A warehouse worker for one of the UK’s biggest collectable card-selling companies was found guilty last week of stealing over $70,000 of Pokémon cards, and then hiding them in…his mom’s house.
Over the last few years, Pokémon cards have become a hot commodity, with specific cards fetching extraordinary prices at auction. Even recently out-of-print card packs can fetch big numbers, and this has led to an increasing number of stories about theft of the valuable cardboard. The Pokémon Company has attempted to address this by printing billions more cards, but it seems they remain a strong temptation to thieves.
Kyriacos Christou worked in the warehouse for Magic Madhouse Ltd, an online store for CCG and tabletop gaming, based in Enfield, North London. Over a series of months, he stole an increasing number of Pokémon cards, becoming ever more brazen in his thefts, Magic Madhouse’s owner Michael Duke told Kotaku.
“He would take cards out of boxes, and put them in his pocket, Duke explained. “We didn’t have any CCTV in the premises at the time, so if he was isolated he was using it as an opportunity to grab things.” This included individual cards, booster packs, and booster boxes, the latter worth anything from $100 to $1,000. “He aimed at the higher rarity stuff, a lot of promotional stuff. We were in the process of re-cataloguing our cards, and we were halfway through Pokémon, so we hadn’t quite finished cataloguing the whole range. Initially, he was aiming at cards we hadn’t finished cataloguing.”
But as time went on, Christou became less careful, and starting stealing cards for which they had specific records. “The stuff that was going missing was stuff that was out of print,” Duke detailed to Kotaku. “Evolutions was going missing, they’re almost four-digits a box.”
Once the thefts were getting noticed, Duke says he was able to pinpoint specific things that were going missing, and started looking on eBay for the missing items. “I stumbled across this eBay store,” he told us, “and looking what the person had up for sale, and looking for things [missing from] our inventory, and I found discrepancy after discrepancy.” Duke went on to work out which areas of the warehouse were seeing the highest amount of theft, and set up secret cameras. “Less than twelve hours later, I caught the person stealing.”
The court case, reported originally by The Daily Star, revealed that Christou’s eBay store had sold one booster box for £520 ($630), as well as a collection of 22 rare holos for £450 ($545). A single first-edition Lugia went for $1,200.
All the cards were being kept in Christou’s mother’s house, which was also shared by Christou’s brother, a Pokémon YouTuber. According to the Star, there were over half a million Pokémon cards in the house. Duke said the police told him, “There were cards everywhere, all over the house. In the living room, kitchen, everywhere.” This complicated things, because it made it hard for the police to know which cards were stolen, and which belonged to his brother. So the police focused on Christou’s bedroom and the cards found there.
After pleading guilty, 28-year-old Christou was given a 16-month suspended sentence, meaning he’s spared jail time on the condition that he re-pays £6,000 ($7,270) within 28 days of the sentencing, as well as completing 175 hours of unpaid work, and doesn’t reoffend for the next two years. He also went to some effort to return cards he hadn’t yet sold, including the rarest stolen item, one of 32 cards given to winners during a World Championship Pokemon game. This, apparently, swayed the judge away from giving him immediate jail time. This is something Duke says he’s happy with. “It was a massive weight off my shoulders,” he told us. “I’ve been rewarded some compensation for losses. I’ve managed to secure a bunch of cards back. And while not being anywhere near perfect, it’s probably the best I could have hoped for.”
This doesn’t mean Duke came out even. When I asked how much he thinks he lost, he replied, “25, maybe £30,000.” ($36,353). But it seems to be the emotional toll that has worse affected the business owner. “I’m doing better now,” he told Kotaku. “For several weeks after, it affected me quite badly. I wasn’t able to focus, I wasn’t able to sleep properly, I had bad trust issues. Then I thought I got better, but I realized I was suffering from other things as well. I’ve been using the Apple Health app on my phone a lot more recently, and I can start to see all the trends. ‘Ah, that’s when this started happening. And that’s when this started happening.’ It’s honestly been a real struggle.”
With the court case over, and now the warehouse has security cameras and other measures in place to prevent something similar happening again, Michael Duke says he hopes to find some closure.
Given Magic Madhouse is an officially recommended reseller by Pokémon, I figured it would be a good idea to also ask Duke if he thought the recent crazy prices for Pokémon cards would continue. “I think it’s settled down now,” he explains. “The recent craze died off at the start of this year. Now there’s remarkable disparity, some people selling a card for £150, others selling it for £500. It’s harder to price cards, but I think you find the same in a lot of collectable markets.”