Thomas Calabrese – John Cosentino grew up in Vista, California with his twin sister, Gina. His father, Tony was a former Marine Corps officer and was currently employed as Chief Financial Officer for Jamison Medical Manufacturing Corporation in San Marcos.
Tony spoke from experience when he gave this parental advice to his children, “It is rare in this world when someone is able to make a living doing the things they love to do. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams or that it is impossible, I just want you to be pragmatic about the harsh realities of life. My father told me this when I was a boy. Money gives you the opportunity to make your decisions out of choice rather than necessity. It should be used as a tool and not perceived as a goal”.
Tony was speaking from experience and how his career path basically started when he was an officer with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion on Camp Pendleton. He was a hard charger and a dedicated Marine who was completely content to jump out of airplanes and lead his men into harm’s way to protect his country. He liked to keep things simple and he had laser focus. That could be a potent combination in the right situation, but Tony learned the hard way on how to think outside the box. A parachute jump went awry while he was training at Twentynine Palms Ground Support Center. An unforeseen gust of wind blew Captain Cosentino off course and his chute was ripped when he was slammed into the side of a cliff. He fell twenty feet to the ground and broke his right leg in two places and dislocated his left hip. The injuries ended Tony’s career as a special operator. After he recovered he was given several options by the Marine Corps, he could request a medical discharge or accept a transfer to either food services, supply or disbursing and stay on active duty.
Captain Tony Cosentino reluctantly chose disbursing and soon realized that letting his disappointment get in the way of his common sense was a fool’s endeavor and a recipe for disaster. He learned the job and became a competent Disbursing Officer. After leaving the Corps, Tony went back to school with his practical experience and earned a Master’s Degree in Finance. He worked at several companies before taking his current position at Jamison’s Medical Manufacturing. This career decision allowed him to provide a decent life for his family. Their welfare superseded his own wishes.
When John graduated from Buena Vista High School, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Since he was only 18 years old, he could only become an enlisted man unlike his father who was a college graduate when he joined. Gina Cosentino went to Palomar Junior College to complete her pre-requisites with hopes of transferring to a four year institution afterward.
While in the Corps, John became a Scout Sniper and served six years before being discharged. Remembering his father’s advice, John majored in finance even though he would have preferred something a little more stimulating. He voiced his concerns to his father who responded with a gift, “Read this book and see if this helps soothe your restless soul or answers any questions.”
John looked at the title and read it aloud, “Philosophy 101, how is this going to help?”
“Quite literally, the term “philosophy” means, “love of wisdom.” In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. Just read it as a favor to me and see if it changes your perspective,” Tony encouraged.
After reading the book, John began to grasp the concept that his father was trying to help him understand. When things seem to have no connection at first glance and you take the time to look closer, you are sometimes surprised by the similarities. As a Marine Corps Scout Sniper, John had to make numerous calculations in order to make an accurate shot. The longer the shot, the greater the calculations. Things that had be taken into account were distance to target, angle of fire, wind direction and speed, ambient temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and even the rotation of earth. The longer the shot, the more precise the calculations had to be and were usually made in the field and under less than ideal conditions. John came to the inevitable conclusion that deciphering financial issues in the comfort of an office would be a lot easier than lying in the brush on some cold or rainy day when lives hung in the balance.
John went through a very difficult training program and put in a lot of hard work to become a Scout Sniper. After he was discharged, he realized how much he missed the challenge. While John wasn’t interested in going active duty again, his best option was to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves. This would give him the opportunity to shoot on a regular basis and maintain his skills. While working toward his degree, John was promoted to Staff Sergeant and became an instructor for aspiring Marines who sought to become scout snipers.
During his senior year at University of California, San Diego, a CIA recruiter approached John with a job offer. He gave John a business card with the name Tim Roberts and a phone number on it. Tim said, “The CIA is looking for men like you. Give me a call after graduation and we’ll discuss the details.”
