Paul Le Roux always knew that the end would come, or so those inside his organization told me. Some believed that the sheer vastness of his criminal appetite implied that he was all but daring law enforcement to take him down. Others remembered that Le Roux talked for years about how the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was on his trail. They’d always assumed he was boasting, exaggerating his importance.
There were also times when it seemed like Le Roux was considering getting out. In an online chat, sent to me by one of his former employees, he discussed disappearing into a new identity as early as 2008. “I need a dead body certified as me,” Le Roux said. “The body should have a certificate saying ‘died from multiple gun shot wounds.’” He also wanted a birth certificate under a new name, one that would work not just once, but for a lifetime.
Le Roux either never got the birth certificate or never used it. Instead, when he started to feel that his time was short, he put into action another, even more elaborate plan. By early 2012, authorities in the U.S. began closing in on Le Roux’s operations. That spring, he exchanged his haven in the Philippines, with his established routines, paid-for police protection, and network of employees, for a new home base in Rio de Janeiro.
Le Roux seemed to see Brazil as a trapdoor to a fresh start: Soon after he arrived, he set about generating new business. The first involved a boat, transporting $120 million in cocaine from Peru to a buyer on the other side of the Pacific.
As he finalized the arrangements for the shipment, another lucrative offer presented itself. A trusted associate of Le Roux’s contacted him to say that he’d met a representative of a Colombian cartel that wanted to build a large-scale methamphetamine operation in Liberia. On May 11, Le Roux’s associate flew to Rio for a meeting. The Colombians wanted precursor chemicals, a facility, and a chemist for making meth, in exchange for which they would supply Le Roux with cocaine.
The Colombians requested a sample of the product Le Roux could help them create. A week later, he gave the associate his bank account number, and the Colombians wired payment for a 24-gram sample of meth. Le Roux sent the sample to Liberia and supplied a tracking number. The Colombians tested the meth and found that it was clean, nearly 100 percent pure. They were ready to make the trade: 100 kilos of meth for 100 kilos of cocaine.
All that was required to complete the deal was for Le Roux to travel to Liberia and meet with the cartel representative. He caught a commercial flight to Monrovia, the Liberian capital, and touched down on September 25, 2012. As was often the case with Le Roux and his businesses, the swap was a bold plan, almost too over the top in its complexity. Only this time, Le Roux wasn’t the one pulling the strings…