SAP exec arrested for stealing $1K worth of LEGO with DIY bar code scam

Well this is rich. NBC Bay Area reports that Thomas Langenbach, identified as a VP at SAP's Palo Alto Integration and Certification Center, has been charged with four felony counts of burglary over ill-gotten LEGOs.

Authorities say the German software engineer generated his own fake bar codes, printed stickers with them, then slapped those cheaper bar codes over more expensive kits. And then, it is alleged, he sold that hugely-discounted LEGO loot on eBay for a profit.

Stealing and reselling LEGO on eBay is a thing! Back in 2005, Mark blogged about a guy from Reno, Nevada who pulled the same scam with phony DIY bar codes, and made off with $200K worth of stuff. Back in 2008, Boing Boing covered the story of a man in West Palm Beach, Florida who ripped off $42K worth with an even simpler method. And there are more similar cases.

From the NBC Bay Area report on the Silicon Valley SAP executive's alleged crimes:

[Liz] Wylie, of Mountain View police, said Target security had captured Langenbach performing the "ticket switch" on camera, and had been onto him because the company pays very close attention to LEGO sales. "LEGOs are very popular and expensive," Wylie said.

Langenbach was formally charged with four counts of burglary totaling seven boxes of LEGOs worth about $1,000.

When police searched his home, however, Hendrickson said they found "hundreds and hundreds" of LEGO boxes inside. They also discovered that since last April, he had allegedly sold 2,100 LEGO items totaling about $30,000 on eBay using the handle "tomsbrickyard." Inside Langenbach's car, Hendrickson said, were 32 pre-made barcode stickers.

A quick search on eBay shows that the "tomsbrickyard" account said to be Langenbach's was a "Top Seller" with 99.9% positive reviews from buyers, and an eBay Feedback score of 1179.

Whatever the court ends up deciding about the man, his customers loved him.

Said one, "Excellent seller! Would definitely buy from again! A+++++"

My favorite part of the report:

NBC Bay Area went to Langenbach's multimillion dollar San Carlos home on Monday, but no one answered the door, despite people being home.

More: VP of Palo Alto's SAP Arrested in LEGO Bar Code Scam.

( via Andy Orin)


  1. I seem to recall another Lego thief that operated locally . . . Hillsboro, OR. He hit Target stores, which seem to be a favourite of “professional” shoplifters.

    1.  If you don’t spell LEGO with all caps, its some kind of copyright infringement brand-name faux pas, you can be imprisoned and internet-flamed.  Look it up, its a law. 

        1. No, they’re Lego Bricks, or Lego. A Material.
          You don’t say Terracottas, or Concretes. You say Terracotta or Terracotta Bricks, or Concrete or Concrete Blocks.

          1. But Lego isn’t a word. It’s a brand name. It’s something made up by people who want you to buy their product. It has no intrinsic language value. And there is nothing in the social contract that says that I need to obey their little corporate rules. So I treat it like any other word and give it an normal English plural – Legoes.

        2. Do you get your hairs cut? Fill the bath with waters? I don’t give much of a damn, really, it’s just one of those language quirks, but it’s amusing to see people justifying the quirk when it’s really just what they’re familiar with.

          You say Legos, I say Lego; no need to call the whole thing off.

    1. Oh you’ve got to be kidding. Fucking up does not make a criminal stupid. Check his pic, that’s not an 8th grade dropout. His biggest mistake is probably hedging on Target too much, being lazy and not working mulitple stores/chains. Poor sap.

      1. Fucking up does not make a criminal stupid.

        Well…it depends, right?  Sometimes criminals fuck up in ways that are just stupid.

        And sometimes you get a corporate executive making six figures a year engaging in some petty scam involving ripping off children’s toys and selling them on eBay.  That’s stupid.  And his biggest mistake wasn’t hitting Target too often, it was working this scam at all.

        You know, most criminals actually are stupid.  Otherwise they’d have picked lower-risk, higher-reward careers.  Like flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

      2.  You are an executive at a major company in silicon valley… and you spend your free time stealing legos for a net profit of what?  30k?  That is the very definition of stupid.  Really speaks to the hiring policies of SAP.