After considerable thought, John came to the conclusion that if he was going to be working in the financial sector, the excitement of investigating criminals and terrorists would be just what he needed. Another advantage of working with the CIA was that it gave John another way to serve his country and do some traveling. After an assignment in Brussels, Belgium and another one in Miami, John requested a transfer to Operation Cheeseburger, a joint operation with the San Diego’s United States Attorney’s Office. It would give John the opportunity be closer to home. The mission of the task force was to find financial links between Mexican cartels, organized crime, American companies and terrorist cells.
While in San Diego, John Cosentino was lucky enough to work with Jim Palisades, a 38-year veteran of the Justice Department. Jim was probably the best forensic auditor and financial analyst in the government. He was a walking reference resource with a photographic memory. He seemed to know everything about federal, state, local and the civilian finance sector. If somebody had a question or were confused about an issue, they usually went to Jim Palisades for clarification or the answer.
Jim planned on retiring with 40-years of federal service and was happy to impart as much information as he could before his departure. He had a calmness about him and his diligence and attention to detail was truly astonishing. Jim always did his best he could and was never disheartened by anything outside his control. During his first year with the task force, John was eager to learn as much as he could from Jim Palisades. The seasoned civil servant knew every bank in the world that was un-cooperative with American law enforcement inquiries as well as the intricacies of off-shore shell companies. Jim was also aware of various methods that the cartels and organized crime used to hide and launder billions of dollars.
Over lunch one day John asked Jim what he would do if he was trying to hide money. Jim’s face brightened, “I’ve seen every mistake they’ve made and caught most of them, but there are flaws in the system that I would exploit.” For the next hour, Jim explained in detail how he would do it.
“If you ever decide to start a new career as a financial consultant for the Cartels, you would become a very rich man,” John joked.
“It was never about the money with me, I just wanted to do the right thing for my country,” Jim replied humbly.
Over the next few months, John and Jim did exhaustive research and found irrefutable connections between international criminals, politicians and businessmen. When they submitted their report to their supervisors, everything went silent. John inquired several times about the status of the investigation and was told it was being reviewed. Eventually they were told that the United States Attorney General and the Director of the CIA mutually agreed not to pursue the issue.
John was fuming and Jim consoled him with some pertinent professional advice, “In my career, I’ve worked on quite a few cases where the evidence was so overwhelming that it could not be denied. Somebody high up the food chain put pressure on the Justice Department to stop it and that ended it…just like that. No explanation, nothing, like it never existed. On the other hand I’ve had cases where the person I was investigating was completely innocent and I recommended dropping the case. Instead of listening to my professional assessment, they tell me to add unsubstantiated charges in order to force the accused to take a plea deal. And if the defendant refused the deal then they were going to drive him into bankruptcy with a bunch of delays therefore forcing him to maintain his expensive legal representation for a period of months. It was unethical, immoral and malicious.”
“And you made it through 39 years…how did you manage that?” John asked.
Jim thought back to the beginning, “If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have never started in civil service in the first place. As the years passed I was able to do some good. I also liked my job more than I hated the bureaucracy so I made the appropriate compromises.”
When John got home that evening he sat in his favorite chair in the living room and turned on some tranquil music and picked up one of his favorites book, The Republic, authored by Plato. It is about justice and is considered one of the world’s most influential works of political theory and philosophy.
When he was done reading, John recited a verse from the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
It was his weekend for reserve training at Camp Pendleton and while out on the range, he overheard Major Craig Molston lamenting about the drastic reduction in the budget for the coming quarter, “I thought with the increase in the defense spending, some of the money would filter down to us…let that be a warning to me…never assume anything when it comes to the federal bureaucracy.”
The reserve unit was ordered to conserve ammunition and cut back on their training schedule until further notice.
When John returned to work on Monday, he brought up the issue of the reduced spending for his reserve unit and Jim suggested that they look at the Defense Budget and go over it line by line. When they were finished, John asked, “Look how many appropriations are in the budget that have nothing to do with Defense?”
“So much pork, it’s like a stampede of pigs ran through it.” Jim commented.
