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Books - The Dream Sellers
Written by Richard Blum   
Friday, 30 November 2012 00:00

In Chapter One we learned that some dealers make big money. We would expect these dealers to have much in common with our previously identified serious and successful dealers, the cool-man-hip and those residual members of the criminal dealer group who are not losers. Since, however, both of these groups were identified on the basis of criteria other than money (that is, on the basis of arrest histories and extent of dealing activity), the congruence is not perfect.

In order to learn about the big money, we have analyzed our data by dividing the sample of 480 into those who state that, for the year 1968 (or, if they had quit dealing, the last full year they had dealt), they averaged a monthly profit of less than $100 (N = 117), a profit between $100 and $1,000 per month (N = 170), and a profit of over $1,000 per month (N = 53). That criterion of monthly profit is only one of several possible ways of grouping; for, it will be recalled, as a consistency check we asked several times about income—and learned, as we had been warned, that inconsistencies do emerge in the direction of the expected exaggeration. In another question we asked for estimates of total profits from dealing. Had we classified our sample according to these responses, there would have been a different grouping; for example seven dealers in the other-than-big-money category estimated total profits of $75,000 and over, and three dealers in our big-money group reported total profits under $15,000 (but none under $1,000). The association between monthly income in 1968 and this other total-profit estimate is, however, significant on six out of eight money brackets beyond the .01 level. Another grouping could have been based on the dollar amount (gross) of the biggest transaction. For example, three dealers not in the present big-money group reported single transactions of $50,000 and over. Indeed, the single biggest transaction, one where over $500,000 cash changed hands, was claimed by a dealer who was in the middle-money category in 1968. Eight of our 1968 big-money men reported that their biggest transactions were in the $100 to $999 range. Nevertheless, there is a significant association between being a big-money man and being at the extreme end of the distribution in reporting large single cash transactions. We believe that our sample is reasonably consistent in the various measures of income and that our big-money criterion, one of monthly profit over a year, is a reasonable basis for grouping.

In comparing the three groups, we find 313 significant differences out of 576 areas of inquiry and rating when the little-money dealers (less than $100 per month) are compared to middle-money men and women ($100 to $1,000). There are 257 significant differences when little-money men are compared to big-money dealers. There are 236 significant differences when middle-money and big-money dealers are contrasted. There are 387 significant F tests.

We shall, in this chapter, ignore the middle-money men and contrast the groups that are most different—little-money and big-money dealers. We begin by observing that there is no significant difference in the number in jail at the time of interview, although the trend is for big-money dealers to be in prison (19 per cent compared to 11 per cent). Overall, more big dealers were referred to us via official channels than were little ones.

There is a significant difference in arrest histories; more big-money dealers have suffered both drug and nondrug arrests; 27 per cent of the big dealers have never had a drug arrest (compared to 75 per cent of the little ones), and 34 per cent have never had a nondrug arrest (compared to 63 per cent of the little ones).

Fewer of the big dealers are students and professionals in their vocational roles, although no differences in actual educational level exist. One does find an interesting difference in cover jobs (the work a dealer pretends to do or may in fact do but which is not his major income source and which is used—by the big-money dealer—to provide an acceptable role). Big dealers more often are in the arts (musicians, painters, writers) than little ones. The little dealers, on the other hand, when asked what they would like to be, want to be in the arts. The big dealers more often are, then, where little dealers would dream of being in terms of "legitimate" vocational roles. Big dealers are also less often single but more often divorced, less often white, less often from upper-middle-class homes (defined by occupations of both parents). No significant differences exist, however, in the criminal or alcoholism histories of the parents. Indeed, more little than big dealers reported addiction in a parent. To this point, then, it may be said that big dealers are not drawn from the less educated or markedly lower-class groups; in this respect, they differ greatly from the losers and some others in the group of multiple-arrested, opiate-using, lower-class dealers described in earlier chapters.

In regard to drug-use histories, much greater use of tobacco, amphetamines (including intravenous), sedatives, tranquilizers, marijuana, hallucinogens, cocaine, and opiates is found in the big-dealer group. The majority are heavy users of marijuana and the opiates. There are also more big dealers worried about present alcoholism.

Big dealers get an earlier start in illicit use (often age 15 or younger), and when they meet their first dealer, approve of him and what he does. Little dealers, on the other hand, reported more nervousness and were upset in association with their first drug purchase.,Big dealers got off to an early business start; for, more than little dealers, they reported that from the first they dealt to make money. They were also more impermeable to prevention, at least by their own accounts; for whereas the little dealers said that they would have stopped had someone close to them been arrested, the big ones said that their embarkation on the career could not have been prevented. That career was aided, for big dealers more than for small ones, by some friend.