  2. Can anyone explain why LEGOs are the preferred item to steal and resell for these fraudsters?

    1.  I can think of three reasons:
      1) Toys are bought by parents that suddenly have less disposable income (price sensitive audience).
      2) Demand for Lego (no caps, and I stand by it) is constant through time, so one can sell it tomorrow or in 5 years at a similar price..
      2) Legos, are highly priced, so there is plenty of room for profits.

    2. It’s a collector scene oriented around a commodified brand. There’s absolutely no shortage of customers, they’re just hightly niched. Margins and reliability, what’s not to love?

    3. Another reason is that LEGO regularlly retires sets and the prices can double and even quadruple in a matter of months–especially if certain parts were only available in a particular set.

      And once they’re off the shelves (as someone has already said) there’s a huge customer base willing to pay the extra costs. LEGO bricks are a commodity!

    4. As well as the others – they’re a range with a huge price range, where the price may not be obvious from e.g. size of box. If the cashier sees “Lego” on the display as they go through, then they’re probably not going to query it if the price isn’t very obviously wrong. 

  3. I made the mistake of following the link to SAP.  Still have no clue what the fuck it is that they do.  Is it one of those companies who tell other companies what to do, or what?  I am so confuzzled.

    1. We have SAP where I work. It’s a “business” system. It basically means you can employ people who know “SAP” and then when they are asked to put nails in the wall, they’ll hit it with SAP consultants.

    2. Still have no clue what the fuck it is that they do.

      I couldn’t figure it out either. You know what they say: If you can’t figure out what the product is, it’s you.

      1. Wikipedia ….

        They sell business software modules for all kinds of tasks, like accounting, HR, supplier management etc.

        My company has it and personally I think some other solutions are superior but SAP covers most business management tasks which makes management feel better than dealing with lots of single solutions and software suppliers. It’s an all-in-one out-of-the-box approach with the (theoretical) option to buy just single modules and so stay independent.

          1. “SAP is the market leader in enterprise application software”

            Nope, still no idea. Can someone translate this, please?

          2. it does whatever it’s written to do.

            at my mother’s employer, it’s used to handle payroll and personnel files.

          3. It’s a database client-server architecture for business — mostly accounting stuff, payroll, expenses, software purchases, etc.

            So, back in the olden days (think Mad Men), you’d fill out an expense report and give it to your secretary, who would type it up in triplicate and make sure that it got to the appropriate people (payroll, accounts payable, etc.). Your hand-written numbers eventually get typed into ledgers, run through adding machines, signed off on by managers, sent to the bank, and two to six weeks later, your expenses are reimbursed with a paper check with an actual signature on it.

            With SAP, you enter your own damn expenses in a web client where it goes into a relational database and immediately propagates to all the ccounting applications and report generators and approval workflows, and is ultimately direct-deposited into your bank account.

            There’s probably more to it than that, but from the perspective of the typical drone, it’s a series of poorly designed web apps that keep you from doing your real job.

          4. I does the “back office” functions of business, which would have been done by guys with green eye shades scribbling in ledgers.

            An “order” has to go to the warehouse, shipped, goes into accounts receivable (AR), payment is sent, AR is zeroed out and goes into the cash ledger, inventory is adjusted, a restocking order goes out, payment to the supplier is authorized. In a big company, this would be mountains of paper recording in dozens of ledgers scattered across the company that would reconciled using monthly reports.

            By putting it in a database,  all those transactions are synched up and a few barcode readers can replace all those back office   clerks. 

            However, each company has different rules about inventory and payment, so it requires a lot of installation tweaks.  

            And all the acronyms for the data fields are cryptic because the who thing was written by GERMANS, so “AR” is something entirely different.

          5. it’s a series of poorly designed web apps that keep you from doing your real job.

            Now, that makes more sense. It’s very different where I work, as we’ve built our own poorly designed web apps to keep us from doing our jobs.

          6.  SAP makes bar code printers, inventory control systems for the management of large quantities of small plastic bricks, and deli meat slicers (though word is they’re selling off that portion of the business as it doesn’t fit in with the company’s business model).

      2. I spent a few minutes on their website. I’m now actually less certain of what they do than before I clicked (and I knew almost nothing about them at that point).

    3. Imagine a huge monolithic workflow engine and database for every single thing anyone at your company does that isn’t R&D.

