During his halcyon days of youth, Stervey was a man of chutzpah. At the apex of his career, the then sales and marketing manager would travel the world on the company’s dime — business-class seats; five-star hotels; dinners at fancy restaurants. Wherever he went, obsequious waitstaff greeted him by his surname. Caught in a vortex of materialism, he would rent and drive a sportscar — there was a high that he licked as he sat in the driver’s seat, foot on the accelerator pedal. Year after year he was named a President’s Club inductee. He had it made, until what he calls his first grave mistake in life. He switched careers, a decision stemming from hubris, not a desire to want to better himself or step out of his comfort zone.
“I was earning a six-figure salary, and so I thought I was a man of high calibre. I thought that I would excel no matter where I was or in what endeavour I took on. And so I left my company in 2008 to help an Indonesian investor set up a company. I recruited five managers for the company. Then came the recession circa 2009, and all six of us were terminated. Just like that. We had no severance package.”
He took this fall from grace hard, harbouring an animosity towards the investor who he felt had betrayed him. “My peers at this point in their lives were doing very well, and yet here I was, jobless.” For the next four years, he wandered aimlessly as a tumbleweed borne by the wind. He held odd jobs as an insurance agent, a property agent, before changing lane to work as a credit-card promoter in forty-six roadshows alongside people half his age. He never quite returned to his erstwhile glory, for one thing held him back: a bruised ego. “It wasn’t that there weren’t job opportunities; in fact there were plenty! But I struggled with letting my past go. I felt that I was too good for jobs that paid only a three-thousand-dollar salary.”
The year 2012 marked his nadir. By now, Stervey was working as a sales director at an event management company. Out of goodwill, he helped a friend to transfer money from his personal account to an overseas one for what he thought was a legitimate business. Red flags were raised when the sums became bigger, but still he thought nothing of it. Until one day, an officer from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) came knocking on his door.
“I showed the officer the copies of the transactions. I had received no commission. I told him that if indeed I had an intention to profit from these transactions, I would be covering my tracks, not walking him through what I had done. He even concurred that it was the stupidest mistake he had ever heard someone commit. But alas, whether it was intentional or not was beside the point. I had done something illegal.” Stervey was charged in February 2012 with money laundering.
His courtroom experience was not like the movies. It was cold and starkly solemn. His hands and legs shackled, Stervey was not allowed any impassioned plea for clemency. He could not afford a lawyer, and upon the advice of his CPIB officer, he did not engage a public defender. Another mistake. The prosecutor hounded him with the smoking gun like hammer on steel, whittling away any hope of a light sentence. During his sentencing, only Stervey’s uncle was in attendance: His mother had passed away from breast cancer; his father had abandoned the family years earlier. “I was mentally spaced out the entire time, and I had no idea what was happening.”
Five years in prison — that was his sentence. His will snapped like a twig bent, and Stervey broke down in court and cried for the first time in a long while.
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