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Not your average job seeker..
February 19, 2001
'I can do anything an MBA can' Reformed criminal's moment of truth
Charlie Gillis -National Post
- A former international drug smuggler who says he is determined to
support his family through legal means is trying an unorthodox method of
finding a job: He has purchased an ad in this newspaper.
In a for-hire ad running in today's National Post, Brian O'Dea of Toronto
asks prospective employers to overlook the downside of his criminal past
and consider the skills he acquired as a key player in a global narcotics
smuggling operation in the 1980s.
The four-inch, 33-line ad is titled "Former Marijuana Smuggler" and
details Mr. O'Dea's involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle 68 tonnes of
cannabis to the northwest U.S. coast.
While the group landed and sold more than US$100-million worth of
marijuana, they were captured in 1990 after a long investigation that saw
55 people, including Mr. O'Dea, indicted on charges of conspiracy to
News reports described it as the biggest marijuana smuggling operation
prosecuted on the Washington coast.
"Having successfully completed a 10-year sentence, incident-free, for
importing 75 (US) tons of marijuana into the United States, I am now
seeking a legal and legitimate means to support myself and my family," Mr.
O'Dea says in his advertisement, which appears on Page C8 of the paper.
Under "Business Experience," Mr. O'Dea, 52, outlines the sprawling empire
of businesses and employees he helped organize to complete the deal, which
his group executed despite heavy scrutiny by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents.
"Owned and operated a successful fishing business -- multi-vessel, one
airplane, one island processing facility," the ad reads. "Simultaneously
owned and operated a fleet of tractor-trailer trucks conducting business
in the United States.
"During this time, I also ... participated in the executive-level
management of 120 people worldwide, in a successful pot smuggling venture
with revenues in excess of US$100-million annually."
Now living with a wife and son in a middle-class neighbourhood, Mr. O'Dea
admits to feeling conflicted about running the ad, knowing many readers
will take a dim view of his history.
He had hoped to buy space in both of Canada's national newspapers, he
says, but the Globe and Mail's advertising department turned him down
without explanation. The Post accepted the ad, which will run over six
days at a cost to Mr. O'Dea of $1,300.
"I don't have an MBA," Mr. O'Dea said during an interview in a Toronto
coffee shop, "but I can do anything an MBA can. I don't have a PhD in
business, however I have shown that I can accumulate wealth and operate
and co-ordinate business as well as anyone.
"Maybe someone will read that ad and realize, jeez, not only did he
operate that scheme, but he did it in secret. That shows tremendous
Mr. O'Dea views the ad as a key step in rejoining life in the legitimate
world. Many friends and associates with whom he has invested in legal
business ventures do not know his history, he says, and will be shocked to
learn of his background.
"Some will want to step away, some won't," he said. "But it has to happen
eventually. I'm in a position right now where the potential positives
outweigh the potential negatives."
Bespectacled, soft-spoken but penetrating in his conversation and gaze,
Mr. O'Dea is open about his former swashbuckling life, which began with
petty drug-selling in his birthplace of St. John's, Nfld. He graduated to
importing marijuana and hashish from England in the early 1970s, but was
caught in an RCMP sting in 1972.
He spent a few weeks in jail, then left for Jamaica, where he created a
base from which he and others began importing marijuana from Colombia to
the United States.
Mr. O'Dea later moved to Los Angeles, where drug trafficking associates
hooked him up with suppliers of Thai stick, a high-quality variety of
marijuana available from growers in Vietnam.
Faced with a score to enrich him for life, he joined a group of investors
and organizers from the United States, Canada, Britain and Germany to
bring the drugs in. The syndicate purchased two 100-foot vessels -- one to
pick up the drugs in Southeast Asia, one to bring them into North America
-- and planned two giant shipments to take place in 1986 and 1987.
"The boats would tie up together at arranged co-ordinates in the Bering
Sea to make the transfer," Mr. O'Dea recalls. "Then the second boat would
hide out in a fjord on the Alaskan coast and wait for word to bring it
Matters grew complicated, however, when a disgruntled member of the group
went to federal drug enforcement officers in 1987. By then, the team had
landed the first shipment of about 25 tonnes and was organizing the
So the leaders resolved to buy a third boat they could use to sneak the
drugs past DEA officers. The shipment arrived in Bellingham, Wash., aboard
the new boat in August, 1987 -- hidden amid raw salmon in waxed cardboard
boxes. It was unloaded in broad daylight.
It took three years for federal agents to build a case against the group,
obtaining confessions from deckhands on the ships and working their way to
By the time they arrested Mr. O'Dea in 1990, he had left the drug trade
altogether, dropping a debilitating cocaine habit and volunteering at a
drug and alcohol recovery hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif. And he would
become a model prisoner: Mark Bartlett, the U.S. Attorney who obtained a
conviction against Mr. O'Dea, later recommended him for transfer from
Terminal Island penitentiary in California to a prison in Springhill,
N.S., under a U.S.-Canada treaty.
"Your efforts in rehabilitating yourself have shown me you've made a
conscious choice you want to be a contributing member of society," Mr.
Bartlett wrote in a letter of recommendation to Mr. O'Dea. "Your choice
was made long before you were arrested in connection with our
investigation, and was obviously a decision made sincerely, as opposed to
a decision made to impress the court."
Mr. O'Dea lists the prosecutor among his employment references in today's
Since getting full parole in 1995, Mr. O'Dea has received recognition from
the RCMP and more than 100 schools for inspiring youngsters with speeches
on his recovery from criminal life. He has written a book about his
experiences and is currently negotiating publishing and motion picture
With much of his wealth confiscated under forfeiture laws, he depends on
his wife, Susannah, to support him and their four-year-old boy, Rufus.
Since his prison term officially expired on Jan. 23, he has resolved to
find his own job.
"I tell my story not because I want to relate some story of machismo and
bravado," he told the Post in an e-mail yesterday. "But because I want
those who are troubled, disassociated, alone, frightened or broken as I
was to know that, regardless of how far gone they may appear to be to
themselves or others, there is a way home."