When Brian O'Dea wanted to find an executive job, the former marijuana dealer placed a newspaper ad touting his experience running a $100 million drug smuggling operation with 120 employees.
"Former marijuana smuggler" seeks a "legal and legitimate means to support myself and my family," read the ad in Monday's edition of the National Post.
O'Dea noted his experience in "all levels of security," his executive-level management of the worldwide marijuana smuggling venture, his ability to speak three languages and references available from a district attorney in the United States.
He said the ad, and accompanying front-page story in the Post, brought him dozens of job offers, proving that his job-hunting strategy worked.
"If I had gone the traditional way" of treating the conviction and his 10-year prison sentence as a secret until applying for a job, "I would have had to go through a lengthy process to cut through all the negatives," he said. "This way, those who respond to the ad have proven they have a positive attitude. So I'm exploring richer soil."
O'Dea, a 52-year-old native of St. John's, Newfoundland, now living in Toronto, said his road to marijuana smuggling began when he was a teenager and "casual dealer."
He had run out of cash to buy marijuana for his own use, he explained, so he and some friends bought enough marijuana so they could sell the excess and keep their personal supply for free.
After that, "I followed the economics of it, and it got bigger over the years," he added.
He got so big that by the late 1980s, he was organizing a shipment of 70 tons of Vietnamese cannabis for delivery to the U.S. Northwest. When he realized that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was on to him, he said he arranged a decoy shipment, which enabled the real cargo to get through.
But the experience shocked him, and over time he quit the business, stopped using marijuana and began working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. where he was living. But his former colleagues, he said, turned on him after they were arrested, and he was convicted of conspiracy in 1991.
He then spent slightly more than a year in Terminal Island prison in California, then was transferred to Springhill prison in Newfoundland, where he was incarcerated for another year. His transfer, he said, resulted from a U.S.-Canada treaty that allows prisoners jailed in one country to serve time in their native land.
After more than two years in a halfway house and then six more years on parole, O'Dea's term had expired. He had managed to earn a modest living helping Canadian companies raise money, but wanted a job befitting his talents.
He didn't expect the publicity that his job search would bring.
Shortly after placing his ad, he received a call from a Post reporter seeking an interview for a story.
"I didn't want to speak with him, but he was going to write the story with or without me," he said.
When he saw himself on the front page the next day, "I was sick," he said. "It was like having a truck run over me. I blew the lid off Pandora's box, and I was sick at what reaction it would bring."
After the article appeared, O'Dea said "the phone started ringing off the hook" with interest from the media and potential employers. A banker, he said, was so impressed by his audacity that he called to offer his support.
O'Dea won't detail the offers, except to say some are in management and others "are in the creative" field.
Along with his job hunt, he said he is nearly finished writing a book about his prison and drug-smuggling days.