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The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

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The incredible true story of the decade-long quest to bring down Paul Le Roux—the creator of a frighteningly powerful Internet-enabled cartel who merged the ruthlessness of a drug lord with the technological savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur

It all started as an online prescription drug network, supplying hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of painkillers to American customers. It would not stop there. Before long, the business had turned into a sprawling multinational conglomerate engaged in almost every conceivable aspect of criminal mayhem. Yachts carrying $100 million in cocaine. Safe houses in Hong Kong filled with gold bars. Shipments of methamphetamine from North Korea. Weapons deals with Iran. Mercenary armies in Somalia. Teams of hitmen in the Philippines. Encryption programs so advanced that the government could not break them.

The man behind it all, pulling the strings from a laptop in Manila, was Paul Calder Le Roux—a reclusive programmer turned criminal genius who could only exist in the networked world of the twenty-first century, and the kind of self-made crime boss that American law enforcement had never imagined.

For half a decade, DEA agents played a global game of cat-and-mouse with Le Roux as he left terror and chaos in his wake. Each time they came close, he would slip away. It would take relentless investigative work, and a shocking betrayal from within his organization, to catch him. And when he was finally caught, the story turned again, as Le Roux struck a deal to bring down his own organization and the people he had once employed.

Award-winning investigative journalist Evan Ratliff spent four years piecing together this intricate puzzle, chasing LeRoux's empire and his shadowy henchmen around the world, conducting hundreds of interviews and uncovering thousands of documents. The result is a riveting, unprecedented account of a crime boss built by and for the digital age.

Advance praise for The Mastermind

“As directors, we spend countless hours imagining heightened plots and memorable characters that will leave a lasting impression on audiences. The true tale of obsession, genius, intrigue, and vengeance detailed in The Mastermind is as gripping and cinematic as anything we could endeavor to conjure up.”—Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War

“With his relentless and fearless reporting, Evan Ratliff has pried open a hidden world filled with high-tech gangsters and drug kingpins and double-crossers and stone-cold hitmen. The story is as fascinating as it is terrifying, and it is one that will hold you in its grip.”—David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon

“If truth is stranger than fiction, then The Mastermind is the truest book you’ll read this year. The only thing predictable about it is how quickly you’ll turn the pages.”—Noah Hawley, author of Before the Fall and creator of the TV series Fargo

“This is a mesmerizing, absolutely bonkers story about a man as brilliant as he is villainous. You’ll find yourself sucked in, freaked out, and ultimately blown away by Ratliff's storytelling and tireless reporting. The Mastermind is a masterpiece.”—Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief, Wired

480 pages, Hardcover

First published January 29, 2019

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About the author

Evan Ratliff

14 books142 followers
Evan Ratliff is the editor of The Atavist magazine. His writing has appeared in Wired, where he is a contributing editor; The New Yorker; National Geographic; and other publications. He is also the story editor of Pop-Up Magazine, a live event.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 472 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
3,997 reviews58.9k followers
July 7, 2019
Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal by Evan Ratliff is a 2019 Random House publication.


Catherine Lee was found dead in a dumpster in the Philippines. Charles Shultz, owner of an independent pharmacy and well past retirement age, is arrested by DEA agents. An Israeli- Australian citizen with ties to a major cocaine cartel, leases a warehouse in Hong Kong, which is raided by an organized crime unit.

How were these three incidents related?

Evan Ratliff connects the dots and uncovers a richly layered internet –based crime syndicate overseen by a man named Paul Le Roux- aka- The Mastermind.

I vaguely remember hearing something on the news several years back about FedEx facing criminal charges for delivering illegal prescription drugs. I didn’t follow the story too closely, but I did wonder how people were buying prescription drugs online like that.

Well, this book will explain all that, and it is an incredible story!!

The author begins by introducing the reader to the various groups involved in the entire saga from start to finish: The Investigators, The Operators, The Mercenaries, The Reporter, and The Mastermind.

The chapters alternated between these groups, giving the reader a full, well rounded picture of the entire operation. It took years to bring it down and the journey to that point is shocking, frustrating and often disappointing.

