Ex-Con Markets His Management Skills : Parolee: A former drug smuggler hopes a resume touting his criminal background will help him land a legitimate job.


Bruce Perlowin’s resume is a little different.

Splashed across the top is a bold headline: “Ex-Marijuana Kingpin Needs a Job.”

Beneath that is a quote from a magazine: “Rather than wait years to move up through the corporate ranks, Bruce Perlowin parlayed a knack for organization into the largest drug-smuggling operation in West Coast history. . . . His management skills were formidable, his attention to detail legendary.”

Perlowin, paroled this month from an Oakland halfway house after serving nine years of a 15-year federal prison sentence, said he decided on his admittedly unusual resume because, under the circumstances, filling out an ordinary job application would be “somewhat preposterous.”


“I don’t want to work with anyone who can’t deal with my past, anyone I can’t be 100% honest with,” he said last week. “The company that says, ‘OK, he’s getting a new start,’ is the sort of progressive company I want to work for.”

Perlowin, who lives in Oakland, said he has sent out about 30 of the resumes so far, and gotten back about 10 positive responses.

He has not nailed down anything yet, but he said an “environmentally conscious” company handling a food product harvested in the rain forest has tentatively offered him a position as a national sales manager.

“I feel I’m highly qualified to enter the job market,” he said. “I’ve demonstrated my organizational skills.”

And quite an organization it was.

Perlowin--a slight, soft-spoken man of 41 who sounds more like a ‘60s flower child than an entrepreneurial giant of the ‘80s--cheerfully admits to running an operation that used a fleet of 90 boats and ships to haul 500,000 pounds of marijuana into California between 1974 and 1983. Sales totaled half a billion dollars.

He tells how he hired a research firm in Berkeley to study how other major drug dealers had operated, “finding out what mistakes they had made,” and seeking out the weak spots in law enforcement so he could set up his own counterintelligence system.

He talks about his hilltop surveillance centers that overlooked San Francisco Bay, crammed with sophisticated electronic gear used to monitor the FBI, Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Administration, customs agents and police.

He mentions the 1,000-foot pier he bought in the bay, safely under the radar shadow cast by the Richmond Bridge, where he set up a dummy boat-building works to cover massive offloadings of marijuana, “right under their noses.”

Also, he describes an elaborate money-laundering scheme--involving a Las Vegas casino, a Luxembourg trust, a Panamanian corporation and a bank in the Grand Cayman Islands--that he used to process the vast flow of small-denomination “street bills” generated by his illicit business.

And he reminisces, a bit wistfully, about the $3-million mansion that he built in a lovely canyon in Mendocino County--complete with bulletproof walls, a stairway that could be electrified to repel invaders and a complex communications center that tied him to the disparate operations of his international smuggling ring.

Thirty months after federal agents closed down his marijuana operation in 1983, Perlowin told The Times in a jail interview that he had been “the biggest in California--one of the biggest anywhere. No one else came close to the scale we were operating on.”

Federal officials did not dispute any of this.

“He’s for real,” Assistant U.S. Atty. James Lassart, head of a drug task force in San Francisco, said at the time. “When you meet him, you think he’s kind of flaky. But after you get to know him, you realize what he says is true. We corroborated it.”

Perlowin, who admits that he used to be “addicted to greed,” says it all started when he discovered as a teen-ager in Florida that there was enormous profit in selling marijuana to his high school friends.

“I thought people should smoke pot, take LSD, to expand their perceptions,” he said, recalling that he had justified his actions by telling himself that he “cared” about his customers.

As Perlowin’s sales expanded from ounces to pounds and eventually tons of marijuana each week, he moved his operations to California.

Transport planes were acquired to fly potent Punta Roja marijuana from the interior of Colombia to the coast, where it was loaded on boats recruited from the financially troubled Northern California fishing fleet. Larger craft--a 125-foot tug and an 85-foot minesweeper--stood by to assist in case of a breakdown on the 4,500-mile voyage to his dock in San Francisco Bay.

Perlowin said that by spring in 1983, his personal profit had totaled more than $30 million.

He said that even as he was mapping plans for one last, great haul before retiring from the smuggling business, one of his employees, documentation in hand, had begun talking to the FBI.

On March 11, 1983, Perlowin was on a jetliner, “headed for a yoga class in Detroit,” when the plane made a stopover in Chicago.

“Everybody else got off,” he said. “Then these guys came in, and one of them fished out a badge. . . . That was it. They had my whole operation.”

Perlowin was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering, smuggling, currency violations, income-tax evasion, conspiracy and other related counts. According to him, the government confiscated everything--his money, his cars, his high-performance plane and the mansion in Mendocino County.

His incarceration took him to medium-security penitentiaries in Texas, California, Kentucky and Michigan.

“Believe it or not, I saw it as an opportunity--a chance to read, a chance to study, a chance to learn,” Perlowin said.

He said that while in prison, he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Columbia College, along with additional credits in nutritional studies and international trade.

Last fall, he was placed in a halfway house in Oakland. He got a job as a jack-of-all-trades with the American Energy Center, a firm that installs insulation in homes.

Perlowin said he enjoyed working there--”I did their income tax returns, among other things”--but he is looking for a job with more of an ecological flavor.

“He was a wonderful worker,” said April Hansen, office manager at American. “We were sorry to see him go.”

Perlowin said he is confident that he will soon be offered the sort of career opportunities he is looking for.

“I think it would be very hypocritical of society to hold my past against me,” he said. “I don’t have a guilt complex. I broke the law. I’ve paid for that. Now that’s behind me. . . . I am anxious to start on a career as a productive member of society.”