After Paul Calder Le Roux was captured in 2012, his status was guarded with fanatical secrecy by the United States government. His location and even his lawyer’s name were known only to federal law enforcement. At first his clandestine status made sense, of course: Through at least mid-2014, Le Roux was essentially an undercover DEA operative in U.S. custody. By virtue of his phone calls and emails, agents were able to build elaborate sting operations around the fiction that he was still out in the world.
The illusion was fragile. As early as December 2013, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that Le Roux had been arrested. Fortunately for the DEA, that story was published in Portuguese and didn’t spread widely. Then, a year later, The New York Times discovered that Le Roux was the cooperator behind the takedown of Joseph “Rambo” Hunter, arrested for plotting to kill a DEA agent. Le Roux’s time as a government asset was over.
The secrecy around Le Roux continued, however, propelled by its own internal logic. His name may have been made public, but Le Roux’s entire case file remained sealed. So did significant portions of the prosecution against Hunter, his team of would-be assassins, and the group of Le Roux functionaries arrested for trafficking North Korean meth. Soon many of those cases ended with guilty pleas, obviating the need for Le Roux to ever testify. I’d been following the cases since Hunter’s arrest in September 2013, and as one defendant after another admitted their guilt, I realized that I might never see Le Roux in a courtroom.
Then, in late 2015, a pair of lawyers in Minneapolis, Joseph Friedberg and Robert Richman, came up with a legal gambit to pull Le Roux out into the open. Their client, Moran Oz, had run Le Roux’s call center in Israel. In a federal indictment in Minnesota, Oz was charged with 83 counts of prescription-drug crimes and wire fraud. The case was based in part on communications between Le Roux and Oz, who believed that his boss was at large when in fact Le Roux was in U.S. custody, calling and emailing at the behest of the DEA.
Digging through the evidence, Richman realized that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had collected some of those calls and emails without a warrant. He filed a motion to have the material suppressed, arguing that federal law required at least one party in the communication to consent to the monitoring. Richman knew that Oz hadn’t given his permission. Had Le Roux? The government produced statements from DEA agents claiming that he had. But Richman and Friedberg argued that Le Roux himself needed to testify to that fact. The judge overseeing Oz’s case agreed and ordered the government to produce Le Roux.
Here, after two years of chasing his shadow, at first online and then on the ground in numerous locations around the world, was my chance to see Le Roux face-to-face…