With the conviction last week for murder of three Americans in the grisly 2012 execution death of a Filipino woman, US authorities may have written the end of one of the most bizarre international crime stories in decades. It is bizarre partly because its leader is the man who turned on his organization and cooperated with Drug Enforcement Agency officials to put it out of business.
A US federal jury in New York on April 19 convicted Joseph “Rambo” Hunter, a former US Army sniper and Special Forces soldier, and co-defendants Adam Samia and Carl Stillwell of the murder, in a rural area outside of Manila, of Catherine Lee on the orders of Paul Le Roux, a spectacular international crime boss, by shooting her twice in the face, once under each eye, apparently in a message to terrify others who might have crossed Le Roux.
Le Roux believed Lee had cheated him on a land deal although the woman herself was cheated by a landowner. The three are up for sentencing on Sept. 14. Hunter has been recorded claiming to have assassinated nine people in a single year. The latter two operated a gun shop that sold a brassiere modified as a holster marketed as a “Bosom Buddy.”
The story of Le Roux is told in a monumental seven-part series of stories by Evan Ratliff in Atavist Magazine, each between 7,500 and 8,000 words long.
Lee’s death is said to have been one of the results of a criminal scheme concocted by Le Roux that included gun running, cocaine shipments, an enormous fake prescription operation in the US, murder for hire and a long list of other operations that rival those of gun-runner Viktor Bout or Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Le Roux, born in Zimbabwe in 1972, operated from Africa to the Philippines to Thailand to Tonga to Brazil and many other countries.
A group of Le Roux’s associates was arrested trying to peddle North Korean-manufactured methamphetamines through Chinese sources and an American biker gang. Court records indicate he may have been involved in smuggling illegal technology to Iran. He himself was arrested in Liberia while trying to arrange for the shipment to Europe of millions of dollars of cocaine from South American sources. Apparently an extraordinarily talented computer programmer, Le Roux is said to have invented one of the world’s best encryption programs.
The financial center for Le Roux’s operations was said to be Hong Kong, with between US$250 million and US$400 million a year flowing through bank accounts he controlled, laundering money around the world in large quantities. After a shipment of arms was interdicted off Subic Bay in the Philippines and the officers of the 2,500-tonne freighter had turned to cooperate with authorities, the two were murdered, execution-style. His underlings told authorities they were so terrified of him that they were afraid to quit lest they end up dead.
US Attorney Geoffrey S Berman said in a prepared release that Catherine Lee’s murder “included details usually seen in action movies. Hunter, Samia and Stillwell conspired to end the lives of people overseas whom they had never met. Apparently Hunter arranged for the murders of multiple victims among other completed acts of violence undertaken for pay.”
In an odd twist, it was Le Roux who was busted first. Instead of the authorities turning an underling and leading up the ladder to the leadership, it was Le Roux who was turned and continued to operate undercover, ratting out a long list of his underlings that were rolled up by authorities.
Le Roux was captured in 2012. However, the US government guarded his status, with even his lawyer’s name concealed and known only to law enforcement officials as he gave the appearance of moving around the world, ordering criminal activities, actually in concert with the US authorities. For two years, according to Ratliff’s series, “Le Roux was essentially an undercover DEA operative in U.S. custody. By his phone calls and emails, agents were able to build elaborate sting operations around the fiction that he was still out in the world.”
Le Roux’s entire case file remained sealed. So were significant portions of the prosecution against Hunter and a team of would-be assassins lured into the open by DEA agents who posed as members of a Colombian drug cartel. Hunter and the ex-military special forces he recruited were supposedly to provide security for major cocaine shipments, receiving as much as US$800,000 and designing what were called “highly sophisticated latex face masks” a la the old Mission: Impossible television series to disguise themselves during assassinations. Hunter was arrested in Thailand. Former Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said the case felt like it was "ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel."
Le Roux pleaded guilty to being involved with RX Ltd, the fake prescription operation in the US, in 2013. He also later pleaded guilty to trafficking methamphetamine into the US, selling technology to Iran, ordering or participating in seven murders, and fraud and bribery. It is uncertain where he is now, beyond being in federal custody. It has been revealed that authorities have taken “unspecified steps” to protect his family.
“What Le Roux wanted and why is a subject I’ve asked dozens of people about,” Atavist’s Ratliff writes. “For some the answer was obvious: money. He was corrupted by it, enamored with his power, enraptured by the feeling of it flowing toward him, more than he could ever spend. Others speculated that his drive was fueled by something deeper—his feelings about being adopted, or another childhood affront for which he was forever exacting an imprecise revenge.
"For my part, I always suspected that part of the answer lies in his life as a programmer. Le Roux had found his place inside code, a universe in which he could bend reality to his will. It seemed to me that he tried to apply the detached logic of software to real life. That’s why the DEA schemes must have appealed to him as much as his own. His approach was algorithmic, not moral: Set the program in motion and watch it run.”