Sevi Kemal meets a ‘criminal entrepreneur’ who is aiming to retire before he’s 40.
“I learned a valid lesson at 15 years old that petty crime isn’t worth the time. If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it big”.
Sharply dressed and smoothed tongued, Christopher recalls the life lesson he learned as a teenager. He returned to the boys’ locker room after a PE session to discover his mobile phone had been stolen. Not one to take things lying down Chris ‘kicked off’, accusing his peers. Afterwards he retaliated by stealing a further five phones, but even that wasn’t enough. On his route home he took it upon himself to conduct a ‘stop and search’ on another boy. Tipping the other boy’s rucksack upside down and emptying out his belongings over the roadside, Christopher did not find what he was hunting for. All he got was ‘a lousy 20p’. Out of sheer frustration he threw the 20p piece across the street and made his way home.
Big mistake. That 20p resulted in a court case.
“I had gotten away with taking five phones but I was prosecuted over 20 pence – I couldn’t believe it”.
Baffled, he wailed to his solicitor, “It’s only 20 flipping pence”. The words he received in reply have never left him:
“Theft is theft. Whether you steal one penny or a thousand pounds you have committed the same crime, therefore you will be prosecuted for the same offence and risk serving the same jail time.”
It was a light bulb moment which “had a lasting effect on me from then onwards”. Christopher concluded that “small crime was just not worth it. If I was going to put myself at risk of being prosecuted anyway then it had to be over something substantial.”
In the event, the 20p case never came to court; but it made a hefty impression on Chris nonetheless.
Nearly 10 years later, the Christopher sitting in front of me is a well spoken, neatly groomed black man with eyes that light up when he speaks, a smile that melts hearts, and expensive cologne that lingers when he’s gone. This Chris is a part time University student and a full time criminal. His activities include; fraud, cannabis growing and importing marijuana from the United States.
Dressed in a buttoned up white shirt, beige tailored trousers and suede shoes, there is something smug yet compelling about this alpha male who proudly declares that he is “free from a criminal record”.
Christopher refers to the ‘fools’ who are convicted of petty crimes, who go in and out of prison. He has never been inside: “I am sort of known to the police in my area but I’ve managed to keep my record clean”. He mentions a particular “fat white officer” who continuously disturbs him on his journey to university. “I hear his fat cunt voice behind me when I’m trying to top up my oyster card saying ‘hello Christopher’.” But so far the smarmy copper has failed to find anything on him.
Of his various nefarious activities, Christopher calculates that fraud is the least profitable. He says “it’s more effort than it’s worth”, and goes on to explain that “when we get our hands on somebody’s card details we need to work with an ordinary person who allows us to use their bank account for money to be transferred into. If the bank questions the transfer and blacklists them it’s a big headache for me”. Too much like hard work!
Christopher talks me through the supposedly victimless process of “copying someone’s card, spending thousands of pounds on it, they report it stolen and get the money reimbursed by the bank and that money belongs to me”. According to Chris young girls are often used to front these fraudulent scams partly because they look innocent and partly because, so he says, “they are content with a small, courtesy pay out”.
Chris’s mind is focused primarily on the money he can make from the illegal drugs industry. “Drugs is where the money lies”, he states, holding firm eye contact to show he means business. “Firstly I have prescribed marijuana imported from America, where it’s referred to as Kush.” It is flown over in bulk wrapped in cling film. He explains how the sender makes a “bit of money” as he buys the prescripted marijuana in dollars and is paid by Chris in British pounds plus a ‘pinkie’ (50 pound note) on top. “I divide the Kush into eighths and make hundreds of pounds worth of profit per imported package.” Not one to get his own hands dirty, he has somebody working for him who takes the incoming phone calls, “gift wraps and delivers”.
Christopher is the proud owner of two properties in London and one in his native home, Nigeria. He lives with his mother and younger brother. ‘Mumsy’ is a traditionally strict Nigerian woman with an equally strict anti-drugs policy. He recalls ‘this one time’ when she found a cannabis plant in his bedroom and chopped it into shreds. For his mother’s sake, he was prepared to live with this minor loss. But he still makes big gains from drugs. His main sources of income are the two successful drug grows houses which he operates. He boasts of them like a proud lion king of his empire.
Christopher’s masterplan is to own five properties by the age of 30 – enough for him to stop ‘growing’ and start renting like any other legitimate landlord. He also has dreams of owning acres of land back home in Nigeria. Chris talks about a wealthy Italian who owns an entire street in the village. “I think to myself if that Italian cunt can do it, why can’t I?”
I ask if he has ever worked to which he abruptly replies “no”. He explains that when he was 16 years old he printed out his CV, headed to his local shopping centre and handed it out to every single shop. “I heard nothing back. It was kind of de-motivating for me and that was the first and last time”. He has no plans for being bossed around by anyone else.
“I class myself as a criminal entrepreneur. I can make £300 an hour, so a 9 to 5 is not appealing to me.”
Christopher compares having a drug grow to having a baby: “you have to check on it, water it, feed it.” He checks on his ‘babies’ daily, feeding them with honey protein and making sure spider mites don’t eat away at his fortune.
Christopher informs me that he spent £1000 on gavita lights to ensure steady growth of his marijuana plants, sounding like a computer technician when he insists that “what you put in is what you get out”. He assures me that he has “money on the mind” and doesn’t get involved in any gangs, ride outs (shoot outs) or violence: “I have no time for things like that. I would rather be counting cash.”
Although his grades are good, university is just an alibi for Chris. “It keeps my Mumsy and the police off my back.” The university careers service might describe him as ‘leadership material’ – I could easily see Chris doing an MBA, but long-term he only has eyes for the property business. “I don’t throw my money around carelessly, I invest in properties,” he confirms.
In some ways Chris resembles the best of the competitors in The Apprentice: he is confident, calculating, charming – and, as far as his police record is concerned, clean. What’s more he is completely credible. Looking across the table at him I am convinced that within 10 years he will enjoy a high quality of life, leaving drugs behind as nothing more than a distant memory. Although crime will have paid his way to the top, in a few years Christopher will be one of us, leading a clean crime free existence – the only difference being that he took a faster, dirtier route to get there.
He may have cheated his way up but in the end nobody needs to know that.