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Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin Hardcover – February 24, 2009

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Book Description
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


"Sweetingham, a former reporter best known for covering the trials of Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and Scott Peterson, chronicles the undercover DEA operation to bust a lucrative ecstasy trade.
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)


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345499956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345499950
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,454,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Caitlin Martin VINE VOICE on June 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who attended any raves in the 1980's or who went to a bar in Dallas during the same time period for that matter knows something about Ecstasy. For a period of time before it became a Schedule I drug it was easily obtainable & frequently used. Once it became a Schedule I drug, it was still frequently used, but more expensive & somewhat harder to find.

This well-written book is an account of one DEA agent's years-long quest to take down an Israeli crime boss who was responsible for the importation of much of the Ecstasy sold in the United States. This is an investigation that took place over many years & the book covers all of it, including another look at the Michael Alig case.

This book is full of facts, figures, & details, but never reads like it is. It is fast-paced, interesting, & provides a unique perspective on how cases such as these are made. Whatever your take is on the legality or illegality of drugs, it's hard to deny that Tuito was a hardcore criminal & hard not to cheer when he is taken down.

This was an excellent read & would make a great gift for Father's Day offering all the action anyone can handle in a well-written package that will keep you reading to the end.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By grumpydan VINE VOICE on June 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Lisa Sweetingham does an excellent job of making non-fiction not dry and boring. CHEMICAL COWBOYS flows easily and one gets to know the characters involved by the comprehensive information that she has gathered about the players. At first, I thought maybe I was reading a novel, but photographs proved otherwise. This book is about on how the drug "Ecstasy" became so popular in the clubs, the people who got them into this country and the DEA agents who fought to bring it all down. Ms. Sweetingham's research is thorough and detailed and she leaves no stone unturned. This is an enjoyable true crime story.
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Format: Hardcover
Chemical Cowboys is a fascinating and well-researched overview of the creation and ultimate downfall of a multi-billion dollar international Ecstasy trafficking network. While the book has a long list of international characters, the real heroes of the story are DEA Agent Robert Gagne and his partner Matthew Germanowski.

It was Gagne who infiltrated Peter Gatien's Limelight nightclub, which was but one part of the identification and unraveling of an international ecstasy syndicate. Gagne's dedication to the case was put to the test when Gatien's was acquitted in 1996. But in 1999, Gatien pled guilty to tax evasion, yet was only sentenced to prison for 60 days. This though led to his deportation in 2003 to his native Canada, due to post 9/11 immigration laws that require the removal of any alien convicted of a felony.

But even with Gatien's acquittal, Gagne did not stop there and continued to persevere against the ecstasy traffickers. Gagne being a young agent, was willing to take risks to get the target. This, combined with Lisa Sweetingham's attention to detail, make Chemical Cowboys a book that is impossible to put down.

The book details the rise of fall of ecstasy, which came onto the scene in the mid-1970's and became widespread in the early 1980's. Most US authorities stated making ecstasy illegal starting in 1985.

Gagne lead an almost obsessive investigation, at times pushing the envelope of what an investigator could do. But those desperate times called for desperate measures. Gagne's colleagues were cynical as they viewed ecstasy simply as "kiddie dope", not realizing how dangerous it truly was.

The book opens with a routine police stop that in turn discovers a dead body in a car in the Los Angeles area.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By bridget3420 on June 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Chemical Cowboys looks into the lives of many drug dealers and cops. For the longest time Cocaine and Heroin were the most talked about drugs. That all changed with the blink of an eye. All of a sudden there was a new club drug called Ecstacy. A few smart but crooked businessmen decided to take on this new drug and smuggle it to the United States. Luckily for the DEA, they had Bob Gagne as a detective. While other cops were chasing the known big wigs, Gagne talked his partner Germanowski into going after the new love drug because he knew it was going to be big. They even dressed up in drag to get into a nightclub so they could buy some pills.

A few different countries decide to team up and share information because this new drug is popping up everywhere. This is the key to bringing these drug lords down.

This was an amazing book. I don't know about you guys but I love to learn. Even if I just learn one new word from a book, I'm satisfied. Chemical Cowboys has so much information and Lisa Sweetingham knows how to deliver knowledge without sounding textbook like. A couple of things that I learned were that prisoners in Isreal can take a vacation once every three months, even they were sentenced to life in prison. I also learned that therapists used to give Ecstasy (except it was called MDMA) to couples in couples counseling. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Lisa can teach you a lot through this book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more. This would be great to give your father on Father's Day.

Thank you Tracee from Pump Up Your Book Promotion and Lisa Sweetingham for sending me this book to review.
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