      Also imagine such a monolith that doesn’t play well with others, requiring painful integration work — or to (simply! [but not cheaply!) replace the other system with a SAP one.

      Also imagine that the “expert” SAP consultants who you would presumably go to for help with integration have no fucking idea about anything besides SAP.

      Yeah. It’s like that.

    4. In college,  I had a semester long course in SAP given by a guy that was part of their german HQ or something like that. We never laid hand on a piece of software and every hour was like playing bullshit bingo continuously. At least the exam was ridiculously easy as you could use your notes. To this day I’ve never met SAP in my professional life (though I’ve heard horror stories from others) and still don’t know what exactly it does.

    5. Let Langenbach explain it himself (taken from his deleted LinkedIn profile):

      Thomas Langenbach is a senior professional with over 20 years experience in the enterprise software industry and is currently Vice President of SAP’s Integration & Certification Center (ICC). SAP ICC is responsible globally for SAP partner services encompassing the technical enabling, product integration, and certification of 3rd party software applications with SAP solutions.

      Thomas has been with SAP since 1988 and has held several positions in development before joining SAP ICC at SAP Labs, Palo Alto in 2000. He holds a degree in computer science and business administration from Berufsakademie Mannheim, Germany.


      Thomas Langenbach’s experience spans different job functions across the product development, customer, and partner engagement life cycle and includes 10+ years of management experience with personnel and P/L responsibility as well as 10+ years experience in partner alliances and partner programs.

    6. SAP software does information storage and processing, on a big scale, typically throughout the organization using it.

      So the HR/Personnel Department may use SAP (via a standard HR/Personnel package customized to meet specific needs) to track schedules, hours worked, overtime, vacation time, set staffing levels at locations, etc.

      The Sales Department (via a standard Sales package customized to meet specific needs) may use SAP to track sales of whatevers, how many, when, to whom, etc.

      The Inventory Department (via a standard Inventory package customized to meet specific needs) may use SAP to track the number of whatevers in each location, forecast how many need to be shipped to maintain enough stock, etc.

      Since all three are using the same underlying system, SAP, staffing hours can be based on sales levels from week to week, inventory can be adjusted quickly based on rapid feedback from Sales, prices can be adjusted based on sales & inventory, etc.

      Setting up the collection, storing, and processing of all of this information requires folks reasonably proficient in both the tasks and SAP, thus the armies of consultants. As these needs are ever-evolving the armies of consultants never really leave.

      The SAP advantage is automation of information storage and processing across the organization using a standardized system, allowing connections between departments and services be built and maintained. This is presumably better then managing a collection of “best of breed” or “legacy systems” which require their own efforts to keep connecting to each other and moving information in an efficient manner.

      (In fact it can often begin to feel like the organization exists to serve it’s SAP applications rather then the other way ’round. That is a reflection on how ubiquitous these systems become and how reliant on information businesses are today.)

      Needless to say SAP installations are complex, sprawling, and hugely expensive; mandated from the top-down and taking years to “roll out” (and never really ending). The profits of SAP, Oracle, and their supporting ecology are breath-taking. The salary of any of their legions of VPs is bound to be considerable, enough that sticker-switching for consumer goods should obviously not be worth the payoff/risk.

      I’m guessing the plea will be based on some version of “I couldn’t take the pressure”/”is under a doctors care” variety.

    7. Their main competitor is Oracle, which you hopefully know; the main difference is that the best bit of Oracle is their database, whereas the best bit of SAP is the applications running on top of it, which take care of counting how many products you’re selling and how much money you’re making.

      It’s one of the most profitable companies on the planet, although they’re currently on a downward trend somewhat.

      1. The SAP database seems to be rather rudimentary, although I’m not sure that’s really a problem, since relational databases aren’t that good with parts inventories. 

    8.  They put all your business’s data in one “place” and then provide web interfaces specialized by task to access it, so payroll, benefits, accounting, sales, etc. each have their own view of the data that excludes irrelevant bits (HR doesn’t need to know your sales figures) and includes relevant bits (they do need to know your benefits).

