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Last May marked a simpler time for JP Morgan. Although revelations about the London Whale had already come to light, the bank was still in a period of relative calm, before one needed a spreadsheet to keep track of the various government investigations into its practices and potential multi-billion fines it would have to pay. And so when a string of Chase branches were hit by a guy not stealing money but rugs, thought to be worth $400 a pop, the matter was dealt with tout suite. Last week, fascinated by the notion of someone who would be so bold as to snatch Jamie Dimon’s rugs, the Times sat down to hear more.
On May 25, shortly before 9 a.m., a Chase security officer called 911 to report a rug theft moments after it happened, on Broadway near Wall Street. A police officer saw a man walking up Broadway carrying a rug, and arrested him. By day’s end, he was charged with six rug thefts. He is William Footman, 55, and after his arrest, he became ill and was transferred to the Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward. It was there that he met me on Thursday, slouched in a wheelchair pushed by a correction officer. He was far thinner than he was in a photo taken when he was released from prison three years ago. He had sold crack to an undercover officer in 2001, and had been in and out of prison and jail since the 1990s. This week, he was recovering from an infection following shoulder surgery. He rubbed his stubbled face and answered questions. “I didn’t do it,” he said.
But then he clarified. He did not steal a rug the morning he was arrested. It was a rug from the company where he said he worked in the Bronx, Imperial Carpet. He did not steal any of the rugs on the list dating back to March, he said. “I wasn’t even in town on some of those dates,” he said. Besides, he said, he got free rugs from his job. He said he had worked there on and off since the 1970s to support his family. “I have 15 daughters,” he said. “They’re grown. Now it’s like I’ve got 15 mothers.” He was out of work for a spell. That was a year ago. So, he said, he stole rugs. From banks. “Maybe seven,” he said. “All over the city.” Always at night, he said. He was never caught. What did he do with the rugs? “I sell them to bodegas,” he said. “Their floors get wet.” He got $30 and higher per rug, he said.