I thought the only way out of a Chinese prison was (in my best Sean Connery voice) through the morgue.
Aside from that, I was under the impression that once you went in, like a roach motel, you never get out.
So it’s amazing when I hear about someone who not only survived the Hong Kong clink, but came out a legitimate billionaire.
On Thursday, Bloomberg announced that Stephen Wong, A.K.A. (really?! He needs an alias?) Wong Wang Sang, was being released from prison after serving a six year sentence for fraud and now… is on his way to becoming the Elon Musk of China. WTH?!
As you read this, the ex-con is using his ‘business expertise’ to take over Nanjing Golden Dragon, China’s largest electric automobile maker.
… kinda makes that $200 “discharge grant” ex-cons get here in the states look like toilet paper.
While serving as head of Nanjing Golden Dragon, Wong will do what the Chinese do best… make high-quality knockoffs of the Tesla for the surging market in China.
And while the conviction will prohibit him from entering the glorious land of … Canada… it won’t keep him from pocketing billions upon billions from sales as he directs the hottest auto-market on earth.
And that got me thinking… there’s no way Wong’s story is the only one where a criminal gets to turn it around and successfully goes legit.
So, Martha Stewart aside, here is a list to finish off my top five criminals-turned-million/billionaires!
These are by no means the “greatest” just my favorites.
2) Junior Johnson. You know about moonshine. You know about NASCAR. Junior’s perhaps the guy who put it on the map. As a famous moonshine runner, he’s graced the most-wanted list of several North Carolina police departments. Here’s what makes Junior super cool… while he was never caught, he brought so much to the American cinema and world of sports.
Through necessity, he invented what’s technically called the ‘bootleg turn’, the maneuver where a car flying up one side of the street safely pulls a 180 and heads in the other direction in the other lane.
Along with the infamous maneuver now taught in many a police academy through the country, he also was perhaps the only driver to successfully run from the police via launching his car over rivers.
You could say he was the inspiration for several TV stunts and the Dukes of Hazard.
After giving up a life of running booze, he took his driving skills to the track and became the first superstar of NASCAR, racing in 313 races, winning 50 of them.
3) Jay-Z. The one-time New York drug dealer who shot his brother not only turned his life around and became one of the most talented hip hop artists of all time, he owns a clothing brand, an upscale sports bar the 40/40 club, and is part owner of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team.
But perhaps, most importantly, he’s married to the smoking-hot Beyonce.
4) Joseph Kennedy. We all know Johnny. Heck, most of us still “remember where we were when he was shot”.
Joseph Kennedy, though, is the one who started it all. The harmless-looking patriarch of one of the most powerful family names in America. Where did his loot come from?
He was among the top of the food chain when it came to smuggling booze during the Prohibition Era. The charmer is also rumored to have had dealings with Frank Costello, the head of the Luciano crime family. But, we’ll let rumors stay rumors 😉
5) Kevin Mitnick. This guy isn’t exactly famous, though he is the real-life inspiration for pretty much every evil hacker in every hacker movie from Die Hard 4 to… well… Hackers.
Fascinated with computers and the information super highway, Mitnick’s career started when he hacked the computer system at Digital Equipment Corporation and stole their software. He’s rumored to have hacked various government agencies. And in 1995 was finally arrested for his activities.
After getting out in 2002, the reformed criminal decided to put his talents to some good use. His company, Mitnick Security, now helps other companies discover security lapses in their systems.
Honorable Mention: Frank Abagnale. Perhaps the most successful conman to never hold political office.
Frank did it all from check and ID fraud to emergency room operations and landing 747s… all without any proper training. After a long run, he finally got pinched. It wouldn’t last long, however. Franks talents were so above and beyond that the government struck a deal to use him frequently for his ID theft expertise.
These days, he’s a contracted consultant for several of the world’s largest companies… but I’m pretty sure that part of his release agreement bars him from actually pocketing much money.
And Martha Stewart? Well… I just don’t like her.