John pointed to one appropriation, “Look at line item 98, the study of crow migration in North Carolina, $678,000. What does that have to do with defense?”
“You’re preaching to the choir. I know exactly what you’re saying.” Jim heartily agreed.
Jim Palisades planned on retiring with 40 years of dedicated public service, but that plan went awry when he seriously injured his back after he fell off a retaining wall while doing landscaping in his backyard. The pain was so intense that Jim had to undergo emergency surgery and was laid up for several months. The doctor told him it would be several more months of taking it easy before he was completely recovered. Jim decided that going back to work for a few months didn’t make any sense so he reluctantly retired with a total of 39 years and 7 months.
There was a small going away party for Jim at the office and John inquired, “What do you do now?”
“Something that I’ve been putting off for decades, I’m going to tour the Middle East and look at historical sites,” Jim replied.
“If anybody deserves a happy retirement, it is you. Good luck, my friend. It definitely won’t be the same around here without you.”
Those words turned out to be prophetic because it wasn’t definitely not the same without Jim Palisades. The office atmosphere was boring and people stayed to themselves because the camaraderie was gone. Jim had an innate gift for keeping everyone connected and motivated. John was one of a large group of people to request a transfer from the task force. Because of the mass exodus, he was told that it could be a while before he could leave because a replacement needed to found first. In the meantime John’s supervisors gave him a small promotion, hoping to convince him to stay.
While having dinner at his sister Gina’s condo, John explained his dilemma, “I’m sure I don’t want to stay with the task force anymore, but I haven’t quite made a decision if I want to stay with the CIA anymore.”
“You know what dad’s says; “Never leave one job until you’ve got another. Let’s watch some television, it will take your mind off your troubles. Find something you like and I’ll make some popcorn.”
While flipping through the channels, John saw a story on Newsmax that immediately caught his attention. The commentator announced, “Jim Palisades, an American from Southern California was kidnapped while in Syria. A brief statement from the White House is as follows. The United States is working diligently to secure his release. We will not be taking questions at this time.”
A week passed and despite John’s numerous inquiries about Jim Palisades, all he was told that was it was being handled by the State Department. He was ordered to keep his distance by his supervisors. Their condescending attitude greatly angered John because he felt that the government was not doing nearly enough to free his friend.
The kidnappers were part of the ISIS terrorist network and threatened to execute Jim unless their demands for cash and a prisoner exchange were met by a specific deadline. John couldn’t sit back and do nothing, not while Jim was in grave danger so he discussed a plan with his sister and she responded, “You sure about this, Johnny? This is a big time risk.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to help me if I didn’t thinks it would work. My friend is running out of time.” John said, “These are desperate times that we are living in and they require extreme measures.”
“Show me what you want me to do.” Gina said.
Later, John made a call to a private security contractor, “I want to retain your services for an extraction.”
“Who is the package?” The man asked.
John replied, “Jim Palisades.”
“The guy that’s being held in Syria?”
John answered, “The same.”
“It won’t be cheap,” The man warned.
“Call me when you have the number,” John said.
Two hours later, John’s cellphone rang and he answered it. The voice on the other end said, “Five million dollars.”
“Text me your bank routing and account number. The money will be there before the end of the week. Call me with confirmation after you receive it. Two important things to remember; this is off the books and I’ll be going with you.”
John sat with his sister at the computer and gave her specific instructions on how to access government accounts around the world, “We’re only going to take one tenth of one per cent to avoid detection. The plan is to take very little from a lot of places then a lot from any one place. Afterward we’ll put the money in a shell company then transfer it to a Dubai bank.”
Jim Palisades was being held in a fortified compound outside Damascus by forty armed members of the terrorist group. His underground cell was so small that he could not stand upright. It was cold and damp and chill penetrated his entire body. Jim was also subjected to harassment by the terrorists who made it impossible for him to sleep for more a few minutes at a time. He was doing his best to hold on, hoping for a miracle.
