy” with a lower case ‘g’.  Dr. Dowling is referred to as “a tenured cultural anthropologist from Marquette University,” and on the cover of their book as a “professor.”  However he had never reached that academic rank, and had already retired as an associate professor when that book appeared over ten years ago.  Detective Marlock too has only a two-year college background, and no academic credentials beyond that.  Their arguments are weak at best, and carefully avoid drawing parallels with such expressions as e.g. “jew down” or “nigger-rigged.”  Particularly, they fail completely to address the real issue being examined here.  Mr. Marlock also claims (without providing evidence) that I have “a record for rewriting history to suit [my] own agenda, and for doing so in less than an honest fashion,” and adds “Please be assured that it is not rumor or speculation that I base this seemingly harsh assessment about Professor Hancock’s integrity, but on firsthand knowledge and experience.”  He is no doubt referring to my manipulation of the federal government and of the Dalai Lama.

As one who has held the rank of full professor at The University of Texas at Austin since 1984 and is now Nowlin Regents’ Professor of Liberal Arts—as the representative of my people in the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations and in UNICEF, as recipient of the Norwegian Rafto Foundation’s prestigious International Human Rights Prize, as a recipient (in 2005) of a certificate of recognition of my efforts in behalf of the Romani people from The Texas State Legislature House of Representatives and a holder of two PhD degrees (London University 1971, Umeå University 2005), AND as one of Romani descent, I am personally insulted and offended by Mr. Marlock’s statements regarding my integrity and the prejudice he directs at the ethnic group to which I belong. The romaphobia generated by Messrs. Marlock, Worst, House, Morris, Bradway, Sgro, Getsay, Schroeder, Alcantara and others filters into the media and from there out into the general public; it has been difficult and painful for me to explain this state of affairs to my children while they were growing up. I doubt very much that Mr. Marlock and his collaborator Mr. Dowling would have dared produce a book on African American or Jewish American or Irish American crime, assuming such categories even exist, or that a publisher would have been willing to market such bigotry.  I might add that I spent a month in Milwaukee, Mr. Marlock’s home town, in 1998, where I was recipient of the University of Wisconsin’s Gamaliel Chair in Peace and Justice.  He gives the impression in his books of maintaining a chatty and informal friendship with Roma in that town.  In one “philosophical discussion” with a local Rom he was told “you just keep up the hard work [of hounding us?], Dennis . . . I’ve a car to buy” (2001:20)—but in actual fact he is viewed with suspicion by the Wisconsin and Illinois Romanies and everywhere given very short shrift.

I gave many talks both to organizations and on the radio in Milwaukee during that time, and invited Mr. Marlock to meet with me in public debate on this issue.  Not once did he attempt to make contact with me then (though I was told that he was present at some of my talks), nevertheless he claims that he has made “repeated attempts” over time to do so. We shall extend a personal invitation for him to speak at our next organizational meeting, and I very much hope that he will accept.

*    *    *    *

Appendix 1

Exhibit A


A . . .to talk to her

B Okay cause this has been, um, I mean this is something I planned a long time ago, this is

A Okay

B This is something recent.  And I would have said something to you because when you said the 17th I figured it wouldn=t interfere with the 19th cause I was leaving on the 19th so when I talked to you yesterday and you said the 19th I went >oh my god= I can=t B you know B I had this trip planned, my daughter=s buying a house and we promised to help her.  Um B could I ask you a question?

A Mm-hm

B Um when I when I was with you last time one of the things I walked away with was that was unsettling, you, you had told me that these this group of people were Gypsies and I you know I=ve asked some people like what what Gypsies were and nobody seems to know, and you kind of told me they were um like uneducated, and they traveled in a ring, that they were fraudulent and all that, is that their ethnicity, or, I=m . . .