“At times it seemed almost laughable. Here were Brill and Holden in Minneapolis equipped with a couple of desktop computers, some five- by- seven notebooks, and mail drop at FedEx, taking on a global network worth hundreds of millions of dollars, operated by an encryption expert with an unending supply of shell companies, thousands of employees, and impenetrable email servers.”

Without a doubt Paul Le Roux is one of the most diabolical criminal masterminds of the modern era. He was ruthless, greedy, arrogant and apparently without conscience or remorse.

This is a crazy story about crime in the internet age and how hard it is to infiltrate especially with all the encryption software and the ease of global transactions. Since this time, there have been some hardcore crackdowns, but I’m sure once Paul Le Roux and his cronies were out of the way, many more just like him cropped up to take his place.

Joseph Hunter- Mercenary hitman

However, this is riveting true crime story, well organized, and easy to read and understand, which is saying something because it is a very complex international saga and is completely mind boggling!! Evan Ratliff went above and beyond here as an investigative reporter and as an author.

Evan Ratliff

Overall, this is eye-opening crime saga. It reads like fiction, resembling the plot in a bestselling thriller or like something you might see in a movie. Insane- but true!!

True crime readers will not want to pass this one up!

4 stars
Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,402 followers
January 28, 2019
Very strange and dark story about a man, Paul Leroux, who used his coding knowledge to eventually set himself up as some kind of barbarian drug kingpin. I am impressed at the massive amount of reporting that went into this story over several years. Despite that, it was not really my favorite. There is lots of blow-by-blow of this complicated and disturbing criminal plot but not much reflection on what it all means for our society and the human condition.

My own takeaway is that Leroux was a disturbed man who was completely enslaved to his passions. Like a crazed colonial official from a Joseph Conrad novel, he exploited the weak institutions of third world countries to live as a man outside of any legal or moral constraint. The violence and depravity of his organization was completely gratuitous. In the end he only got caught because it didn’t seem like he cared about getting caught.

If you like true crime books you will like this one. I give it three stars out of respect to the years of grueling reporting that went into it. I feel however that the inevitable movie about Leroux based on this book will be more entertaining.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,209 reviews548 followers
March 2, 2021
This man, Paul Le Roux, ran an empire. And he did it internationally. Selling "legal" drugs through the internet, after developing an encrypted software. And when you think of Empire, with the big E- this is one. As much as any former multi-continental colonial or otherwise "Empire" within orders / laws/ merchant pathways for productions and distributions- with all authority coming from the top-down. And within its own shared to the underlings "culture" as well. Countries and substances both, in the dozens.

Evan Ratliff is beyond bravery. I have no full paragraphs that could expand. He's worthy of a Medal of Honor, IMHO. Or whatever the International version of that has become. Because it certainly is not the Nobel Prize. Nor anything the United Nations has applied in the last 15 years.

He's earned it, this author. He risked life and far more than ONLY staying alive (all associated/ related to him as well) doing this book. The details of long telling is not left with voids, either. And if the information is murky or some points associations are not as carved- he let's you know why.

The entire full boat Empire lasted about 7 years, but the people brought down by this in that short period of time! And those tortured, murdered, used as slaves. The Philippines, Liberia, Thailand, North Korea, China, South America, Europe - on and on. Bodies left laying in trash heaps and at times those victims would not even have known why or when it was deserved. Lessons!

Not to speak of the myriads of pharmacies that he used and put "under" within his scam assistance. More than a couple were in Chicago and in Minneapolis. One I knew personally because he was a customer in my youth when I did pharmacy sales and dispatch.

This is one of those real world situations for which if you read it in fiction, you would say it is too wide and too severe to be believed.