John met with the leader of the rescue team at an isolated airfield in Mexico. Thirty highly trained American patriots boarded the long range transport aircraft. Once they were airborne, one of the men walked over and handed John a Barrett M107 .50 Caliber shoulder-fired, semi-automatic sniper rifle. “The weapon you requested.”
“Thanks…It’s always good to travel with a trusted friend,” John said.
When they got within five hundred yards of the fortified compound, John made the necessary calculations in his brain and adjusted the settings on his scope. This was consistent behavior for a highly trained Marine Corps Scout sniper. Four terrorists went down in rapid succession and the team moved in to finish the job.
Jim didn’t know if he was hallucinating when he heard gunfire, but he was ready for his ordeal to end no matter how it turned out. When the metal lid to his cage was pulled off, Jim squinted and his spirits soared when he heard a familiar voice: “Hey Jim, I was in the neighborhood and I thought I would stop by and see how things were going.”
“Get me out of here and I’ll gladly tell you all about it,” Jim broke down in tears, “It’s so good to hear your voice, Johnny…anybody ever tell you that you look a lot like a miracle?”
When he got back to the United States, Jim was questioned by the State Department. He responded, “I was very weak and disoriented, but I think that it was Israeli commandos that rescued me.” Israel denied any involvement and eventually the inquiries ended and Jim spent the next few weeks recovering from his traumatic experience. When he was back to normal, John approached him with a unique offer.
One year later, a company called Solutions was working out of a small building in Vista. John had resigned from the CIA and he was working with Jim as freelance financial consultants. Gina was handling the information technology side of the business. Inside one room were a dozen computers programmed to regularly transferred billions of dollars from numerous offshore shell companies to banks around the world. Millions more were being added to the enormous wealth each month. Gina developed an elaborate software program with several firewalls and was heavily encrypted. Full service banks in Dubai, Singapore, Switzerland and the Grand Cayman Islands handled a variety of transactions. One particular financial institution in Singapore sent hundreds of prepaid debit cards with thousands of tax free dollars on them to hardworking and struggling individuals. Millions more were donated to reputable organizations that defended patriotism, liberty and the rights of Americans.
If there was any government entity that rivaled the federal government for financial malfeasance it was the state of California. Their reputation for fraud, waste and abuse was legendary.
John and Jim located billions of dollars from the ‘bullet train to nowhere’ fund, unused funds from the COVID stimulus package, money from the gasoline tax and several miscellaneous accounts filled with cash that was originally designated for the massive homeless crisis and bogus environmental studies. All of this wealth had disappeared from taxpayer oversight and was unaccounted for… that is until now.
Unlike unscrupulous bureaucrats and self-serving politicians who operate under the misconception that taxpayer money isn’t real money or that anything they can steal is theirs in the first place, John, Jim and Gina made sure that this money went for its intended purpose, much to the dismay of those who had other devious plans for the hidden treasure.
The trio also funded military style operations around the world to rescue individuals who were in danger. John often went along to provide his expertise as a skilled sniper and to make sure that the money was used appropriately.
Jim Palisades detected the serious problems and criminal misconduct with the multi-billion dollar cryptocurrency company FTX, run by CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. There was major fraud in how FTX processed donations to the war efforts in Ukraine and how it was diverting cash to political campaigns. Corrective measures to take some of that money back and within five years of operation, Solutions had confiscated 11 billion dollars from various federal and state government agencies and 10 billion of it had been reallocated.
Jim reflected on his current situation, “This is really the first time that I have truly enjoyed coming to work. While what we are doing is illegal, but it is also ethical and needed. I guess, sometimes you have to break or severely bend the law in order for justice to be done. The bottom line is we are making a significant difference in the lives of Americans and that gives me a euphoric feeling.”
“One of the basic principles of philosophy is that when you do good deeds for others…you do well for yourself.” John said.
John Cosentino was a Marine Corps Scout Sniper and a financial analyst. He combined keen analytical skills and lethal numbers to become the Pragmatic Philosopher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org