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Episode 14: The Rose Shores Skim
So now that I was back in Detroit, I quickly fell back on my old hustles, primarily selling pot, steroids, and a little coke. It only took me a few months to reconnect with all my old contacts, buyers and sellers. Which can sometimes take time to cultivate. I had one friend who really didn’t know about my involvement in any organized crime, though he was definitely aware of who my family was. For the most part, he was a fat loser but he was funny and fun to be around, so I hung out with him from time to time. I simply kept my involvement with my family from him, because I was sure he could never be fully trusted. He was one of those people who were truly blissfully ignorant, too stupid to know he was stupid. And he was also a coke head, so half his life was spent sleeping, coming down from his coke binders. Anyway, one day he calls me and asks if I can help him move some pot. Apparently, some unknowing fool had made the bad decision of fronting him a large consignment of premium weed. Of course, I agreed to help. I remember picking up ten pounds of weed and, just like that, I was back in the game.
I was doing pretty good, selling weed and steroids (mostly counterfeit because that’s where the big profits were), and I ended up buying my first house with my girlfriend, who at the time I had been with for like 8 years. Money was coming in but I knew my friend’s weed plug could dry up, or he would somehow screw it up, as I’d seen him do so many times in the past. Either he would fall behind on his payments because of his coke habit, or the supply would eventually run out because somewhere up the chain someone got busted. So, one Sunday at my Grandma and Grandpa Tocco’s house for dinner with the family, I asked my Uncle Pete if he had any work for me. I’ll never forget what he said:
“Funny you bring that up, because I have a new job I need you to help me with. One of Tony’s players is deep in his pockets. Bad poker player. Like $70 grand deep. But his father happens to own Rose Shores Athletic Club and the Eastin Hotel. Tony wants to put you in to manage the gym so you can skim and get his money back.”
The Tony he was referring to is dead now, but out of respect for his family I will not say his name. But what I will say is that he was a capo and a very dangerous man who I had gotten to know through my Grandpa Tocco. They were friends and often had coffee or played penny poker together. I had done a couple odd jobs for him, things like work security at poker games or finding individuals who were trying hard not to be found. When I was a teenager, I had saved his grandson from some bullies in the neighborhood, because his niece had married my mother’s first cousin. So, we were actually family via marriage. But I can’t say Tony was a big fan of mine, mostly because later on in life I ended up scabbing several players from his poker games, which I actually got “called in” for. But I’ll save that for another Chronicle.
On this day I looked my uncle dead in the eye and asked, “What’s in it for me?”
I was immediately piqued by his answer:
“You’ll get a nice above-board salary and part of the skim. You’re a workout freak anyway. Just go in, workout for a few hours, and make sure everything is running smoothly. The guy will show you how to make the skim. Cake money.”
I was in. I knew the place well because I’d grown up working out there in my teens, as it was only a few miles from my house. Nice place that was actually a hotel, nightclub, and modern athletic club all in one building. The guy who was in Tony’s pockets was a real scumbag clown. I won’t use his name here because he’s the kind of guy who might try to sue me for using his name. For purposes of this piece I’ll just call him “Don.” He was a big, fat, ugly sucker. Looked Italian and had an Italian sounding name, but he told me he was Finnish. I have no idea if that was true. All I knew was that he was a dirtbag to the tenth degree. His father actually owned the whole place, but he ran everything. And he had been skimming for years, embezzling from his father to pay for his coke and gambling habits. But his father had just recently caught onto his skimming, so he hired a young girl to handle all of the accounting. This is how the guy had gotten deep in debt with Tony. Which was why they needed me in on the fix.
It was a pretty easy scam and I was compensated well. The previous manager had gotten “let go” because “membership sales were down.” Which of course was bullshit. I felt bad for her since she was a nice girl who really tried hard and took her job seriously. Nevertheless, I was hired to replace her, and I was given free rein to run the place how I saw fit. First thing I did was hire in a couple of my boys to help manage the place. Street guys who knew what was going on. Next, I hired in some high school kids to run the desk, pool, cleaning, whatever. They were naïve and easy to manipulate. They even taught me the computer system, because I was essentially computer illiterate. Once I knew how to use the computer system and manipulate it to make money disappear, I was ready to begin the skim. And I bled that place like a stuck pig!
