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
The drug was perfected in 1976, became widespread in the early ’80s and was made illegal in 1985; it all but defined the burgeoning the late-’80s rave scene. Since ravers were throwing them down like candy, the demand grew, and domestic dealers couldn’t keep up. Enter Oded Tuito, a slick dealer from Israel who was doggedly tracked by Robert Gagne, a crusty DEA agent from New York. Sweetingham spent four years traveling the world in search of answers. Her debut is loaded with facts and figures about the dealers and their clients–how many pills were bought and/or sold, how much said pills cost, etc.–but she’s such a skilled storyteller that the numbers never get in the way of the narrative. Her portrayal of Gagne is particularly on-point. He comes off as heroic–not necessarily a hero, per se, but an obsessive workingman whose only goal is to get the job done. Sweetingham also does a nice job depicting the “Club Kids” scene, and her coverage of the Michael Alig murder case is so smooth that it’s well worth revisiting this oft-reported story. Most importantly, she manages to humanize many of the criminals, notably Tuito. If her bad guys were merely monsters, her book would be merely competent. Imbued with complexity, Sweetingham’s readable text should reach an audience beyond true-crime buffs. A gripping international cat-and-mouse-and-Club-Kids thriller."
–Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)