Episode 1: My First Memory
Before I begin, I first must preface this by stating for the record that I am no longer the person I once was. I have no involvement in any criminal activities. Nor do I associate with anyone who is involved in criminal activity. Today I’m a humble Christian who lives a simple life with my wife, far out in the country, five hours north of Detroit.
For obvious reasons, I will be changing names to protect identities.
As a young child, I have several distinct memories of things that were… well, not normal. For example, I remember my uncles talking with my grandfather about how the FBI were outside surveillancing my grandparents’ home, the home I grew up in. But at the time I had no idea why the FBI would be watching my grandparents’ home. I was just too young to understand.
My first real memory of illicit activity was when I was around 14. My uncle Pete, who was only 12 years my senior and would later be more like an older brother than my uncle, arranged a “sinecure job” for me at a local restaurant. For those who don’t know what a sinecure job is, it’s a “no-show” job where you are employed on paper but don’t actually do any work. Apparently, the guy who managed the place, a fat old gambling degenerate named Harry, was deep into my uncle’s loan-sharking books, to the tune of $20k, which was a lot of money back in 1987. So the guy came up with an idea—skim from the restaurant he worked at as a way to payoff my uncle. The place was a real high-end, with a 4-star menu. Best prime rib in town. I’d later learn that the guy only got a job working there because he was friends with its owner, a bigtime coke dealer who brought huge shipments of coke up from Miami (this is late 1980s, mind you) to Detroit for other members of the Family. But that’s a story for another day. I’d later become well acquainted with him and his partner.
So my title at the restaurant was “baker,” which was funny since I was only 14 and didn’t know a damn thing about cooking, let alone baking. I never did an ounce of work there. Nothing. All I did was walk in once a week and collect my paycheck, which was usually around $500. I’d then bring it to my uncle, who would give me a $50 and send me on my way.
This arrangement went on for about a year, and from what I gathered from my uncle the guy was only getting deeper and deeper into my uncle’s pocket with his gambling and borrowing. I thought the guy was a real moron. I mean, I was only 15 and could walk in there like I owned the place. Free food and drinks for me and my boys. We’d rack up huge tabs and just walk out without paying. The place had these cakes. They were the best freakin’ cakes you’d ever tasted! Just amazing. I remember just walking in the back cooler and taking like five of them, walking straight out the back door. Of course nobody said anything. They knew who I was. Or rather, who my uncle was.
But here is where the story gets pretty funny. I went in to collect my check one day and saw Harry had just received a huge shipment of frozen perch fillets. The place was famous for its perch. I remember looking at the boxes of fillet, thinking: “Those look like silver bass fillets.” Silver bass are a sort of trash fish that are super abundant in Lake Saint Clair where I grew up fishing. We could sometimes catch hundreds of them in a single day. No joke, we almost sank a boat with them once. Must have had a 1,000 or more of them in my cousin Johnny’s little 14” aluminum boat.
Anyway, I came up with an idea—my first real hustle. I caught some silver bass and brought the fillets to “my boss” Harry. I told him I thought he could sell them as perch fillets and nobody would ever know the difference. To test this theory, he fried some up and sent them out to customers. Like I figured, nobody knew the difference. Since he was paying $2.00 a pound for perch, I told him I’d sell him my silver bass fillets for only $1 a pound. He could skim the other $1. He loved the idea. Next thing I know, me and my boys are going out fishing everyday, making about a $100 each off of having fun catching silver bass. It was a great little racket for a 15-year-old kid. My uncle didn’t even ask for a cut. He thought it was funny.
The guy ended up getting busted about a year later. And for all things, buying walleye fillets from an unlicensed commercial seller. Basically, he took our little arrangement and expanded on it so he could skim even more from the restaurant. But he stood his ground in court and never brought us up. My uncle actually sent me to the guy’s court hearing, just so he would see me there watching, and so we could confirm that he made no mention of us and our little arrangement. Ahhh, the life. It started off so simple and “innocent.” At the time, there was no way of knowing it would eventually land me in prison for 13 years.