Believe it.
Profile Image for Sandra Deaconu.
657 reviews102 followers
January 22, 2021
Care e cea mai puternică armă? Unii ar spune că banii sunt cea mai puternică, dar aceștia sunt ușor de luat și, dacă ești dezarmat, devii vulnerabil. Atunci? Puterea? Informațiile? Relațiile? Cred că toate acestea pot fi rezumate într-un singur cuvânt: inteligență. E arma pe care o poți ține mereu asupra ta, iar impactul e cu atât mai mare uneori cu cât oamenii nu știu că o ai. Pe acest principiu s-a bazat și Le Roux, când se afișa îmbrăcat cu pantaloni scurți și cămăși colorate, părând un simplu derbedeu care, în cel mai bun caz, execută ordinele altora. Puțini l-ar fi luat în serios, dacă nu ar fi știut cine este. Odată ce aflau și el intra în încăpere, se făcea liniște. Acest aspect mi s-a părut cel mai fascinant lucru din povestea lui. Cum a reușit să conducă un imperiu infracțional extins pe mai multe continente folosindu-se predominant de cuvinte și strategii. Bine, și crime. Însă acestea erau înfăptuite doar pentru a le aminti oamenilor de ce e în stare sau a se prezenta cumva în fața celor care nu știau deja.

Ca în cazul oricărei arme, puterea ei este dată în mare parte de modul și direcția în care o folosești. Dacă Le Roux și-ar fi folosit inteligența în scopuri nobile, sunt convinsă că ar fi reușit să facă o schimbare în lume. Însă el a reușit să schimbe doar lumea victimelor lui și rudelor acestora, unele fiind implicate în afacerile lui chiar fără voie. O lectură interesantă, dar care putea fi cu ușurință scurtată cu vreo 200 de pagini. Bănuiesc că autorului i-a fost greu să renunțe la munca lui, dar mi s-a părut că multe informații inutile îngreunează lectura. De citit pe sărite... Recenzia aici: https://bit.ly/39SljxA.
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,172 reviews186 followers
December 15, 2018
What does the murder of a female realtor in the Philippines, shot by a 22 under each eye, have to do with small pharmacies all over the United States that are filling prescriptions over the internet? In addition, what does the foregoing have to do with hitmen, international arms dealers, the smuggling and selling of cocaine and meth, and other international crimes? If you want to know, read this book which is an investigative reporter's dream (or maybe nightmare). The author spent several years working with various police agencies in several countries, the FBI, Interpol, the DEA, etc. to figure out how all of this was connected.

Witnesses often disappeared or were killed. Some of the agencies, and those who worked there, were crooked. The author, Evan Ratliff, realized that police in the Philippines, Somalia, Colombia, and other countries involved in this huge conspiracy, often made so little money that they were unable to live on it. Naturally, they were the perfect targets for payoffs.

If you are a computer buff or a techie, this book is perfect for you. There is a lot about encryption, including a brief mention of Edward Snowden, and the programs that lie just beneath the surface of the regular internet that most of us are not even aware of.

As the author looked into the selling of drugs and arms, murders and international connections, one name kept popping up - Paul Calder Le Roux. When described, he didn't look the part of the mastermind behind all of this. He was very overweight, dressed casually in shorts and flip-flops, but believe me, you didn't want to get on his bad side.

The book is rather complex to follow, mainly because large and brilliant conspiracies are complex and difficult to unravel. If you are a conspiracy theorist, this book is a golden find. It is heavy reading and I was glad that the author included a 'cast of characters' in the beginning as I referred to it many a time.

I love non-fiction books about true crime and there are not much worse crimes than those described in this book.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews493 followers
February 14, 2021
Do you know the name Paul Le Roux?  If not, grab a copy of this insane crime drama (it is decidedly an investigative journalism piece, but it reads like a crime drama), which is sensational without sensationalism. Evan Ratliff lets the facts speak for themselves, and omg, these facts scream, "PSYCHOPATH!" Le Roux is a fascinating and profoundly scary guy looking to earn cash, and, I guess ,creating as many copies of himself as possible (even though this shocking fact seems to get relatively little attention in this book).   

If there is a way some process or commodity can be exploited, someone will find a way. In this book, Ratliff described how Paul Le Roux took note of the lack of regulation in some countries, regarding prescription drugs. I don't know if this journalistic book did a better job of uncovering the gaps in drug regulation on a global scale, detailing how these gaps can be used so effectively with the use of the internet (and its own lack of regulation), or of uncovering the personality types it takes to seize the day and take advantage of the lacks of regulation. 

