Benny South Street’s War Chest 2

Always remember that when you go into an attorney’s office door, you will have to pay for it, first or last. – Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

Life has a natural way of derailing even the best-laid plans, so experts recommend building a cushion, or a slush fun of sorts. “It’s the one-time expenses that kill a budget,” said Rick Kahler, a financial planner in Rapid City, S.D. “The average person needs to be saving for car repairs every month, they need to be saving for…medical expenses.” Just don’t rely on doing it yourself. Arrange to have the money withdrawn from your paycheck. “We need to exploit automaticity,” said Professor David Laibson, a behavioral economist at Harvard.” — from “Why A Budget Is Like a Diet — Ineffective,” by Tara Siegel Bernard, New York Times, 1/2/11.

“Automaticity”?! This is what’s coming out of Harvard nowadays?

Whatever. I read this advice and laughed. Although feel free to link to Financial Awakenings by fee-only financial planner Rick Kahler, David Laibson, PhD | Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, and Sustainable Money – Tara Siegel Bernard on Why Budgets Don’t Work – NYTimes.com, I guarantee you’ll have more fun learning about “slush funds” and “automaticity” the way I did, many years ago — from a far more entertaining source, a professional criminal.

The concept remains the same. What those experts call a “slush fund,” I call a starter litigation fund. Like a starter bra, it will make you feel grown up, will put a puff onto your chest, a swagger into your psyche. And although you should not have to pay a lawyer for a first consultation, you’ll have this fund to lean on, just in case.

Once, when I suspected I might be fired from a job, I saw an employment lawyer for advice and guidance. I paid her around $500 and she did give me advice and guidance. Later, when I retained her to negotiate my way out of that job, she absorbed my first payment into her fee.

To insure you’ll have such a down payment, open a small money market or mutual fund as soon as you can afford it. This will be your legal war chest. Dump your spare change into it and/or have a small amount of money, say $10 or even $5 a month, transferred from your checking account into that fund every month. (“Automaticity.” Hm.)

If you’re lucky and never need the money, you’ll be able to use it for buying minor jewelry, or traveling to court in a cab instead of the subway.

Here’s how I learned the value of a war chest.

Benny South Street’s War Chest.

Many years ago I became acquainted with a small group of professional thieves born into and operating out of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Their thievery sub-specialty was truck hijacking. Benny South Street, the unprepossessing CEO of this group, gave me some valuable lessons – aside from how and why to hijack trucks, preferably filled with razor blades or Bic pens.

Oh, that made you curious, did it? Well, although I’m specifically not recommending it for your war chest fulfillment drive, here’s how and why to hijack a truck:

First, get cozy with some truck drivers, maybe pals from the neighborhood, whose loads are amply insured. One of your driver-partners tips you off as to when he’ll be driving his fully packed rig into your area of operations.

Arrange a rendezvous at some godforsaken red light he’ll be stopping at very, very early in the a.m. Your little group “grabs” him out of his cab, maybe hits him on the head (bumps and cuts give authenticity to the overall picture); ties him up, maybe blindfolds and/or gags him, and leaves him comfortably situated out of the weather, such as under the West Side Highway.

Then drive the semi to your previously acquired deserted warehouse in Queens or wherever, unload the goods, drive the semi somewhere else and abandon it. (Now, thanks to “C.S.I.”, I guess you should pay attention to wiping off fingerprints and epithelials. Watch CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS.com. Full Episodes, Clips and Behind the Scenes footage.)

I can’t remember how you “save” the truck driver but eventually the police do get hold of him and his headache, and he tells them the whole story – except the part about being your partner.

That’s how you hijack a truck. Nota bene: you never, ever use weapons. If and when you’re caught – and at some point in such a career you will be caught – weapons will get you a longer prison sentence.

So why hijack a truck, especially if the vehicle itself is not a valuable commodity in the deal?

I asked Benny South Street that very question. “Think about it,” Benny said. “How much is a semi truckload of razor blades or ball point pens worth, net?” I’d been wondering, geez, if you’re going to be a thief, why not steal something glamorous like jewels? Benny shook his head. “Think about it,” he said again. “How much do you pay for one pack of razor blades in a drugstore?” At the time it was maybe $2.95.

“Yeah,” Benny said, “and how many $2.95 razor blade packets fit into a big semi?”

The truckload was worth millions. I was amazed. (Still am.)

But the important applicable lesson I learned from Benny South Street was: after Benny’s merry band of thieves sold the stuff (at deep discount, due to its provenance), and before they meted out the loot – a share, of course, going to the truck driver – they always put 10 percent of the haul, right off the top, into a bank account held by their lawyer. This was the gang’s war chest.

For the unfortunate times when the gang got caught, the war chest paid their legal fees and, Benny South Street told me, usually paid off the judge presiding over the case.

Huh? “Oh yeah,” said Benny calmly. “We got a list of all the judges and their fees for dismissing.” The judicial price sheet in the late ’60s ran from $1000 up to $7500. He told me that all but a few judges were on the list.

“See,” he said, “They know we’re professionals, we’re not violent, we’ll get out and go right back to work, so why bother sending us away, especially if they can make some money by not sending us away?”

Since that time I’ve gotten to know a few judges and do not think that Benny South Street’s Judges’ List has much validity, at least not today. But Bennie’s War Chest concept? Priceless.

(The last part of my conversation with Benny South Street. Honest middle class doll and daughter of teachers that I was, I asked him what happened if they ran into a judge they couldn’t bribe. He shrugged. “So I go away for a couple years.”

Prison! I was horrified.

Benny was nonchalant. He’d been away, it wasn’t so bad. He got a lot of reading done when he was in – primarily westerns, Louis L’Amour. I told him about Zane Grey as an upgrade, in case the prison library was running low on L’Amour.)

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