I once worked for the mob.

It was all very innocent. My graduate school advisor, a man I deeply respected then and still do, referred me to a local start-up that wanted help setting up a health information system to be sold as a turnkey system to private business. They had offices in a midrise building located next to a busy freeway some ten miles from downtown. Personnel were earnest and pleasant and perhaps a little subdued. They seemed to be just settling into new offices. While not awful, interior decoration could have used a few more dollars and a professional touch. Furniture and fittings looked to me like a hasty assemblage of items from a used furniture store… not really the way things were done in Houston start-ups.

Middle managers laid out project goals. I had real difficulty understanding how the product they were designing would be marketable. I couldn’t see any need for such a system. By that time in my career, I had occasionally run into other new companies that thought they could get in on the healthcare boom without having any actual experience in the field… but that was why I was there… the so-called “expert.” At the end of the day, the client asked me to schedule another consulting visit. I did so but felt uneasy about it, fearing that I was wasting their time and money.

Back home, I described how company personnel had all but insisted that there was a virtually unlimited budget. I shouldn’t worry about money… unheard of in healthcare. Healthcare was expensive. Funds were always tight, even in the for profit setting. In the not for profit setting, health care was a low-margin business, generally 2-3 percent with profits plowed back into the organization. I commented that their claims of unlimited budget seemed inconsistent when considered with their interior decoration choices. Chocoholic said it sounded like I was working for the mob. A light bulb went off in my head, and I grudgingly agreed.

The next morning, I went to see my advisor. He was just getting ready to call me. News media had reported that the SEC was investigating the client. I shared Chocoholic’s concerns about possible mob involvement. My advisor agreed such was highly probable. He did not say this lightly. His field is Biometry. He deals daily in probabilities. He apologized for referring me to the company.

I overnighted a letter of resignation to the client, giving no reason for terminating our agreement. Needless to say, I did not bill the client for my time.

News stories subsequently confirmed our fears.