A big welcome to Lisa Sweetingham, author of Chemical Cowboys!!
"Chemical Cowboys" is a non-fiction journey through the secret investigations that led to the capture of an international Ecstasy kingpin and the end of the Israeli mafia’s control of the Ecstasy trade. Although the first major Ecstasy cases sprang up in New York City in the late ‘90s, it was a 1999 story in The New York Times that first alerted me to this fascinating underworld. The article was about ultra-Orthodox teenagers who had been arrested at JFK airport trying to smuggle MDMA into the States from Belgium, Amsterdam, and Paris. (Hundreds of small, multicolored pills had been rolled up inside socks and buried deep in their suitcases.) It seemed incredible that these pious youth in dark garb could be smuggling drugs.
Years later, I’d come to discover that many of the couriers didn’t even know they were moving pills—they had been duped into being mules by a major dealer who was making millions and paying his charges $1,500 plus a free trip to Europe, all for carrying a few bags back into the country.
In 2004, when I was a reporter for Court TV online, a source encouraged me to dig deeper into the Ecstasy cases. I started by knocking on the door of New York DEA and spending some time getting to know the men and women who led the investigations. One agent, Robert Gagne, was so obsessed with taking down Israeli Ecstasy kingpin Oded Tuito that it almost cost him his career. I knew that Gagne’s personal story had the potential to be the narrative through line of a book, and once DEA agreed to cooperate and open their case files, the plot was richer and more complicated than I could have imagined.
In Israel, I had an equally compelling counterpart to Gagne in the head of intelligence for Israeli National Police, a man named Gadi Eshed, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of international mafia activity and was instrumental in helping his American colleagues to take down the Ecstasy trade. Thanks to the cooperation of INP, Eshed became my tireless guide in Israel, leading me through sights of Mafia warfare and securing interviews with top cops who continue to fight the mob bosses.
I also spent time in Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, and Romania to retrace the traffickers’ routes and to interview DEA agents abroad who worked to bring down the Ecstasy networks. I spent four years reporting and writing "Chemical Cowboys." It was an ambitious endeavor for a first book, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope readers will enjoy it, too.
Author of "Chemical Cowboys: The DEA’s Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin."
Journalist Lisa Sweetingham spent four years following in the footsteps of DEA agents and Ecstasy traffickers to bring CHEMICAL COWBOYS to life. Previously, she covered high-profile murder trials and Supreme Court nomination hearings for Court TV online. Sweetingham is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Parade, Spin, Time Out New York, Health Affairs, and many other publications. She resides in Los Angeles. CHEMICAL COWBOYS is her first book.
Thank you for joining us!! I LOVED this book!