The book started with a local American pharmacist getting arrested. By the end, I could not help but put myself in that pharmacists shoes, but by then, I had also worn the shoes of those in the DEA,  IT (encryption), people working at  drug distribution centers in foreign countries, mercenaries in Somalia, and most importantly the hit men and other members of Le Roux's personal team, as well as members of his family, and the sex slaves (they got paid money but i cannot imagine it was nearly enough for their contribution) Le Roux employed. Wild story told in a very matter of fact manner. I usually complain about too much sensationalism in books that detail crime. Since this is an investigative piece, it remains far away from speculation and sensationalism, but I did think that at times (without giving spoilers: when a specific person is caught and put into custody), Ratliff could certainly have given that a bit more attention and discussed it in a way that conveyed the gravity of the situation. In the end, it didn't matter that much. The facts were enough to put you on the edge of your seat. 
Profile Image for Stephanie .
1,089 reviews42 followers
March 4, 2019
I’m a podcast listener. I listen to a dozen or more each week, and I’m someone who cannot differentiate between (or among) multiple hosts most of the time. One podcast that I listen to fairly regularly is Reply All, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. Their February 14th episode (#136) was entitled The Founder, and either PJ or Alex talked about Paul LeRoux, former programmer, former criminal cartel boss, and informant to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It was incredibly interesting hearing the discussion with Evan Ratliff, CEO and co-founder of Atavist, a media and software company. I kept thinking “Ratliff – that name is familiar”… then I remembered I had a copy of his book, that I received from Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I was hooked!

The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. is the story of Le Roux, the man who created an Internet-based cartel that started as an online prescription drug network, supplying painkillers worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As the business expanded into endeavors beyond prescription drugs, there were a ton of great stories including yachts carrying $100 million worth of cocaine, safe houses in Hong Kong filled with gold bars, weapons deals with Iran, meth from North Korea, mercenary armies in Somalia, and hit men in The Philippines. Among the difficulties the authorities faced in trying to solve the problem was that LeRoux’s technology skills ensured there were encryption programs that were so advanced that the government was unable to break them.

It’s an amazing story, and Ratliff has done a masterful job telling it, including lots of juicy details and suspense, with the end result being true crime that reads like fiction. I loved it. Five stars. And (SPOILER ALERT!) LeRoux is currently in custody in New York.
Profile Image for Dragan.
89 reviews13 followers
December 20, 2020
Wow pročitano u jednom dahu(vikendu) ono kad je život veći od fikcije. Da sam ovu knjigu čitao kao triler odustao bih već nakon 20 st. Ali ovo je istina. Nevjerojatna priča o sprezi krupnog kriminala i države, i jednog doista genijalnog ali u isto vrijeme i zločinačkog uma. Top!
Profile Image for Alex Givant.
272 reviews34 followers
September 18, 2019
Reads like a fiction, cannot put it down. This guy is coward, killing his workers on assumption they betrayed him, when caught by DEA - betrayed all of them without second thought.
Profile Image for Mona.
196 reviews25 followers
June 21, 2019
Very fascinating piece of non fiction. This is a story about Paul Le Roux's criminal activities which could be a base of a good movie. The computer coder turn criminal. Author researched topic well, had numerous sources and did his homework by reading all available legal documents. The story is so compelling that the reader can forget about the shortcomings of this book.

