Life & Culture

Telemarketers review: Office friends spill the beans on tele-crimes

Story of how sales company had a deliberate policy to hiring drug addicts, school dropouts and felons in the knowledge they would see picking up the phone as a means of survival


Sky Documentary | ★★★✩✩

I lasted one day as a telemarketer. Even though the friend who introduced me was making great money, even though I’d miraculously made a sale, I never went back — not even to collect my commission.

Watching the three-part true crime documentary Telemarketers, originally made for HBO and shown here on Sky Documentaries, I can see why. I wasn’t desperate enough.

I sussed there was a scam going on, and was in a position to make a moral call, but in this show, meeting the various characters employed by a firm called CDG, it’s apparent how for them picking up the phone was a means of survival.

Drug addicts, high-school dropouts, recently released felons — the company had a deliberate policy to hire people on the fringes, those incentivised to look the other way and meet their quota for a paycheck.

As long as those two criteria were met, employees were given carte blanche.

In jaw-dropping video footage from the early 2000s, matching the bacchanalia in The Wolf of Wall Street, sales are made while nodding off on heroin, drugs are sold on the premises, tattoos done while the recipient is on the phone, and all is filmed by then high-school dropout, now co-director, Sam Lipman-Stern.

While working at CDG for seven years, he became friendly with an older, sweet-natured smack addict, Pat J. Pespas. Pat was a legendary salesman but hated the company, which was ostensibly raising money for the families of murdered police officers, but then pocketing most of the cash.

What begins as the boastful revenge fantasies of two disgruntled stoners, develops into a two-decade project to expose the company, and ultimately the industry.

The government got there ahead of them, in 2010 fining CDG $18 million dollars and shutting it down. But there’s a further story to tell, and revelations to make.

Along the way and through the years, the circumstances of our two investigators change.

This results in a very unique documentary, where it feels as though each episode is made by different people. With the loving support of his Jewish family, (matzah box spotted in the foreground), Sam grows up to pursue his career in film-making.

Hence the hazy handheld camcorder is eventually upgraded to a professional camera, and tripods, and lighting, and technique.

Meanwhile, apart from downgrading to methadone, Pat pretty much stays the same.

Now I can’t tell if it’s deliberate, but Sam’s loyalty to his friend takes an hilarious turn as interviews with officials become Borat-esque led by a massively out-of-his-depth Pat.

Yet still they persevere, uncovering how CDG continued under a different name, and exposing how other parties were complicit in the fraud. Greed, it turns out, isn’t just the preserve of arch-grifters running dodgy operations. Who knew?

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