Hard Pill to Swallow: How One Broker’s Career Came Crashing Down

Hard Pill to Swallow: How One Broker’s Career Came Crashing Down

Can you imagine losing your license over something you didn’t really do or really shouldn’t have happened? This guy can. A recent article on Reason.com tells the story of a Florida man who went from being a broker at Merrill Lynch to being a short-order cook, all because of one pill.

According to the publication, “James,” as they call him in the story, was pulled over for speeding in 2006 driving home from a concert. The officer searched his passenger, after smelling marijuana in the car, and found a pipe and several screens on the passenger, but no marijuana. When the officer searched James, he found a single Oxycontin pill, a prescription narcotic, in his pocket.

James claims a friend gave him the pill at the concert; he said he had never tried Oxycontin and did not intend to consume it. More importantly, he was not addicted to it, the article says. He was arrested for possession of a prescription narcotic, and pleaded no-contest before a judge. Here’s what happened:

Despite having no criminal record and never having taken Oxycontin, James was required to attend two Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week for an entire year, and 15 weekend-long state-run drug classes (the latter he was required to pay for). Despite the fact that he was going to school at night for his MBA, James was given a curfew, and had to be inside his own home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day of the week, for the entire year. As a final punishment, the judge instructed James to immediately report his arrest to his employer, and to let his probation officer know when he had done so.

After telling his boss at Merrill, James had to report the incident on his broker’s license. Merrill then let him go.  

Once James's probation officer found out he'd been let go, she required him to bring with him to their meetings a list of every job for which he'd applied since they last met. His probation officer then called each and every company's HR department to verify that James had actually applied.

"I am sure once the HR department at my prospective job talked to her, that my resume was thrown away," James wrote in an email.

The only job he could land at the time was as a short-order cook at a restaurant. James couldn’t get a job in the financial services industry after that, and the drug possession incidence has haunted him ever since.

By the letter of the law, James got off easy. Most drug possession charges end with jail time. But did Merrill go too far in its punishment? Sounds like he was a young, bright broker, trying to learn as much as can in the MBA program and move up the ranks at the brokerage firm. That said, investors and clients aren’t going to know the context behind “pleading no-contest to drug possession.” It certainly doesn’t look good for them, and the investing public is entitled to know.

But I can’t help but wonder, was there a way for James to get around the red-tape and somehow continue his career in financial services? Do you think this would happen in other industries?

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