Cover image for Hunting LeRoux : the inside story of the DEA takedown of a criminal genius and his empire
Hunting LeRoux : the inside story of the DEA takedown of a criminal genius and his empire
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Michael Mann Books, William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2019]
Physical Description:
xiv, 354 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 364.1092 LE ROUX 1

On Order

Prescott Public Library1Received on 5/17/19



With a foreword by four-time Oscar nominated filmmaker Michael Mann.

The story of Paul LeRoux, the twisted-genius entrepreneur and cold-blooded killer who brought revolutionary innovation to international crime, and the exclusive inside story of how the DEA's elite, secretive 960 Group brought him down.

Paul LeRoux was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. After a first career as a pioneering cybersecurity entrepreneur, he plunged hellbent into the dark side, using his extraordinary talents to develop a disruptive new business model for transnational organized crime. Along the way he created a mercenary force of ex-U.S. and NATO sharpshooters to carry out contract murders for his own pleasure and profit. The criminal empire he built was Cartel 4.0, utilizing the gig economy and the tools of the Digital Age: encrypted mobile devices, cloud sharing and novel money-laundering techniques. LeRoux's businesses, cyber-linked by his own dark worldwide web, stretched from Southeast Asia across the Middle East and Africa to Brazil; they generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of arms, drugs, chemicals, bombs, missile technology and murder. He dealt with rogue nations--Iran and North Korea--as well as the Chinese Triads, Somali pirates, Serb mafia, outlaw bikers, militants, corrupt African and Asian officials and coup-plotters.

Initially, LeRoux appeared as a ghost image on law enforcement and intelligence radar, an inexplicable presence in the middle of a variety of criminal endeavors. He was Netflix to Blockbuster, Spotify to Tower Records. A bold disruptor, his methods brought international crime into the age of innovation, making his operations barely detectable and LeRoux nearly invisible. But he gained the attention of a small band of bold, unorthodox DEA agents, whose brief was tracking down drugs-and-arms trafficking kingpins who contributed to war and global instability. The 960 Group, an element of the DEA's Special Operations Division, had launched some of the most complex, coordinated and dangerous operations in the agency's history. They used unorthodox methods and undercover informants to penetrate LeRoux's inner circle and bring him down.

For five years Elaine Shannon immersed herself in LeRoux's shadowy world. She gained exclusive access to the agents and players, including undercover operatives who looked LeRoux in the eye on a daily basis. Shannon takes us on a shocking tour of this dark frontier, going deep into the operations and the mind of a singularly visionary and frightening figure--Escobar and Victor Bout along with the innovative vision of Steve Jobs rolled into one. She puts you in the room with these people and their moment-to-moment encounters, jeopardy, frustration, anger and small victories, creating a narrative with a breath-taking edge, immediacy and a stranger-than-fiction reality.