In spite of the income, not all is joyful with the big money. Big dealers, not small ones, said they were considering quitting the trade; and big dealers, not small ones, were the most dissatisfied with the dealer's life. They were also under more pressure to quit; since they were older (usually in middle or late twenties, some in middle age) and often married, we can understand that the pressure to quit comes mostly from their wives—but also from parents. It was not just others who worry about them; they worried about themselves. Many
more big dealers than small reported that physical injury and death were real risks of the trade; they saw these dangers as coming most often from their customers—their irrationality or criminality. Big dealers more than little ones are sensitive to negative changes that have occurred since they began their dealing—changes in the dealers themselves and in the social scene, including a growth of violence. All in all, we can see that, in spite of big money, there are reasons for big dealers to want to quit the life. But, as we learned earlier, those who are most in it find it hardest to get out, and so it is with the big dealers—mainly, of course, because dealing is profitable for them.

In their career evolution, big dealers—in contrast to little ones—experience important changes in the business itself; they can now control who their customers are—a very important step to assure safety and income. They now (or most recently) sell primarily to other dealers rather than to students and the like. Their volume, profits, and travel all have increased. The drugs they now sell are more often opiates and cocaine, and these are the preferred stock-in-trade. The reason is simple and unromantic; these are easier to handle, and they bring in more profit. The big dealers are more likely, in contrast to little ones, to refuse to handle cannabis and the hallucinogens, because these drugs are bulky and bring low profits. These big-money dealers stated they did not wish to sell to students, friends, or other personable folks; what they wanted in a customer was money, good credit, and maturity. Their customers tend to be older (average age, 24 to 35), whereas the little dealer handles the kids. Most of the big dealers' customers are male, regular users (including addicts), and more likely than those of the little dealer to be criminals (pimps, whores, burglars, hustlers, and what-have-you). The big dealer is less likely than the little dealer to believe that his customers use drugs for pleasure; more often he believes that his customers are escaping pain and/or reality and that they are paranoid, emotionally disturbed, suspicious, and selfish. Furthermore, the big dealer believes—in contrast to the little one—that drugs and the drug life can bring about paranoia, fear, and anxiety.

The big dealer, as a successful businessman, is immersed in the dealer community. In consequence, he knows many more dealers than does the little fellow. What makes the larger dealer a success is not friendliness and honesty but shrewdness and good business practice. It is not good business practice to spend time chatting with customers, to give drugs away, or to induce or seduce customers to take drugs (as little dealers tend to do). It is good practice (or is at least associated with being in the big money) to be a wholesaler or a manufacturer; to be in international or interstate traffic; to provide or buy protective services; to concern oneself with logistics, supply, and equipment; to offer or use specialized or professional services; to operate using cover; to ignore federal income tax returns; to keep a lawyer and bank funds for business use; to have working arrangements with the police and with straights; to carry and use a weapon; to steal drugs; to put other dealers out of business; to work in a systematic way that resembles the operation of a legitimate business; and to have ties with the Mafia.

The big dealers are most likely to be regular dealers—although most of them also stop periodically for cover or rest, to wait until the heat cools, to serve sentences (but no more so than little dealers), or because drying up of sources has interfered with their work (although the majority have never suffered such interference). The estimates of the market differ for big dealers compared to small; the big-money boys say that the action is found on the East Coast (a statement compatible with usual estimates of where most opiate-cocaine importation and consumption take place; the little boys prefer the West Coast) and that Mexico is the best place to buy. As would be expected, the majority of the big-money boys described themselves as professional dealers; although significantly more big dealers than little dealers also considered themselves professional criminals, most big-money dealers have not considered themselves professional criminals (only about one quarter do). Big dealers, compared to small, more often expect to be dealing five years hence or to have retired wealthy. Little dealers, on the other hand, expect to be students or to have legitimate jobs.

With regard to personal and interpersonal matters, the big dealers more than little ones reported poor relationships with their parents, truancy in school, few close friends, being a dropout, but also, as adults, more often enjoying a current and at least moderately stable heterosexual relationship. They are no more often in debt than little dealers but owe their creditors considerably more. Their standard of living is considerably higher than that of little dealers. The big dealers are more conservative if we use as a measure the lesser desire on their part for changes in the drug laws which would reduce punishments; indeed, big dealers support control of marijuana, tobacco, LSD, tranquilizers, and opiates. As far as the ratings are concerned, the greatest difference was that big-money men are often described as "good salesmen" in contrast to the little ones.

The Mafia

It will be recalled that the big-money dealers more often than others claim Mafia ties; indeed, almost one fourth of them say that they have had something to do with La Cosa Nostra. Yet, smaller dealers too say that they have had such ties. It is natural, in this age of concern with organized crime and with the Cosa Nostra in particular, that we would want to know more of these dealers claiming Mafia involvement.

Before venturing to the analysis, let us immediately disclaim competence in that folklore and mythology, or journalism and politics which constitute so much of Mafia commentary appearing these days.

For a body of testimony on the Mafia we refer the reader to some earlier data, Senate Hearings and old Federal Bureau of Narcotics reports (1963, 1964). For a more recent view we recommend the material in the reports of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice—and, much better, a sparkling commentary and criticism contained in the New York Review of Books (September 1969).