A No, I mean I did s- it would be like saying that er that every black person commits a crime, all I=m saying to you is that there are certain people who pride themselves on being called quote AGypsies@.  They=re probably Hungarian or they=re from Yugoslavia, you know what I=m saying? They=re from a, a particular area, they consider themselves to be Gypsies and those type of people are people who try to get over on people B con artists.  I mean it would be like saying, er, there=s Italians who like to be referred to as Guineas, y=know, there=s Irish people who like to be referred to as Micks, which, y=know, there=s - it=s like a name, it doesn=t put, it doesn=t throw everybody into the same mold, y=know what I=m sayin=?

B Yes

A It=s just that B there B but that culture is such that they do not want to, they don=t wanna educate their children, they don=t wanna educate themselves, er this is this would be parent to child, because if you do that then they=d be, you=d get outside the culture and you maybe get a legitimate job where you do B you know what
I=m sayin=, you you you=d say >this is not working for me=.  Well guess what if you=re uneducated and you=re incapable of reading or writing, and you have to live, whadda you do for a livin=?

B Hm, yeah

A  That=s what, that=s what a Gypsy is.  That=s not sayin= that everybody=s, y=know, just because they come from that area are Gypsies.

B Okay cause I, that was unsettling because that=s not the person that I knew, I mean when I, he came in he was always he was never dressed flashy B

A Well, think about his age, think about the fact that he can=t, he was having trouble reading and writing, and, and basically having trouble telling the truth

B Well that that I B

A And he so between the three, you f- you know what I=m sayin=?  This is just a culture, this is the, hey, this is the, people who=re grown, people who=re brought up like this, okay? You don=t, it=s not like I=m pointing a finger at him, these people are brought up like this and trained like this B this is a feather in your cap if you can do something you can get away with, existing without working, with existing without y=know what I=m sayin=? and just plain mm doing scams. 

B Right

A This is this is a mindset, basically

B Mm-hm

A Can it change?  Well they could change in a minute, if they want to

B Right

A So

B Well I, I just, because we sat down and made goals and everything and all, ah the only side that I saw was the goals side, I mean he wanted a change, he wanted his kids to go to school, he wanted to be educated so I=m B when you said that, I was sort of thrown aback because

A Well again I told you, he, I=m told, and I haven=t confirmed it yet, he doesn=t have any children.

B Oh.  Well, I  I don=t know, I mean

A Yeah, I=m just telling you , I=m telling, correct and I=m telling you what I=m told.   So.  Did you ever find your Roladex?
. . . . .  (non-relevant exchange about a lost Roladex)

Appendix 2

Posting on FraudTech, April 2005

What’s in a name?

Those who openly support and defend the gypsy lifestyle frequently insist on publicly chastising, threatening, and harassing all who dare use the term gypsy in anything less than a complimentary fashion. Why they do this is a topic to be covered in future pages, but for now please consider what a tenured cultural anthropologist from Marquette University had to say on this very topic. Dr. Dowling’s article addressed the ramblings of a Texas University professor (Ian Hancock) who has a record for rewriting history to suit his own agenda, and for doing so in less than an honest fashion. Please be assured that it is not rumor or speculation that I base this seemingly harsh assessment about Professor Hancock’s integrity, but on firsthand knowledge and experience. — D. Marlock.

Gypsy or gypsy?

Dr. John Dowling

Dr. Ian Hancock (Gypsy name: Yanko le Redjosko), professor of linguistics at the University of Texas, has lamented publicly that those who write about Gypsies commonly fail to capitalize their name. He considers such failure to be another example of gaje (non-Gypsy) prejudice and discrimination. It is true that when “Gypsy” is being used as another, more common name for the Romani population, it should be capitalized, just as we capitalize the names of other ethnic populations. But using an uncapitalized “gypsy” is not necessarily a sign of prejudice; the problem isn’t quite that simple.

When Romani first entered England they claimed to be Egyptian Christians on a religious pilgrimage. By the English those Romani were first called Egyptians, then Gyptians, later Gypsies, and occasionally Gyps (the singular of which Webster defines simply as a “cheat”).