I found the narration a bit chaotic at times, maybe due to multiple characters involved and occasional inconsistencies in timeline. Also, my personal preference for non fiction literature is for author to be "invisible". Readers who enjoy this type of literature usually can tell by the facts presented, how much work author put into the book. They don't need to be told about it and reminded throughout the book. Also, if I would be an author, I would wait for the sentencing of the main character to close the story. Now it feels incomplete. The jury is still out .... (a figure of speech as there will be no jury)

But overall it is a very interesting story, well researched and told. 
Profile Image for Nick Black.
Author 1 book702 followers
March 9, 2019
for fifteen years or so, since selling my first startup, i've dreamed of moving into the criminal cartel space, building one up around me and some trusted rogue engineer associates, with the eventual goal of turning warlord in some ungoverned territory and building out a libertarian paradise. turns out someone already did most of that, and did a pretty decent job, too.
Profile Image for Hossein.
238 reviews40 followers
August 6, 2019
من این کتاب رو نخوندم اما این کتاب از روی یک گزارش سریالی که در مجله آتاویست منتشر شده نوشته شده و خبر خوب برای ما فارسی زبان ها اینه که تقریبا سه سال پیش پادکست فوق العاده چنل بی داستانش رو تو هفت قسمت به طور کامل تعریف کرده
پیشنهاد میکنم که اون رو گوش بدید خالی از لطف نیست
Profile Image for Jim Crocker.
211 reviews26 followers
March 28, 2019
The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.
by Evan Ratliff

This amazing book chronicles a modern-day mega-criminal – his tools a combination of subterfuge, fraud, intimidation, intelligence, intuition, craftiness, daring, murder, mayhem, greed and computer programming expertise. Evan Ratliff spans the entire globe for over a decade in time in the pursuit of THE MASTERMIND, his global empire and the billions he accumulated.

In one outstanding respect, this has become an example of BUSINESS AS USUAL. It’s an eye-opener, a peek beneath the curtain. Think again! All of our platitudes about economic systems, fair trade, and the global marketplace boil right down to this – MORE will never be enough.

When the music stops, don’t get caught without a chair.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 18 books418 followers
December 4, 2019

I have been on a bit of a nonfiction kick, recently. I ran across this book online, and immediately ordered it from the library. The reason? Apparently criminals interest me, and criminals who rule over empires, virtual or not, are just fascinating. I saw this, and figured it was just the right amount of weird, technical, and unique to really float my boat.

I read this book in two days. To put that into perspective, I’m editing two books for clients right now, going through one of my own books before I get it ready for editors, and writing another. I do not really have time to read, but I was so completely captivated by this novel, I put everything on hold so I could read it.

This book tells the story of one Paul Le Roux. (I totally suggest you google him. You won’t regret it.) Le Roux is sort of an uncanny operator. He’s not really the person you’d expect to rule a drug empire, but there he was. He had the right mixture of brains, and an entrepreneurial soul to make all of this work just right.

He basically started out in the “gray market” of online pharmacies in the United States, basically cornering the marketplace with RX Limited, and it’s tons and tons and tons of affiliated sites, basically amounting to gaming the system, so people could order almost whatever pills they wanted, and they’d show up. It was pretty easy to do without prescriptions. This, of course, got the attention of the DEA, and by the time it was all said and done, a ton of small mom and pop pharmacies that got involved in this thinking it was all above board, and a bunch of board certified doctors (involved for the same reason) ended up being arrested and/or paying huge fines.


So it starts out with online pharmacies in the United States, wherein Le Roux made absolute bank. Then he moves to the Philippians, and things get… weird. He starts hiring bodyguards, there are rumors that he was trafficking women, he started selling meth from North Korea. He had a squad of hitmen who assassinated anyone his paranoid brain thought was betraying him. He basically funded a militia in Somalia. He had a whole bunch of people assassinated. He laundered his money through lumber, diamonds, and gold in Africa, filling up a ton of safe houses with gold bars, which he’d rely on his people to transport from location to location. He also ran a healthy identity theft operation, which he used to open up just tons and tons of front companies all over the world.

He paid off almost everyone he could in the Philippians, so no one could, or would, touch him. Everyone was afraid to talk, and even after he was arrested, the author seems to have had a hard time finding people willing to go on the record about this guy because who knows if his network is still functioning.

Anyway, all of this stuff is going on, and he’s managing it all from the comfort of his own home, via computer. Things happen, and he gets caught. Then, oddity of all oddities, he begins to turn on his own people, reporting to the authorities who is doing what, where, and when to catch them. He ended up taking down most of his own network. Dude is now in prison, and so are a whole bunch of the hitmen and drug movers and shakers that worked with him.

