Ken Lay & his posse

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Remember Young Boys Incorporated?

For those of you who forgot, or who simply don’t know, YBI was Detroit’s most well-known — and most feared — drug-dealing empire going back 20 years or so. What set YBI apart from the other local — and national — drug kingpins was the willingness of YBI leaders, Milton “Butch” Jones and Sylvester “Seal” Murray, to use children, who couldn’t be sent to jail, as dope runners. The approach was as cold-blooded and practical as it was vicious and immoral. When it comes to the dope game, that’s business as usual. Those who die from overdoses and drug-related violence, or whose lives are ruined in the process of making dope dollars, are written off as collateral damage.

So when YBI was finally, thankfully, brought down after a six-year reign, those who were held responsible were sent away to prison. It took a two-year investigation to get them, but the end did eventually come.

Hang on, because I’m about to make one of those leaps ... to Enron.

If you have been following the Enron scandal with the same amount of fascination and disgust that I have, there’s no need to rehash the details of the story here. Suffice to say that this case proves white-collar criminals are just as good at shrugging off the consequences of their actions as their counterparts in the streets and alleys.

Make no mistake; if Enron executives are ever charged with any crimes and found guilty, they aren’t all that different from the “executives” who ran YBI.

These guys cashed out their stocks under virtual cover of darkness and walked away with millions while they lied to their faithful employees, stockholders and investors. Choosing to believe in Enron, thousands of families did not cash out company stock while it was still worth something. The reward for loyalty in many cases was the loss of life savings. All those dreams ruined, and the guys responsible for ruining them didn’t even blink as they paddled away from a sinking ship — one that they helped to sink — while dodging the outstretched hands of their drowning work force.

This behavior exhibits the same twisted mentality, the same arrogance, the same sense of invulnerability, the same sense of entitlement and the same intoxication with the trappings of power as displayed by the YBI execs. The only significant differences between the two sets were their clothes and their friends.

There was talk that YBI’s money provided a considerable amount of protection during its heyday, which isn’t that hard to believe. Yet those connections, whatever they may have been, were not enough to keep YBI in business or to keep Butch Jones and associates out of prison.

What remains to be seen is whether Kenneth Lay’s considerably higher connections, and those of his associates, will be enough to keep them all out of the pokey. Even if they do wind up standing trial and are found guilty, not a-one of them will spend a day in a prison guarding their backsides whenever they pick up the soap. It’ll never happen.

But it should.

Some of you wonder how Lay — a preacher’s son from Missouri who climbed up the ladder to become one of the most powerful and influential corporate executives in the country — could possibly be compared to a drug dealer from the streets of Detroit. How can one compare a drug kingpin with a “legitimate” businessman?

Easy. Although it’s true that Lay and his top aides didn’t make their names in an illegal profession, their actions were probably illegal and ruined thousand of lives. Just as a drug dealer has to be aware of the societal consequences of his actions, at least on some level, Enron executives had to know that they would be making life a tad more difficult for at least a few folks. They knew but they didn’t care, just like Butch Jones knew but didn’t care what his heroin peddling was doing to his own community. Butch was making money, and that’s what he cared about.

The Enron execs aren’t much different. Their civic and political involvement was little more than a smoke screen for greed.

So why should these guys be granted any special treatment? What they did can hardly be called a victimless crime and it was, in my view, premeditated. So why can’t they be registered as guests at any one of those wonderful Texas correctional facilities that President George Bush is so proud of? If they are found guilty and sentenced to the lengthy terms they deserve, what would be wrong with having them rub elbows with some of their more financially challenged peers? After all, there isn’t supposed to be a built-in class system in prison, is there?

Yeah, I know. Sounds a bit naive. We all know that money talks, and we all know how loudly, and we all know who’s listening. Our whole system of government listens to the sound of money, which is why folks like Kenneth Lay consider political payoffs — I mean, contributions — to be a normal part of business. Money muffles the sound of sin, especially when squeezed into the proper palms. Or donated to the proper causes. Or deposited into the proper accounts.

Money makes the rules. People such as Kenneth Lay make the rules. Hell, they pay for the rules.

And this is why, after all is said and done, it is unlikely that either Lay or any of his associates will spend even one day behind bars. If they do, those bars will be placed around a space considerably nicer than what many normal working people call home.

As for folks like Butch Jones? Well, perhaps they should learn to run with a better crowd of people. Because until the day when street-level drug dealers can pick up the phone and get a private meeting with the vice president of the United States to discuss drug policy in the same way that Lay was able to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney about energy policy, or until they can freely spread their money around to political candidates who are eager to toe the line and look the other way, my guess is that justice will remain a luxury.

Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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