As many law enforcement personnel have long known and other people are increasingly discovering, there is a substantial segment of the Romani composed of cheats, a predatory, mostly itinerant segment practicing a criminal life-style with a number of shared attributes. Typically it is this marauding proportion of the larger Romani population which is meant when the uncapitalized term “gypsy” is used. So employed, the term “gypsy” is also applied to non-Romani. To those tasked with apprehending and prosecuting them, the English, Scottish, and Irish travelers as well as others are gypsies in this later sense, i.e., they share the criminal life-style of their namesakes.

Gypsies are not the only ethnic population to have had their name extended, broadened and decapitalized to reflect a more general life-style, process, or condition. Thus if one is referring to a particular region of western Czechoslovakia, the proper term is Bohemia and the people anywhere who exhibit a carefree, devil-take-the-hindmost approach to life, the appropriate term is (uncapitalized) bohemians. Similarly, we might say of an unfortunate sailor: “He was shanghaied in Shanghai.” Historically, not all Assassins were assassins and one did not have to be a Slav in order to be a slave, although the Muslim sect and the Slavs provided the ethnic origins of those terms.

In 1987 FBI agent James Osterrieder held a news conference in which he spoke to reporters about a band of Polish Gypsies which had been perpetrating ruse entry burglaries in Maine, burglaries in which more than $1 million in cash and property had been taken.

“Obviously,” Osterrieder stated, “there are many Polish Gypsies in the country who are good citizens. They will be the first people to tell you that the criminal side of their community are not Gypsies—they call them something else.” It won’t work. The term “Gypsy” has for a long time had an unsavory connotation with the general public, a connotation summarized in the song title “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” and tersely codified in the dictionary definition of gyp. It is a connotation that can only grow more unsavory as modern means of communication and data retrieval result in an increase in the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of criminal Gypsies and their clones. Honest, law-abiding members of the Romani community should refer to themselves by that ancient name which they brought out of India with them (and which they prefer today) and stop trying to sanitize the more recent “Gypsy.”

I suspect that social forces now at work will one day result in gypsy becoming to Romani what mafia is to Sicilians, a term denoting an organized criminal element in their society. Both “gypsy” and “mafia” have been increasingly applied to criminals and other ethnic origins and both deserve the opprobrium they garnered.

Appendix 3

From: Anna Magdalena Larison < >
Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2007 17:53:36 EDT
Subject: A response I got from Dennis Marlock when I “dared” defend your position

Dear Dr. Hancock:
I am forwarding this message to you because you might find it “long” and “rather simple-minded.”
I have talked to you over the years via email because of my interest in Romani affairs. I have been researching by reading every possible book or article about the Rom, including your recent, “We Are the Romani People”.    I recently read a book by Rowen Farre, Gypsy Idyll (orig. “A Time from the World”, which gave an interesting view of the many “traveller” groups in England back in about the 40’s or 50’s.
In any event I found Marlock’s verbose, cop-minded, and defensive response to my comment about his website, “Frauds, Cons, etc.” interesting, and unsurprising since law enforcement tends to always seek the wrong side in people whoever they are.
I will forward you a copy of my original email to Marlock because all in all it wasn’t as mean-minded as his response.  He took it upon himself to call me an atheist, which is so totally typical of one who is ignorant and can’t comprehend my message.  I am not an atheist, and I believe in a higher power, but one that is there for everyone, including the Romani people. 
I began my original research on Rom as a a graduate scholar at Oxford.  I am a European Archaeologist.  I continued my research through an additional MA at U of Idaho.
Hope this note finds you well and happy.

