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Coke Machine Bandito Rides Again

Joseph Wayne Mork, a face perennially in the booking logs, made fresh and urgent news over a year ago when he and his lame lookout, Frank Freitas, were brought up on charges of ripping off a string of coke machines. Freitas limped into court where he said he was in need of a liver transplant, telling he judge he was not expected to live much longer without it.

Mork, Freitas

The above item appeared in the AVA last year, spare though it was, and it was a disappointment to this reporter at the time because I wanted to hear how these guys went about it. But the coke machine banditos pled out and the prelim was cancelled. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when, a year later now, Mr. Mork had found a new accomplice and was right back at it again. 

And yes, this time the prelim would go forward, without interruption, as Mork insisted – which was well within his rights; and it should be pointed out that the crafty Joe Mork knows his rights. 

It was already afternoon, and the prelim was expected to take at least four hours, but Judge Behnke had an international flight to catch at 5:00 in San Francisco, so Judge Moorman was recruited to hear the case. It was past 2:00 when Deputy DA Tom Geddes called his first witness, Sergeant James Wells, of the Sheriff’s Office, who had been working the graveyard shift on March 10, 2018 when he was dispatched to Motel 6 on South State Street in Ukiah, where he saw Joe Mork kneeling in front of a coke machine, digging money out and putting it in his daypack. 

“When I pulled up, he [Mork] jumped up and ran east-bound; I yelled for him to stop and he turned south-bound and kept running, then turned west-bound.” 

Mork ran around the block and jumped in the back of an SUV driven by Ms. Noel Potter and hid under a blanket. 


“I asked Ms. Potter if I could search the SUV and she said no, but she was on searchable probation so I tried anyway, but she got out and stood in front of me so I couldn’t look inside. Eventually, I did look inside and found Mr. Mork under a blanket with the change from the coke machine in his pack.” 

Besides the ka-ching from the coke machine, Mork carried the tools of his trade: a bolt cutter, a pipe wrench, drill bits, screwdrivers, pry-bars, and a neat little folding hacksaw. The trick, shared with other low-level crooks during seminars at the County Jail, is to put a heavy-duty screw right into the key slot, good and solid, then hook the pry-bar on the screw head and pry the lock out until the tang bends and the whole unit pops out. Apparently, it is sometimes necessary to drill a hole for the screw threads to catch onto, but other than that, if you give Joe Mork, Ukiah’s very own Archimedes, a lever long enough and a screw head to hook it on to, he can pry open any coke machine on earth. 

Ms. Potter was searched and found in possession of meth[amphetamine] and smack [heroin]. The gallant Mork made a spontaneous statement on the way to the jail that all the tools were his, and that Noel had nothing to do with the coke machine heists. To get access to the doomed machines, Mork had gone to the night manager and asked if he could plug in his phone charger at the outlets where the coke machine was plugged in, and this seemingly innocuous request was granted. 

Anthony Adams of the Office of the Public Defender was assigned Mr. Mork’s case. On cross-examination, Adams clarified that his client had about $30 in change from the coke machine. Also that Sgt. Wells had made a positive identification as Mork, a familiar face to local law enforcement, looked straight at him when he pulled up in the patrol car; that the Motel 6 was open 24/7 (meaning Mork hadn’t broken in – keep in mind that Mr. Geddes was hoping to stick Mork with a felony burglary, prelims being unnecessary for misdemeanors, and that any individual theft of less than $950 is now a petty theft misdemeanor). The meth and smack were both misdemeanors, as well – all this thanks to Proposition 47, passage of which has been celebrated by the Drug Community ever since.

Douglas Rhoades of the Office of the Alternate Public Defender was assigned to Ms. Potter’s case. Unless Mork was held on a felony, she too would walk on a misdemeanor. On cross-examination, Rhoades ascertained that the amount of money taken was only $30.55 and the amounts of meth and smack were considered small enough to qualify as being for “personal use.”

Then Community Service Officer Marcus Freeman of the Ukiah Police was called. Officer Freeman had been dispatched to the Comfort Inn on February 12th, 2018 because the snack machines had been broken into and the money taken. It was soon established that the coke machine bandito was also the Doritos & Cheetos bandito, having left his signature MO on a series of snack machines. The only thing I could have hoped for was yellow and orange fingerprints (from the brightly colored flavorings that dust Doritos chips and those crunchy Cheetos worms that are so addictively tasty that pot smokers will get up in the night and pay nearly $2.75 for a measly little package of ‘em out of a vending machine). 

Officer Freeman had been called out on 32 instances of snack machines broken into and emptied of both change and stacks of cash. 

