Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin

Sweetingham, Lisa

Published by Ballantine Books
ISBN 10: 0345499956 / ISBN 13: 9780345499950
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Synopsis: In 1995, after receiving a tip from an informant that a new drug called Ecstasy was being pushed in Manhattan’s nightclubs, DEA agent Robert Gagne embarked on a mission to unravel one of the world’s most lucrative drug-trafficking networks. Chemical Cowboys tracks Gagne as he infiltrates New York’s club scene, uncovering a multimillion-dollar criminal empire that spans continents. At its helm is Oded “Fat Man” Tuito, an Israeli fugitive and elusive drug kingpin who combines Wall Street business savvy with old-fashioned street smarts and a taste for violence.

A taut behind-the-scenes glimpse into an international criminal enterprise, Chemical Cowboys is a riveting tale of one man’s obsessive pursuit of justice—and the personal cost of that obsession.

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For nearly a decade, Ecstasy kingpin Oded Tuito was the mastermind behind a drug ring that used strippers and Hassidic teenagers to mule millions of pills from Holland to the party triangle--Los Angeles, New York, and Miami.

Chemical Cowboys is a thrilling journey through the groundbreaking undercover investigations that led to the toppling of a billion-dollar Ecstasy trafficking network--starting in 1995 when New York DEA Agent Robert Gagne infiltrated club land to uncover a thriving drug scene supported by two cultures: pill-popping club kids and Israeli dealers.

Gagne’s obsessive mission to take down Tuito’s network met unexpected challenges and personal discoveries that almost crippled his own family. Weaved into the narrative are the stories of Tuito’s underlings who struggled with addiction as they ran from the law, and the compelling experiences of a veteran Israeli police officer who aided Gagne while chasing after his own target--a violent Mob boss who saw the riches to be made in Ecstasy and began to import his own pills and turf warfare to the U.S.

Chemical Cowboys offers a taut, behind-the-scenes glimpse into an international criminal enterprise as daring as it is deadly.

Amazon Exclusive: Lisa Sweetingham on Chemical Cowboys

In July 2001, New York detectives on a tip from Miami police stormed a Battery Park City apartment where they found the motherlode of Ecstasy stashes: 700,000 pills stuffed inside eight duffel bags.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called a press conference the next day to parade the booty.

"When you look at these pills, they look harmless," Giuliani said as he gestured at a table laden with Lucky Charms–colored tablets. "They are pink and light blue and white, but these are very dangerous substances that can in fact be fatal under some circumstances and do tremendous damage to young people."

Ecstasy demand at raves and dance clubs peaked in 2001 and a single pill could sell for $25 to $50. NYPD had just taken up to $35 million worth of product off the streets. At the time, it was the largest MDMA seizure in New York history and it would signal the beginning of the end for the loose coalition of Israeli organized crime networks that had dominated the trade for the last six years.

Chemical Cowboys takes readers behind the scenes to the secret meetings between American DEA agents and Israeli National Police detectives who raced to unravel the complicated Ecstasy networks as they shared wiretap intelligence and took part in covert operations alongside police in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Spain. By mapping out the dealers’ operations, financial networks, and global connections, police discovered a drug-dealing chain of trust that reaped unprecedented profit margins.

The pills, which cost about .25 cents apiece to make, were produced in clandestine labs in the Netherlands and Belgium by former amphetamine chemists who had perfected the MDMA recipe. A dealer could meet his pill broker connection in a bar in Amsterdam, place an order for a half million pills at $2 apiece, and in two days, a duffle bag with the product would be delivered to his hotel by a runner.

Next, the dealers had to get the pills from Western Europe to the party triangle--New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Human couriers, aka mules, were the fastest way going. Turns out, all kinds of folks were willing to the risk jail time for a free trip to Europe and $10,000 cash for their services.

Ecstasy kingpin Oded “the Fat Man” Tuito entrusted his “Tweety” brand pills with leggy strippers who carried up to 60,000 tablets at a time. Tuito’s cohort, Jacob “Koki” Orgad, preferred average-looking Midwesterners in penny loafers and collared shirts, and, one time, a couple with a handicapped child. A rogue dealer named Sean Erez shocked everyone when he lured ultra-Orthodox youth as his mules and told them they were smuggling diamonds for the Holy land.

The Battery Park City bust marked a turning point in the trade. Slowly and methodically, Israeli police and DEA traced those 700,000 pills all the way back to an unexpected financier, a man named Ze’ev “the Wolf” Rosenstein, who was the No. 1 reputed crime boss in Tel Aviv. Israeli police had been on the Wolf’s tail for nearly 30 years. Ecstasy would be his undoing. --Lisa Sweetingham

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Title: Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission ...
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: New

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