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For A Serious Job, There’s An Awful Lot of Pranksters

Being a federal agent or attorney is a serious job, not only sometimes dangerous, but it involves personal sacrifices and long and stressful hours. So why does it continue to be such a popular career choice and why are camaraderie and high morale present in so many federal law enforcement and Justice Department offices? After a multi-year investigation conducted primarily in bars, pool halls and lunch spots, I think I have a theory.

One measure of this esprit de corps is the pranksterism among colleagues in many offices. Although not exactly essential to a well functioning office, I have, through the many anecdotes collected in the study, concluded that the phenomenon is highly symptomatic of a positive work environment.

A few supportive illustrations from my former office in the Motor City, which, unlike the Big Three, manages both excellence and superb colleagueship. This will protect the Grade 13s and below in other agencies who have provided source material for the study. Besides they’re not going to hire me back anyway.

After winning a particularly difficult trial, drug AUSA Jim King, who typically celebrated guilty jury verdicts by playing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” at 150 decibels, returned to his office the following morning to find a 500 pound gravestone engraved with the name “King” on the top of his desk. I am disclosing his identity since his status as an author, law school professor and an instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia is thought to be secure.

Another male Assistant, who was in the process of planning a family with his wife, received a fraudulent telephone call, purportedly from a nurse at the hospital fertility clinic they had visited, informing him that he was required to appear the next morning with a second sperm sample. The clinic’s nurses informed him the next morning when he produced the container that they had made no such call. Anyone who has experienced this medical encounter can well imagine the mortified look on his face. However, I am happy to report that this incident did not prevent him and his wife from later producing a lovely family.

When the photograph of a female member of the Eastern District Clerk’s Office appeared as a centerfold in an adult magazine, one of the USAO Unit Chiefs received an autographed copy, forged encouragingly by one of his supervisees, inviting him to come see her for a chat. This was followed by his, at first, enthusiastic and, then, profoundly embarrassed appearance at her desk. Actually this supervisor was the victim of numerous such pranks, involving telephone calls that his jury, which was deliberating, had a question about his choice of suits for the day, phantom promotions and fraudulently inserted language in a Court of Appeals opinion criticizing his trial performance. He was one of my all time favorite supervisors, but, hey, he’s a criminal defense attorney now so all bets are off.

Nor were the women in the office immune from these pranks. Awhile back I was trolling through ebay looking for interesting hockey jerseys to bid on. My daughter, a right winger for her college team, collects jerseys. Children can be expensive hobbies for besotted parents. I came across a Canadian women’s team jersey which happened to have the same name as one of my female colleagues in the drug unit. She is an excellent attorney but has a wicked sense of humor. So it was like kismet, the prank planned itself. I purchased the jersey, a co-conspirator provided a Victoria Secret box, and we wrapped it as a present, which I presented to her during the Unit Christmas party. As she unwrapped it and saw the lingerie box, I could see her thinking, “I had no idea this guy was a nut, where are my Title VII materials!” When she saw what it was, after thanking me, she uttered an unprintable expletive and threw a government pen at me. She has since gotten even with me.

Lest you think we in Detroit spent all our time scheming pranks, I should say that they were relatively infrequent, involved only each other as victims, and did not impede the serious work that was accomplished there. But they did occasionally provide comic relief for us all during some tough days.

So the next time some micromanager or a headquarters report requirement dims the luster of your day, remind yourself that being in federal law enforcement is a great job, and maybe plan a prank on the guy in the cubicle. Not only is the work important and a service to your country, but it is filled with men and women who not only care about what happens to each other but also honestly enjoy their work.

Ask someone on Wall Street if they can say the same.

Ross Parker


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