The Gang of One by Gary Mulgrew
The title of this book, Gang Of One, intrigued me. When I read the back of the book, I realised why the name of the author was familiar. Gary Mulgrew was one of the group of UK bankers known as The NatWest Three, or the Enron Three. They were British businessmen, Giles Darby, David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew. In 2002 the three men were indicted in Houston, Texas, USA on seven counts of wire fraud against their former employer Greenwich Nat West which, at the time, a division of National Westminster Bank that was part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. After a high-profile battle in the British courts, the men were extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States in 2006. The US sought the NatWest Three’s extradition, even though under UK law they had not committed a crime. A high-profile campaign against their extradition ended with a deal done directly between US President George W Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The charges claimed the three men co-ordinated the sale of NatWest’s holdings in various Enron related investments to a partnership controlled by Enron’s chief financial officer Andrew Fastow. The partnership was “off-the-books” and allowed Enron’s liabilities to be hidden from investors. Allegedly with the help of Mulgrew and company, Fastow bought the shares from NatWest at below-market prices, then sold them for their real value, making more than $12m for himself and $7.3m jointly for the NatWest Three. Mulgrew and his co-accused were charged with defrauding the NatWest Bank through a business in the Cayman Islands. Their actions were said to have undermined Enron, whose collapse led to serious hardship amongst its investors and a thirst in the US for revenge.
This was the first of the big banking scandals. On 28 November 2007, they each pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in exchange for the other charges being dropped. On 22 February 2008 they were each sentenced to 37 months in prison. Initially they were jailed in the US, but were later moved to UK prisons and were released in August 2010. So I borrowed the book for the non-fiction section of the library to find out what Mulgrew had to say.
Mulgrew was born in 1962 in Pollock, Glasgow, Scotland one of three brothers. When he was three months old, his father disappeared, leaving his mother to bring up the family on her own. She was unable to cope and the boys were taken into care and sent to a children’s home when Mulgrew was four. His mother subsequently got her children back, and held down two jobs, studied at night and rose through the ranks of Scottish politics to become a Labour Party MSP and deputy presiding officer of the Scottish parliament. She must have been a formidable woman. On leaving university, Mulgrew’s first job was as a bank teller at a NatWest branch in Manchester. His success at NatWest was notable. He worked for 17 years with Nat West and had postings to Tokyo, Japan and New York, USA to supportive bosses who were excellent mentors. His particular talent, however, was managing people well and making banking fun.
Gang of One is challenging because it invites the reader to make a decision about Mulgrew. On the one hand, he has had more than his fair share of hardships and he uses these to get sympathy. As a youngster he and his brothers spent two years in a children’s home when his mother was unable to cope and he was not well treated there. Back home, he had the choice of joining the local gangs or, as he did, sticking in at school and making it to university. He read business at the University of Strathclyde. The University of Strathclyde is a Scottish public research university located in Glasgow, Scotland.
On top of all this, his marriage broke up and his wife disappeared with his daughter. He has been hiring lawyers and investigators ever since to try to find her and this problem was hanging over him at the same time as lawyers were trying to keep him out of jail. When he went to face charges and imprisonment in America, he left his ten-year-old son in the care of his partner. He describes taking leave of his son very movingly. All that puts the reader on his side. So, Gang of One is the story of Mulgrew’s time in a Texas jail.
Mulgrew grew up in Glasgow, “doing time” as he puts it in Pollok which, he claims, helped develop the survival skills needed in Big Spring. The Federal Correctional Institution, Big Spring is a low-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Texas. FCI Big Spring is located in the city of Big Spring, Texas, USA midway between Dallas and El Paso and is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. That is a division of the United States Department of Justice. When Mulgrew told fellow inmates that he came from Pollock, it gave him an advantage because they thought he had been transferred from Pollock prison in Louisiana. The United States Penitentiary, Pollock is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Louisiana. Big Spring was tough in jail, but that is what you expect because he was a criminal. He was a criminal getting the punishment he deserved. He did, after all, eventually admit guilt in order, he says, to reduce his sentence after extradition and receive earlier release. However, the closest Mulgrew comes to an admission of fault let alone guilt is “My actions hadn’t passed the morality test” and that he was “making a negative contribution to society”. He does not, throughout the book, seem to accept his guilt nor does he show any remorse.
Nevertheless, the book raises other issues. One is the conditions in the US jail where Mulgrew’s life and welfare were in jeopardy so he chose to be a Gang of One rather than take sides and join any of the other gangs. It was bad in jail, but not that it was all bad as he says he saw, “a lot more dignity and pride and care there than I’d seen in many other walks of life.” There is no doubt that the author had to dig deep into his inner strengths at time. Some of the descriptions of people, places and occurrences are vivid and fascinating.
I did, however, have very mixed feelings about this book and its author. Mulgrew’s ability to manage people is evident throughout Gang of One and I felt, as the reader, I was being manipulated to take his side and ignore the millions of dollars Mulgrew and his associates defrauded from the financial system. Still, it is a gripping story. Notwithstanding my reservations, I am very glad that I read this book and I highly recommend it.