Hey Thoughty2 Here. We all know the old saying
“crime doesn’t pay”. But once you’ve started down the path of a criminal lifestyle,
it can be pretty hard to get out of, since it’s not like you can just write your boss
a letter of resignation or go and tell the police that you’re retiring. But, not only
is it possible, some prolific criminals have even gone on to become very successful in
some other field of mainstream work. So let’s have a look at the top seven criminals who
left their life of crime behind and became successful legitimately.
We’re starting with a superstar, a man recognized all around the world for his music, his business
empire and for being part of one of the world’s most famous couples. It is, of course, Sean
Carter, more commonly known as Jay Z. These days he’s estimated to be worth around $500
million and has a finger in so many pies he may as well own a bakery. As one of the greatest
rappers of all time, he’s sold over 100 million records but he also runs a record
label, a clothing brand, a fragrance line and even a sports agency. You’d think he’d
just retire and play golf or something but no, he keeps on going.
It’s more likely that he just has that entrepreneurial spirit, and that never dies out. So where
did he learn this, where did he get his impressive business skills? Well as a teenager, he was
a drug dealer, known in his neighbourhood as Jazzy. The projects he came from were gripped
by the crack cocaine epidemic and young Sean saw it as one of the few opportunities available
to him as a way to improve his situation. He says that later in his life he looked back
and realised the effects the drugs had on the community but at the time he was just
a kid thinking about surviving and buying clothes. So he took it upon himself to learn
business on the streets. Jay Z says he owes most of his business skills and his ability
to budget, thanks to his experiences dealing drugs on the streets of New York in the 1980s.
I guess working out a budget for a drug deal probably makes you learn a lot quicker than
sitting in a classroom listening to your business professor monotonously explaining spreadsheets.
His past is a big part of his music and he has plenty of great songs about it such as
Friend or Foe from his first album Reasonable Doubt and then 4th of December on The Black
Album which gives a perfect overview of his rags to riches story.
I wonder if he’ll ever release an album about how to sit through board meetings, or
the best way to manage an investment portfolio. Perhaps he could call it “The Green Album
($)”. From one of the coolest men on the planet,
to one of its truest geeks. Kevin Mitnick was a hacker in the early 90s, known as both
The Condor and The Darkside Hacker. He didn’t think of it as hacking though, he like to
call it “social engineering”, just like how breaking and entering is “alternative
access engineering”. He started out “engineering” himself free
rides on the buses around LA after sussing out how to bypass the punch card system. It’s
not exactly the most gangster of beginnings but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere,
right? But he soon graduated to hacking into multi-national businesses like Pacific Bell,
IBM, Nokia and Motorola. In 1988 he was convicted for 12 months for
breaking into the Digital Equipment Corporation’s network and copying their software. But this
bad boy didn’t hang up his keyboard and was arrested in 1995 after almost 3 years
on the run. It took 4 years to get to trial but he was ultimately convicted of multiple
counts of wire fraud and computer fraud. He did 8 months in solitary confinement as the
prosecution implied that he could “start a nuclear war by whistling into a payphone.”
His crimes are likely quite exaggerated though and probably many people involved in the case
didn’t truly understand the technical side of things. Think about how hard your grandma
finds it to send a text and then imagine she’s on the jury of a hacking trial, it’s going
to be a long, slow case. It’s only in recent years that law enforcement has grown more
accustomed to the intricacies of cybercrime. Eventually though, Kevin Mitnick decided to
use his powers for good. He became a successful security consultant for major corporations
and the FBI, teaching them about the great mysteries of social engineering. Now he’s
legitimate, he will never need to be locked away from his beloved internet again. Mitnick
now makes a very comfortable living providing penetration testing services for the world’s
largest companies. Now our next man was much harder to catch,
although he did spend a year in prison in Ohio. He is one of the greatest drivers of
all time, NASCAR legend, Junior Johnson, also nick named “the last American hero”.
He was a phenomenal NASCAR driver, winning 50 of 313 races. And he was thrilling to watch,
with a hell for leather style that meant he would either walk off with 1st place or just
a steering wheel, if he was lucky. He retired in his prime, at 35, since the thrill had
gone out of it. He said “If my car didn’t tear up, there wasn’t anyone that could outrun
me.” And he was right. So what was his crime? Junior Johnson was
a bootlegger and he used to drive moonshine all around North Carolina, that’s illegally
made booze for those of you who don’t know. His father spent a third of his life in prison,
so little Junior Johnson started learning from an early age how to outrun the law and
he was a nifty driver by the age of 10, running up and down the dirt roads near his house.
And it was this reckless driving style that made him great. Early on in his career, his
car wasn’t as fast as the others but he was one of the first drivers to use the technique
of going into the slipstream of a faster car and then sling-shotting around it, a practice
which is common today. Junior Johnson made it so legit that he even
managed to have his record wiped clean, since, the day after Christmas in 1986, President
Ronald Reagan gave him a presidential pardon for his old days as a moonshine runner. To
be fair, it was boxing day, so the president was probably feeling pretty good about the
idea of someone bringing him more booze, no matter where it came from.
Running illegal booze has a sort of romantic charm to it but once you get into harder stuff,
the magic sort of disappears. Now if I asked you what actor Tim Allen, was
doing in Kalamazoo with some magical white powder, you’d maybe think he was filming
another sequel to The Santa Clause. But in October 1978, at the airport, he was actually
arrested for transporting over half a kilo of cocaine. That’s right, the voice of Buzz
Lightyear, the squeaky clean space ranger, was a drug dealer.