This vending machine crime wave had made a vast improvement in employment status of a Mr. Jed Wright. As repairman for the broken machines, Wright was now a full-time employee, rather than one of those neo contractor, benefits-free types, and Mork was keeping him busy putting new locks on the ruined snack machines. A delivery guy named Dave Dooley had also increased his paycheck by putting in more hours, and more deliveries; all of which cut into the profits of local Canteen franchise owner James Dayton. 

But – wah-hoo! The Dorito Bandito seems to have spurred the local economy out of its doldrums, creating jobs, redistributing the wealth – and just look at all those cops (still five, after two were excused and sent back out on duty) out in the hallway, all on overtime, waiting to testify in this case. That’s capitalism for you — winners and losers.

Some of these estimates of the amount stolen were pretty darn close to the $950 limit. And I was astounded to learn how much dough these machines take in. So Mork was making a rather good haul if he hit two or three a night. 

Then there was the damages, the cost of repairing Mork’s handywork. The busy repairman, Mr. Wright, was billing Canteen Inc. around $450 each to repair the machines, and in some cases it was estimated that the Dorito Bandito had stolen as much as $675 per hit. But this was based on delivery man Dooley’s approximations, considering how long it had been since he last checked a given machine. Of course approximations, estimates and averages don’t cut much ice with the law. If the dollar amount can’t be brought up to and over $950.01, in a single instance, then it’s a blinking misdemeanor, nothing more. 

By now it was late in the afternoon; the crew that runs the court wanted their dinner, and Judge Moorman ordered everyone back an 8:30 sharp the following morning – hoping to finish off Joe Mork’s prelim before regular court calendar began at 9:00am. 

Eight-thirty came and went. Mork was there. The lawyers were all there. I was there. The six or seven cops in the hall were all there. But the co-defendant was not. Her lawyer, Mr. Rhoades, looked around for Ms. Noel Potter, couldn’t find her. Rhoades came and went a few more times and finally got the defendant on the phone, only to learn she was having “car trouble.” 

The courtroom filled up with people who wanted their cases heard. But, no. Sorry, no other business could transpire, because Mr. Mork, acutely aware of his rights, refused to waive his right to a continuous prelim.

Judge Moorman hit the books, the law statutes that is, and found some leeway to hear a few quick cases, and after a couple of hours Ms. Potter appeared and apologized for being late. Damnably late, as Judge Moorman characterized it. But to be fair the cops had seized her SUV and cars don’t grow on trees or vending machines — at least not reliable cars — something the judges would know nothing about as they generally drive a new one to work every few months. 

So Officer Freeman resumed the stand, and by the time he got to Mork case No. 9 out of the 32 cases he was involved in, someone – I don’t remember who, except I’m sure it wasn’t Prosecutor Tom Geddes —pointed out that the testimony was becoming repetitive and couldn’t something be done to streamline things so all these other people could hope to have their cases heard before the next week…? 

Judge Moorman said Yes, by all means. “We’ll all come back at 3:00 and hear your arguments, gentlemen. Ms. Potter, you are ordered to be here.” 

It was about 10:00 and the guys in uniform in the hall were not happy with losing another five hours standing idle when they could be out responding to the mental health cases that keep them hopping these days, or merely enjoying a day off in fine spring weather. 

At 3:00 Mr. Geddes argued tirelessly that Mork had entered a dwelling, he’d taken the elevator to the second floor of the Comfort Inn, and thereupon committed a first degree burglary.

“I don’t see it, Mr. Geddes,” the judge said. “The lobby of the hotel/motel, whatever you wanna call it, is open to the public, at all hours.” 

“Your honor,” Geddes said, “They — the patrons of the hotel —have a reasonable expectation of privacy. They paid good money for these rooms and if they come out for a bag of Doritos they don’t want to see Mr. Mork, here, helping himself to the money.” 

“It’s a pretty idea, Mr. Geddes, and I like it. Your argument is a good one, but the facts remain, they didn’t break into the place, it was open to the public. And then we have Prop. 47, and I tell you there’s not much I like about Prop. 47 but we’re stuck with it. These are all commercial establishments, the amounts taken were under $950, there was no violence and, in short it’s a 459.5 of the Penal Code [a misdemeanor], and nothing more.” 

On behalf of Ms. Potter, Mr. Rhoades observed, “If I stay at a motel, I don’t step out into the hall naked because I don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” 

The case was ruled a misdemeanor, a number of them. Apparently the Frito Bandito will continue to stimulate the economy as soon as he serves his week or two in jail, and I expect after this showing the cops will turn a blind eye to a problem they have no real way of solving. 

But toting up all the damage Mork does…..

But the Cheeto Bandito rides again! Viva los banditos, del Cheetos y Doritos y Fritos! Ole! 

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