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Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret…

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

by Lisa Sweetingham

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257645,548 (4.11)None
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. This is a journey through the groundbreaking undercover investigations that led to the toppling of a billion-dollar trafficking network--starting in 1995 when New York DEA Agent Robert Gagne infiltrated clubland 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. Woven into the narrative are the stories of Tuito's underlings who struggled with addiction as they ran from the law, and the experiences of a veteran Israeli police officer who aided Gagne while chasing after his own mob target.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 00
    Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding (sfarmer76)
    sfarmer76: Similar in vein to books by Frank Owen, and Nick Reding -- only about Ecstasy instead of Meth.
  2. 00
    Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture by Frank Owen (kraaivrouw)

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A fine true crime and investigation story. Not the most exciting ending, but still good. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Journalist and author Lisa Sweetingham takes the readers behind the scenes of the investigations into major Ecstasy rings, while following the career of Special Agent Robert Gagne. For many years, Ecstasy was not taken all that seriously. It was "kiddie dope". Special Agent Gagne with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would play an integral part in changing that. Gagne was passionate about his work and wanted to make a difference. While most DEA investigations were focused on cocaine and heroin in and around 1995, he was hoping to go in a different direction, go after a lesser known drug. A call from an informant who was given a sample of Ecstasy by two Israeli Nationals was just the break he needed.

Ecstasy got its start as a psychotropic drug and was quite popular for couple's counseling during the 1970's and 1980's. It’s official name is 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It earned the name "Empathy" because of the effects it had on users, including a feeling of euphoria and heightened sensitivity; however later came to be called Ecstasy. In 1988, MDMA became a Schedule 1 Drug, determined to be highly addictive and with no real medical purpose. The effects of the drug diminish with each use, causing users to use more and more to gain the same results as when they begin taking it. The side effects and consequences of using Ecstasy, especially long-term use, can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

While very popular among young adults, Ecstasy knows no boundaries. It holds appeal to a wide spectrum of people from all walks of life. As the drug grew in popularity and there was a greater demand for the drug, it became all the more challenging for law enforcement officials to crack down on it. When one person in the Ecstasy chain was arrested or disappeared, another was immediately ready to take that person’s place. The Ecstasy business was ever changing and growing rapidly.

The book opens with a stakeout in Los Angeles in November of 1999. DEA agents followed their suspects and watched as they abandoned a SUV. Suspecting it was a trick set up by the suspects to make sure they were not being watched, the agents laid in wait, keeping an eye on the vehicle for days. Eventually, they made a move on the vehicle and discovered the body of a man linked to the Israeli mafia. There were obvious signs of his having been murdered. Suddenly, the stakes had risen and it was not just about the drugs anymore.

In 1973, President Nixon's declaration of war on drugs led to the establishment of the DEA. In the early years, the DEA went after anyone they could get, and that often meant the little guys. Today, they go for those higher up in the hierarchy. They want to suppliers and the cartel heads. It was no different for Special Agent Gagne and his partner, Special Agent Germanoski. The agents began by investigating two low level Israeli drug dealers in New York in 1995 and worked their way up from there. They infiltrated the nightclub scene, posing as gay ravers, in an effort to bring down Peter Gatien, a well-connected nightclub owner who they believed was a major player behind the scenes of the Ecstasy trade. Unfortunately, the jury found him not guilty despite the damaging evidence against him. Special Agent Gagne was not so willing to let it go, and, as a result, suffered a blow when he is assigned a desk job, his maverick style finally catching up with him. However, that did not stop him from doing what he could to stay involved with the Ecstasy scene.

In 1995, when Gagne and Germanoski began their investigation into Ecstasy sales, the drug was barely a blip on the map. As time went on and the demand for the drug grew, other agencies across the globe began to take notice. The problem was so widespread that it did not take long before law enforcement agencies around the world joined forces to tackle the growing problem. The effort was lead by Gadi Eshed with the Israeli National Police. Once the various law enforcement agencies came together, their jobs suddenly became a lot easier. The tangled web of the Ecstasy underworld, at least that under investigation, was beginning to be unraveled.

The drug was being imported into the United States from Holland. Israeli Nationals played a large part in the organization and distribution of Ecstasy during the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s. It was even tempting enough for the Israeli mafia to take up. The three countries, working with other countries across Europe, were able to put a major dent in the Ecstasy trade.

While Special Agent Gagne plays a large part in Lisa Sweetingham's book, he is not the only major player, nor even the most important. The bringing down of a major Ecstasy kingpin, Oded Tuito, and many others tied to the industry was the result of the hard work of many. While jurisdictional issues occasionally came into play, for the most part the various law enforcement agencies involved worked together for their common cause. They relied heavily on confidential sources, such as informants. In fact, many of their leads come from those on the inside.

It will come as no surprise that I am a fan of crime fiction, especially mysteries. I am fascinated by the investigative process, the discovery of clues that lead to another and another and how it all comes together in the end. True life investigations are even more fascinating in many ways. You may not be able to get into the characters' heads quite the way you can in fiction (which is one of the aspects I especially find appealing in reading fiction), but you can get a glimpse at how crimes are really solved and of our legal system at work.