  4. I’m not entirely sure the guy did anything wrong.

    Every transaction that takes place at check-out is an agreement between the retailer and the customer that the price negotiated is the price paid. Once the sale is processed the deal is transacted and ownership is transferred. Fraud is only committed when the customer knowingly conceals the price of the item, for instance, changing the price label. Lastly, checkout clerks are duly recognized representatives of the retailer.
    The bar-code identifies the product at the point-of-sales. The bar-code is printed on the product as part of the labeling. It doesn’t indicate a price, it is just a number. An observant check-out clerk would notice the label, unless it is the practice of Target to re-label bar-codes (not a good idea). Also, the clerk should have noted the discrepancy between the product description and the actual product, negating the deal. If the clerk checked the product, then the price was negotiated and correct at the sale. As the price cannot be determined by the bar-code (at least I’ve never been able to determine the price from one), then it is incumbent upon the clerk (acting as a legal representative of Target) to ensure that the negotiated price  for the product is the price that is paid.

    So, the guy may have tried to commit fraud by changing labels, but unless the price was clearly marked (and changed) then no fraud was committed.

    1.  That’s the biggest load of crap I’ve heard in quite a while.  If he puts a barcode from LEGO SET A (a $25 set) onto LEGO SET B (a $45 set) and the checker scans it, he/she is going to see “LEGO…” and be satisfied as he/she is pushed to move fast by the bosses and can’t realistically be expected to carefully compare every product to the shorthand description on the register.  Furthermore, there will be a record of a product DIFFERENT from the one he left the store with having been purchased.  So the “negotiated” price you speak of was for a different product than the one he got.  By your logic, somebody could switch the contents of two packages of similar products and it’s incumbent upon the cashier to catch that it has been opened and resealed or else the customer gets away with it.  Theft is theft.  Just because a theft is particularly creative doesn’t make it otherwise.

    2. You’ve neglected to consider intent, which is why your whole argument comes crashing down. He intended to defraud and took action with that intent.

      1. What would the offense have been if he’d planted the lower-price bar code stickers on the pricey packages and walked away? Littering? Graffiti? Vandalism (by destruction of value)? Aggravated mischief?

        And would the unwitting customers getting a break at the cash register bear any liability (other than to pay the correct price if they or anyone else noticed the discrepancy)?

        1. The offense is the same, as the intent is still to defraud, he just would not be reaping the benefits. As for the customers in this random hypothetical, I don’t think they have any worry.

          Of course, Im no lawyer, and am not in anyway giving anything more than an uninformed opinion.

    3. The dude is not liable if someone mislabels something. In that case, yes, it is the store’s responsibility to catch that they screwed up the labels. Coming in with a pile of stickers and intentionally messing up the labels on the products? That is just clear cut fraud. The laws on fraud are pretty broad and revolve more around the fact that you were attempting to deceive someone to screw them.

      So yes, everything you said is true in that prices are technically negotiated and all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was screwing with labels with the clear intent to screw the store. The law is built for this and will nom nom him alive.

    4. In fact it’s easy for the clerk to recognise the right product. Almost every single lego product has it’s part number in big easy to read characters top left under the logo and the age rating.
      I’m actually surprised he got away with it for so long. Unless he targeted the dumbest clerks. In which case Target have a duty of care to train their staff better.

      1. Depends what comes up on the register and the receipt though. if the line just says “LEGO Set…. $4.99” then the clerk aint gonna be able to tell any different. Add to this the fact that some stores routinely oversticker the barcodes to marry up to their own system and you have the perfect storm of opportunity for a would be fraudster.

        1. The store’s database usually has a text description of the set (all or part of the title), but not the set number (though it would be a good idea).  (I’m a former Target employee and frequent Target customer.)

      2.  Eight bucks an hour really doesn’t attract a very high level of intelligence to your cashier pool. It really doesn’t attract people who give a damn, either.

        1. Careful with that big, fat brush.  Never assume the person on the other side of the counter has that job because they lack the intelligence to get better paying jobs.  The crap cashier job I had in college payed my living expenses while I completed my degree.  In my case, the crap job supplier happened to be Target.  Your second point, though, is true.  They didn’t pay me enough to give a flying fig what went through the line. 

          1.  You are correct, the first bit was a bit of an over generalization (though in my experience, not by a very wide margin). I apologize. FWIW, I think that in today’s economic climate, an $8/hr job isn’t going to pay even a college student’s living expenses so well. It seems that wages for these retail jobs have been remarkably flat over the past several years while college expenses have suffered extreme inflation.

