From Amazon.com: 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.
Chemical Cowboys is a thrilling journey through the groundbreaking undercover investigations that led to the toppling of a billion-dollar Ecstasy trafficking network--starting in 1995 when New York DEA Agent Robert Gagne infiltrated club land 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. Weaved into the narrative are the stories of Tuito’s underlings who struggled with addiction as they ran from the law, and the compelling experiences of a veteran Israeli police officer who aided Gagne while chasing after his own target--a violent Mob boss who saw the riches to be made in Ecstasy and began to import his own pills and turf warfare to the U.S.
Chemical Cowboys offers a taut, behind-the-scenes glimpse into an international criminal enterprise as daring as it is deadly.
What I Thought: While yes, usually I tend toward lighter reading I really enjoy investigative writing like this. When I was a little girl, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was a cop...more specifically a detective. I just find it so interested. That being said, this book tends to read more like a story than non-fiction which is what kept me so riveted. The Author goes into incredible detail on the inner workings of the DEA and it's agents, and the story of a drug that got it's start as a treatment for depression and how it became known as the nightclub drug of choice.
This would be a great FATHER'S DAY GIFT for readers who like to read about crime, fiction ornonfiction, as this story rolls off the page like a movie.
Lisa Sweetingham was kind enough to grant me an interview. Here's what she had to say!
1. How did you get started in journalism?
I knew by my mid-twenties that I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure of the delivery method: would I focus on fiction, screenplays, poetry, journalism?
As an undergrad in a small southern college, I had managed the student newspaper and I loved the hectic pace. But just to be sure, I spent a year as an assistant on a literary desk at a major talent agency in Beverly Hills. I quickly burned out on reading scripts and decided that the most interesting movies came from articles and books. But I also chose journalism because—truth be told—I’m nosy. I am insatiably curious about human nature and being a reporter gives me an excuse to ask personal questions.
Not everyone needs to go to journalism school to get a job in the industry, but for reasons I can’t fully explain I readily accepted a lifetime of financial debt in return for a strong foundation in the skills of reporting, writing, and editing. In truth, I have no regrets. Columbia University’s graduate program in journalism gave me a broad set of story-telling skills and forged relationships with talented professors and alum who I still count on for guidance.
Once out of school, I freelanced for local New York newspapers and magazines and eventually landed a job as a writer and technology editor at Time Out New York, a weekly entertainment magazine. By 2004, a friend from Columbia told me about a web reporter opening at Court TV and soon I was traveling across the country covering high-profile murder trials. It was a fantastic job. It gave me a solid foundation in the language and processes of the justice system and provided opportunities to do television, radio, and multimedia reporting.
I eventually left Court TV (now InSession on TruTV) to work on “Chemical Cowboys,” full time, but I freelance for my old bosses on occasion and still love haunting the crime beat.
2. Who are some of your favorite authors?
In no particular order and completely off the top of my head: Raymond Chandler, W. Somerset Maugham, Walt Whitman, Christopher Hitchens, Bruce Wallin, Jerry Stahl, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Ian McEwan, Bill Styron, Charlie LeDuff, Russell Banks, Joni Mitchell, Raymond Carver, Hemingway, James B. Stewart, William Langewiesche, Gay Talese, Edna Buchanan, Tom Wolfe.
Also, I think Anthony Lane and Mike D’Angelo are exceptional film critics. And A.J Jacobs’ writing in Esquire inspires me to push boundaries in terms of how I approach a story. The last article of his I clipped was: “Do I Love My Wife? An Investigative Report,” [http://www.esquire.com/features/mri-of-love-0609] in which he allowed researchers at Rutgers University to monitor his brain activity to see if pictures of his wife still triggered chemical reactions indicative of feelings of romance, sex, and emotional attachment. It’s not Hemingway, it’s just a clever way to show readers the human side of science.
3. What is research like for a book like Chemical Cowboys?
In a nutshell: “Chemical Cowboys” follows a decade’s worth of formerly classified undercover operations into the drug Ecstasy. The narrative follows one New York DEA agent (whose life is a series of unbelievable twists and turns), but it also weaves in the stories of the agent’s partners, an Israeli Ecstasy kingpin, the kingpin’s beautiful American girlfriend, and a veteran Israeli detective who worked alongside the American drug cops to help take down a billion-dollar organized crime network.
In order to write “Chemical Cowboys” the way I wanted to—and by that, I mean, giving readers a never-before-seen portrait of the inner workings of DEA, Israeli mafia, and the Ecstasy trade—I had to secure cooperation from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Israeli National Police. At the same time I was developing the book proposal, I was hanging out at New York DEA, getting to know the agents, and learning about their personal and professional lives.
In total, I spent about four years of reporting, writing, editing, traveling around the world, digging through stacks of ceiling-high case files, and getting people who had no good reason to talk to a reporter to open up about their experiences.
4. Describe yourself in One Word.
5. What would be your perfect day?
Since I’m freelancing, every day is a work day, so I’ll spare you my “perfect day at work” and give you my “perfect free day.”
My perfect free day begins at dawn when I’m awoken by the sounds of roosters crowing. I take my old dog, Max, for a walk on the beach and the Pacific breeze lends a spring to his step. Upon returning home, I find that the boyfriend has brewed a perfect pot of coffee and has laid out today’s copies of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal to read at my leisure.
By noon, we’re off for a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains to catch lizards and riff poetic about our dreams, our friends and family, and funny stories we keep forgetting to share because there’s never enough time to get to everything we want to talk about. He discovers a giant fossil in the hillside that I’m pretty sure provides a missing link between humans and primates. (How it ended up in Topanga Canyon? Anyone’s guess.)
By 3 p.m., I’ll have convinced him to take me to the indoor shooting range near Los Angeles airport. We’ll play shoot ‘em up and do our best Dirty Harry impressions! (I’ve yet to convince him that shooting a Glock is pure fun. But it’s my perfect day, so he’ll submit.)
Afterward, we’ll head to the Santa Monica pier for a sunset ride on the new solar-powered Ferris wheel. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, as they say, which is why in a startling turn of events, we’ll form a two-person chain to save a small toddler who’s wriggled loose from his mother’s arms and is dangling precariously between our cars. After the fire department, mayor, and city police thank us for our saving the day with quick reflexes, we’ll slip away before the local press arrives and have a quiet dinner of Tuscan seafood stew at a dark, candle-lit café near the beach.
It will be there, while racing to the bottom of a bottle of Brunello, that we simultaneously experience a grand vision—the cure for cancer and a plan for peace in the Middle East. We’ll celebrate with the purchase of more wine and Dodgers Dugout Club tickets.
Years later, we’ll think back and say, “That was a perfect day.”
6. What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on crime stories (an unsolved Hollywood homicide) and travel features (Africa); I’m investigating three different book ideas (in a word: steroids, Cuba, and luxury); and I’m attempting to make my answers to your questions vaguely entertaining.
Thanks, Amy, for the fun interview! I hope your readers will enjoy “Chemical Cowboys.”
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 Graduate 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.
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