I have a new found respect for the hard work and dedication of those investigating drug crime rings and just what they are up against. They have an immense amount of patience, that's for sure, and their job requires meticulous attention to details. I am glad to have people like Special Agent Gagne and Commander Gadi Eshed on the job. They both take their jobs very seriously and it shows in their work product—and in their personal lives.

There are a lot of players mentioned in this book, both criminals and authorities. Usually I do not have trouble keeping several characters straight while reading, but in this case, it proved to be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, Sweetingham did try and help, reminding the reader of the link between one person and another without being repetitive; however, I would not have minded having an organizational chart to help me keep it all straight. Especially one or two involving the various criminal groups.

I never know quite how to review a nonfiction book. While the events covered in the pages of Chemical Cowboys are factual and a matter of record, I do not want to spoil the book just the same. I will not go so far as to say the book reads like fiction, but I will say that it flows smoothly and the author has done a good job in presenting the information she has gathered. Is the book suspenseful? Yes. Informative? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? Very much. Chemical Cowboys was without a dull moment. Sweetingham kept me interested from the very first page through to the last.

With both the law enforcement officers, the criminals and those who fall somewhere in between, the author presented them as the human beings they are, with their strengths and vulnerabilities. At times she talked about their families and their hopes and dreams, along with their failures. The people described in the book are more than just names on a page. Lisa Sweetingham saw to that.

While the efforts of the DEA and their allies had a major impact on the Ecstasy trade, the distribution and abuse of the drug continues still today. There are new criminals in place to do the dirty work, and law enforcement agencies all over the world continue to do what they can to make our streets safer. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Aug 2, 2009 |
Chemical Cowboys: The DEA’s Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin by Lisa Sweetingham traces of the evolution of the popular rave and nightclub drug, Ecstasy. DEA Agent Gagne first notices the drug in its early years, when it was known as a “kiddie dope” and overlooked by officials focused on harder drugs like cocaine and heroine. Infiltrating the New York night club scene, Gagne and his partner track nightclub owner Peter Gatien and his league of employees including Club Kid King Michael Alig (remember the movie Party Monster?… that guy). But Gatien and Alig are just small pieces in a larger, more world-wide drug puzzle full of danger, violence, death, and money. At the top of the international drug chain is Oded “the Fat Man” Tuito, and Gagne soon sets his sights on catching and convicting Tuito, as well as some of his other associates and drug pushers.

Sweetingham takes the reader around the world, from Israel to Amsterdam, to Belgium and France, and back to the United States into the club scene and the mob. We witness law enforcement around the world working together to gain evidence and convictions. We are also given the ins and outs of how big time international drug dealers hide out, hide evidence, launder money, and pass drugs through airport and port security.

This is a book full of twists and turns, with real life people and events and only minor details changed, mainly for the sake of condensing or protecting some of the people involved. When you read this book, you don’t feel like you are reading some stiff account of justice in action– it is certainly not dry. Sweetingham has written the book with enough personality and excitement that one could easily be reading a crime mystery novel. This book is further proof that the things that happen in real life can be just as good as anything you see on TV or read in fiction. What makes this book even more fascinating is that you know while reading it that these things really did and are still happening all around you. Names, places, and events are all familiar and distinct.

You’ll learn a lot of about drug trafficking and how law enforcement tracks down criminals. I wasn’t aware that there were so many restrictions and regulations in place for Agents, and it was frustrating to me to see the bad guy get away so many times! This book must have taken a lot of time, and had to have required Sweetingham to research a lot. The sheer detail and specifics of the book shows that Sweetingham really knows what she is talking about and properly investigated the key players and chronology from beginning to end and everything connecting in a confusing and intricate web of drug crime. ( )
  morbidromantic | Jun 18, 2009 |
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. ( )
  bridget3420 | Jun 16, 2009 |
I used to be huge into the true crime genre, and I had read them all. But than I lost interest. I am not sure why, but for the most part I just decided they all kind of started to sound the same. No offense to any of those authors, but they did. So it is a rare book that can pull me back into my thoughts about true crime being decent. In the last year only one book has done it. Until now. Chemical Cowboys is a stunning masterpiece of a Crime Novel.

Lisa Sweetingham weaves such a wicked web about this king pin, with characters that you will remember. Some of them you will love and some of them you will love to hate. I really can not think of to many words that would do this book justice. Other than it is grippingly good.

You will get into the underbelly of the beast, and follow the scum as they go. It’s graphic and descriptive and you can picture yourself there in the action. So if you’re a lover of action, and Crime this is a book for you. Even if your not I recommend you pick it up and take a look at this book. I am so glad I was given the chance to read Chemical Cowboys. It was a refreshing breath of new air into a genre I have missed. ( )
  jeffersonsambrosia | Jun 13, 2009 |
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