Allen had just started out as a stand-up comedian, but smuggling 650g of coke is no joke and
he was staring down the barrel of a life sentence. He sensibly decided that he didn’t want
to spend to infinity and beyond behind bars and took up the cop’s offer of becoming
an informant and got a reduced sentence of 3-7 years and eventually just served 28 months.
When he came out, he returned to stand-up comedy and went on to become one of the biggest
names in television with his show Home Improvements. He was so big at one point that he set an
impressive record of having, in one week, the top rated show – Home Improvements,
the biggest grossing film – The Santa Clause, and the New York Times best-selling book – Don’t
Stand To Close To A Naked Man. He probably thought all his Christmases had come at once.
He’s estimated to be worth over $80 million dollars these days, so it’s safe to say
that crime doesn’t pay, voicing little toy spacemen does though.
Our next criminal was also an actor, but not the kind who does movies. Frank Abagnale was
one of the world’s greatest conmen and, among many other roles, fraudulently played
the part of a doctor, a lawyer and an airline pilot.
If this all sounds slightly familiar, it’s probably because his life was immortalised
on the big screen in the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom
Hanks, directed by Steven Spielberg. He was born in 1948 in New York and by fifteen
he had begun his first con; on his dad. Some of us might have stolen a beer or two out
the fridge or helped “lose” a bit of cash lying around the house but Frank Jnr took
Frank Snr for $3,400 by using his credit card to buy car parts and then cashing them in.
He said it was for date money, but that’s an awful lot of popcorn.
Soon he graduated from defrauding the bank of dad and started going after the real ones
by editing cheques, creating fake identities and even putting his own account details on
blank deposit slips, so customers would accidentally place their money into his account.
The name “conman” is short for “confidence” man and it’s really this ability that made
him so good at what he did. Often the idea itself was so simple but just doing it with
authority and confidence meant he would get away with some incredibly simple scams. In
one bank, he noticed that employees from United Airlines and Hertz would come in with ziplocked
bags and place them in a drop box. So Frank put an out of order sign on the box and a
note saying to give the money to the security guard. Guess who was hiding behind that security
uniform? After a long chase by the police and a lengthy
list of fake professions, Frank was finally caught in France, still only 21 years old.
So, how did he turn his life around? Well after 5 years of his 12 year sentence, the
US government released him, on the condition that they could use his hard-earned expertise
to help them track other fraudsters. He eventually ended up acting as a consultant for major
banks, showing them how he had got around their security and designing better ways for
them to protect themselves. I don’t know, some people might say that working for major
banks means he hasn’t really left the conman business after all.
A lot of the people we’ve talked about today are a bit of a surprise, you wouldn’t look
at Tim Allen and guess drug dealer. But our next guy has made a career as an actor for
the very fact that he kind of looks like a hardened criminal, and that’s because he
was. Big, bad Danny Trejo has been playing gangsters since 1985 and is one of the most
prolific American actors, performing in at least 4 films a year since the 90s. You need
a big scary gangster? Danny’s your man. You’ll see him striding around in many a
Robert Rodriguez or Tarantino film, from Desperado to Machete and Dusk Till Dawn. But he’s
not just in it for the fame and money, he’s done plenty of student and independent projects
for just the price of a tank of fuel and a hot dinner.
So why is Danny Trejo so good at playing a badass in films? Because Danny was a bona
fide badass. He grew up in LA’s echo park and was consistently in and out of jail for
things like armed robbery. He ended up facing the death penalty for throwing a rock at the
head of a police officer, although he was aiming at someone else. Whilst in jail he
taught himself to box and went through a drug rehabilitation program which helped him turn
his life around and become a drug counsellor himself, on leaving the pen.
And it was counselling that got him into the movie business. He went to mentor a kid who
was struggling with all the cocaine on set of Runaway Train. It turned out the screen
writer recognised him from when they’d done time together at San Quentin prison and he
was asked to train an actor in boxing and then was given a part as a boxer himself.
Who needs LinkedIn when you’ve got prison buddies?
And prison is still a part of Danny’s life. He’s told journalists that he still sometime
worries he’ll wake up in his cell, with the bell ringing for dinner time. It was all
a dream Danny, all a dream. And finally we come to a man who sound tracked
many a romantic evening with his deep, bassy voice. Barry White is one of the best selling
artists of all time and although he’s famous as a singer, he actually had his hand in over
130 gold and platinum selling albums and singles. He was a songwriter, composer, producer and
session musician as well a singer. He worked with bands such as the Banana Splits, Bob
& Earl and Lisa Stansfield as well as having his own huge solo hits like the massive Can’t
Get Enough of Your Love, Babe. So what is Barry’s criminal past? Well,
before he was stealing hearts, Barry White was stealing cars.
The great soul singer was born in Texas but like Danny Trejo, he grew up in the troubled
neighbourhoods of LA. His brother Darryl was murdered in a gang dispute and Barry rolled
into jail at 16 for stealing $30,000 of Cadillac tyres. Whilst he was in jail, he heard the
famous Elvis tune “It’s now or never” and he took the message to heart, deciding
to make a change in his life. He left jail after 4 months and left his life of crime
in the dust, to become the legend we know today.
He sadly died at just 58, largely since he was overweight for most of his adult life.
So any of you criminals out there looking for a career change, I hope this has given
you some inspiration. Or perhaps, after hearing these success stories, you’re now considering
giving up your business degree to deal drugs. But please don’t. If these stories tell
us anything it’s that legitimate work pays more than crime – well, in the long run