Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hasidic Jews, ecstasy, and prostitutes

So this might be almost a decade old and a bit esoteric for some, but I found a fascinating article today on the former Israeli ecstasy kingpin Jacob "Cookie" Orgad, who had Hasidic school boys and strippers ferrying drugs across the Atlantic for him and ended up as a rabbi behind bars. The whole thing is almost too good to excerpt, so before I remember all the other great parts, here are two that stood out:

As much as 90 percent of the world’s ecstasy supply is manufactured in secret, high-tech labs scattered throughout the Netherlands, where the materials to make the hallucinogen [ed.: ecstasy isn't actually a hallucinogen] are not as closely regulated as they are in the rest of Europe and the United States. For years, a cabal of Israelis have used Holland as a base for diamond smuggling through the ports in Antwerp and Rotterdam. In the mid-nineties, some of them noticed that an even more lucrative trade had blossomed around them, one with few players as well positioned to cash in as they were. "Israelis are everywhere, and they get to know each other very fast because of the language and the tradition," says an Israeli intelligence official familiar with his countrymen’s stronghold on the world ecstasy market. "It doesn’t take long for a guy like Cookie to get big."

According to documents seized by the feds, Cookie began making frequent trips to Amsterdam, where he set up a connection with a Dutch chemist who had a lab in an industrial building north of the city. The ecstasy trade was quickly consolidating as well-connected players staked out their markets. The alleged former diamond smuggler Israeli Oded Tuito was already said to control much of Miami. Tuito also had a major piece of the New York market, along with Ilan Zarger (also an Israeli) who was the head of BTS, the notorious Brooklyn Terror Squad infamous for beating and robbing clubgoers and other dealers to insure their dominance of the market.

Something that annoyed me, though – and this happens with most reporting on drugs – is when journalists take the police's value estimations seriously. The police will always take the highest price they've ever seen for a drug – retail! – and then multiply that by the total amount. At one point, the article claims a pill can sell for as high as $40 – an absurdly high price that you couldn't even get a gullible and rich 13-year-old to pay. At another point it claims that the street value of 9 million pills is more than $27 million, implying an average retail price of $30 per pill. In actuality, you can only get away with selling a pill for even $20 if you're taking great risk and vending within some sort of music event (generally on the dance floor itself). The further away you get from the probing eyes of security, the lower the price. So, a pill bought on the dance floor will be more expensive than a pill bought outside the venue, which will in turn be more expensive than you'd get it for at a huge festival (where there are even fewer police), all of which is more expensive than if you buy it from a normal dealer in the outside world. Generally at that point the price will fall to around $10/pill.

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