    5. Target again? And again it’s a guy with a fairly prestigious job.

      This guy was swapping price tags to pay less then returning them and getting refunds at full price.

      “…..Claude Alexander Allen (born October 11, 1960) was the Assistant to the President of the United States for Domestic Policy in George W. Bush’s White House and a withdrawn Bush judicial nominee for theUnited States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit…….Allen had been repeatedly stealing from retail stores Target and Hecht’sby engaging in a personal refund scheme…..”

  5.  I hope the judge stipulates that his sentence must be served barefoot, and his cell floor covered with lego bricks.

  6. Ok, so he maid 30,000 by stealing legos, while his VP at SAP salary was what? Maybe SAP will forgive him, but that’s taking a massive risk for rather small profit – especially since stealing, packing and sending 1000’s of lego packages is quite some time taking job…

    1. I was thinking something similar. He had a multimillion dollar house (however mortgaged) and a good job, and he was engaged in this time-consuming and self-evidently risky scheme to make, what, a few thousand a month? I could see pulling the stunt once to feel smugly superior, but he apparently made a positive industry of it.

    2. According to the internet, the average salary for a Palo Alto VP at SAP is 200K.  So yeah, I fail to understand his motivation to essentially work a time-consuming second, illegal job that couldn’t have been worth more than 10% of his salary.

      1. Vengeance against imagined wrongs seems like a popular reason for middle-class crimes like shoplifting.

  7. He did what any capitalist would do: Use information asymmetry to buy at a low price an sell at a high price to make a profit.
    The only real ‘crime’ was he was standing on the toes of two really powerful companies, Target and Lego, in the process.
    You can get into some really interesting points of law on this one.
    What if Tom just realized they were mislabeled in the shop and paid for them at the mislabeled price? Is that still fraud?

    @MythicalMe, I think you have some excellent points.

    1. Three, actually. SAP is huge. They won’t like it at all that their name get linked to petty fraud.

      1. Yeah, SAP is going to be peeved.  Their name is typically associated with fraud on a much larger scale.

    2. The “information asymmetry” in question was that he knew he was defrauding the store, and the checkout clerk didn’t.

      I’m not a lawyer (I suspect you aren’t, either), but I rather doubt you could actually “get into some really interesting points of law on this one”.

  8. I had to consider similar conduct for my lax examination here in Germany, where such instances are abundantly discussed.

     Apart from fraud, which is clearly established, there is also a case for falsification of docments. Given that the guy has not by himself “taken” possession of the items, there is no theft. At least this is the legal situation over here…

  9. @rationalthought. Apparently you find no distinction between capitalism and theft. And it’s not a “crime” if the victim is a corporation instead of a person? That would make bank robbery OK too. Try that and let us know how it works out for you.

    1. Apparently you find no distinction between crime and using information asymmetry.Bank robbery is a crime.
      Using FOREX or stocks / shares trading to make money from banks is not.

      Of course if you could manipulate what the bank thought the price of those commodities were, and did so to your advantage, that would be fraud. I doubt whether anyone would consider it theft. (see “pump & dump”)
      The changing of a barcode label is very similar.

      The crime is fraud. Then buying the product for the wrong price can’t be theft because you paid money. (OK, the deal was biased but a transaction took place)

      1.  Nice try. Rationalize all you want, but this is theft by deception, just as writing a check on a closed bank account is also considered theft. When you deliberately create the “information asymmetry” by changing bar codes, you are stealing the difference in value between what the item is sold for and what the bar code system was tricked into having you pay. Four felony counts against this guy are not going to go away with an “information asymmetry” argument.

      2.  Unless you’re actually a lawyer you should probably stop trying to sound so sophisticated about the distinction.  The dude took more product than he paid for.  Stealing.

  10. SAP is a huge, global software company. They make software to run inventory systems, supply chains, HR systems, pretty much anything a large business needs to run its operations. A VP at SAP would have a fair amount of responsibility and should be making a very comfortable salary. This guy may be a sociopath, and even if he doesn’t do time, his career is toast.

