- - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

HUNTING LEROUX: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE TAKEDOWN OF A CRIMINAL GENIUS AND HIS EMPIRE

By Elaine Shannon

Michael Mann Books/William Morrow, $27.99, 368 pages

Critics of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels often state that the late, great thriller writer’s villains, such as Goldfinger, Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, were unrealistically grotesque and evil.

But consider real life villains, such as Martin Bormann, Pablo Escobar or Manuel Noriega, a drug trafficking Panamanian dictator who wore red bikini underwear to ward off enemies. (Top that, Mr. Goldfinger).



Or consider Paul Calder LeRoux, a slovenly, 350-pound narcissistic cybersecurity genius turned cold-blooded murderer and transnational drug and gun trafficking crime boss. Author Elaine Shannon called LeRoux “the creator of the Innovation Age’s first transnational criminal empire.”

Unlike most crime lords, LeRoux eschewed the flamboyant trappings of illicit wealth and lived in near-seclusion in sparsely furnished condos around the world, hiding behind his secure computer and the dark web. But his enormous ego and greed eventually brought him to the attention of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In Elaine Shannon’s true crime book, “Hunting LeRoux; The Inside Story of the DEA Takedown of a Criminal Genius and his Empire,” we learn about the background and criminal enterprises of this oddball crook, and the efforts of the DEA’s secretive 960 Group to bring him to justice.

The 960 Group looked for high value targets and they had previously taken down Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout, another outrageous criminal who seems to have been created by Ian Fleming.

Elaine Shannon notes how global crime has evolved from the “cocaine cowboys” (the last being Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman) to what she calls “Phase Two.” The global black market in illegal drugs had become a vast, mature industry estimated to generate more than $400 billion a year, far exceeding the combined profits of the underground trade in arms, humans and blood diamonds.

“The men and women at the top of transnational organized crime had evolved for the era of globalization,” Ms. Shannon explains. “They were discreet and smart enough not to go to war with one another. They were in the game to make money, not news. They embraced the tools of the Digital Age — encrypted mobile phones, cloud storage, the dark web.”

She writes how Phase Three has now become the model for transnational organized crime of tomorrow. It is the innovation of Paul Calder LeRoux, who, Ms. Shannon writes, introduced the principles of 21st-century entrepreneurship to the dark side of the global economy.

“Born in the outlaw colony of Rhodesia, LeRoux has a complicated psyche and near-genius intelligence. With his imposing, 350-pound physique, anvil-shaped forehead, and blue-black eyes that gleam like lit cigarettes, he strides into a room and takes command, projecting the menacing gravitas of an absolutely powerful medieval monarch, a Gilded Age robber baron, or a Wagnerian antihero,” Ms. Shannon writes.

She went on to state that his mannerisms evoke Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz character, the renegade Green Beret turned warlord in Francis Ford Coppala’s “Apocalypse Now.” LeRoux bragged about buying an island off the Philippines coast, stating, “Every villain needs his own island.

His laptop password was “Hitler,” and he sought alliances with the people he admired, such as Colombian cartels, Russian oligarchs, Somali pirates, the Serb mafia and Chinese triads. To the DEA, CIA and other American law enforcement and intelligence agencies he was a ghost.

To LeRoux, computers were a tool, like a ball point pen. He created his own uncrackable dark web. He used an old Dell computer that he configured, and he believed it couldn’t be breached.

“Hackers as a rule don’t kill people,” Ms. Shannon noted. “LeRoux did, personally and by proxy.”

While operating from his barely furnished condo in Manila, he had a crew of mercenaries on call nearby at a local bar. The leader of the crew was a hard-drinking and meth-smoking English mercenary named Dave Smith. Smith was a sadist who, according to LeRoux, took great pleasure in torturing animals and people and killing people. LeRoux also employed a former American soldier named Joseph Hunter — known as “Rambo” — as his chief enforcer. The mercenaries did his dirty work, which included murder.

Lou Milone, a former actor who was the head of the 960 Group, said that LeRoux was creating a new industry that transcended the concept of drug trafficker and gun runner. He was, according to DEA Special Agent Milone, something original.

A former LeRoux employee known only to readers as “Jack” became an informant for the 960 Group. Two of Lou Milone’s best agents, Tom Cindric and Eric Stouch, worked with Jack to gather information about LeRoux and to set up for the final takedown.

“Hunting LeRoux” is well-written, informative and suspenseful book that reads like a thriller.

Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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