Kindest regards,

Anna Magdalena Larison

From: Dennis Marlock <>


Subject: Response To Your Assessment

Date: Tue, 03 Apr 2007 12:35:06 -0500

Dear Anna Magadalena,
Since you have taken time to provide your assessment of me, then I would in turn like to share a bit if my own judgment on your highly opinionated and quite questionable views.
As for my take on Dr. Ian Hancock, please be a bit more specific and let me know what I’ve posted that you believe is a lie.  You have either not read what I’ve posted in its entirety, or your bias simply prevents you from critical thought.  What I have posted is not without reason.  Dr. Hancock has repeatedly resorted to using cheap shots, ad hominem attacks, and outright lies when attempting to support his contrived views on all topics involving the Romani.  For a man who consistently holds others fully accountable for their every thought and word, he has apparently excluded himself from those standards and instead feels free to fabricate and deceive whenever it suits his purposes. 
Perhaps you have yet to notice how condescending he is to academicians who dare to disagree or question any of his many questionable views. That you’ve missed this rather obvious fact would suggest that it is you, and not me, who has been conned.   
Regardless of how hard you might find this to believe, I have made repeated attempts to work with Mr. Hancock, only to discover that his agenda allows no such positive contacts with law enforcement. I could go on about his less than honest activities, but I suspect nothing will alter your views about this man.
If you are indeed conducting research for a book about the Romani people, then I sincerely hope it will offer some new insight into this much-covered topic.  To date, I’ve noticed a marked tendency of other writers to simply quote like-minded researchers and in the end duplicate one another’s works. 
If, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, you are serious in your research endeavors, then please know that your approach is in dire need of alterations.  Although I welcome all serious criticisms of my own work, I do not consider unsupported opinions as valid criticism.  Neither do I take off handed remarks, such as “so-called victims” as the words of someone who has any clue of what they are talking about.  If I am wrong here, and you do indeed possess some expertise in fraud investigations, then please accept my apology.  However, absent any success in locating anything that you have previously authored, I must assume that your remarks are based purely on your unsupported opinion.
I found it somewhat humorous that you are so critical of those silly so-called fraud victims, but take umbrage over the fact that I poke fun of the Inner Earth People and the Illuminati.  And as an apparent atheist, I guess you would be offended by my failure to include, and make light of those silly Christians.
If you are dedicated to becoming an apologist for the criminal groups who call themselves Gypsies, then please know that the members of these groups are very much appreciative of your support.  Although they have categorized such support as the work of highly gullible and ignorant people, they nevertheless depend on such support to further their criminal activities, which by the way does include child abuse, murder, robbery, and other crimes of violence.  But that’s a topic for another day.
Having each taken a shot at one another, I dare say that absolutely nothing of worth has been accomplished here.  So why do I bother to reply you might ask.  I can’t say my reasons are wholly valid, only that I believe them to be so.  I simply will not allow any lack of response to the misguided attacks against me to go unchallenged.  To do so might give the false impression that I have something to hide, or somehow agree with my critic’s assessments, which I can assure you that I do not.
I honestly wish you the best of luck with your research.  Who knows, someday we might discover some common ground upon which we can base a more productive exchange of ideas.

Dennis Marlock

Appendix 4

The Los Angeles Times
January 30, 2006

Gypsies: the Usual Suspects
The detectives weren’t studying run-of-the-mill scam artists. Their target was the Rom, tagged with a reputation as criminals, fairly or not.

By Hector Becerra
Times Staff Writer

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — Fortified by muffins and coffee, the detectives gathered under the chandeliers in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom. San Francisco Police Inspector Greg Ovanessian prepared to start his presentation. “Before I begin,” he said. “Not all Gypsies or Rom are criminals.” “Bull...!” yelled someone in the back. After the laughs died down, Ovanessian, a bespectacled, soft-spoken investigator, continued. “When speaking about crimes committed by the Gypsy or the Rom, of course I’m only referring to the criminal element within that community.” “Bull...!” Under drizzly skies just across from Valley Forge National Historical Park outside of Philadelphia, the Gypsy crime detectives were in full war-room mode. They had gathered at the Valley Forge Radisson for the 21st annual conference of the National Assn. of Bunco Investigators. While bunco generically means theft by confidence games, no one here was kidding themselves that they were on a generic mission. Their main target was the thefts, swindles and frauds perpetrated by Gypsies, also known as Rom or Roma. From places such as Wichita, Kan.; Skokie, Ill.; San Francisco; Abbington Township, Pa.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and New York City, the detectives took in topics such as “Introduction to Rom Investigations,” “European Burglary Suspects” and “Home Repair and Impostor Burglary Suspects.”