Remarkable, disturbing, and utterly engrossing, Hunting LeRoux introduces a new breed of criminal spawned by the savage, greed-exalting underside of the Age of Innovation--and a new kind of true crime story. It is a look into the future--a future that is dark.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Shannon (The Spy Next Door) delivers an exceptional account of the outlaw career of Paul LeRoux, who here emerges as perhaps the most significant contemporary criminal not known to the general public for his having "introduced the principles of twenty-first century entrepreneurship to the dark side of the global economy." LeRoux, who grew up in South Africa, used his sophisticated computer skills to create an online pharmaceutical business in 2004 that yielded him millions. Carefully constructed to appear on the up-and-up, RX Limited linked pill-buying consumers with a network of physicians and pharmacies, randomly assigning repeat customers to different providers to allow them to make as many purchases as they wanted without raising any red flags. LeRoux moved on to create a "digitally powered, high-volume warehousing and delivery operation for drugs and arms" or, put another way, a "black-market Amazon." Unlike Evan Ratliff's recent book on LeRoux, The Mastermind, which focuses on the lower-level DEA investigators who first found evidence that RX Limited was a criminal scheme, Shannon starts with the DEA's 960 Group, an elite unit of undercover agents whose efforts led to LeRoux's arrest in 2012. True crime fans will want to read both to get the full story. Agent: Shane Salerno, Story Factory. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A methodical history of a pioneer of cybercrime who founded an international empire based on the sales of drugs, armaments, and technology and on the currency of fear and murder.It's unfortunate that Shannon's (Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win, 1988, etc.) account of the criminal genius Paul Le Roux appears in the same season as Evan Ratliff's Mastermind, which covers just the same ground and is the more vigorously written of the two. Still, Shannon opens on a smart note given current events: She contrasts the old-school criminal empire of Joaquin Guzmn, aka "El Chapo," with the new one of Le Roux, who "has introduced the principles of twenty-first century entrepreneurship to the dark side of the global economy"and, in the process, "is changing everything." Transnational in naturefor Le Roux was born in what was then Rhodesia and has lived, it seems, just about everywhere sincethe postmodern, postindustrial criminal empire Le Roux founded resisted law enforcement simply by not having a country of its own: a murder in Manila here, a drug deal in Hong Kong or Pyongyang there, bank transfers in Dubai and London and Jerusalem there, and it all made it difficult to keep tabs on. Le Roux's model wasn't one of loyal Mafia foot soldiers but of disposableliterallycontractors, whether renegade bikers or well-trained mercenaries or mild-mannered accountants. Shannon is very good on procedural matters and especially on how the American Drug Enforcement Administration pieced together its multiagency, multigovernmental case against Le Roux. Among her sources are undercover DEA agents and informants, including one who "posed as a Colombian cartel representative in order to bring Le Roux to justice." That story is fascinating, especially as government agents figure out how to lure their targetor, failing that, arrange for him to be dispatched in some distant place, even if "U.S. military and NATO rules of engagement forbade summary executions of noncombatants." For sizzle, then, one wants to read Ratliff's book first, but there's plenty of steak here.A painstaking, fascinating account of crime and punishment. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

