02/21/2012 08:32 am ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Getting Rich In Supposedly Illegal Businesses

But happily ever after fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales

-Bruce Hornsby and Don Henley

Even though I grew up in a community run by organized crime, the lines between what was legal and what was illegal were very clear.

Drug pushing was illegal. Loan sharking was illegal. Bribing politicians was illegal.

People did all three, but knew they could go to jail.

Things are different now.

My perception of drug pushers has always been of gun-toting street dealers and drug lords. In other words, characters right out of Scarface and New Jack City.

Now the way to get "the really good stuff" is to go to a pain management clinic. People spend a few minutes and lots of money to get a "physical." They skip insurance and pay the clinic with cash or a credit card. The "medical staff" will then arrange for you to get you a large order of the highly addictive pain medicines prescribed by the clinic doc. You can often get the prescription filled right at the clinic.

It's a great deal for the addict -- one-stop shopping and no chance of being arrested for possession.

It's not illegal if it was prescribed by a doctor.

It's also a great way to die at a young age.

Several years ago, I set up a structured settlement and a trust for a young woman who had been in an accident. We tied up a large amount of money but I went along with giving her $10,000 to supposedly pay off her credit cards.

She took the $10,000 and bought methadone to party with her friends. She overdosed and died the same day I gave her the money.

28 years old.

It haunted me then and will haunt me forever.

It taught me never t to give a client that much cash and it taught me to hate pain management clinics.

Clinics are perfectly legal. In Kentucky, you don't even have to be a doctor to own one. I suspect the legislature will fix that loophole. It's hard to believe that a business handing out narcotics can be owned by non-medical people.

I'm not a lawyer, but would love to own a law firm. I'd like to own a plumbing contracting firm but not be a licensed plumber. I'd like to own a real estate firm but am not a licensed realtor.

None of those options are available to me. But owning a pain management clinic is.

I recently had surgery. I very much appreciate the good that pain medicines can do.

I understand that addicts are gaming the system. I took a friend in horrible pain on a midnight run to the emergency room. It was packed and we were there for two hours without seeing anyone past a triage nurse who barely spoke English. He obviously thought my friend was looking for a quick fix and wouldn't allow us to see a medical professional.

We finally went to another emergency room and found a real doctor and real medicines. Two days later, that same hospital did major surgery on my friend.

I suspect a combination of political clout and big money has allowed the pain clinic system to operate for so long.

A similar story can be said for another illegal activity turned legitimate: payday lending.

A few years ago, I coined the phrase, "Legalized loan sharking" since it's impossible for me to see how payday lenders differ from the loan sharks of my youth.

Unlike pain management clinics, my state legislature, like many others, has not been inclined to do anything to stop the payday lenders.

Gary Rivlin's book, Broke USA, is a wonderful account of how big money is made in the poverty industry.

If you look at the political contributors' list of any state (particularly my home state of Kentucky), you will see large contributions to elected officials being made by payday lenders.

You don't see many contributions from the people who are receiving payday loans.

On one hand, I become horrified when I see how much money the payday lenders give in contributions.

On the other hand, I like knowing who is getting what and where that money is coming from.

The rise of the "super PAC" concept makes it harder to find that out. The United States Supreme Court gave the political process to Wall Street by allowing corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions.

If we want to occupy anywhere, the Supreme Court is a good place to start. A horrible, five-to-four decision could completely take government away from individuals.

There was a time when politicians were busted for accepting bribes. You rarely hear about it now.

Funneling money to campaigns via super PACs is so easy, why would a politician look for a bribe? All he has to do is buddy up to a corporation, do their bidding and have the corporation spend unlimited money on a campaign -- which the candidate can then arrange to be paid out to friends, relatives and other front men to launder the money back into the politician's pocket.

There was a time, not long ago, when corporate campaign contributing was a felony, with possible jail time. The late New York Yankees' owner, George Steinbrenner, was convicted of a felony when Richard Nixon's campaign shook him down for a corporate contribution in 1972.

Jimmy Breslin's great book, How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer, talked about how Nixon's crew put the squeeze on Steinbrenner and others like him.

Imagine what the Watergate folks could do now? With Super PACs allowing corporations to give unlimited amounts to fund campaigns, the big corporations control the political process, particularly at the presidential level.

I use to give money to presidential campaigns. Why should I now? My $1000 will be a paltry sum besides the millions that Wall Street can funnel in, or the tens of millions casino owners can "donate."

The big growth opportunities in the economy comes from taking something that everyone assumed was illegal and making it legal.

Why stop at drugs, loan sharking and influence peddling? I can see where a legalized "murder for hire" operation would have a market, too.

As a society, it would seem logical that we would want drug pushing, loan sharking and corporate influence peddling to stop.

At the very least, we could go back to making it against the law.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestselling author of the book, Wealth Without Wall Street; McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post contributor. You can learn more about him at

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Settlement Group ( which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianships. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.