By his mid-20s, Kevin Kroskey seemed to be on track for something good. He started his professional career as a high school physics teacher, but later entered the financial services business and got the bug to become a financial planner. He landed an internship with an independent broker-dealer in Akron, Ohio, which led to a full-time job there. His MBA studies in finance were going well, and he had a solid relationship with his girlfriend. The future looked bright.

Then one day after work he got back to his apartment complex and noticed a few big Chevrolet Caprice Classic vehicles parked out front. He walked up the stairs to his second-floor apartment and saw three plainclothes policemen standing outside his door. They said his name in a way that was more of a question than a statement, and when he said yes they arrested him and took him down to the Akron courthouse.

Kroskey was charged with selling methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, better known as ecstasy. The alleged crime had occurred while he was still an undergrad at the University of Akron. Some of his cohorts had been arrested a couple of years before, and eventually the law caught up with Kroskey. He was processed and released that day, but not before they took the laces from his shoes.

"When they finally let me go I was trying to walk to someone's house and I didn't have any shoelaces in my shoes," he recalls. But Kroskey had much more to worry about than his footwear.

"Your world comes crashing down," he says. "I went through disbelief and shock, then I was scared wondering what was going to happen to my career and to my life." It would be another half-year before his case was resolved, and in February 2003 he pleaded guilty and was sent to prison. 

Nine years later, Kroskey, 35, is running a small, successful financial planning practice in Akron. His company, True Wealth Design LLC, is a five-employee registered investment advisor with roughly 70 clients and $40 million in assets under management. His business is growing, and he aims to boost the firm's revenue to $1.5 million in five years, or triple the expected year-end 2012 amount.

On the surface, the firm looks like any number of young advisory practices on the rise. But Kroskey's backstory is different from most of his peers', as his felony made it difficult for him to get his professional licenses and hang out his shingle. Kroskey regrets his youthful indiscretion, but he's proud of how he forged his own path in the advisory industry. "It's a story about perseverance," he says. "It's about overcoming hurdles and doing good on the other side."

The Wrong Crowd

Kroskey grew up in a self-described "upper poor" household near Pittsburgh. His father was a steelworker who became a mail carrier after the mill shut down, and his mother worked in food service. Kroskey says his father was an alcoholic who was physically and emotionally abusive. "I was the oldest of three and probably took the brunt of it," he explains.

Kroskey's social circle didn't do him any favors, either. "They were a fairly unproductive group of friends," he says, adding they went from alcohol to pot to other substances. He hung out with a similar crowd in college. "I didn't set out to be a drug dealer," he says. "You have a lot of friends in a certain environment, and it just sort of happens."

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