Banjo-playing buffoons
In his presentation, Det. Gary Nolte of Skokie showed a painting of wagons passing through a bucolic countryside. “Most of America thinks this is what a Gypsy is, I kid you not,” Nolte said. Americans “think it’s fun.  They think it’s a joke. Tambourine-thumping, banjo-playing buffoons. “That’s what [Gypsies] want us to think. But they’re not.” How many crimes are involved? It’s impossible to say, according to investigators. Most of the crimes are not reported, and the number of Gypsies in the U.S. is unknown. Fairly or unfairly dogged by a reputation for theft, Gypsies have long attracted the interest of a specialized gumshoe. These detectives study suspects’ clans and often put together family trees. They contact community patriarchs, known as rombaros — “big men” — who sometimes turn suspects in, then bail them out. Some detectives go to Gypsy weddings and funerals to shoot photos, take down license plates and hunt for suspects. “My philosophy is be there or be square,” added retired New York Police Det. Edward Berrigan, 67, thin, sharply dressed and with a classic New York accent. “There’s a lot of intelligence to be had.” Of course, as an investigative niche, the targeting of Gypsy crimes isn’t politically correct. By definition, Gypsy crime detectives engage in profiling. What else, the detectives ask, are they supposed to do? The Gypsies, Nolte said, “have a common goal, and that’s to get over on us. They’re going to steal from the gaje [the non-Gypsy] … every day of their life. “Critics say these investigators engage in tactics that should have been cast aside decades ago. “If it were Mexican Americans, African Americans, Jewish Americans, Chinese Americans, there would be immediate backlash at all levels,” said Ian Hancock, a University of Texas linguistics professor and ethnic Roma. “There’s nothing about crimes committed by Romani Americans that make them different from crimes committed by anybody else.” Hancock and others said the officers’ attitudes are especially egregious because of the long history of persecution of Gypsies, a highly insular people who migrated from India and eventually became the largest minority in Europe. An estimated half-million of them were killed during the Holocaust. The people known as Gypsies have preserved traditions that emphasize separation from mainstream societies, which they consider to be corrupting. Many do not send their children to school or work alongside non-Gypsies. “Who else can police kick that don’t kick back?” asked Jimmy Marks, the son of a prominent Spokane, Wash., rombaro whose property was raided by police in 1986. Eleven years later, the city paid more than $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family. “They get to know our names, our Social Security numbers, our birthdays, and who belongs to who. “These detectives, these so-called Gypsy experts, they poison the minds of all the little cops, the young ones.”

