Wednesday, August 10, 2011

...Hindsight is 20/20...

I was once interviewed by the FBI years ago after a co-worker at a major bank I worked for was caught embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I was a CSR-I (a “customer service representative-level 1, which was just a fancy word for “bank teller”). The co-worker in question was a CSR-II. CSR-IIs were responsible for opening accounts and giving special attention to high level clients. So when “Deena” opened an account for “Mr. Jones” with a starting balance of about $180,000, no one was suspicious. Mr. Jones had made some wise business decisions overseas and was also apparently very lucky at gambling. Within weeks there were additional deposits in the tens of thousands each time.

Deena’s job was to open accounts and bring in wealthy clients so it was all in a day’s work to find Mr. Jones and make him a customer. She was also one of the newer and less experienced CSR-IIs, and presumably felt the pressure to compete with the others, especially “Rasheed” who was known for bringing in crazy large business accounts. I’m talking opening balances of tens of millions and in some cases hundreds of millions. (This was a major bank.)

One day for no reason in particular the teller line ended up in a discussion about the mysterious Mr. Jones. Everyone had performed at least one transaction for Deena related to his account- all withdrawals exceeding $30,000. You needed approval for a withdrawal that large but we often went to different supervisors for the approval, so there was never anyone to connect the dots right away.

The lead supervisor was standing nearby listening to us and investigated with the bank manager. It turns out that in Deena’s haste or greed she had overdrawn the Jones account.

At this time, it was assumed that Mr. Jones was being taken advantage of, except for one small problem: there was no Mr. Jones.

And the money never existed.

It was the one of the oldest scams in the banking book but done on a much larger, not to mention, slicker scale.

You open a real account with the minimum deposit, usually with someone else’s information. “Deposit” some obscene amount of money into an ATM and then spend the cash before the bank figures out the money was never there. Then you disappear.

Of course, you couldn’t do that now with all the newer safeguards they have long since put into place (notice how ATMs now scan a visual image of any deposit you make whether cash or check?)

Enter the FBI.

They wanted to speak to all of us but wanted to speak with me first since I had performed the most transactions and had been the only person to see someone actually come into the bank on behalf of Mr. Jones. They wanted me to give a description of the woman Deena had brought to my window.

With every detail, I felt dumberer and dumbererer.

“She was a tall thin woman. Darker complexion. She had on a floral print dress down to the floor and a black sweater over her shoulders. I couldn’t see much of her face because she had on sunglasses. And her hair was like, a braided bob that kind of hung in her face.”

As soon as I said it, it was super obvious that the woman had been in disguise.

She had barely said a word because, according to Deena, she didn’t speak English very well. Deena was from another country and had taught me a few words and phrases here and there in her native language but I was nowhere near fluent. At the time I thought it was nice of Deena to come and help translate.

Man, was I stupid.

The more questions they asked me the more I thought sure they were going to think I was in on it. Or else they were going to think that I was the dumbest person on the planet and should be fired on the grounds of stupidity.

Of course they didn’t fire me and I worked there for some months long after Deena had been put on leave while the investigation continued. I heard that she went back to her home country but I was never able to confirm it. I don’t know whatever happened to her or that case.

I sometimes wonder if somewhere on my permanent record it speaks of  my involvement even if only as a witness, and that my recorded interview with the FBI still exists in some archive, along with my fingerprints (bonded for the bank job, remember?), and probably some irrelevant medical information or something. I imagine a post-it note next to a very young picture of me: Honest, but stupid. Unexplained spikes in Prolactin levels.

I starting thinking about all of this again recently when I got word that an old friend, “Janus” died.

I felt bad because it had been some years since we had last spoken. Everyone changes and grows but something about them felt different…in a bad way. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I spoke to a couple of other people and they mentioned the same thing; that it was like one person had died and another person, nearly identical in appearance had stepped in.

But even the appearance was different to me. My old friend wore their new appearance like an ill fitting costume. I feel bad about it, but I felt myself searching for signs of our former life during our few brief encounters in the last so many years, and when I couldn’t find anything, I kind of separated myself from them.