This book tells that entire story, from inception to takedown, and then an epilogue saying where people are now, and what they are doing and it’s gripping. I mean, this is some stunning, surreal, incredibly readable reporting, and if it doesn’t get made into a movie I will eat my shoes.

The author did go into quite a bit of detail, really boiling down some things to their most minute points. It can possibly be a bit “too much” to some readers, but I honestly found myself on the other side of the equation. I wanted to know more. Specifically, I wanted to know a lot more about this meth and North Korea angle, which is really just glossed over rather than reported in detail. I want to know how that worked out. I want to know if exporting meth from North Korea is common. I’m interested, because I didn’t expect it. How do you get meth from one of the most closed off countries in the world? Fascinating.

Mastermind pulled me in and didn’t let me go. I was fascinated and horrified. It’s stunning. Shocking. Frightening. This guy likely won’t spend his whole life in jail, and that’s also scary. A lot of the people who worked with him are unknown, or have disappeared, and that’s something that left me with a cold chill as well. The reporting, however, really does deserve to be admired. It’s not often that a reporter gets this in-depth with a figure that is this powerful, and this frightening. He really got into it, tracking down sources, and speaking to everyone he could, from hitmen, to people who only had brief interactions with Le Roux, to the investigators in the United States who started looking at this guy and spent years trying to take him down.

Immensely readable, this book just blew me away. It’s the kind of nonfiction book you have to keep reminding yourself is nonfiction. It’s just… surreal, almost. This guy was everywhere, with hands in so many different pies, and his network was beyond extensive and so secretive. He’s in prison, but it really left me thinking that prison might just be another front. I mean, how can you really take the head off an organization like this?

So yeah, this book really gripped me and I think it got into my head a bit and made me look at the internet differently, as well as how we use it. More than that, though, I was just fascinated by the story of this person who rose up from obscurity to rule an empire. It also made me wonder how different things could be if people like Paul Le Roux decided to use his substantial skills for something good, rather than running drugs, laundering money, and liberally shifting pills around the United States.

If you’re into true crime, or if you’re really just into action in general, you really need to read this book. It’s probably one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It sank its teeth into me, and it hasn’t let go. I can’t stop thinking about it.

And that, friends, is the mark of a truly good book.
Profile Image for Lynn.
3,190 reviews55 followers
June 17, 2020
Wasn’t thrilled with this book. I think it was a typical true crime book and I thought it would be more. Basically about an international criminal organization that stretched across poor countries such as the Philippines, Mozambique, Liberia and others so Americans can get Methamphetamines and opioids and he DEA and other international drug enforcement agencies can do a huge arrest after multiple people died.
Profile Image for Angela Han.
399 reviews4 followers
February 23, 2019
The book is about LaRoux, a mastermind behind multiple illegal smuggling! He's a genius in maintaining an empire of crimes through manipulation of the laws within the countries he operated. He manages stay hidden yet present in his empire and instill fear as a quiet, merciless leader.

Read the book to find out more about his illegal empire.
Profile Image for Niklas Laninge.
Author 8 books50 followers
February 19, 2019
A top notch story which Ratliff has taken really good care of. True crime doesn’t get any better than this.
Profile Image for Sarah Jamieson.
254 reviews
September 26, 2021
2.5 stars. Very interesting story but there were too many details. A more chronological story line would've helped me understand the sequence of events easier.
Profile Image for MJ Brummitt.
113 reviews1 follower
April 6, 2019
Interesting to learn about the diabolical mastermind Paul Leroux, but I was definitely able to put this book down for periods of time.
1,188 reviews6 followers
November 26, 2020
This is an excellent book. It’s written in such a way that it’s easy to follow and understand the process that was followed to catch The Mastermind. It always amazes me how people who seem so ordinary and nondescript are sometimes the most amazing criminals. I can only imagine how fulfilling it was for law enforcement to finally catch this guy.
Profile Image for Myles.
377 reviews
October 30, 2020
In Evan Ratliff’s absorbing account of Paul Le Roux’s criminal empire, I am reminded of another criminal trial that is presently wrapping up, and a couple of trials that ought to be but are unlikely ever to take place.