New York Review of Books Review

WORLD-CLASS CRIMINALS, like world-class writers, are natural obsessives. Alone in their rooms, they both spin endless plots, picking at the details of their projects. Near the start of "The Mastermind," Evan Ratliff's possessed true-crime investigation, there is a stop-and-gawk image of the obsessive outlaw with whom he becomes obsessed: Paul Le Roux, the South African kingpin who gives the work its title. The scene takes place in a thriller-worthy setting - a penthouse condo in Manila, where Le Roux has based his illegal organization. But when one of Ratliff's sources enters the apartment, he finds the potbellied crime lord in the most unlikely guise: dressed in shorts and flipflops and perched behind a desk in a room filled with digital servers. The 300 fever-heated pages that ensue are, in a sense, the author's agitated - and sometimes self-imperiling - attempt to understand that bizarre tableau and to figure out how Paul Le Roux transformed himself, in the course of 30 years, from a teenage tech geek with a talent for encryption to an international villain with a cadre of mercenaries protecting his interests in everything from Congolese gold to North Korean meth. Ratliff's journey is not just one of miles logged on the ground, but of incomparable oddness. In his hunt for those who knew Le Roux, he goes to Minnesota, the Philippines, Israel, Brazil and Vietnam, encountering a cast of characters out of a Coen brothers film: a grizzled Canadian security operative, an elderly pharmacist, a target-shooting Filipino cop, a South African hit man and the pseudonymous informant who ran Le Roux's business in Somalia and later helped the American authorities to capture him. The narrator fixed on an elusive prey has been a well-worn device at least since "Moby-Dick," but if there were ever a subject worthy of investigative mania, it is Paul Le Roux. The man was into anything and everything: high-speed yachts, precious metals, plastic explosives, tuna fishing, piracy, Predator drones, Peruvian cocaine and hallucinogens. "He wanted to be the king of his country," according to the informant who ultimately brought him down. "The big man. Sitting on his fat ass behind a giant desk in his palace." In the midst of his pursuit, Ratliff - like a serial-killer fan boy - tapes multicolored Post-it notes to his bedroom wall in an effort to understand his protagonist's sprawling empire. "I'd like to claim that this was some kind of linear process, a journalist-turneddetective expertly following a trail of bread crumbs down the path to a secret lair," he writes. "But, in truth, people and stories came to me scattershot, and I found myself constantly circling back to re-evaluate some fact that I'd been told before." One of the pleasures of "The Mastermind" is the way in which the story effortlessly toggles between the mundane and the macabre. Le Roux's chief business - and the source of his great wealth - was, for several years, an online pharmacy network. Unsuspecting customers would place their orders for painkillers like Tramadol to call centers run by a company known as RX Limited. Licensed doctors, most in the United States, would evaluate the requests and - unaware of where the payments were going - authorize prescriptions to be handed out by pharmacists from Brooklyn to Wisconsin. While some of the money was siphoned off along the way to keep the pill mill (and its largely unwitting participants) in motion, the bulk of it was hoarded by Le Roux to fund the rest of his illicit operations. This trick of funneling quasi-legal profits into wholly illegal business ventures eventually led to the crime lord's downfall as investigators dug into the innards of his scheme. It also provided Ratliff with the philosophical ballast of his story. Violent crime, he notes, often exists in vertiginous proximity to ordinary life. "Call center managers in Tel Aviv could wake up and find themselves arms dealers," he writes. "Family doctors could turn into conspirators in an international drug cartel at the click of a button." This "adjacent reality," as Ratliff calls it, is Le Roux's reality, and in "The Mastermind" it "lurks just outside of our everyday perception, in the dark corners of the internet we never visit, the quiet ports where ships slip by in the night, the back room of the clinic down the street." There is an inference and perhaps even a lesson here: Bad things happen when the edges of those two worlds start to touch. Ratliff's book emerged from several articles he wrote for the online magazine The Atavist. Three weeks after "The Mastermind" was published, a second book, Elaine Shannon's HUNTING LEROUX (Morrow, $27.99), came out. Shannon, a journalist, has worked closely in the past with the Drug Enforcement Administration and she clearly had access to the two elite agents who helped take down Le Roux. But her book is less broadly sourced than Ratliff's - and not as haunting. A quick disclaimer: I, too, became obsessed with Le Roux after chasing him and his spectral story for The New York Times years ago. (In "The Mastermind," the author briefly mentions the articles I wrote.) Much like Ratliff, I recall the bleary nights on Google thinking I'd struck gold when I stumbled across Le Roux's name in incorporation papers for a mysterious firm in Hong Kong or a United Nations dossier on the Somalian arms trade. I also recall the nausea that gripped me when Le Roux slipped back into the shadows, and the gold I thought I'd found turned into mist. All of which is to say that, aside from the other triumphs of "The Mastermind," Ratliff clearly deserves this year's Award for Dogged Journalism for staying on his target until the very end. Without spoiling his story, the end arrives with yet another twist when, after years of living out of sight, Le Roux shows up, in the flesh, in two separate federal courtrooms. Ratliff's efforts fail only when he tries to lash his story to sweeping themes (Le Roux as the first great outlaw of the digital age) or to root it in current events (Le Roux's supposed role in heightening the opioid crisis). While both of these ideas are likely true, they struck me as the sort of unnecessary stretches that a publishing executive might suggest. The fact is, Ratliff's tale is unique, so strange and so compelling, it is almost better left to float alone in its cloud of "adjacent reality." That, of course, is where it already exists - close to, but just beyond, the world we recognize: out there, on its own, in a state of shimmering drift. ALAN FEUER covers crime and criminals for The Times.

Table of Contents

Michael Mann
Forewordp. xi
Introduction: Malign Actorp. 1
1 September 25, 2013p. 9
2 Murphy's Lawp. 30
3 The Rhodesianp. 59
4 Black Cloudp. 82
5 Magic!p. 96
6 Invisible Cityp. 116
7 Pac-Man and Ironmanp. 142
8 "We're Way Beyond Birthdays"p. 158
9 Dazzle Himp. 173
10 "I Just Don't Want to Get on the Plane"p. 198
11 Queen for a Dayp. 216
12 All the Pieces on the Chessboardp. 243
13 Hunting Rambop. 270
14 Ninja Stuffp. 294
15 Burning It Downp. 323
Note to Readersp. 333
Notesp. 335
Indexp. 343
Acknowledgmentsp. 353