Ambition. Greed. Hubris. The inevitable downfall. Millions of dollars of investors and employees money vaporized. Before Enron, before WorldCom, before Martha Stewart was making tastefully colored shank cozies in the federal pen, there was Phar Mor and basketball playing midgets. Today the drugnazi recounts a tale of corporate greed that seems to have found it's way to the moldy backroom of history.
I almost took a job with Phar-Mor when I graduated from college. I was familiar with the place from periodic frat boy expeditions to the local store in search of incredibly cheap crap. Before the spawn of Sam Walton had spread to most of the country, Phar-Mor had mastered the concept of "Stack 'em deep and sell it cheap" Their drugstores were the size of an above average grocery store, packed to the gills with rock-bottom priced shampoo, school supplies, music, videos, dildos, and every type of over the counter medicinal remedy. (I made one thing in that list up, can you tell what it might be?) Their pharmacies were pill pushing sweatshops, but they offered the highest salaries around, which was all I was looking for in an employer at the time. Micky Monus, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the company, was a business genius, building a 300 store empire that offered low prices for customers, high salaries for employees, and profits for investors.
Is anyone's "too good to be true" detector going off yet?
Turns out they offered two out of three. Profits existed only in a fictional set of books kept by Monus and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Finn. Millions of dollars that were being borrowed to finance the chains growth were being used to pay off suppliers in a pyramid scheme that collapsed in 1992. Phar-Mor filed for bankruptcy. Finn was sentenced to 33 months in prison. Monus' first trial ended in a hung jury. Rumors of his alleged mob ties only gained credibility when a juror in that trial admitted he was offered a bribe in exchange for a not guilty vote. Monus was retried, convicted, and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. Phar-Mor went out of business in 2002 and people had to start paying full retail price for dildos once again.
Unlike Kenneth Lay and Bernie Ebbers however, Mickey Monus wasn't fraudulently accumulating dollars just to see how high he could run up his personal scoreboard. He had a plan. He was going to become a titan of the sporting world. He took around 10 million dollars that he pilfered from Phar-Mor and used it to finance The World Basketball League. An organization which, and unlike the part about the dildos I'm not making this up, limited the height of it's players to 6 feet 5 inches.
This is the part that fascinates me. On what possible level was a height-restricted basketball league supposed to work exactly? Was there something about shorter men that was supposed to make me more likely to buy a ticket? Seems to me that the shorter the players, the closer you would have to sit to see the action, thereby limiting the number of good seats available. You couldn't promote it as a way to see the stars of the future, because as tall as a 6 foot 5 person may seem to you and me, Shaq scrapes them off the bottom of his shoes at the end of every day. Yet something about the concept made Monus risk everything to try and make it work.
A friend of mine shoplifted a Nirvana CD during one of those college Phar-Mor shopping expeditions. I feel so not guilty about never turning him in.