Joaquim “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, head of a deadly Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel sits in a Manhattan prison awaiting sentencing for murder, money laundering, drug trafficking, racketeering, and organized crime.

Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, may never stand trial for conspiracy to commit fraud in the transfer of his father’s real estate empire to himself and his siblings, for conspiring with a foreign power to undermine the security of the United States, or for conspiring to launder money for known Russian kingpins.

Advances in logistics, computer payment systems, and social media have made massive online fraud in the distribution and consumption of barbiturates eminently feasible for at least a generation. It was these systems which made Le Roux’s online prescription services a foregone conclusion and to some degree, virtually unassailable. Nobody will face trial for this: not the courier companies, not the managers of the Internet infrastructure, and as we’ve seen, not the social media companies that lure the eyeballs of millions of people.

The drugs Le Roux distributed under American law were not “controlled substances” at the time his business swung into full operation. The admittedly brilliant computer programmer used the infrastructure to climb into the stratosphere of the wealthy few.

This newfound power led him to even bigger crimes corrupting public servants in many countries, hustling methamphetamines out of N. Korea (most likely manufactured with the participation of the Kim family), originating targeted assassinations, and shepherding tons of cocaine around the oceans for the El Chapos of the drug world.

Whether the drugs are controlled substances or not seems to be beside the point. There’s something about our society that seems to be out of control, something that the wealthiest have figured out: that accountability and transparency have gone out the window.

Corruption is on the ascent across the globe. Vast sums of illegally acquired money and tax-sheltered money move across jurisdictions with the aid of bankers, lawyers, and border personnel. Dictators like Rodrigo Duterte assume power with a mandate to clean up the drug trade in his country so he takes the opportunity to assign death squads to mete out rough justice, but the biggest criminals remain hidden.

Le Roux’s saga changed dramatically when he turned state’s evidence in rolling up many of his employees and may walk out of an American prison in another ten years.

American prosecutors blurred their priorities enough to give Le Roux an exit plan. First they built a case to convict him of the initial online drug business, then they compiled a record of racketeering and mob-style violence, then another case of shipping controlled substances around the globe, and finally there is a case that he conspired with North Korea and Iran.

American law enforcement found a treasure trove of contacts and information in Le Roux’s cooperation, undoubtedly offering him inducements to stay onside, more than we’re ever likely to know, and enough to keep him from being criminally accountable on his international crimes.

On one hand you ask yourself: “Well, if El Chapo gets caught and sent to prison after all the drug smuggling, murders, and payoffs to politicians surely the world is a just place after all. With any luck he won’t escape a US SuperMax prison.”

But for Donald Trump the only exit will be at the ballot box. He has earned the biggest get out of jail free card almost no matter what he does next. There will be a lot of hemming and hawing but the next president will likely do what Barak Obama did and let bygones be bygones. Why? Because ultimately Americans believe the institution would take too big a hit to its prestige to indict either a sitting or past president.

As we learn in this story Trump is negotiating with a regime in N. Korea that not only is building a deliverable nuclear arsenal, but also manufactures massive quantities of methamphetamines bound for the US market. Trump’s bro-mance with Kim Jong-un is nothing short of disgusting.

It will be a similar logic to the “too big to fail” rationale taken to preserve US financial institutions.

The question remains “is it right?”

As we roll up environmental protections, human rights legislation, economic redistribution of wealth, and democratic protections around the globe not only is it wrong it risks dooming our society and civilization.

And yet I am a businessman in retail who suffers from an extreme form of accountability. When people leave my stores unhappy, as they sometimes do, a few of them leave really nasty reviews on Google or YELP. So before I begin criticizing seasoned US prosecutors I best settle up with my conscience.

This is a really complex environment in which to do business, even the business of the people. The prosecutors enforce laws written long before the electronic communications environment we find ourselves in today.

