Who Hit MOCA? Questions Remain After Massive Dispensary Heist

"It was definitely a big loss," chief operating officer Doug Marks told NBC5

NBCUniversal, Inc.

It was the first heist since cannabis was made available for medical patients four years ago. But was the $200,000 burglary of a Chicago MOCA dispensary an inside job?

Ask Chicago Police, and they'll tell you without hesitation that the January 6th burglary of the MOCA dispensary in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood had all the hallmarks of a classic inside job.

After all, thieves used a magnetic swipe card to enter the business during the pre-dawn hours. They knew how the video surveillance and alarm systems worked, and shut both of them down.

A police investigative report obtained by NBC5 Investigates indicates the burglars also knew that a dumbwaiter would take them from the first floor to the downstairs vault area, where they were able to cut into a cash box and escape with an estimated $200,000 in cash.

"Essentially it was a digital hack attack," says CEO Danny Marks. "Somebody, for whatever reason, was able to have very advanced knowledge of our digital systems and was able to penetrate them."

At a community meeting where he was pitching MOCA's proposed new location at 216 West Ohio, Marks suggested he already has a suspicion who was responsible.

"If one security company sets up your entire system, no matter how reputable they are and how much you pay them, there's going to be one person---at least--besides you, who knows how to undo that system," he said. "Essentially we learned that we need to have another system that we don't tell the security company about."

Was he talking about his own security company? It certainly sounded like it.

"Essentially we learned that we need to have another system that we don't tell the security company about," he said moments later. "If somebody basically has the keys to your place, you can only do so much."

But Thursday evening, Marks told NBC5 by email he was not trying to put blame on MOCA's security company, which he did not name.

"We do not know who was involved and have no specific reason to suspect anyone at that point," Marks said in that email. "My point was that even the best of systems can have vulnerabilities and they could be in places you don't expect. But to be clear, we have no reason to suspect there was involvement from anyone associated with the security company that installed our system."

Whoever is responsible, the MOCA caper provides a stark reminder of the nagging issue in the blooming marijuana industry: the fact that it is a heavily cash-infused business. Most banks won't do business with marijuana stores because of federal regulations, meaning dispensaries often have immense amounts of cash on hand.

But even within MOCA's ranks, there seem to be different theories about who might be responsible.

"We don't know," says chief security officer Michael Chasen. "We'll find out."

Speaking with NBC5 in the same room where Marks had made his presentation, Chasen, Chicago's former deputy chief of detectives, held out the possibility that the burglary was the work of outsiders with immense technical know-how.

"Certainly someone with a lot of knowledge about our systems and our procedures," he said. "We're certain that our system was hacked."

Again, police said a swipe card was used to enter the business. Chasen suggested that the card could have been manufactured by someone else, with a lot of knowledge.

"Not of our system, it's of A system," he said. "Someone who has knowledge, deep knowledge of security systems would be able to do that."

State law requires cannabis dispensaries to have security and video systems capable of notifying company officials by phone or text within five minutes if they are taken offline. It isn't clear why this burglary was not discovered until an employee arrived over four hours after the MOCA system was taken down.

Former police superintendent Garry McCarthy recently joined the MOCA ranks as a consultant on their proposed downtown location. McCarthy cautioned that he was not with the company when the burglary occurred and had not been involved in the investigation. But he did offer one observation:

"It took them a long time to hack open the safe, and that's an issue."

No matter how much money you spend, and no matter how highly credentialed the company you work with is, you have to not just trust that they're going to be looking out for you at every turn

Danny Marks, CEO

Privately, a source close to the investigation said one difficulty police have faced is confirming the amount taken. Cash is cash, he noted. State software systems document cannabis sales, but not necessarily how much cash is in a facility on any given day.

"It was definitely a big loss," chief operating officer Doug Marks told NBC5, suggesting the burglary was a learning experience for his company.

"We've grown and been better because of it," he said. "And we will be better in the future because of it."

For now, police have sent MOCA's video system to an FBI forensics lab in Chicago which specializes in recovering electronic data, hoping to find some images which might lead them to the thieves.

"I'm not confident of anything at this point," Chasen told NBC5. "I'm confident that we're working diligently, and that hopefully we will find out who committed this crime."

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