Highly secretive society
Detectives at the bunco conference deny that they are out to get all Gypsies — just those committing crimes among members of a highly secretive society that might otherwise be overlooked. Quite simply, they say, some crimes are disproportionally committed by members of certain groups. In the case of Gypsies, they say, that means fortune-telling scams, fake home repairs, store diversion burglaries,  “sweetheart swindles” — which involve scamming lonely, lovelorn senior citizens — and burglarizing the homes of the elderly by first distracting them. From these investigators’ perspective, the Gypsies’ unique culture has given rise to unique criminals, which necessitates detectives with unique insight into the Gypsy culture. In Los Angeles, for example, scams against the elderly are a noticeable problem. Det. Gil Escontrias, who for two years was the LAPD’s Gypsy crime investigator, read up on the culture and touched base with detectives from around the country. He became an expert on how con artists used psychic tricks and other deceptions to lure victims into their schemes. In many ways, not much has changed in the world of the Gypsy crime detective since 1955, when Joseph Mitchell wrote in the New Yorker about New York’s Pickpocket and Confidence Squad and Gypsy crime expert Capt. Daniel J. Campion. Mitchell accompanied Campion as he taught two young detectives about the city’s Gypsies and their boojo — or swindles. Back then, cops were unrestrained about making broad-brush statements about an ethnic group. In his day, Campion spoke of “big-car Gypsies” who “drive Cadillacs and Packards and Lincolns.” Fifty years later? “Gypsies like high-end luxury cars, mostly Beemers [BMWs], Mercedes and Caddies these days,” Berrigan told the conference attendees. “These people drive the best cars, no question about it.” Many years ago, Berrigan said, detectives in New York could walk into fortune-telling parlors and ask for the names, dates of birth and other information of everyone in the parlor. Now, investigators say, the Gypsy crime detective has to tread carefully. Law enforcement frequently uses sterile, catch-all terms such as “professional transient burglar” and “transient offenders,” at least publicly. At the bunco conference, Philadelphia Police Investigator Lou Sgro was clearly a star of the show. “He’s the most successful investigator this type of crime has ever seen,” said Jon Grow, a retired Baltimore detective and executive director of the association. “He’s the best. If there were 15 Lou Sgros in this country, we wouldn’t have this problem.” “Lou, he’s a legend,” said NYPD Special Frauds Squad Det. Michael McFadden, who at 38 is relatively young for a Gypsy crime detective.  “Philly doesn’t play games with the Gypsies.” Sgro, 61, is short and wide-hipped, with wire-rimmed glasses and a receding hairline. He uses the city’s fortune-telling parlors to chat up and gather information on who comes into the area. Legally, he can shut all of the city’s lucrative parlors down. But Sgro said he would lose a source of intelligence, as well as leverage. “It’s a hammer over their heads,” Sgro said. “If they don’t turn someone in, I tell them I’m going to close down every parlor in town.” “I get a lot of anonymous calls. ‘There’s a new truck in the area.’ They don’t want other people in town,” Sgro said. “They think if someone comes in and makes a big score,’ they’re going to be blamed.” Sgro is a believer in doing surveillance at Gypsy weddings and funerals, because he said suspects with warrants from around the country show up to pay their respects. Once, his van was spotted at a wedding and Sgro said Internal Affairs got a complaint that he was demanding $100 a picture to leave. “I thought, ‘If that’s true, I’m going to be a millionaire,’ “ Sgro cracked. “I had 10 rolls of 36 pictures, I think.” A main source of information for Sgro is Jimmy “Cutty” George, top rombaro of Philadelphia. They have a relationship that is both familiar and cagey. “If you want to call me a snitch, that’s up to you,” said George in a telephone interview. “I’m his eyes. When he needs somebody, then I look for them…. He’s a gentleman. He does his job. He’s a very good detective, and I help him a lot with the Gypsy crimes. I do what I have to do.”

Self-described Gypsies
When a group of self-described Gypsies allegedly used false identities to steal 113 vehicles recently from the Bay Area, George traveled to California and met with detectives, including San Francisco’s Ovanessian. He turned in his nephew and several other people suspected of illegally purchasing cars. Then he negotiated a deal to pay restitution. George said he told the people he turned in: “Instead of running, I can make it a lot easier and take you in, and take you to the court system and then I’ll bail you out.” He sees himself as a kind of politician, and talks proudly about how he is following in the tradition of his grandfather. He touts his role in finding places for other Gypsy families to live or set up businesses. “My grandfather, Eli George, was dealing with the police officers in the 1930s,” he said. “The Gypsies in the surrounding area and all over the world know I have good friendship with him. It’s a professional friendship.” The use of informants within the Gypsy community is reviled by critics, such as Jimmy Marks in Spokane, who says many of the informants aren’t any better than the alleged crooks and that they use their contacts with police to intimidate and gain power. There have also been cases in which detectives got too close to the Gypsy community and ended up skimming ill-gotten money or taking money in exchange for information about ongoing cases. (Nolte said one of his close friends was arrested on such a charge a few years ago.) Sgro agrees it’s a murky area and says detectives have to be careful. Sgro said he often is asked by Gypsies to be the godfather to children or is invited to weddings, funerals and other social events — but not out of great affection. It’s part of the quest for status and leverage, he said. It’s the reason that as much as he values George as a contact, he would never hand him his business card. “Never, ever give them a business card,” Sgro said. “They’ll use it to say, ‘This is my guy.’ Never leave a message on a cellphone, because they’ll say, ‘This is my detective.’ Same thing with answering machines.”