I remember my parents hated Janus. So did Cassie, which is saying a lot because Cassie loves everybody. (Cue Chester French!) But I thought they might have been one of the coolest people that I would ever meet in my lifetime. I thought they were smart, and funny, and attractive, but down to earth. When you speak about people worthy of idolizing, Janus was a clear frontrunner.

It seemed to me that everything this person managed to do was incredible and impeccable.

My father, on the other hand, was insistent that this was true for no one. He insisted that “if all you know of someone is ‘everything is marvelous’ then there’s probably a lot you don’t know about them.”

Preposterous! I thought. Janus was simply dope.

Speaking of “dope,” turns out that Janus died of a drug overdose. Initially strange to me but then somehow the pieces started to fall into place.

I recalled a conversation when Janus swore they were being drugged by their domestic partner. They would wake up in the middle of the night with the other person standing over them rubbing their hip trying to coerce them back to sleep, and they were sure they saw a needle. The next morning, their hip would always be sore.
I was stunned, but not too stunned. It sounds unbelievable, but I’m just paranoid to not put anything past anyone. The knowledge of that situation always stuck with me. I hated Janus’s partner for life after that and I was glad when Janus was able to leave the situation (mostly) unharmed.

Then I recalled a rousing “debate” I had with Janus.

My stance was that under no circumstance would I ever, ever try any kind of drugs. For a couple of reasons.
  1. If there’s a one in a billion chance you can get addicted and spiral down to a personal hell from even being near it, it would be just my luck to be that one.
  2. I just don’t want to. What’s the point? All the things in the world that can make you feel awesome, why pick the one that will probably kill you, too? Or if it doesn’t kill you, it will probably make you wish you were dead.

 Janus was confident that if the right person offered me drugs under the right circumstances, I would be a junkie right now.
“Say you meet, like, [insert hot celebrity drummer guy’s name here that you know I’m thinking of but won’t say because I don’t want to accidentally start a rumor or something], and you fall in love with each other. Everything’s wonderful, you’re getting married, you trust and love him more than anything and you just know he would never do anything to hurt you. One day he says to you, ‘here Angel, try this,’ and hands you a pill or a joint, or whatever. Let’s say it’s a needle. He hands you a needle of something and says, "Trust me. Try this." You mean to tell me that you would tell [hot guy], ‘no’?”

Uh, YEAH. Sure flippin’ would.

I would miss those lips, but oh well.

I couldn’t love someone that would do that to me, so all bets are off. And a needle at that? No, friend, not me.

Janus called me a liar, and we went back and forth over it. They thought sure I would take the drugs because “love is stronger than everything,” and I knew I wouldn’t because “love is not supposed to make you stupid.”

Looking back I find it strange that Janus settled on using a needle for their example.

Then I recalled all the different little experimenting Janus had done over the years. And I thought about how each one came with a funny story involving whoever they were dating at the time introducing them to whatever. I thought back to the alleged drugging incident.

Then I re-read the email to see what all they had found in their room in terms of drugs.

I thought about my dad’s lesson, “if all you know of someone is ‘everything is marvelous’ then there’s probably a lot you don’t know about them.”

And it occurred to me that maybe I knew Janus better than I thought.

I’m still trying to figure out what it is about me that draws these people to me. I don’t consider myself an overly trusting person and yet, I find myself repeatedly being treated like a sucker. It doesn’t do much for my “self esteem” knowing that some of my “friends” are only there because they love the fact that I can be taken advantage of on the grounds of “friendship.”

I know they’re out there.

I run into them from time to time, but I really, really, really could use a visit, or even a strange encounter with a nice person. Nothing special just something that doesn’t leave me feeling like I just ran into Ernie the Starburst Klepto.

When I look back on my encounters with Deena and Janus and others like them, I can always clearly see what went wrong, when, where and how. It’s always obvious.

I just need to work on being able to see the so-called obvious when it’s right in front of me, and before it’s too late.


Shyne “It’s OK”

I swear I was thinking of this song before I ever read the email. Prophetic.
George Michael “Monkey”

Almost 20 years later, Midnight Marauders is still one of the best albums you could ever listen to, top to bottom, no skipping. A Tribe Called Quest “God Lives Through”

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