Features

Q&A: Bob Stutman, drug expert

Following his speech, I was able to speak with Mr. Bob Stutman about his early life, his time in the Drug Enforcement Administration and his calling to speaking about drug abuse throughout the nation. From surviving a bounty put on his head by a notorious drug lord to working to catch the killer of his best friend and co-worker, Stutman has gained extensive knowledge on narcotics and their effects. As one of the top drug researchers in the country, Stutman has used his experience to speak to students and adults about the consequences of drug abuse. Below is my transcripted interview with Mr. Stutman.

Q:For how long did you work with the Drug Enforcement Administration?

A: I was a DEA agent for 25 years.

Q: How much of that time was spent undercover?

A: For the first six years I worked undercover.

Q: Can you tell me about that?

A: Working undercover is the ultimate mind game. You’re trying to convince the people that you are working with that you are not a cop, even worse, a fed. And they’re trying to find out Who is this guy, can I trust him? Because my goal, ultimately, is to have them put drugs in my hand one way or another. Remember, the minute they do that under federal law, it used to be, was 25 years in prison. It was a huge decision, so they ran you through all kinds of tests to see who you were. Because it was always a huge mind game, I loved it. And what was amazing to me is that every time I arrested somebody who sold me drugs, their first statement would be, “I knew you were a federal agent.” And I’d look at them and say, “So idiot, why did you sell me drugs?” But of course they have to justify their own ego.

Q: How was it working in New York City?

A: I loved it. There are six thousand agents in the DEA. What agents say very simply is, “There is New York, and there is every place else.” You learn more as an agent in New York in one month than you do in most other cities in five years. We have every drug, we have every ethnic group that’s involved in the drug traffic, we have the most violent killings in the world there; There was a contract on me for nineteen months by a guy named Pablo Escobar.

Q: Can you tell me about that?

A: Yes. He got personally upset with me for holding up his picture at a press conference, and he put a contract on my life for half a million dollars. Amazingly, not because I seized eight tons of his cocaine, which I did, but because I held up his picture, and he assumed I was making fun of him. So the machismo of the mentality was, he turned to the informant next to him and said, “That man’s making fun of me; half a million dollars to anybody that kills him.” By the way, I was little upset with half a million dollars; I thought I was worth more than that. But that went on for nineteen months, and people always say, “How did it end?” Because we killed Pablo is how it ended. There is a great book called Killing Pablo. If you get a chance, read it.

Q: You mentioned you studied economics in college?

A: Yes, I was an economics major. I actually got accepted for my M.B.A. when I got interviewed by the C.I.A., and to this day, I don’t know why they interviewed me, but they did.

Q: And that was your introduction to law enforcement?

A: I had no law enforcement in my family, no desire, hadn’t even thought about it.

Q:  What did you do with the C.I.A.?

A: I went to training school for six months and then I went directly to Vietnam. Remember, this is the beginning of the Vietnam War and they needed a huge number of intelligence analysts. I saw some really hairy stuff, some really interesting stuff. The good part about going to Vietnam for a number of months, almost a year after, was after that, joining DEA was easy. My worst day in DEA was when an agent who was my best friend was working undercover and got shot four times in the head by a 9mm and assassinated. That was incredibly tough for me because I was in charge of the office, and frankly, it was my responsibility. The guy who killed him got away, and I spent my last fourteen months catching the guy who killed him. The only way I could cope with it was by looking back on my years in Vietnam and thought, This is easy compared to that.

Q: And how did you transition from C.I.A. to DEA?

A: I was just bored with C.I.A. Once I came back I was bored because I just sat at a desk and I said I wanted a more exciting job, so I interviewed with FBI, Secret Service, and DEA, got accepted by all three, and took the DEA job because I thought these guys were more crazy and I want to work with a bunch of crazy people.

Q: What inspired you to become a speaker after that?

A: Because I realized you cannot arrest your way out of this problem. Somebody has to get up and talk to people honestly and upfront about their issue and, I have no idea what you thought about my speech, but I hope it came from inside that I am blunt, honest, and upfront. You may not like what I say, but it’s true, and I honestly don’t care if you like me or not. My calling, just like Father Baum has a calling to priesthood, is to share my knowledge with young adults in a way that they will at least perceive that I’m honest and upfront. And hopeful young people start making the right decisions.

Q: How long have you been public speaking?

A: I have been a public speaker for 20 years, a long time. I do about 150 speeches a year, I do around a dozen high schools each year, they have asked me to come back every five years, I talk to a lot of doctors, tonight I’ll talk to parents, ao I talk to a myriad of people. And again, just like Father, for me it’s a calling, and that’s the best way I can put it. He will tell you he got called to the priesthood, and I will tell you I got called to do what I do.

Q: What do you think about the drug and alcohol policy at Rockhurst?

A: I think drug and alcohol testing is one small step in an overall program. It should not be the program, but there is nothing wrong with having it a part of a program. As long as it is used appropriately, not as a purely disciplinary measure. As long as it is used to wake people up and help them understand that nice young men, bright young men, this disease affects everyone in the school. You would not tell me, there is not one student in this school that would tell me that we go to Rockhurst, we cannot get the flu. That would be stupid. You can get the flu. You can get drug abuse. It is a disease that gets passed from person to person. So I think your drug and alcohol testing policy, as long as it is a small piece of an overall program, it’s fine.

Q: What is the most important overall message you want students to get from your being here?

A: Make a decision based on what is best for you. Do not let your friends make this decision for you. Number one, learn about what you are deciding, get the actual facts, do not get them from a friend around you. Number two, make a decision based on what is best for you. And I happen to be naive enough to believe that most young adults, if they actually know the facts and they actually decide based on what’s best for them, they will make the right decision. I trust you to make the right decision.

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