Whether the Mafia, as conventionally described, exists as a force in California crime is still hotly debated. Life magazine (1969-1970), in its Mafia series, has said—with names, dates, and places—that the Mafia is involved in crime in California; Look magazine (September 1969) also has said so and has accused the mayor of San Francisco of being tied in. The mayor has vigorously denied the allegation and is involved in litigation with Look authors over that charge. We have asked the heads of various vice squads and police departments in California whether they believe that there is an active Mafia involvement in the Bay Area. Most have thought not, certainly not in drugs. On the other hand, one independent Bay Area Commission and one county's sheriff's department are not so sure and have inquiries under way into the Mafia in general in the Bay Area and into the Mafia in drugs in particular.

Given this uncertainty among law-enforcement personnel, as well as the disagreement among other observers, how are we to handle the fact that our big-money men say that, as part of their business operation, they do have Mafia ties? We could claim that they are simply ill-informed, having been sold a bill of goods by distant business associates, or that they are status seekers, exaggerating not just income but the bogey man as well. It is also possible that our dealers have converted the term "mafia" into a generic one, meaning any organized international trade in cocaine and opiates but no longer alluding to a Sicilian-American involvement. They may simply assume that anyone they meet who has an Italian (or Corsican) name is a Mafioso. It could also be that our dealers do have Mafia ties but that these ties are on the East Coast and abroad, where our dealers travel, buy, and sell and where the Mafia are said to be ensconced. Finally, the Mafia really may be operating in California, in the Bay Area, and in the drug business. We think any of these possibilities within the realm of reason.

Do the dealers—not only big dealers but middle and little ones as well—who claim Mafia ties differ in any significant ways from those who do not claim ties? Yes, they do. Excluding those not replying (N = 14), we found 337 significant differences in one or another coded reply to the 576 inquiry or rating areas between the 42 claiming Mafia involvement and the 424 denying it. There are 340 significant F tests. We shall be brief in our data analysis, calling attention only to differences that seem surprising, given what we already know of the characteristics of big dealers and their greater stated Mafia association. First, we call attention to the fact that the total "Mafia" sample—compared to non-Mafia and, retrospectively, to the big dealers—tends to contain more individuals not now dealing actively, and worried about their own drug use. The "Mafia" dealers are least likely to feel that they will ever be forced out of business by law-enforcement crackdowns and are more likely to contend that the police, because of corruption, do not in fact intend to stop drug traffic. The "Mafia" dealers also have many more customers than others.

Even though they more often describe themselves as professionals, it is worthwhile noting that in absolute numbers only half of the "Mafia" sample consider themselves professional dealers and only one fourth consider themselves professional criminals. We note also that there are no differences between "Mafia" dealers and others on their own avowed religion or that of their parents (one might expect those Mafia themselves—if of Italian extraction—more often to be from Catholic families).

And that is it. None of the findings differ importantly from our earlier-identified group of big-money dealers, complemented in this analysis by the addition of a few smaller dealers whose characteristics might well be random ones and whose "Mafia" ties are indeed hard to believe. The lack of professional identification as dealers and criminals—common throughout our sample—and the particular lack of Catholicism make it seem unlikely that our self-styled "Mafia" associates are themselves old-fashioned Mafiosi, and we wonder whether the smaller dealers can be anything but misled or Braggadocio. The latter word is particularly appropriate since it is false Italian, being derived, after all, from the English.

We leave by the same door we went in and hope that some amongst our readers can shed more light than our data, our dealers, or we have—on the role of the Mafia in California drug dealing.

Comment and Summary

There is big money in drug peddling, but to earn it requires organization, tough business practice, and the taking of risks (which include arrest and violence). Also, heavy drug use—especially opiates and cannabis and possibly alcoholism—characterize big dealers more than little ones. For both drugs and money making, the big-money men (13 per cent are women) appear to have got off to an early and determined start, compared to those who earn but little. There are also signs of early personal maladjustment in family and in school; we interpret these as individually pathognomic rather than simply a general socioeconomic problem, since big dealers do not differ in major ways from the low-income dealers in social class or educational achievement. Unlike the earlier-encountered losers, the big dealers do not report as much addiction as such (whatever we may infer to the contrary from their heavy drug use), even though they do describe dangers in their lives as a consequence of being a dealer. As older men with family obligations, they are under pressure from their wives to quit dealing, but the lure of big money is a hard-to-beat attraction. The big-money man appears to be unromantic and not a drug idealogue; indeed, he tends to think that the drugs he sells—more often opiates and cocaine—do bad things to people and, with most other psychoactive substances, ought to be controlled by criminal law.

Arrest appears ineffective among these men in contrast to lesser dealers, for although three fourths had been arrested for narcotics offenses, only a minority consider quitting the business. The rest expect to stay on or retire early and rich.

The Mafia dealers tend to be more concerned about their own drug use and less concerned that they will ever be forced out of business by law-enforcement crackdowns than the non-Mafia dealers. They have many more customers than the non-Mafia dealers but only half consider themselves professional dealers and only a quarter consider themselves professional criminals. They are not easily categorized by religion (or the religion of their families). Otherwise, they resemble closely the non-Mafia dealers.


Our valuable member Richard Blum has been with us since Tuesday, 21 February 2012.

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