An Indo-European Tongue
Sgro said the flip side of the godfather requests and wedding invitations is the retaliatory accusations and the nicknames, uttered in an Indo-European tongue. “They call me o Beng: the devil,” Sgro said. “They call me that to my face.  ‘You’re the devil.’ They don’t like being hammered.” Sgro has become a legend in part because he has turned relatively small investigations into big-time busts. A few years ago, he arrested four suspects leaving a ransacked house. He linked them to burglaries of senior citizens in New Jersey and Philadelphia. That led to searches of homes and safe-deposit boxes in five states and the recovery of $1.8 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry. Other Gypsies thought the ringleader was “just some dinky little guy,” Sgro said. “Well, $1.8 million, that’s not dinky.” But Sgro also runs into dead ends. One case that still haunts him involves 84-year-old Helena Ward, who was approached in her Philadelphia home by two men pretending to be roof repairmen. One got on the roof, presumably to begin the work. Soon both entered the home and demanded $3,000 from Ward, 10 times what they had originally quoted. When she ordered them to leave, they crowded her and angrily told her they were going to drive her to her bank and that she was going to take out the money. Ward complied, going to the bank and quietly bringing the money to the thieves. The men agreed to drive her back home, but Sgro said they dropped her off far away and she had to walk back. One of the men returned a few days later, banging on and kicking her door. A month after that, two other men parked in Ward’s driveway and told her they were going to pave her sidewalk, police said. By then she was wearing a whistle around her neck, and the men fled, said her neighbor, former Philadelphia Police Officer Matthew McDonald. Ward’s health deteriorated and nine months later, McDonald said he found her unconscious in her sleeping clothes sitting in an armchair in the living room. She died several days later, he said. “She was probably afraid to sleep upstairs,” McDonald said. Sgro investigated the case, but it was one he could never solve. One of the suspects left a fingerprint on a glass, he said. Sgro believes that after the initial theft the woman was put on some list as an easy target. Still, how does Sgro know that these suspects are Gypsies? After all, victims often describe thieves as looking Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Armenian. “Let me put it this way: I see a fancy egg on the front lawn. I’m not going to discount the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus,” Sgro said. “But chances are, it’s the Easter Bunny.”


Message received on 23 September 2006 from “Getaclue.” (; “Hushmail” cannot be reached by return e-mail).

Re: Gypsies and crime/L.A. Times article in Jan. 2006

You are utterly deluded if you believe that “Roma” are not disproportionately involved in specific kinds of criminal activity and criminal activity in general, just as black men in the U.S. tend to be.  Any reasonably objective individual could tell you that Polish people do not approach me in shopping mall parking lots and ask if I want the dents in my car repaired and then throw insults at me if I refuse. Neither do people from Sri Lanka.  And while we are on the subject, it is Muslims and not Presbyterians who generally hijack airplanes.  So knock it off with your politically correct bullshit and deal with the unadorned truth. I certainly do not wish you or any group of people harm, but you would do well, as a leader of sorts for your community, to look honestly at what is wrong with your culture rather than to adopt a reflexively defensive posture every time someone points out something that is true but unflattering.  That would entail MAINSTREAMING yourselves so that gainful employment is the norm rather than the exception in your community.  You sir are not the norm in your community and you know it. You have an obligation as a scholar to look at things dispassionately and analytically.  You have a second obligation as a leader to help your people and create positive change rather than denying what everyone knows is true.

Works cited, including other relevant sources

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