Whenever anyone came in to pay cash for a $350 annual membership, that money never made it to the girl in accounting. Instead, it ended up in my pocket. And I began selling a TON of memberships because I sent my high school minions out each day to pass out 500 two-week guest passes, which could be applied as a $50 coupon towards a membership if they used it on the first day they came in to redeem it. When I got hired in, the place was selling less than 100 memberships a month. Within a month I spiked that to over 350 a month! And the best part was that I got a $25 above-board commission for every membership I personally sold, which was about 150 a month. Now, all the memberships that were bought with checks or credit cards, I had no way to skim. But the cash payments? Oh, almost all of those went into my pocket, and ended up being applied to the vig the guy owed Tony for his gambling debt. I got a nice cut though. And honestly, I wasn’t kicking him everything I was skimming. Only maybe half. The place also had racquet ball and wallyball (indoor volleyball) courts, so I was skimming from that too, since everyone paid cash for courts. Plus I was making a $900 a week salary, which was a decent pay back in the late 1990s. Overall, I think was probably pulling $10,000-$12,000 a month for myself.
What a racket! I would wander in around noon, hangout or train for a few hours, then leave and come back at 10:00 to close the place and put most of the cash in my pocket. I even had a key to the payphones, so I pillaged them every few days too! I had no idea how Tony got the key, but those phones were good for an extra $200 a week in quarters. Even better, I became tight with the accounting girl, who I’d gone to high school with. At some point she realized I was skimming so I believe she actually began skimming herself. I mean she began buying all kinds of new clothes and shoes, taking trips, bought a new car. It was like our own little secret. Place was a gold mine, our personal bank account. And there was another incredible perk to running that place—women! There were tons of beautiful young fitness enthusiasts who came in throughout the day. There was the morning bunch, the afternoon bunch, and the evening bunch. Needless to say, I made the most of that serendipitous perk.
The racket lasted close to two years. I had a new house and a garage full of toys. The fat coke head gambling degenerate got back in good graces with Tony, although I know he hated me because he was sure I was double-dipping, which of course I was. I was even selling steroids out of the place via my boys who helped me manage the place. In “the life” of a criminal who always finds an “angle” to work the system to his advantage, there are peaks and valleys, ups and downs. And for a couple years I was on a peak, an up. Honestly, it was one of the few periods in my life that I had stability, a real “job” and legitimate income. I think I even paid taxes. Imagine that! My girlfriend was happy with me and all my bills were always paid. My uncle was happy with me and I was in the good graces of the family higher-ups. I was living the dream.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. The old man who actually owned the place caught wind of who I was. Or rather, my background. He began hanging around and ended up putting cameras in, one of them RIGHT over the cash register. I still skimmed for a while but some of my high school minions began getting scared to set aside the cash for me, because they knew what I was doing. One of them, a little coward of a kid, cracked under questioning from the owner. Came right out and admitted that he thought I was skimming. There was no way to prove it, of course, but the old man ended up firing me. I was just grateful he was smart enough to refrain from pressing charges on me. I think he knew if he did, his own son’s involvement could be exposed. As for the kid who ratted, I understood he was just a scared civilian kid who didn’t want to get in trouble. I did have a “word” with him, though, and told him what I thought of rats. He was shaking with terror. But I wasn’t going to take it any further. I wasn’t that kind of guy. He was just a civilian and he had no idea how complex the web was that he had found himself caught in the middle of.
It was a good run and fun while it lasted. I essentially got paid to workout and mack on women all day while my minions did all the actual managing for me. Ahhh, the life. It has its lowlights and highlights. And this was certainly one of my highlights. Though I had many lowlights over the years, I still had highlights to come. Like running my own poker and dice games, another of my favorite rackets. There is HUGE money to be made if you can find the right players. You just have to always make sure that those players don’t “belong” to someone else. But I’ll save that for next time, how I got “called in” for scabbing poker and dice players from people who far outranked me in the family.