Good Help (and Drug Mules) is hard to find

I recently returned from doing my civic duty, which is just a nice way of saying I had jury duty. But by selecting me, society has benefited in multiple ways. First, I ensured one of our nation’s founding principles was upheld. Second, and of almost equal importance, I gained material for another blog.

The case we heard centered around a drug trafficker. The individual was accused of possession with the intent to distribute around 7 Kilograms of cocaine. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that case revolved around the question of whether the guy on trial had actual “control” of the product, as opposed to just being along for the ride. You see throughout the transaction he never actually placed his hands on the drugs. He gave a ride to one of the guys who picked up the dope and then placed it in the backseat of another car. He drove that same individual along as they followed the car with the dope to a gas station, where the bust happened. Now let me cut to the chase – we convicted him. In all of 10 minutes. In our mind the case was open and shut, but how? Based on the testimony of the two clowns who were actually observed in physical possession of the drugs.

Truth be told, I found the whole thing fascinating. Despite my questionable choice in friends, I am not familiar with the inner-workings of the drug trade. This gave me a glimpse into a different world. A world that, at the end of the day, was a business, though with some very keen differences, especially as it relates to HR. For example, in every company I have ever worked with, employee discipline usually meant either a note to your file, or a firm reprimand. I never worked anywhere where employee discipline involved broken bones or missing fingers or toes. In most main-stream organizations a major screw up might result in you getting fired, but I never worked anywhere that a major screw up, no matter how severe, ever involved a chainsaw. In addition, many companies have to keep up with government regulations, and failing to do so may result in fines. This is different from the risk of getting busted and sent up the river; suffering through prison food and a hairy cellie named Bart. Lastly there are the working conditions… I have seen a wide variety of working conditions and environments, but nothing like what I heard about in this trial. I listened as witnesses went into great detail regarding a typical day of pawning off this dude’s dope, which often meant sitting outside a crack house until the buyer had cooked and sold enough to pay off what was owed him for the product. I’m talking days sitting in your car or outside on the lawn, unable to go anywhere, eating whatever the benevolent purveyor of this particular drug den decided to bring out to you.  

As I’m hearing all this my HR mind started turning – how do you recruit for this line of work? What incentives do you offer? It’s not like you get health insurance or paid time off. So my first thought went to money. Drug dealers make a lot of money, right? Well, some would argue that this is in line with corporate America – the El Chapos of the world do but these guys, they were what you might call entry-level positions, which is to say that they were paid between $500 and $1,000 for a trip; an amount, I might add, which was not pre-negotiated; they were literally at the mercy of the defendant and his generosity. They would deliver the drugs, sit in the car until the street dealer walked out with the cash, they would drive back, hand the cash to the defendant, who would peel off a few bills and hand it to them and send them on their way. Regardless, that is not a lot of money. Best case scenario and they are making a trip a week (which was about all they could do – that was simply how long it took to deliver the drugs and collect the money) I figured that the most they could look for was $52,000 a year and that would mean literally no off time at all. But the reality is they were making runs once, in some cases twice, a month. That’s $24,000 a year on the high end. High-end. Sure, it is more than they might make working at McDonalds, but there is something to be said for not being beheaded and hung from an overpass if you give someone a small fry when they ordered a large.

So how did he recruit? Simple: he networked. He worked with other people who were in the trade, who knew someone, who knew someone. Usually the someones that they knew had no prospects, either because they were too lazy to work, (as was the case with one of the witnesses we heard from) or they had no options (like the second witness we heard from, who at the age of 23 had already served a 4 year sentence for burglary). The defense attorney, when he was cross-examining the second witness asked him why he would risk his life and freedom for one thousand dollars, and this streetwise thug teared up and said that he had never seen a thousand dollars at any one time. So yes the money was crap, but it was still more crap than he had seen and the defendant knew that, but at the end of the day that was all he was offering: money. Even when they were busted, while in the holding cell he offered one of the guys $100,000 to take the fall. Given that he put himself into this mess for 1% of that, you might think he would take it, but he didn’t. He decided to try his luck and roll the dice. He didn’t offer anything else to aspire loyalty. These guys knew that if they were caught, the gig was up. They also knew that he was intentionally separating himself from the dope with the intent that if they were busted he could rack it up as a loss and they would do the time. Of course it didn’t work out that way. You see, even though there was a lot of circumstantial evidence tying him to the drugs, without the two witnesses I am not sure that we would have gotten there, and by there, I mean 60 years.  

How could he have done this differently? I’m honestly not 100% sure. I’m fairly certain that my chances of ever working as an HR Consultant for a part of a drug cartel was pretty much blown with this trial (no pun intended). However, I do think that the heavy reliance on money, and money alone, might not be the best move. So, Mr. Drug Dealer, if you are reading this from your prison cell, when you get out (in 15 years if you get parole) I hope you take this to heart. You were smart in how you handled the logistics of your deals. You were also smart in how you developed your network. But you failed miserably in how you managed your greatest asset – your people. Perhaps money is your greatest motivator, but it isn’t so for everyone. Maybe next time you should do more for your employees, say a plaque after reaching a milestone like moving 10 kilos without incident. Perhaps greater training in the event they are caught (hint: when asked if there are drugs in the car, they shouldn’t automatically say “yes,” – that one’s on me, free of charge).  

In all seriousness, there are a couple of lessons we should all learn from here: First, money is relative. Depending on their circumstances, you can get people to take on a tremendous amount of risk for a relatively small amount of money. However, and this leads me to my second point: if the only thing you have to motivate your employees is money, your employees will see their work as just a job and therefore will not be loyal towards you, their employer. So don’t be surprised when they jump ship for a better opportunity (even if that opportunity is 10 years versus 15).

OK, maybe there is a third: crime doesn’t pay. Especially if you take me out of work for a week to sit on your jury. Just sayin’.


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