    1.  So, how does a HUGE – GLOBAL software company like SAP manage to hire a  “maybe sociopath” in the first place?  And then move him up to be a VP (of all things) of this HUGE company?  Really?  Don’t these huge companies have the psychological tests to weed out the “sociopaths” before they even get to have an interview?  Or maybe they just check their credit rating and let it go at that. 

      You know what?  Fuck the huge global corporations. 

      1. Did you, um, not notice that Yahoo’s CEO just quit because he lied on his resume? And nobody ever checked it, or if they did, they didn’t care.

        1.  Hell yeah I noticed.   Aw crap, now I’m even more cynical and hopeless than before.  FTW.  Thanks alot.

          1.  “…now I’m even more cynical and hopeless than before.”

            It’s really hard to keep up with all the things I should be feeling cynical about.  On the plus side, I’m almost caught up with my apathy duties.

      2.  Sociopathy is close to a prerequisite to being in the 1%.
        If you can’t trample people underfoot without remorse, then there’s no place for you up there.

    2. SAP is a huge, global software company. They make shitty software to run, poorly, … anything a large business needs to run its operations.

      Seriously, SAP is craps.  When I worked at a company using SAP for everything from supply to metrics, I wound up writing my own reporting against RAWs on a couple projects because it was less cumbersome to code it up than to figure out the SAP garbage (or ask the mightily overpaid Indian consultant guy I legitimately couldn’t understand a bit [and presumed didn’t know anything anyway]).

    1.  Further mental notes: 
      1.  Try to erase all memory of anything to do with SAP.
      2. Try to remember that Legos were just a fun toy when I was a kid.

  11. Now I don’t feel bad for returning something expensive I bought at full price last week but hadn’t removed the tags from when I found it a few days ago in clearance for half the price I paid, and immediately walking over and buying the clearance one. 

    Well, that didn’t make me feel bad to begin with. I guess I need to get more creative. I felt smug for doing that, but it wasn’t really worthy of smugness. I need to step up my game – I just want to feel something and ripping off lego sets might be the ticket. Maybe doing it at the lego store will provide the smugness I long for. This is the existential angst we smug Germans must deal with (well I’m half German anyway).

    1.  In that situation, many stores will simply refund the difference in price on the spot, if the original sale was within the last thirty days.

  12. Clearly, large corporations are not paying their executives enough. We need to subsidize their compensation packages as a crime-prevention measure. Perhaps a massive public investment in management workshops to keep them off the streets?

    1. Honestly, you’d think a VP at  SAP should be able to come up with a better scam.  It’s rather disappointing. 

  13.  One of my most immediate family members worked in SAP for years and years.  I still have no idea WTF an SAP is or does.  People would ask me “what does your (family member) do for a living?” and I would just shrug.

  14. Back in the early 90’s my spouse worked for a restaurant in a casino. The bletcherous, overpaid head chef was fired for stealing bricks of baseball cards. From the casino gift shop.

  15. When the police apprehended him, he was reported to have said: “Lego of me!”

  16. SAP also just had a big event in Orlando (Sapphire), and put on what will very likely have been the last Van Halen concert, for the attendees.

    Also, Oracle sued SAP in the largest software piracy claim evar.  $1bn or so.

  17. Well not everyone on Ebay liked him.

    In fact, I reported him to Ebay for listing a Lego set as “new” when it as clearly evident he had opened the seal and removed the minifigures.

    With regard to Lego sets, as with any other products that have a “seal”, once the seal is broken, it is no longer considered “new”.

    What THIS clown was doing was pricing HIS sets SANS minifigures for a few bucks LESS than the cheapest new-set seller price, and when buyers would search for a set, his item would appear in the listings as new, and you’d see the 100% approval rating, and if you weren’t real careful, you’d end up buying a set that had been opened and pilfered.

    The headings were designed also to deceive, since they made no mention of the missing minifigures,

    I reported this to Ebay after I received an email back from tomsbrickyard, in which he claimed it was “common practice” and if he didn’t list them that way, it would put him in a “clear disadvantage”.

    Poor baby.  I told him straight away he was the epitome of a liar and a false advertiser, and he had a choice: relist them as used, or I’d report him.

    He chose not to relist, I reported him, and the rest is history.

    I told him not to mess with me.

    Oh well, everyone learns, and some learn the easy way, and some don’t. 

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