No wonder they had a hard time nailing Le Roux’s business.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ruby.
250 reviews17 followers
April 28, 2021
Great journey into true crime, a genre I haven’t read in ages but still love apparently! This was a RIDE I don’t know what else to say. Audiobook read by author, love that.
Profile Image for Delia.
34 reviews4 followers
June 5, 2021
An incredible and very thoroughly documented story, with a main character that has earned his reputation of a mastermind. I also found interesting the flaws of the judicial system in the countries that LeRoux had ties with and how difficult obtaining an indictment for him was, despite what seemed to be a solid case.
On the down side, I found it a bit difficult to follow the narrative due to how the chapters alternate between different time frames and the abundance of characters involved.
Profile Image for Karin.
1,147 reviews27 followers
June 16, 2019
This is a wild ride uncovering a global drug and arms ring that also hits the online pharmaceutical industry. The amount of reporting, on a subject straight up filled with unreliable narrators, is astounding. Really fascinating what goes on in our world.
Profile Image for Amar Pai.
960 reviews101 followers
March 9, 2019
Crazy story! Who knew that the guy who wrote TrueCrypt would be a shadowy criminal mastermind. Well, sort of a mastermind. Real masterminds don't get caught
Profile Image for Kenneth.
221 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2019
This was decent brain candy non-fiction. A rollicking adventure tale but, as thoroughly reported as it is, it seems to me to be that there is still more to the tale and it doesn't quite live up to its billing.
Profile Image for James.
581 reviews13 followers
May 27, 2019
The last time I read a work of longform journalism that better expressed the soulcrushing evil at the heart of global capitalism today it was John Seabrook's "The Song Machine." His tale of how the music industry has algorithmitized our tastes mostly involved an alliance between Swedish songwriters and record executives in L.A. and New York. Ratliff's story nearly avoids all of western and northern Europe but snatches parts of every other continent in its omnivorous tour of the alliance between global capital flows, multinational companies, stateless nations ripe for takeover and control, the overwhelming force of the pain of U.S. citizens, and the inevitable way that U.S. legal institutions fail to bring justice to the evilest parts of this system in their desire to fight drugs and terrorism rather than the crushing force of global capitalism.

It's very good and once you start reading it you will probably dissolve into a multi-day fever to finish it. As you do, consider the way that the vast resources of our justice system has failed to stop or even control money laundering and the opioid crisis to any degree. Consider how Paul Le Roux is a product of a coder culture predicated on blank irony (his all caps HITLER password), privacy, and a sadistic attitude towards women. Consider how, as Ratliff points out, the killing of foreign nationals on foreign soil by U.S. citizens is not a crime unless the killing was planned in the U.S. Consider how Le Roux's internet prescription opioid business in the U.S. was found to be entirely legal. Finally consider how Le Roux's ultimate plan once the federal government releases him is to open another call center.

Le Roux is a product of failed global capitalism, funded by U.S. citizens and then supported by the U.S. government in its search for terrorists and drug traffickers. Given his own galaxy-brain level of detail and intelligence, I am surprised that Ratliff never mentioned the brutal colonization of the Philippines by either the Spanish, U.S., or the Japanese as he relayed the way that LeRoux owned the justice system and systematically attempted to impregnate Filipino women. His two page description of Knaussen playing his Somali mercenaries "Black Hawk Down" in order to gain their trust and admiration was pitch perfect, and his description of the way that Duterte is both a symptom and a mirror of Le Roux's actions in the country, as well as his source's belief that Le Roux would have thrived under Duterte, offer yet another view into a kind of neo-imperial rule of the Philippines. Every human being loses when sociopath coders run our economic system and neoliberals and fascists fall over themselves in our political system to give them as much power and control as possible. However, some people lose even more, especially the people who have been losing and losing under industrialization and global trade for the past 200 years. Ratliff could have made this connection, but he did such a great job with all of the other dots, and created such an intricately layered combination of first-person reportage, exhaustive archival research and zoomed-out, small reflections on the connections between our current economy and the hunt for Le Roux that I can't fault him on it.

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